Games, Design & Game Design

Game Chef Review: Rage, Rage

In Commentary, Game Chef, Links, My Thoughts On, Roleplaying Games on April 23, 2012 at 7:12 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 third of a series of such reviews. Also, you can download my entry by clicking here (PDF): This Match Is Scheduled For One Fall.

Rage, Rage by David Miessler-Kubanek (download PDF)

Rage, Rage is a rules-light, narrative-focused game that asks the players to set up the End (the world, someones life, a civilization, etc), and then play out the reactions of a cast of core characters who have an interest in that End. The game gives three broad category of “response” to the End – accepting it, denying it, or bending it to your will.

The group comes up with the specific End, and then a “End Pathway,” a literal object (based on the examples given) that represents the thematic impact of that End. I appreciate the extensive examples given of each, enough to be used as randomized tables to get started quickly. Characters are sketched out broadly, having 2 numbers (Madness and Courage), and the answers to a list of questions – what is the character willing to risk, who are they willing to sacrifice, and how will they prevent the “dying of the light”? These questions are very evocative and give some immediate hook into a characters mindset, for me at least.

Characters also have a Hope and Fear related to the Lantern, which is kind of an all-encompassing metaphor for both the End and the End Pathway. Essentially, a character has a related Hope and Fear, only one of which is active at a time, and some of the mechanics involve switching the focus of the character from one to the other. Each character also has a Hope and a Fear related to the backgrounds of one of the other characters, putting them into an initial relationship map with each other.

Gameplay, as far as I can tell, consists of using the cues generated during character creation to push towards some kind of dealing with the oncoming End – again, either accepting it, denying it, or bending it to your will. The game uses the word “respond” almost exclusively when talking about what characters do, which struck me as an odd choice. This kind of game, with a light atmospheric framework and a lot of narrative overhead, tends to work best when built around pro-active characters with definite goals, in my experience. This may just very well just be my personal response to the phrasing, but it stood out to me as not serving the text well.

I admit, I had difficulty parsing this game text. Part of it is that some of the mechanics share names but do different things, part of it is the use of the Lantern metaphor as an organizing principle in a couple of different and overlapping ways, and part of it is that I’m not sure if Daniel had a clear idea of what play would actually look like. A GM is mentioned a couple of times, but there is no note of what their responsibilities are, making me question why there’s a GM at all? I don’t see any reason why the players can’t all have a character and simply…do whatever you need to do to provide adversity for each other. The game calls itself cooperative, but characters seem to be pointed at each other (with their Fear connections), and there are mechanics for killing each other and dying.

I like a lot of the pieces of this game, particularly the relationship between Madness and  Courage. The relationship of these two numbers, looked at amongst all of the characters, is what determines “what happens” at the end of the game, a really nice twist to a My Life With Master-like “your numbers determine your fate” approach. I like that the players get to contribute to each others characters (by writing down each other Fears, and giving each other Signs of the End). I really like the two sample game setups provided, which really helped me understand how characters and their relationships are supposed to look.

I personally would have trouble playing this game as written, right now, due mainly to my vagueness about what the GM is supposed to do, and what kind of approach the players should have to their characters. I don’t see any major procedural holes (there aren’t many procedures to consider!). I would need to have a stronger idea of Daniel’s vision for actual play, either directly expressed in the text or in the form of illustrative examples, to have a less analytical response to this text. I really appreciate the levels of metaphor and the overall aim of the game! There is a bit of poetry here that is very appealing to me. It’s just obscuring the prose, as it were, a little too much.

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