Games, Design & Game Design

Archive for the ‘Contest’ Category

Game Chef Review: Oath of Steel

In Contest, Game Chef, Links, My Thoughts On, Roleplaying Games on April 22, 2012 at 2:35 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 second of a series of such reviews. Also, you can download my entry by clicking here (PDF): This Match Is Scheduled For One Fall.

Oath of Steel, by Jeffrey Fuller (download PDF)

Oath of Steel is a GMless/GMful game that asks the players to both threaten and defend the last bastion of magic in a world on the brink of destruction. Two of the nine pages of the game give the flavor and background of this world, where the Nations of Spire (mad godkings) are besieged by the 72 nations (united by an anti-magic faith). Six of the pages are the pre-generated Champion characters, each provided with two differently-gendered names. The overall structure for the game is contained on the remaining page, and each Champion sheet has a copy of the character-centric resolution rules and options, so there’s essentially two pages of hard rules.

Structurally, the game is of limited scope and has a definite endgame. The Champions are presumed to be defending the last surviving Godking from the encroaching armies of the Faith. Each player generates a set of Events and related Threats that face the Champions. These Events and Threats are organized into Waves, and each Champion faces a Wave in turn. The game ends once either all of the Champions Burn Out (i.e. are destroyed), or once all the Waves are defeated.

Honestly, after reading the color-drenched, evocative opening text, I found the actual procedures of gameplay to be a little underwhelming. The setting is rich in contradiction (is magic always going to corrupt? are the godkings really worth defending? what do you do when you’re functionally immortal but you can’t remember each individual lifetime?), but the game is very linear. Over the course of the game, each character has the opportunity to answer a set of questions (called Drives) about their character. This is the only real opportunity I see for the players to address any of these questions, but mechanically, answering them feeds into the only reward cycle, which is focused on fighting the Waves. So, an opening, but not necessarily one that leads out of the hallway of play, as it were.

Mechanically, I had a couple of questions. The main currency, Power (essentially “magic points”) seems like it’s a little incomplete. You can wager Power on any die roll, picking one number (on a d6), and potentially recovering Power if any of your dice roll that number. I don’t see any downside for making a wager, making it a no-brainer to wager on every roll. Also, you can spend Power to get more dice (which are “strikes” on 4+), or you can spend Power directly to make strikes. Threats need between 1 and 5 strikes to overcome, and you start with 20 Power. Your character reincarnates as long as they have 1 Power remaining.

So, is there any reason not to spend Power directly to take out Threats until you’re down to 1, then let the next Threat kill you (if you take 4 stress, you die)? You reincarnate with 20 Power, and can continue without ever having to make a roll. I may be missing something here, but having this cycle be this straightforward really takes the teeth out of the potential tension of having final destruction for your Champion be on the table.

I do really like the evocative world, and the character write-ups. The idea that Magic is this horrendously powerful force is compelling and well-supported by the mechanics behind it. I like the ritual swearing of the Oath of Steel. Structurally, this game is primarily cooperative – yes, you create Threats at the beginning, but the point of play certainly seems to be working together to overcome the adversity. In this kind of setup, that adversity really needs to have mechanical teeth provided by the game itself, or there’s little tension to drive the players choices.

I would recommend lowering the amount of Power that characters start with (maybe to 10, or even 5), and make sure that there’s a downside to wagering Power points that makes it a real risk (perhaps you lose all remaining Power, opening you to the risk of Burning Out). Finally, I think that answering the characters Drives should give the players an opportunity to say something about the world, as opposed to more currency to put into fighting, that could have some relationship to the Epilogue at the end of the game.

I’m sure that Jeffrey already has answers to some of my concerns in his head, so I think the next step for this game is taking a look at the text and making sure it says what you want it to say, and a solid playtest where you see whether the game hits all the points you want it to hit. I would personally need to houserule a couple of things (like the Wager mechanic) in order to feel like I could play the game right now – however, I don’t think I’d have any trouble pitching it, as the setting and situation are, as I’ve said, extremely evocative and eminently playable.


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.

The Cycle of the Seasons

In Contest, Game Design, Promo, Roleplaying Games on February 5, 2011 at 9:46 am

I’m a big fan of the Ronnies. If you’re not familiar, it’s a game design contest where the challenge is to write a first draft of a game inspired by 2 of 4 given words in 24 hours. Ron Edwards gives detailed and insightful feedback on all of the entries, playtests many of them, and if a game strikes him as being at a certain level of completeness combined with a meaningful use of the two chosen words, he gives you a prize!

I entered one of the first Ronnies back in 2005 (wow), with She’s. It was…overcomplicated, at best.

Now, the new “rolling” model of the Ronnies (where Ron cuts off entries after a week or 9 entries, whichever comes first) has happened right when I shouldn’t be taking time to design non-school-stuff, but I followed the first round avidly. The four words for the February round (Whisper, Morning, Wings and Murder) really struck me, and Ron announced them at the end of the Chicago Snowpocalypse, when I actually had classes cancelled and some free time!

Now, I’ve written a game about Wings and Murder before, so I decided to stay away from that combo, and really from Murder altogether. Of the three remaining combos (Whisper + Wings, Wings + Morning, Morning + Whisper), I did a little idea sketching, and got most excited about the Whisper + Morning combo. For me, it conjured up an idea of two clashing forces, not as fundamental as “good” and “evil” but certainly opposed. I’ve recently been thinking about classic fantasy a lot, and one idea led to another, and oh crap I wrote a game. Anyway, it’s full of secrets, battles, family and monsters. Download the 1 MB PDF here or from 1KM1KT. I look forward to seeing what Ron, and anyone else, have to say!

More info about the game after the cut.

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Notes On An Unfinished Game (Part 1)

In Contest, Design Process, Game Design on September 11, 2010 at 8:13 pm

(blame Game Chef for this one)

Zim? Zim left, man. Zim went out to the Edge. We’re all waiting. The war will wait – you know that. Edge Truce holds when someone goes to the Edge. What? Break Edge Truce? Never, man, never. You’re crazy. Break Truce and everyone comes down on you – the Lugs, the Skinners, the Trace – hell, the Man might get involved. You listen to me, buddy. You sit tight with the rest of us and wait until Zim comes back.

If he comes back.

There’s a vibrant, bustling, huge city that has built up over time, layer upon layer like some kind of industrial wedding cake. At the top are the movers and shakers, the beautiful people, the people who get things done. This game’s not about them. It’s about those who live below, where daylight is dark and night is black, where people scratch and scrabble and steal just to get by. It’s about the powers that rule these lower layers, far away from the sunshine. And it’s about where it all ends – the Edge.

(more after the cut)

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