Murderland Reviews: Pies 13-18

January 23, 2009

Woohoo! More pie. Halfway done.

13. Sage LaTorra – Consider the Ravens

Premise: Players take the roles of ravens who are inflicting a very specific amount of physical pain and emotional misery on a chosen victim. If they inflict just the right amount, they win and presumably eat the victim. If they inflict too much, there’s “so much pain and misery that the target is over-seasoned,” and they lose.

Thoughts: Sage claims strong inspiration from My Life with Master. It definitely comes from the “timer” school of end games (MLWM, Polaris, 1001 Nights, etc.), using a central dice pool that players remove dice from as they destroy their target’s life. The two different possible endings (win/lose) are unfortunately not that exciting or well described. Additionally, there are several places where it seems like this game really wants to write things down and just skirts the requirement. Using dice to represent traits is fine, but they’re never really used as dice, just as numbers (aside from the random character creation, which is by far the most interesting and appropriate of the two options given). I’m also unsure if you really need the Need dice, since they’re only used to generate the target number the ravens are trying to hit. Better to set the number independently and then only have two dice for each player on the table. More than one die/pool for each hand is too many to keep track of on a bare table (remember Agon). Also, 18 traits seems like a lot of info about the target to generate before play begins. If there needs to be a ton of dice in the initial pool, throw handfuls on the table and generate the target’s life as you destroy it. All in all, the game is definitely playable as is, but probably needs some adjustment if it’s going to be really effective at the table.

Conclusion: Browned.

14. Filip Łuszczyk – A Conspiracy of Ravens

Premise: Well, Filip deleted the only copy of this game after he wrote it, so I’m not sure.

Thoughts: If anybody saved a copy of this one, send it to me so I can review it.

Conclusion: N/A

15. Jason Morningstar – Bodymore Murdaland

Premise: The players play a homicide detective and a bunch of suspects. The detective interrogates the suspects and, during interrogations, real quarters are exchanged between the detective and the current interviewee, establishing and denying facts. The end game determines who keeps all the money (less than $10, but an incentive nonetheless).

Thoughts: The premise rocks on toast but the execution is somewhat jumbled. The section that explains how to determine who the murderer actually is… it’s a jumble of confused grammar. That seems critical to the game and, if Jason’s intentionally being confusing (which could be), that’s kinda cool. Otherwise, I want to know how many people flip coins and who knows the murderer identity to start (the two things that are explained contradictorily). The play rules seem pretty solid, but one thing is really bugging me: there’s no way for the subjects to really interact meaningfully with each other in the lounge, when they aren’t being interrogated. Because all facts are basically established by the detective in interrogations, it’s not clear what they would talk about. Also, there’s no way for the suspects to pass quarters between each other. All money goes through the detective. Now, the game is short enough (30 min) that I would tolerate this in play, but I think it makes things less exciting. Honestly, I wish Jason would set it up a bit more like Glengarry Glen Ross, where the suspects could go out and do things on the street together (earning or exchanging quarters) between getting nabbed by the cops and interrogated (or, in Glengarry, called into the office to be questioned about the theft). That would require a longer game, though, maybe a couple hours. Playing for real money is pretty damn hot, though. Jason, fix this so I can play it!

Conclusion: Browned, but maybe baked enough if you throw it in the toaster for a bit.

16. Marshall Burns – Crow’s Hoard

Premise: This is a version of Spades/Hearts that ravens play, betting their favorite shiny objects

Thoughts: Simple and elegant, taking a classic card game structure and adding a resource gathering mechanic. I would probably want to play a few hands of it to get a sense of how the different suits interacted and what kinds of strategies made sense, but I can’t imagine any real problems that would emerge. Marshall definitely took advantage of my relative open restrictions on the type of game that could be designed. I’m not overwhelmed by how awesome the game is, but it’s definitely solid and playable.

Conclusion: Baked.

17. Josh Roby – Quoth the Raven

Premise: Players take on the roles of the Raven Lord (a trickster god), the Crow Maiden (semi-divine), the Boy (a mortal), and any number of Chorus members. Together they tell a story, with the order in which they add lines to the story constantly being shifted by their actions. The story ends soon after it narrates the death of one of the non-Chorus storytellers.

Thoughts: A neat addition to the “ritual negotiation” school of design (Polaris, Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan, Mist-Robed Gate, etc.). Each addition to the game must be said in a single breath, which is a brilliant way of limiting freeform contributions. The three main storytellers are very cool, though I wish the role of the Chorus was defined more and the Crow Woman’s quest was explicitly defined. As it is, it seems like the Boy and Crow Woman are likely to team up to resist the antagonism of the Raven Lord. The Crow Woman also confusingly seems to break her own rules in the example, where she narrates the speech of one of the characters. I also wish there was a bit more guidance as far as the content of the storytelling goes, not just the structure, since I think that’s one of the main weaknesses of structured storytelling games like Once Upon a Time and Baron Munchausen. Even if the structure is really interesting, sometimes the stories themselves fall flat, either because of “too many cook” or because they’re not really heading in a clear direction, just meandering along. Very playable and interesting, but could do with some playtesting and strengthening.

Conclusion: Baked.

18. Christopher Weeks – Crow’s-Feet

Premise: Players play people talking after their 20th high school reunion, after the niceties are over: when people stop being polite and start being real. Some of the characters are “main characters,” which are jointly controlled by two people, and the rest are just passed around as needed. There are scenes about characters’ various issues, after each of which, crows feet are drawn on the image representing the main character, pointing up or down depending on how they’re dealing with the issue. Play ends whenever the players think it’s done.

Thoughts: The guidelines for this game give it a very haphazard feel, but I think that works in this particular case, since Christopher is basically giving you light suggestions about how to structure an experience that is largely about player-directed exploration (in the normal sense, not Ron’s). Some things do feel tacked on, though, like each character being represented by two people. Interesting, mechanically, but there aren’t really any suggestions on how to do that or ways in which that obviously adds to the game. Also, the drawing crows feet, while the connection to the theme of the contest, might not be the most evocative mechanic. I do like the idea of doing something with the “this is my high school yearbook picture; this is me now” thing, though. Not exactly sure what to suggest. I really dig the simplicity and usefulness of the issue-generation table, though. That was a neat concept. All in all, I really wish there were more short-form roleplaying games (or poems or whatever you want to call them) that took this kind of loose structure, especially when exploring personal or emotional issues. I played one with Emily Care, James Brown, and Mark Majcher at GenCon 2006 and it was definitely a strong experience, even though we just improvised most of the structure. I like that Christopher gives you a premise and a little bit of structure, but trusts the group to be able to make the rest work.

Conclusion: Browned, but also earns the first special award, a Bronze Emu Statuette for making me think hard about different ways to present a roleplaying text.

4 Responses to “Murderland Reviews: Pies 13-18”

  1. mortengreis Says:

    We are satisfied for now. Now go and do more.

  2. Jonathan, thanks for your work on this. I can totally imagine coming up with a fun idea for a contest and then being like *gulp* when I have to judge the results. 🙂

    “…each character being represented by two people. Interesting, mechanically, but there aren’t really any suggestions on how to do that or ways in which that obviously adds to the game.”

    This was an interesting comment to me because I tend to think of the narration (rather than dialogue) procedure in which all the players sort of share the playing of the character. The role of the two players is most importantly to judge the effect of the story told on the character’s psyche and thus crow’s feet. I was trying to divorce player from character because character-ownership colors the whole role-play experience in ways that many people take for granted. (I love playing Universalis with RPGers for their first game for that effect, too.) Maybe I should add something explicit about that, but I was trying to write instructions without assuming they were for gamers. Anyway, I’ll think about modifications.

  3. Daniel Yokomizo Says:

    I saved a local copy of most Murderland Entries, including Filip’s. I don’t know your email though…

  4. Daniel: jaywalt at gmail. I definitely appreciate it.

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