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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Focus on feelings and relationships
  • Mechanics that enhance theme
  • Easy setup, few players
  • Quick, self-contained role-playing session (about 2 hours)

Might Not Like

  • Very character driven
  • With only two players, each player will have to be “on” most of the time
  • Can get emotionally intense

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Star Crossed Review

star crossed box

Star Crossed is a tabletop role-playing game for two players whose characters “really, really want to, but really, really can’t”.

Basic setup

To play, you will need character sheets and scene cards (which come with the game), a pencil each, and a 54 block brick tower (such as Jenga). Some editions of the game include this tower, some do not, so keep that in mind.

You create your characters together as their connection is the emotional and narrative core of the game. You start by answering the questions: “What has brought the characters together and what is keeping them apart?”

Then each player fleshes out their character and decides what is keeping them specifically from acting on their feelings. Why is whatever thing that keeps the characters apart so important to them?

Star Crossed does not have a core setting. A game can take place anywhere and feature any pairing of characters. The rulebook provides some examples across a few genres (contemporary, historical, SFF etc.), which can be very helpful if you’re stuck for ideas.

Once the characters and their conflict are established, you set up the tower between the players, poke some holes in it, and begin the story.

Gameplay

During a game, you play through up to eight scenes, each with a prompt card. The story of the session opens with “an introduction” and may end with characters “parting ways, perhaps forever”.

You open each scene by deciding a location and situation together. Then characters take turns making moves. For example, your character could engage in dialogue, touch the other character, or reveal something about themselves.

A lot of moves require the player to either pull from or touch the tower. As the game progresses and the romantic tension between the characters heightens, so does the tension at the table the more rickety the tower becomes.

Star Crossed is played without a game master, the two players are the full cast of a game. If a scene calls for one or more NPCs, you will play those, too.

A game ends when the tower falls or when the final scene has ended.

If the tower falls, the character whose player last touched the tower has to act on their feelings. If the tower never falls, neither character ever acts on their attraction.

Whichever way the game ends, you finish up by narrating a short epilogue of what happened next.

Mechanics

Lead and Follow

During character creation, you decide which character is the Lead and which is the Follow.

These roles determine how the character most usually shows their attraction to the other. The Lead usually acts intentionally, the Follow unintentionally.

Moreover, the player of the Lead character gets to make the first move of a scene, whereas the player of the Follow decides when the scene ends.

Moves

Basically, any way you contribute to a scene is a move, and players take turns making them. Describing the environment or a character’s movements are free moves, which means that you do not have to interact with the tower to do them.

You have to pull from the tower when your character touches the other character and when they reveal something personal about themselves. The Lead can do these actions intentionally once per scene and unintentionally once per game, with the Follow doing the opposite.

When someone speaks direct lines of dialogue, they have to touch the tower.

Attraction

Whenever you have to pull from the tower, you mark off an attraction star on your character sheet. If the game ends with the tower falling, both players tally up their stars and the total amount determines the direction of the epilogue. Very few stars, for example, mean that “the connection is irrevocably broken”, whereas characters with a lot of stars “only need each other”.

Supporting theme

I think using the Jenga tower to emulate the tension of forbidden love is really clever, and it adds a tactile element most TTRPGs do not have.

Having to reach out to touch the tower (no steadying of the arm allowed) during dialogue both makes you choose your words with care and imbues those words with a nervousness appropriate for the scene.

When pulling from the tower, you can only use one hand, which again adds to the sense that every move you make in this romance is highly risky. Everything could literally come tumbling down.

I especially love the rule that any player at any time can choose to knock the tower over on purpose to have their character confess their feelings. An intense, irrevocable action in real life as in game.

I also really like that the game has the option of ending without such a confession. Love stories can be perfectly good and satisfying even if the characters never do more than pine.

Handbook

The Star Crossed handbook is both short and well-written. From cover to cover, the handbook spans fewer than 50 pages. These contain the rules, as well as several play examples, tips from the author, an introduction to player safety tools, illustrations, and thanks and acknowledgments.

I found the experience of reading through the handbook really enjoyable.

The book opens with a quick summary of how the game runs and what is in the book and then progresses through each step in the order one would reach them in-game. To me, this format was very logical and easy to follow. And the author tips were very helpful in expanding on the rules and intentions behind the game. I also liked their words of encouragement for new roleplayers (or roleplayers new to this kind of game).

My favourite part of reading the handbook was the play examples. These follow the same two pairs of characters (an Empress and her Vizier, and two gym buddies) throughout. The glimpses we get of their stories, as they illustrate how to make characters or do moves, are compelling and really made me eager to play the game. I wanted to tell that kind of story, too.

I also really appreciated that the play examples included little bits of how players might discuss what kind of characters, settings, and situations they are excited about or would prefer to avoid.

Artwork and Components

The artwork of the handbook and game box is extremely charming. Most illustrations show various pairings of characters (like an astronaut and a satyr, or a mermaid and a harpy) at different stages of playing Jenga. Everyone’s eyes are full of love, longing, and/or caution. I think this is a really fun way to bring together the physical game and the imagined role-playing world. It’s also another great way of sparking ideas and excitement to play.

The scene cards are of soft, good-quality cardboard. The prompts are specific enough that they help structure the story from beginning to end, while also being open enough to allow for any kind of setting and characters.

In addition to the scene cards, Star Crossed comes with a physical X-card which players can tap during the game if anything comes up that they wish to have removed from the story.

Final Thoughts

Star Crossed is a role-playing game that is very focused on emotions and interpersonal relations. In that regard, it is similar to games like Thirsty Sword Lesbians but dialed in fully on the forbidden love story between only two characters.

It can be a bit intense with only two players and a lot of emotions, but the handbook provides good advice on how to make sure both players remain comfortable and have a good experience with the game.

If you enjoy stories of longing, you will enjoy playing Star Crossed.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Focus on feelings and relationships
  • Mechanics that enhance theme
  • Easy setup, few players
  • Quick, self-contained role-playing session (about 2 hours)

Might not like

  • Very character driven
  • With only two players, each player will have to be on most of the time
  • Can get emotionally intense

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