First off, I was hesitant. Religion is a fascinating subject, but often leads to some ill will when brought into games too heavily. I'm not into In Nomine, I didn't much like Providence, and I dread White Wolf's coming game, Demon: The Fallen.
The book itself is beautiful, but its on the edge of too busy for my tastes, and the layout seems a little too frenetic. The designer really digs watermarks and uses them often, despite the fact that they sometimes obscure portions of text. That said, I picked it up in my local game store. I wasn't sure it was a game book. Thought maybe it was a fictional narrative with heavy graphic support--not quite a graphic novel. Nope. It's a role playing game, all right.
In it, you play either a Christ, a scion of the God, Ahura Mazda, or an Antichrist, a scion of the Godhead, Ahriman. The difference between the two being, apparently, that Ahura Mazda always was, while Ahriman was created by Lucifer from God's genetic code. As a Christ, it is your job to find the worthy and lead them to the promised lands for having maintained hope in these bleak times. As an Antichrist, your job is to find the worthy and lead them to the promised land to storm the walls of heaven and make of them a hell.
When you create a character, primary stats center around four mail elements: Physical, Mental, Cultural and Spiritual. The physical, mental and cultural all have direct skills associated with them, but the spiritual is broken out to augment the others and to add the twist of magic that one would expect when dealing with angels or demons. In effect, you're creating two separate characters--the frail mortal "coil" and the enabled spiritual "deiform." Who you are and how you appear when in Eden (the promised lands, the fallen realms) need not have anything to do with who you are or how you appear on earth (the impure realm). There is no class-system here. Instead, you've got a juxtaposition of Spiritual Order (the graces you are endowed with) and Religion (the affiliation you're associated with), similar in some ways to White Wolf's popular world-of-darkness character affiliations.
The system is dead simple. Called "Vegas Rules" it's played with one or more decks of playing cards--jokers included. Conflict is determined by adding the primary statistic (say, "Physical"), any relevant skill proficiency (say, "Fight"), and a random card pulled from the deck (say, the Eight of Clubs). Different suits have different areas of dominance, so you might get bonuses for the appropriate suit. Otherwise, it's just a matter of adding them all up and comparing them to the predetermined difficulty number assigned by the GM. If you're under, you fail. if you're over, you succeed. The difference between the two determines the severity of the success or failure. Not much more to it. There are special results for jokers, aces and kings, but by and large, that's it in a nutshell. Obviously, this type of game system is much more suited to theatrical play. Rules-lawyers might get frustrated.
That all said, it's a very sound premise. I applaud the Jaffe brothers for creating something that could easily fly in the face of anyone with heavy religious leanings. But if you're willing to read the history of the world as the fiction that it is (a reworking of several religious accounts), you'll probably notice that no specific religion is slammed or touted. A difficult feat for a book like this. Instead, they've created an engaging environment that helps to contextualize the world we live in, highlights the apathy we have become mired in (where we'd much rather pay attention to the OJ Simpson trials than the ethnic cleansing in Croatia), and allows us to play characters that have a reason to transcend that apathy.
I found it to be an engaging setting that allows for a wide range of potential games--from the gritty urban game to the urban mystic game, from the hard and fast spy game to the mecha-combat game. Now, of course... I haven't played it yet. So I don't know how that last statement will bear out.
But for $15.00 USD, it's worth the buy. Even if I never get the chance to play it.
I hope I do.