WoDu and it’s descendents are a really interesting phenomenon. It’s true WoDu itself in particular is so minimalist it’s just barely playable, but then that’s also true of the earliest versions of D&D. Famously white box was pretty much just a collection of notes and bits of rules, and the Holmes blue book was only incrementally better. It was the Moldvay and Mentzer Basic editions that were really the first properly explained and ‘complete’ games but still very bare bones. They really relied on cultural transmission of the way they are supposed to be played. This is why so many other ROGs were spawned so quickly, people who didn’t learn gaming by playing with existing gamers had to fill in the gaps, and often paved over the few existing mechanics in the process.
Of the early editions of D&D itself Moldvay Basic is by far my favourite. The later Mentzer edition quickly eclipsed it, but the Moldvay edition had one secret weapon hidden in the DM notes at the back, just a single paragraph titles “There’s always a chance”. Basically to do anything not covered by the rules, just roll 1D20 and try and roll under an appropriate stat. Boom - instant minimalist heroic roleplaying very much in the WoDu spirit all the way back in 1980. Interestingly The Black Hack is a great recent lightweight OSR game based on the same mechanic.
Anyway, back to WoDu and it’s descendents. I think Breakers, the first WoDu Turbo game, was a real watershed. It’s a much more complete game, ditches the legacy stats and has an up to date and highly functional character sheet design. It even comes with a handful of monster stats. Leading on directly from this is Rovers from Aviatrix, a really awesome Traveller mini-clone, complete with starship design system and a world creation system. Rovers completely floored me, next time I feel like running Traveller, or a Firefly or Dark Matter inspired game this is what I’m reaching for. Yes you get less than in any edition of Traveller, but terseness and simplicity are by themselves incredibly valuable attributes.
Another game I can’t pass by without comment is Streets of Marienburg. It seems to bypass Breakers mechanicaly, but it still one of the most complete WoDu hacks out there, even including a setting! Character Generation is appropriately expansive for a WHFRP inspired game, and it has a nice mini magic system.
Breakers was still quite minimalist, but focused on a specific premise that made it feel much more complete than WoDu. Rovers and Marienburg though both bring a lot more to the table, fleshing out the game with extra options and mechanics that add flavour and focus on a specific setting or activity but still in a super stripped-down way.
My one criticism of all these games is that you really need to already know how to play an RPG to really make them sing. That’s absolutely true of WoDu itself. As a kickstarter stretch goal for Dungeon World it was aimed squarely at people who already knew how to not just play RPGs, but PbtA games specifically. Breakers, Rovers and Marienburg, and I’m sure other games too it’s just these are the ones I’m most familiar with, take a little more space and effort to provide a more complete package. Still though, they rely on a lot of existing knowledge and experience in the reader. That’s not a bad thing, why repeat a lot of ‘boiler plate’ introduction to roleplaying stuff unnecessarily?
All of this is particularly interesting to me because I’m working on a hack of my own. I’m not quite ready to share it, but it’s really come together in the last 2 weeks. While Marienberg is a love letter to WHFRP and Rovers is a love letter to Traveller, this is a love letter to Runequest. It’s called Runeslingers and I’d like to say it’s 80% done, but knowing how project estimations work that probably means I’ve got about the same amount of work left to do fleshing it out and tightening it up.