Games, Design & Game Design

Game Chef Review: Coyote Pass

In Game Chef, Links, My Thoughts On, Roleplaying Games on April 26, 2012 at 7:09 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 fourth of a series of such reviews. Also, you can download my entry by clicking here (PDF): This Match Is Scheduled For One Fall.

Coyote Pass, by David Miessler-Kubanek (Download PDF)

Coyote Pass is very structured, narrative-focused game “about smugglers searching for identity and life beyond the Edge.” Most of the players play Coyotes, special operators in the Edge of Forever Borderland Territories (a border setting that’s created in play, essentially). The Coyotes are defined not only by their Traits, but also by the Debts that they owe people, and a specific Contract they they are attempting to fulfill. A GM plays the Innocents involved, as well as representatives of Authority (both the Law and the Underworld), and other incidental NPCs as needed.

My favorite thing about this game is that the Innocents, who could easily be vague outlines of plot direction, are actually strongly integrated into the Coyote characters by a beautiful mechanic wherein the Traits that define the characters can be given, or given up to, Innocents. Innocents are therefor partly defined by and partly the definition of the characters, and I found this relationship to be something I’d really like to explore in play.

The game is very, very light on setting and genre beyond the broad strokes of choosing whether the Edge of Forever Borderland Territories are mundane or supernatural in scope. What gives the game structure in play is the Contract that each Coyote is attempting to fulfill. These are detailed, with three specific actions that need to be taken, giving the GM a strong platform of what-to-do-now fodder.

Debts are the core reward cycle in the game. Coyotes can potentially die, if they take on too many Debts, or move on with their lives and leave the Borderland Territories, if they free themselves from Debts entirely. Gaining more Debts requires Coyotes to give an Innocent a Trait (or lose it entirely), linking them into the cycle. Again, I was really impressed with how clear and meaningful all of these interactions seem.

I was a little confused by the Authority Invocation rules, wherein you roll a die (1d6) under a list of circumstances – the rolls have modifiers after them, but I wasn’t able to tell whether those were automatic, or contingent on the roll in some manner. It took me two reads to see that the roll is actually to see whether the Authority in question would enter the scene, and I’m not really sure what effect the Authority has other than fictional impact on which NPCs are in the scene – there’s a note that says that interacting with Authority is how Coyotes create new Traits, which has a cost associated with it (see below) but no other details about how this looks like in play (and, frankly, I don’t know if it’s necessary).

Coyotes have one numerical rating, Courage, which they can spend to do things like regaining Hurt (Traits can get Hurt) and trading/gaining new Traits. It also can be used to help out in the few Conflict rolls you might make.

This brings me to my challenge to Daniel – I think you can make this game sing without using dice at all. You already acknowledge that resolution of a scene can/should come from the tension of Contracts and Duties vs. Debts. I think all this needs is a set of guidelines for Hurts as a result of the players choices, and you could dispense with die rolls entirely (or, keep them solely for Games of Chance). That would tighten up an already very tight game, I think.

Finally, the game currently lasts “until all of the Coyotes have died or successfully found freedom” – I think this may be an option for longterm play, perhaps, but my instinct would be to play until each character either fulfills their Contract or dies/finds freedom attempting to do so. I just see the Contract as being so key to a Coyote, fulfilling one should be as climactic as one of the other two states.

So, overall, I was quite surprised and pleased with this game! I think the core systems are tight, elegant and evocative. There’s two or three sets of interactions that I think can actually be folded back into the main engine of play (Debts), and made even smoother. I really appreciated the very clear breakdown of Player’s and GM’s roles (and how they differ), and the example characters. I feel like I could play this now (with an eye out for the few moments I found confusing) and I would get an entertaining and poignant experience. Well done!

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