Most PC games are the type played in your room alone, maybe with a friend or maybe a solo experience. With split screen becoming a rare breed spotted in obscure locations, the idea of playing a PC game with someone in the same room is becoming an odd scene made of dust and forgotten memories. Even then, even back during the heyday of local multiplayer, the idea of playing a narratively-driven co-op game about creating a story was unheard of in favour of more skill-based play. Well, now The Yawhg is here to fly in the face of logic, to do what hasn’t been done and to present a good game while it’s at it.
The Yawhg is a 2-to-4 player (although if you want to play it on your own with two characters, don’t worry, I wouldn’t tell) choose-your-own-adventure game for PC by Damian Sommer and Emily Carroll. In it, you play as a citizen of a medieval city where The Yawhg will be coming in six weeks. On each week, you’ll pick a place you want to go and an action to do. Finally, after the sixth week, the Yawhg will come like a black wave. In the ruins of the city, you will have to decide on your role in rebuilding. After that, you will get an epilogue to your tale.
Usually I’d rattle off facts, figures, impressions and opinions until the sun rises (I work through the night). However, The Yawhg just isn’t the type of game where just me describing what it is will do it justice. You’ll get the basic sensation of what it is, you may even feel tempted to buy it, but I think you wouldn’t understand the meat of it. So let me tell you a story.
Two years ago, I used to go to a videogame society at an university. I’d turn up, chat with people and faff about with whatever games were there. Once or twice I had tried to bring a game to the table, and suggested games for their Friday night online gatherings, for them to always be pushed aside. I was even the one who tried to nudge people into playing Dark Souls and Payday 2 before it really got popular with the people there, however they didn’t heed my call and discovered the gems on their own.
So one day, I lug my laptop in. I had it set up on Steam offline mode with a game installed on it: The Yawhg. I had played it a bit by myself and I found it interesting in theory but a game that felt empty. So I thought I’d share it with others, see what other people would think of the title. After all, it was a short little adventure each time (10 to 20 minutes to complete it), so even if people were unsatisfied it’d be like water on a duck’s back.
So I asked a few people, including the popular chairman, “hey, does anyone want to try a weird little game called The Yawhg?”. I described roughly what you do in it (“you make choices in a choose-your-own-adventure style, you have stats that go up and down that can affect things”), and eventually I managed to coax three into playing it with me.
All four of us created our own narratives in the setting. While The Yawhg is a great deal in the tale, it isn’t remotely the focal point. It isn’t even known what it is, if it is a beast, a storm or some other form of natural (or unnatural) occurrence. It seems almost irrelevant.
The central part of the narrative is you, the player. It is less about the disaster coming and going and more about you carving out your own story in the setting; let it be about going to the hospital to help patients, fighting hoodlums in the streets or going hunting in the forest. You can even delve into magic or combat.
To this the game can react back: One person turned into a vampire and got the hospital closed after a blood frenzy, another time a building got blown up. Which at the end, we selected our role and the game finally told us what was to become of the city and each of our characters. I think my character went off to become a medieval Batman. The city was in too poor shape to warrant my character to protect it, so they went off into the lands to combat villainy, banditry and other nefarious scum.
Everyone was absorb into this game, absolutely fascinated how people were making similar choices but getting radically different events. Others had even begun gathering around us four, to watch what story we were weaving. Sure if we went to the same place and did the same task on the same week we’d have the same event flare up, however there were enough places and activities that repetition was rare. We were watching our stats go up and down, tasks going well or failing hard based on tests of those abilities and amount of currency. The group of us was generally in marvel no matter the result we had gotten, mostly because it felt like our own result.
At one point, when he begun to play through, the chairman of the society even begun doing voice overs of what was happening. With the wonderful artwork, it felt like a storybook. We were ecstatic at what random events would next occur to us, what would be read to us.
Everyone walked away within an hour or two of it starting, but that short time scale didn’t matter. The time spent was a magical moment of friendship, where we all had stories of what we did. I was medieval Batman, someone else had climbed into a bottle and sold their soul for more booze and another person was a world famous alchemist. The writing was whimsical, but never afraid to stray into the dark as a lingering after-thought, so it stuck with each of us.
In its final form, it gets a 7/10. Will this entertain you by yourself? I’d be surprised. Does it require luck or skill? Oh no, not at all. Any form of competition? Zilch. However, that’s okay. The Yawhg is a game about building a story with friends. Its accessible nature, its art work and its choice mechanic allows the game to be a fantastic conversation piece as you gleefully pass tales of what you did. It may be for ten minutes or the entire night, maybe as part of a family gathering or over drinks with friends, but the time spent with it isn’t wasted. Even the short length, which some will likely grumble over, allows it to be played before it over-stays its welcome.
As “party games” go, something to play on PC over drinks with a group of friends, it is an incredibly easy recommendation. I still think it is magical how The Yawhg is less a game wanting to tell its own story, something that is incredibly common even with narratively-driven games, but rather one that wants you to spin a tale. You know that sensation of talking to people about a Telltale title, or recently Life Is Strange, and comparing the choices and what become of them? Imagine that, except the story is your own, because it is.