Russian Roulette is just an edgy version of Snakes & Ladders. It’s pure luck gussied up with high stakes and the cool aesthetic of spinning a six-shooter. A grizzled mafioso whose cheeks glitter with fragments of other people’s teeth has as much chance of winning Russian Roulette as a sleepy five-year-old in SpongeBob pyjamas. But take Russian Roulette, swap the revolver for a pump-action shotgun, mix up live and dud rounds, and add Inscryption-esque items which let you change the rules, and now you have a more skillful game. That’s Buckshot Roulette, the latest from Mike Klubnika, the dev behind those excellent horror games about operating machinery. Great weird machines here too.
In the back room of a dingy nightclub, a demonic-looking dealer waits to play shotgun roulette with you. Each round starts with the dealer revealing a selection of live and dud shells then loading them into the shotgun in a random order. Then, you take turns either shooting yourself in the face or shooting your the rival. If you shoot yourself with a dud shell, your opponent skips their next turn and you go again. If you shoot yourself in the face with a live shell, well, thankfully you have a number of lives each round. If you take a shot, you are revived by defibrillation and blood transfusions from a clunky machine. When the shotgun’s empty, the dealer reloads with another random selection. The round ends when someone has lost all their lives. You’re aiming to reach and win the third round, when final death is on the line.
The second round introduces items. At every reload, the mechanical table opens to present you with a box containing random single-use items. The magnifying glass lets you peek at the shell currently loaded. Smoking a cigarette restores one life. Chugging a beer pumps the shotgun to eject the current shell. Handcuffs make your opponent skip their next turn. And the hand saw (temporarily) cuts down the shotgun’s barrel to make it deal 2 damage. The items and the fiendish adversary do make this feel quite Inscryption-y.
So. Run the numbers on how many of each shell are left in the shotgun. Decide whether to shoot yourself or the dealer. Decide whether to use items this turn or save them, perhaps hoping to wing it on probability until you can deploy a devastating combo. It’s not the most complex puzzle game but it’s fun to feel out strategies and ride the odds, and I really dig the tone, and I adore all this weird machinery.
Like Klubnika’s other games, giant weird mechanical devices govern all this. The game table is mechanical, whirring into life with flipping hidden compartments revealing shells and boxes. Scores are tracked on a machine which hooks into the defibrillators reviving you. The whole room is full of doodads, some of which remain unexplained. The shotgun itself is also a great device, with the pleasing clack-clonk that’s almost as cool as a Russian Roulette player spinning the revolver cylinder. Even entering your name at the start involves an elaborate device. I’m very into this level of mechanical overcomplication.
I really like how his games are small visits to unexplained terrible places. Because they’re so short, they can blast images and ideas to build a mood then end without explaining. Spend 5-20 minutes in a terrible other place then return to your life. Bigger, longer games would struggle to sustain mystery and dread. I also appreciate how the the contrast between the vague mood and the complexity and specificity of the devices works to ground everything. You’re playing a deadly game with a seemingly demonic dealer, sure, but it’s governed by mechanical elements. These devices are real enough that you’ll see a short config process on a screen when certain new parts are activated. Or rather than sign a contract in blood with a conjured quill, as many other games might do in a situation like this, you’re tapping your name into a device which prints the letters onto a liability waiver. His games focus on interacting with tangible mundane reality in otherworldly places. It’s a great mood.
Buckshoot Roulette is available from Itch.io for Windows and Linux, priced at a minimum of $1.20 (with taxes, that’s about £1.20). Do note that your graphics card needs to support Vulkan; I’ve seen a few folks caught out by that.
After this, do also check out Klubnika’s Unsorted Horror. It’s a collection of short horror games full of strange machines. Operate a whole suite of devices to draw samples from unknown life in the depths, keep a drill running to escape a mysterious bunker, cripple a vast computer, and more. Good stuff. It’s one of my other 2023 favourites. You can get that for free on Steam.