Loved hearing this played on Friends at the Table! Fantastic work. :)
A Visit To San Sibilia
A downloadable game
This city never changes, this city never stays the same. Close to the coast in a river delta, San Sibilia’s sprawling districts are connected by rambling trams and ramshackle ferries. You may have read about San Sibilia once in a 20-part encyclopedia in a dusty shop around the corner, but haven’t been able to find the bookstore since.
A Visit to San Sibilia
A visit to San Sibilia is a solo journaling game in which you roleplay a character chronicling their visit to the city of San Sibilia. It is a city not found on any maps—San Sibilia is both part of and distinct from our world. The city manifests itself differently to every visitor.
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I received this game as part of a bundle and decided to give it a try. The style of the rules document works very well with the content of the game and while I think I would have enjoyed some more setting information about the city itself (for example some descriptions of individual locations that you could include in your game if you wanted), you can certainly work with what has been provided. I found the prompts very evocative and they convey the feeling of this odd, mysterious, ever-changing city excellently.
As a journaling game, the rules are naturally very simple; no surprises on that front. I did think the mechanic that eventually also ends the game is quite nifty.
Overall, I enjoyed playing this game and would encourage you to check it out as well
A Visit to San Sibilia is a solo journaling game where you visit a city that is always changing. It evokes the feeling of going on an actual city break to me.
Like many others I never played a journaling game before. This was really fun, and I've been using it as a way to practice writing (Since it generates really good prompts!) and as a way to relax. Thanks so much for giving me this.
Just finished playing this game and i must say i enjoyed it a lot. Never done a journaling game before, but i've been curious for quite a while. I think i made a good choice with this as my first game as i feel it strikes a perfect balance of huge creative potential and simplicity.
I postedthe notes from my game on my blog if anyone is intrested in reading them.
never played a solo RPG style game before, but i'm very glad i did. i was sad when it ended, but i'll definitely be playing again this weekend. thank you for creating this.
I bought the bundle today and I have already spent about 7 hours or so with this game. I think this will easily become my favorite game of the bundle. I love the artwork and style of the zine so much and it leaves so much fun room for ideas. It reminds me very much of playing Fallen London, but journaling it and making up a city on the fly and I love it. This is also such a great activity for spending an hour or two if bored and if you like the story you can flesh it out into a whole narrative. Thank you so much for motivating me to finally do worldbuilding again and get myself to write! I already have two concepts that surprised me so much with where the story went and it's 23:30 right now and i should go to sleep but I really wanna play another round lmao.
Thank you so much!
I’d love to hear about your character & city!
Oh for sure hahaha :D The run I liked most was one where a scholar accidentally ended up in a subterranean city and came to the conclusion that he must have died and this was the afterlife and slowly came to accept his life's failings and made amends, and fell in love with the strange customs the city had and accepted his life there. he assumed that he was the only one aware that this was the afterlife and was usually really smug about other characters talking about the city because he thought they all hadn't realized/accepted that they were dead yet and then at the end of his stay realized that he actually hadnt died and now had to face the life he mused so much about again. it was surpringly poetic lmao
One of the genre touch stones was ‘Tainaron: Mail from Another City’, a new weird novella written as letters in which a visitor to Tainaron, a city of insects.
Sounds like something you’d might like!
Edit: which reminds me, I really need to write a blogpost about all the influences.
I'm in love with this game!! It's not the first solo rpg game I've tried, but it is the only one thus far that I've actually been able to play.
Like some other commenters, I've also been having trouble writing even though it's something I love to do, so I resolved to try these kind of games to see if they could help my creativity blockage, and this one really has! The simple rules and preparation required, as well as the flexibility it allows (even though any game can be as flexible as you want it to, but this one even encourages you to change anything that doesn't work for you) allowed me to get playing immediately, and hooked not long after.
It's meant to last around one or two hours, "depending on the cards you draw and the time you spend on each journal entry", but I've been playing for a couple of days now and I'm really enjoying it!
So thank you so much for such a wonderful game. Hope everyone else likes it as much as I do <3
Thank you so much for your comment!
It really made my day, I’m really happy you like it so much!
A great playthrough by Chris Chinchalla from a while back:
Just wrote my first journal entry and I am in love with this game already!! It's also my first both solo and journaling rpg I chose to play. I'm happy with the choice! I'm surprised I had so many ideas from the simple prompts after a long creative dry spell. Will return back once I finish the game. Thanks so much for this beautiful work of a ttrpg!!! <3
I wasn't able to watch live, but I like what you did with the game.
As for the mysterious Jimmy Shelter and Peter Eijk, they're one and the same ;)
EDIT - The creator put out new rules to help with the game's pacing, one of my biggest complaints with the game. I've had a chance to give them a go and found it helped with the experience of the game. As such I gave a higher rating. I appreciate the creator taking my feedback seriously too. You can still find my original comments unedited below for reference. I know a lot of people really like this title, so keep on enjoying :)
The creator of the game reached out to me and asked me to do a review for my website. You can read that in full here. For those who don't want to, let me give you the TL;DR.
I was really excited to give this game a go. The rulebook looks great, the rules are pretty clear (provided you read the whole 12 pages in advance), and I could feel it sparking my imagination even before play. However, once I actually played it...
I recognize in my review I made some "mistakes" in how I framed my story and character, not that I broke any rules, but seemed to play in a way the game didn't anticipate. Putting that aside, the game went on for a REALLY long time, to the point where I quit part way through. Now, this was also an anomaly which isn't reflective of an average experience either.
So I did the sensible thing and simulated a bunch of games. I took care to read every prompt, but didn't write them all out like I did for my first game. I also noted when the "bigger" events occurred and game length. A clear issue emerged in game pacing. Either games were outstaying their welcome or were comically short, both resulting in a lack of general direction. On average, the game felt mostly fine, but the randomness of how journal entries work really holds the game back.
It's a shame, but I couldn't like this one as much as everyone else seems to. I don't expect perfection out of a game, though I have to be honest when something just isn't working for me. As a result, I couldn't give it the 5 stars I wanted to, but I still think the game is interesting enough to check out if you are curious. Wishing the best for the creators, hope they see their goal through and maybe even improve the game a bit alongside a print release.
I read your longer review and have a few comments.
1. I am a bit confused about the idea of repeated pairs of location and event being simply a copy of the same combination. I assumed if you get the same combination you add variation in what happens, not that the same event repeats moment for moment. If I have two stressful visits to a pawn shop I can shape that into two extremely different experiences, and I'm not exactly brilliant at storytelling. However I do appreciate that this is a Me approach that doesn't work for everyone.
2. Minor nitpick but safety tools aren't an extraneous addition for games like these. You can get into really dark places easily with the themes of San Sibilia, and it is extremely helpful to be reminded you can get outta there. It's actually kind of responsible but that is just my opinion. By contrast, a game that focuses on touristing without the specific thematic pull of San Sibilia doesn't need safety tools as much or perhaps even at all. (I think about Alone in the Ancient City here.)
3. I generally play journaling games with an additional inspiration tool like story cubes, but there are other methods (random word generators, grab a book and flip to random page and random line, I think the second is actually used in a particular game system somewhere on itch). RPGs often need an idea mill especially if you GM, and journaling games are no different (where the GM is effectively you).
4. Game length variation is not necessarily an issue in something like this but that is a pretty personal feel. I think the idea behind the particular mechanic here is to add tension by making it uncertain when exactly you get out of the weird city that shouldn't exist. However I think a warning on this might help set expectations and is lacking in the game doc. For myself, I break journaling games that end up long over a couple of days.
Apologies if you have already taken all this into account and have tons of journaling game experience, though! I don't always read that well so may have missed that. I myself bounced super hard off a decent journaling game myself for personal reasons, so I know that weird feeling. (I don't leave reviews in that case when I know it's deeply personal, but this can't be everyone's approach.)
As for advice on tuning the game, I have played a lot of journaling games so have some ideas for the game designer given what has troubled you.
A. Re advice on more consistent game lengths; I've played numerous journaling games and there are three approaches I would suggest:
i. Quick exit: allow the player to create the exit scenario on the fly. I think this is the easiest option with the most player agency but sacrifices the original tension.
ii. Tie progression to a specific sum of cards drawn, so for instance on a sum of 21 you mark the next box regardless of what happens. This strikes a middle ground by forcing progression without overburdened rules, yet keeping some of the original tension. This is an approach taken by Chill Out, which actually highly needs that mechanic even though it is an avowedly longish journaling experience.
iii. Add additional Changes on heart-diamond and clubs-spades draw conditions. This is the most complex alteration and would need a lot of fine tuning, and potentially keeps tension in.
B. Re: advice on more varied prompts, I recommend the Alone Among the Stars approach, which ties each suit to a theme and each rank to a more specific prompt (like location). As each suit-rank pair is unique in a single deck of playing cards, this generates unique prompts each time. Additional RNG in the form of one d6 can add contextual circumstances. I was surprised actually that this approach wasn't taken, so was prepared to use my story cubes for extra inspiration help.
Still, I'm neither a game designer nor a story teller so my advice is always grain of salty.
Oh, forgot to add under B. advice, there's the "every card is a unique prompt" approach, which is used well in games like The Last Stop, games in the Descended from the Queen family, games in the Follow the Leads family, and games in the CARTA family, and they really hit themes *hard* at the expense of lots more writing.
Before I address your comments I just want to say I appreciate you taking the time to read my longer review and providing a response asking for further clarity. I'll do my best to address each of your comments in full here.
1. Yes, of course, you are correct here. Even in my own game where I visited the museum, had I gone back the next journal day and had the exact same prompt, I would have been able to make this a unique encounter. I did not mean to imply otherwise. My main point was that there isn't always a reason for why I'd be having repeat encounters (strictly prompt, not content), or very similar encounters, sometimes multiple times in a row. It's one of those things that doesn't always make sense narratively or breaks pacing. After simulating 10 games, where I did everything but the journal component, I was finding it difficult to always justify why the events were occurring in the way they did.
To provide some additional context, when I play games like these for review purposes, something I think Peter is aware of, I tend to write up bigger stories that make selling the game easier. I write professionally, so for me, this is the easiest way for me to showcase how the game can create a fun experience. I don't think San Sibilia is dreadful at this or anything, but I was finding an issue with the general nature of how/when events are triggered. Which takes me back to the issue of pacing, my primary complaint.
2. Just want to clarify, I am cool with safety tools. I said in my review it was a nice inclusion, I just didn't think this game in particular needed explicit safety tools. As you mention, you don't always feel a game needs this kind of thing, so I would hope you understand that I'm not condemning the game for having them. It's the opposite; didn't think it needed them, but cool that they are there.
3. I have tools like this and am well versed in these sorts of games. However, my reviews and play reports that are public facing ALWAYS demand that the game stand on its own with no outside assistance if that's how it's advertised. In San Sibilia's case, this applies. I want my thoughts and opinions to be honest and reflective of the general experience someone might have if they just picked the game up right now and played. I'm an avid solo player with a ton of GM experience, so I don't think that was the issue in this case.
From the review, I do mention that I might have gone outside the game's intended method of playing, however, the game owns some responsibility for that. I shouldn't need to use anything beyond what the book tells me and if playing x or y way hurts the game in a meaningful fashion, I would hope the gamebook would make a recommendation to guide the player in the right direction. I do acknowledge that I might have hurt my initial experience by how I framed my first game, and of course, this is on me. It's why I also "played" 10 more games, to ensure that this first game wasn't the only issue. Perhaps it is not obvious in the way the review is presented, but it's not like I did all of this in one sitting.
4. I agree with your sentiment and the intent here. However, there's a big difference in building tension that feels good and huge swings in variability. In my initial game, the play report one, the game went on for an obscenely long time. Had I played all 27 turns, I would have far exceeded the expected playtime which I was already over at just 8 entries. I gave up at this point because I wasn't jiving with this run of the game, but after seeing how much was left (something I thought might motivate me to continue), I just called it there because it was too much. Any tension had long melted away at that point, and I struggled to see why the heck this guy would just lounge about in this city for months and months.
On the other end of things, a game ending after 5 turns, where all but turn 4 is a MAJOR event feels equally bad. At this point nothing has happened, and as a result, the game has failed to provide any clear direction to me the player. "You change the city" as your first event, followed by "You change the city", followed by "A Change of Heart" tells me nothing. I have no frame of reference to work off of, even if I really flesh out my character. It's awkward and feels frankly terrible as a player.
This issue extends into the average length games though since these big events can occur any time. Even in those, I would often have major events occur once, or even multiple times, within the first few turns. Pacing is important, building that beginning, middle, and end in a game like this matters. Since there really isn't a "game" here, it's strictly a writing exercise, I expect the game to provide a bit more structure and consistency in how it paces out events at the very least. I'm not saying every game needs to be a set length, but a swing of 5-27 turns is way too big, with the big events occurring in a way that's simply too random.
It's all good, I hope I was able to clarify my thoughts a bit better for you here. San Sibilia just didn't come together for me, and that's a bummer, but that does happen. Obviously a lot of people disagree! So I'm in the minority. However, sponsored or not, my review reflects my honest and genuine opinions across the whole experience. For my readers, that's what they come for, so I don't want to betray that, which I hope you can appreciate. As for leaving reviews, I tend to only leave positive ones on this website, I feel terrible when I leave a negative one. That said, Peter asked me to, and I thought it would be dishonest if I didn't follow through on it. Still, I gave a final rating of 3/5 stars. I think there's a good game in here, but it just isn't quite put together enough for me to genuinely recommend it.
I'm a game designer and writer so I'd love to look at your game advice, so let's just do that real fast since I'm here anyway.
A. This is something I think really needs to be addressed from a designer prospective. Your solutions:
i. Absolutely, this is an easy solution but I do agree it hurts the tension you mention. Still, it wouldn't be bad to let players have this kind of control as an options, a variant way to play.
ii. I like the idea of this solution, but think it would be burdensome to manage as you have laid it out anyway. Still, something like this, a "fixed" interval system would help the game immensely. It would allow the major events to come at more paced times, but not in an overly predictable way. This would solve the pacing problem.
iii. Great idea but this would fundamentally change the game from a mechanical perspective. I think they could just get away with having an additional/alternative chart. That way you can mix and match a little to customize your experience. This has the added benefit of not being that much extra work either, whereas your idea would be a lot of work in this game's case. Better solution for B.
B. Varity solutions. See previous. To address your primary comment though, I don't think the D6 context chart is a bad idea, though for this game a more universal chart with larger option selection (say a D12 or 2D6), would probably be better if implemented. Otherwise, again, I think that the game would be fundamentally different and Peter would have to undertake way too much work. In short, more than this and it would just be better for Peter to make a new game.
Anyway, thanks again for the comment and I hope this finds you well :)
Ah, could you remove the
very long repeated dashes?
They make your comment so
wide I can't read without
copy/paste into a separate text app.
And it seems to wreck formatting
of comments here.
So my further thoughts are:
1. I don't think I understand why repeated prompts are bad still? I'm also not sure how you get a good enough sense of how jounaling would go without doing it at least a little. As for why anything should happen, isn't that something you create? The prompts guide you. At least that is my experience with all journaling games save for the CARTA system. There are other solo games with a huge array of tables and that guide the experience more, but the idea that randomly generated prompts need priors from the game to happen is weird. For myself I chained elements from previous entries I'd written, and that is a lot harder to do when you aren't doing journal entries.
Through that methodology I feel you missed some of the mark here, and it hurts the review.
2. I know you weren't condemning them, but I wondered indeed why you thought the game couldn't wander into deep wells of feelings. That was what struck me as strange.
3. I had a lot of experience with RPGs but journaling games tend to be very different beasts. My surprise was at how some of the things that felt pretty normal in journaling games that were present in San Sibilia elicted surprise from you, so I wasn't sure you had experience with journaling games specifically. That experience still doesn't come across to me.
4. This is where it gets weird because I had one extremely short run (6 days) and I don't run much character gen. And that was the session that made me fall in love with the game. I still had a great time and made a bunch of stuff happen with a follow-through storyline, so the idea that a short run results in nothing sounds strange to me.
Though this is where we differ the most, in that I end up feeling frustrated when more guidance is present, and you seem to feel more frustrated when there is less guidance in general. So that's likely why our views on the game are polar opposites, save that we both agree the game has a good core though I feel that part's just sense.
And yes, being honest about reviews is great but I feel like there was something missing in yours, and I'm trying to pin it down. It is obvious you do good reviews, I just wasn't sure why this one didn't feel up to par with your standard. However I shall have to chalk it up to my lack of reading comprehension.
On discussion of tweaks, A.ii isn't difficult. Add up the ranks of each card you pull, and when you hit blackjack (say, a sum of 21, but I think a larger sum would also make sense) mark a progress box. I'm sure I presented it incorrectly for you to have that impression.
Re B. I don't think I understand since I was mostly thinking about ways that prompt variety is achieved in other journaling games, and Alone Among the Stars is one of the core games of this nature that is amenable to hacking, which you're maybe familiar with. I don't think prompt variety makes the game a wholly different one. Then again, I'm no designer nor writer.
Yeah, done. It messed up the formatting anyway on the page.
1. Just because I didn't physically write for all 10 games doesn't mean I wasn't playing along in my mind. Does that mean they aren't as strong of an experience as they could be? Probably. The additional games weren't meant to be play reports though, I was testing game length, content distribution, and overall feel. I understand that you chain events together and work to make sense of the prompts. Remember, I'm not new to this, I just don't think that the prompts always connected together well. This is subjective, my opinion, and reflected in my review. You are welcome to like the game and disagree with my review, again, a lot do.
2. I didn't? The game tells you it can. Everyone has different views on safety rules. I mentioned it for those who might care, I personally didn't think I needed them for this game, but again, it doesn't hurt that they are included. That's all I meant by it.
3. Sorry it didn't come across, I don't know what to tell you. I don't know what you want me to say. I've played a lot of journal games from English Eerie to Alone Among the Stars, some games hit better than others. I'm not trying to suck anyone's enjoyment out of this game, I even advocate that people try this one for themselves anyway because I didn't feel great about the negative review, I wanted to like it, I just didn't.
4. I don't think the game needs to add a ton of guidance, I'm being unclear here. I just think, as it currently stands, the moment-to-moment gameplay doesn't always necessarily help the player keep good forward momentum. This ties back into pacing. If nothing has happened to my character and a major event tells me that something dramatic has shifted in my character, it's hard to come up with and justify what that is. This is the core of the complaint here when I talk about "guidance". I'm saying that previous events, or lack there of, don't always help to inform the current situation, which I think hurts the game.
I appreciate your compliment on my general writing. If you think what's missing, let me know. I mean, feedback is always valuable.
In regards to tweaks. A. ii. No, I understood, from a player perspective, in a game like this you don't want the player to have too much "upkeep" and depending on how the numbers are adding up, this requires the player to keep track of a lot of things at once. It's not difficult, but too much of it can be a barrier to a more general audience, which in this game's case, would likely hurt it. The exact number would need a lot of playtesting too, I just think there's a more elegant solution, but the concept of your idea here is sound.
To point B I mean to convey that the level of work that would be required to switch formats as you suggest would mechanically influence the game a lot. In that way it becomes a new game. Additionally, some of what you suggested would be a lot of additional work for this title.
Hope that makes more sense.
It does and doesn't but that's ok, I generally lack the ability to understand complexity and nuance, so I think it's just me at this point. I don't think further explaining would help as you've done a lot of it already and I'm pretty sure everyone else gets it even if I likely won't.
Re feedback, not all feedback is valuable. But you probably already know that! Plus, I don't think my feedback here for you is useful.
Thanks for the thread.
An excellent journaling game visiting the mysterious city of San Sibilia. While the theme is reminiscent of Alone in the Ancient City, San Sibilia is more specific and concrete yet still extremely flexible. Because you do a brief bit of character gen and set up, this helps guide your journal writing as you follow the prompts immensely and makes more apparent different ways you can take the story—and it is a story with the Change mechanism creating an implicit pacing. I like how the visit itself is structured a lot, with different yet just as self driven mechanics as Alone in the Ancient City—and the differences suit what this game is doing well.
While I love Alone hacks, and this game is more a cousin than a close relation, I think this is one that belongs right next to my favorites on my virtual shelf.
An example of an unusually short visit. A lot of this is brief, like the short daily entries the character would write, without verbose narrative flow, but enough that I remember the story I was constructing and imagining in my head long after.
Person dramatis: A melancholy poet
Name: (Ông) Đỗ Hào Huệ
I was at a tavern, drinking to forget a terrible span of time, when I spotted a door no one else seemed to notice.
I crossed the strange threshold and entered a hotel I had never seen before.
Ten years ago I dreamed about this city.
The hotel I found myself in seemed old-fashioned, with many iron railings, decorated with designs of flora; a Persian rug; and an old elevator that rattled.
I didn't meet anyone, nor did I want to meet anyone.
When I went through the door leading to here I only had the clothes I was wearing.
A harrowing trip to the market. There were many policemen all over the place, staring intently at every person there. I left.
Throughout the day I noticed a policeman following me everywhere I went.
A mysterious excursion to a ruin. But my fellow travel companions all around me stood stock-still in absolute silence like stone statues.
A trip to the market, this time shocking. I saw a policeman turn a citizen into a stone statue!
I ran away quickly. The sunny skies changed to heavy rains.
A serendipitous meeting with ruffians. I unexpectedly yet fortunately ran into a gang of thieves. I was searching the city for a way home when they ambushed me.
I turned right around and fled in the direction of the policeman following behind me and past him. The thieves ran straight into him. While they fought I escaped.
A hopeful night at the opera (theater): an old woman sitting next to me whispered the way home.
After an intermission started and the presentation stopped, I walked through a door near the stage. Because the entertainment was not yet finished I was able to go home.
I entered the tavern of my own city and breathed a sigh of relief.
Tonight I'm going to write a poem.
This is a beautiful journaling game! The art nouveau layout and excellently curated artwork evoke a strong sense of time & place that help bring San Sibilia to life. The prompts are clear and tightly written, but open-ended enough to let you bring your own impressions of the city into your journal entries.
I'm excited to see the design commentary and extended appendix! The shifting nature of San Sibilia reminded me of The City & The City, and I look forward to reading about the other influences.