Published on August 8th, 2013 | by Nich Maragos0
The Yawhg: Expecting the Unexpected
“The Yawhg will be here in six weeks,” you are told up front, “and no one expects it.” From there, you take control of two to four mechanically-identical characters, knowing to expect something-but not what. Once the six weeks are up, the Yawhg arrives, the dust settles, and your characters are consigned to their fates; the credits roll, and you find yourself back at the title screen, invited to try it all over again. “This time,” you think, “I know what to expect.” But you don’t and never will.
The Yawhg is a time-constrained story game that will seem familiar to many who have played this kind of build-a-hero game before, forged by things like Princess Maker and (more recently) the Persona games. At the start of the game, every character has a score of 5 in five different stats, plus a 0 in Wealth. The player simply chooses what activities the characters devote themselves to each week, after which one or more of these stats improves or declines. You have only six chances to direct each character’s development before the Yawhg arrives and all your choices come home to roost.
At first, it seems possible to create and execute on a plan. After all, the stat gain from each activity is not random. Choosing to Brew Potions at the Alchemy Tower, for example, always gives you 2 points in Magic and 1 point in Mind. Since one of the available roles in the final accounting is Conjurer, it would seem trivial to maximize your Magic gain by spending all six weeks brewing potions for an eventual Magic score of 17, enough to serve as a powerful Conjurer in the endgame. A savvy player might run through the game once, trying out all the possible activities and noting down their mechanical benefits, in order to easily optimize certain stats and come out on top in the eventual reckoning.
But solid, unassailable plans are not what The Yawhg is about. After the fixed results of the week’s activity, there’s always another short related vignette. These vignettes are randomly selected from a pool of all possible events for the location, and their outcome is determined not only by the player’s choice but by their current stats. A week spent at the palace, for instance, might result in a secret audience with the king, who delicately seeks out your help in affairs of the boudoir. If you trained yourself to be quite charming and agree to help, this could go very well for both you and the king. But if you find yourself presented with the choice at the end of the first week rather than the fifth, your only choices will be are to help badly or do nothing. And this is before you discover that there are a few extreme vignettes which can all too easily end in the permanent removal of one of the town’s settings entirely. See how well you do training your character in Magic when there’s no Alchemy Tower left, smart guy.
The advent of the Yawhg is both the essential point of the game and misdirection from that point. There’s something coming that you don’t know about and can’t prepare specifically for, but that’s true of every week of every one of these characters’ lives. The chance to win a dryad over with one’s dancing skills is no more repeatable an event than the loss of everything you’ve spent your life building. Every moment counts, and we’re no more prepared for any one than we are any other. Even after you’ve been through The Yawhg a dozen times and you know what can happen, you never know exactly what will happen. Except for this: the Yawhg will be here in six weeks. And all you can do is to keep living your lives, week by week, planning for the worst, and whatever comes after.