Games, Design & Game Design

Game Chef Review: First Impressions

In Contest, Game Chef, Links, My Thoughts On, Roleplaying Games on April 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I participated in this year’s “Last Chance” Game Chef game design competition. Part of the deal is providing peer review to other people’s submissions. This is the first of a series of such reviews. Also, you can download my entry by clicking here (PDF): This Match Is Scheduled For One Fall.

First Impressions, by Mendel Schmiedekamp (download PDF)

First Impressions bills itself as “part game, part ice-breaker, part trust building exercise, and part personality test.” I like that the game part is very evident, using a Candyland-inspired board and both card and dice mechanics to provide structure to an essentially player-created, freeform play experience. The cards are used Oracle-style to generate stats, pose questions about the characters relationships, and create possibility spaces of dangers and relationships during play, as well as to pace the actual movement around the board. The dice are used essentially as roll-under pass/fail resolution.

I personally found the use of dice, inspired by one of the Forge Thread ingredients Mendel got, to be the weakest part of this game. You use a d6, d10 or d12 as the tens digit, and a d10 as the ones, to get an extremely fine-grained result for such a binary roll. I understand the use of three die ranges to split rolls into easy, medium or hard, but this implementation seems to me an artifact of the ingredient use that could be heavily streamlined.

I appreciate the intent of the game to be agnostic as to whether the players will be competitive, cooperative, or somewhere in-between. I’m having trouble imagining what play would look like, though, because there is so much wiggle room. As with all games, I’d need to play to see whether this is as much a problem as it seems. I will say that there seems to me to be little need to add to the fiction during play beyond answering the prompts revealed by cards (which may or may not be a problem, depending on whether you feel like that’s an essential part of a roleplaying game or not).

Also, there is no structure that I see for the players characters to have any interaction beyond that generated purely from the players. This may be a problem for the stated goal of the game, in that if people are trying to learn how to play a roleplaying game together, they are probably envisioning playing a game where their characters are together, not just the players.

That said, the game certainly is procedurally complete, and I find the prompts given in the various randomized lists to be compelling and interesting. I think the Last Chance theme provided the core inspiration of the game, without being particularly expressed in the final product. Without reading through the inspiration threads, I trust that Mendel was inspired by a lot of crazy ideas, and I applaud the synthesis of so many elements into one coherent piece.

For this kind of game, the proof is in the pudding – would playing it lead two strangers to learn something about each other, and/or be better able to play other games together? I have no idea! It’s certainly a noble experiment, and only play will tell how successful it is. But the game is certainly ready to played to find out.

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