If you consider yourself even slightly more invested in tabletop role-playing games than a “casual gamer”, you’ve noticed how cathartic a TTRPG session can be. These games offer challenges and stories at a distance. You can see the whole problem, and you can look for ways to solve it. Reality rarely provides clear perspectives on our real-world problems. Being able to complete a goal within a game session offers a sense of accomplishment that is all too often missing in our lives.
Yes, of course, TTRPG centers around fantastic escapism. Whether it’s fantasy, sci-fi, or something in between, stepping outside of the mundane and into a world of wonders fuels our love for RPGs. But television and books can provide that as well. Role-playing games give us an opportunity to change the story. They give us an opportunity to undo a problem or to build a better world. Sunfish Sitting There leans heavily into this part of TTRPGs. It doubles down and focuses on the cathartic experience by providing distance from highly relatable problems as opposed to fantastic and whimsical challenges.
The magic of this game doesn’t come from how far it pushes our imaginations, but how deep it dives into our hearts and emotions. You’re not meant to solve the world’s problems. You’re meant to solve a person’s mundane, normal, everyday problems. In this way, you can connect with your character and the storyline on a level that can never be matched by the epic challenges often found in your typical TTRPG.
What’s it about?
According to the description on Itch.IO, sunfish sitting there is, “A tabletop-roleplaying game for 2 or more persons (1 Game Master & 1 or more players), this game is a slice-of-life simulation that emulates the frustration of trying to get by in life!”
Sunfish gives you an opportunity to explore and overcome everyday issues through creative storytelling. The motivation is cathartic release as opposed to fantastic escapism. The game allows the DM and player(s) to write a character and conflict together, a conflict that the player then must find a way to overcome.
The obstacles presented to the character as they attempt to overcome this conflict should be relatable. For instance, trying to find a gift for Mother’s Day would be an excellent goal for a character. Obstacles preventing the character from achieving this goal might be something like not having enough time to go shopping or the store being sold out. Sunfish presents players with perfectly ordinary, relatable problems, and that’s the point. You know what it feels like to struggle with these types of problems, so when the game concludes you’ll experience what it feels like to overcome these problems.
How does it work?
As you might imagine, a game that describes itself as a “slice-of-life simulation”, is fun and light. A typical full game session completes after an hour and a half. Of course, this brief game is a rule-light, easy-to-learn system. One readthrough and you’ll have the rules down. You and your friends can pick this game up and have an impromptu and enjoyable session in one afternoon.
The mechanics use a dice pool system that depletes as the game progresses. Progress through the game is made through actions taken by the players until the pool is depleted. At that point, the character most likely goes back home and ends their day. The dice pool is refilled at the start of the following day, but it shrinks a little every day. Since you need those dice to progress the plot, running out before the goal is accomplished means you failed. Game over.
Games don’t matter if you can’t lose. There have to be stakes, or it just isn’t fun. The diminishing pool provides a sense of pressure as the game progresses. In some ways, it’s a race against time. Every day you don’t accomplish the character’s goal, the threat of failure inches closer. Since these goals are so relatable, that threat can really stab at the heart.
If you’re goal centers around finding a gift for Mother’s Day, you’ll be able to connect with the anxiety of your character on a level that an epic storyline could never provide. You can imagine what your mother’s face would look like when you fail to give her a Mother’s Day present. As you progress to the story and that dice pool gets smaller and smaller, the fear of disappointing mom grows sharper and sharper.
Sunfish can be played with two or more people. Both approaches offer powerful and emotional rewards to their players. At a table with a DM and a single character, the pace of the game will of course be faster. The real reward, however, comes from the deeper and more intimate connection both the DM and player can make with the progressing narrative and character. Two-player (DM and 1 character) TTRPG systems offer an opportunity for powerful stories to unfold.
Building a narrative around multiple characters offers just as much satisfaction, but it’s a different type of satisfaction. When playing Sunfish, you’re meant to relate to your character’s goals and obstacles. In games with multiple players, the characters share a goal but have individual motivations and obstacles they need to overcome. The players need to work together and help each other to achieve that goal. Through the multiplayer mode, a real sense of camaraderie develops. You and your friends are working together and in doing so build a deeper connection with each other. This can be just as powerful of an experience as the two-person gameplay.
Who should buy this game?
Sunfish Sitting There offers a highly cathartic and enriching experience to a wide audience. Any normal, day-to-day goal is an acceptable objective. It doesn’t matter what your “normal” is. Sunfish is about relating to, tackling, and overcoming your character’s hopes and fears. As long as you’re a human being, you’ll be able to play and enjoy this game.
However, some people really love horror games, fantasy epics, and crunchy stat-building games, and there’s nothing wrong with that. This game definitely does not provide that type of experience. If you know yourself, and you know you’re only interested in a specific genre, then this game may not be for you. Unless, of course, that genre happens to be slice-of-life.
That being said, if you are a genre person but have never had the opportunity to play anywhere other than your usual table, this is an excellent game for expanding your horizons. Sunfish doesn’t require hours of dedication and gameplay. Anyone curious about trying something new but can’t dedicate a large chunk of time to a new system will get a lot out of this game. Sunfish Sitting There gives you the rich TTRPG experience without locking you into a six-month-long campaign.
Players new to and/or curious about TTRPG should also consider checking out this unique system. Its lightweight yet heartfelt gameplay is an excellent introduction to the world of role-playing games. New players won’t have to spend hours reading through a textbook in order to understand what they’re doing. They won’t get lost in complicated rules or feel self-conscious about making a mistake. And it’s not just because the system is easy to learn. It’s because the story you create is so damn relatable. Inexperienced players can place their full attention on developing a powerful narrative instead of getting wrapped up in a crunchy system.
This is the second book I’ve reviewed by Thomas Vorderbruggen (Bogus Cheese). His mastery of theme and innovative approach to TTRPG is on full display in this work. Again, I find one of the most compelling aspects of Vorderbruggen’s work to be the goal of the work itself. In sunfish, the goal is to make a relatable story. To enjoy a simple and relaxing narrative about accomplishing and overcoming everyday problems. I find this approach to be exceptionally innovative, interesting, and, above all else, uplifting.
This system redefines what a TTRPG can be. Where used to grand epics, horrifying settings, monsters, mechanics, and fanciful escapism, but Vorderbruggen is giving us something new. A typical TTRPG lets us act like a hero. We don a new persona and have an adventure. Sunfish Sitting There lets us feel something new. We tackle a problem we understand but from the perspective of a role player. This allows us to don the emotional experiences of struggling against and overcoming a challenge.
I truly enjoyed reading and playing this game, and fully intend to continue playing it. In fact, I already have plans for playing this game on a semi-regular basis. I recently read an article by Bjarke the Bard titled “How I Handle Cancellations at the Table”. This is an issue that I personally have experienced from time to time as a DM, and Sunfish Sitting There may be a solution.
The article suggests having a backup game for when a few players cancel. Instead of sending the remaining players home, you can do something new. Everybody can still get together and have a good time, but Bjarke warns you to not start anything that may end up competing with your usual game. Sunfish Sitting There is perfect for this scenario. The game is completed in one session. Everyone has a fun and rewarding experience without any cliffhangers. It’s easy to learn, so players can pick it up if there is a sudden and unexpected change of plans.
I’m looking forward to playing more of this game, so I must give Sunfish Sitting There a high recommendation. The unique and enriching gameplay is something I recommend to anyone. Since it’s such a lightweight and fast-paced game, there really is no reason to not give it a try.
If you’re interested in picking up a copy, links are provided below.
Until next time, keep tackling what life throws at you one D4 at a time.