The Yawhg isn't really about the Yawhg, as it turns out. Though the titular calamity is destined to ravage your medieval village in a scant six weeks, it's not half as important as the way that you spend your remaining time. And who could find the hours to make doomsday preparations anyway, when there are demons to be slain, magical potions to be imbibed, and artless lute players in need of some comeuppance?
The role-playing game by Damian Sommer and Emily Carroll confines itself to familiar grounds: a rowdy tavern, a gladiatorial arena, enchanted forests--eight locations in all, brought to life by a few whimsical drawings. Each locale houses two possible activities, and each activity occupies a week of your remaining six. At the arena, for example, you might while away the hours with blood sport or spend them in the grandstand betting on the matches. These initial decisions are a formality, conferring the expected benefits--some improved strength for the former, a bit of coin for the latter. But at week's end, there's always a further choice to be made, this one less rote than the first. Perhaps a bomb has been set in the palace, or you happen upon a gathering of magical talking rats. The Yawhg's four playable characters are tabula rasa, molded or warped by these decisions.
It takes a village to raise them. There's a communal quality to The Yawhg, not unlike a board game when you get down to brass tacks. Two characters must be fielded at minimum, the tacit implication being that the game is best experienced with a few local friends. The unnamed characters you can choose from are identical in every quality save physical appearance and coloration of attire; it's easy to imagine friends squabbling over them like Monopoly players arguing who gets to be the dog (spoiler alert: I do). The board game similarities only get more prominent as the action unfolds. You move your characters' tokens about their cartoon village, settling upon a fantasy trope of choice and seeing where the cards fall. A breezy sort of strategy takes shape for players keen on maxing out their abilities, who can play with an eye to the simple logistics of the stat bonus handouts and angle for the "best" ending. For everyone else, there's always the tavern.
Who could find the hours to make doomsday preparations anyway, when there are demons to be slain, magical potions to be imbibed, and artless lute players in need of some comeuppance?
There's a curiously inert quality to actions taken in The Yawhg, even a week spent binge drinking and bar fighting. It's owed in large part to the writing, which adopts an austere approach throughout. Mercifully, the scenarios it describes are not straightforward, and the scripting is careful enough to ensure that few decisions ever feel like wasted efforts, even as it deadpans that you've just, say, contracted vampirism. If you try to pay for something when you don't have any cash to your name, you're still usually treated to a bit of expository dialogue, even if it's just to say that you stumbled upon a lost bag of coins on your way back home. Plus-one finesse here, minus-two mind there--the effects act as rewards, consolation prizes, and, occasionally, punch lines. The Yawhg uses these statistics as video game shorthand, penciling in the rough structure of a personality over the six turns like an art student doing a 30-minute sketch exercise.
The art direction of The Yawhg reveals a practiced hand. The illustrations riff on medieval trappings, playing fast and loose with proportion and color like an illuminated manuscript filled with classroom doodles. The artwork turns out to be flexible too, perfectly comfortable capturing the highs and lows that the randomly generated storyline doles out. Ditto for the lilting, folksy musical score, which takes on an increasingly melancholic tone as the Yawhg approaches your town.
Six weeks pass in a heartbeat. There's something to be said for The Yawhg's spartan writing style, but in a game this short, it's asking a lot for it to weave a meaningful narrative. Despite the doomsday countdown, the stakes feel pretty low. It would take a bleeding heart to be much affected by a sentence or two telling you that you defused a bomb, or that a nameless, faceless character you happened upon once has died. And what about the third or fourth time it happens? Like any good board game, The Yawhg feels geared toward replayability, but you'll find the game's various scenarios repeat themselves too quickly for the liking.
After the fated day, an epilogue spins a yarn about how you and your besieged village fared. Here again, there's humor and occasional pathos to be found in The Yawhg's brevity, but it's just not very moving to be told that you were a strong leader, or that you never found love, in as many words. And yet as the final screen fades to black and the music swells, there's a small, lingering curiosity. So you reset the clock to experience that simple, comforting feedback loop of cause and effect play out in some new permutation.