Murderland: Pies 26-30

August 28, 2009

26. Stephen Bretall – Murderland Bites!

Premise: The characters are infected with a zombifying virus and must find the cure and escape from the facility before they are incurably infected and picked apart by ravenous crows. The end game is basically a ruthless series of choices as to how everyone will end up getting killed or killing each other.

Thoughts: Wow. I can’t imagine any characters actually living through this game. It’s remorseless. Your best bet seems to be aiming for swallowing the super-virus strain and becoming a zombie vampire lord. But if the players then choose to blow up the facility — and come on, somebody will — it’s TPK city, most likely. Still, should be a fun time. I very much like the way it uses physical objects to represent the number of bullets you have and how far the rot has advanced. That’s clever, but honestly seems like an end-run around the “no writing things down” requirement, since it would be much easier to jot a few notes. I’d have to get Eric to run the numbers on the game to see if it’s really as lethal as I suspect but, unlike a couple other entries, even if there’s no chance of survival, I can imagine really having some fun with this.

Conclusion: Baked.

27. Simon Brake – One for Sorrow

Premise: A competitive card-based storytelling game, similar to Once Upon a Time, using a standard deck of playing cards. Players try to play all their cards, based on a series of rules, providing appropriate narration for each card played based on a rhyme that gives each card a specific meaning.

Thoughts: This would work way better with a custom deck of cards or scraps of paper with the meanings printed on them. I would have to play this game many, many times before narrating the meanings of individual cards would come naturally with having to look up the meanings. Also, the description of the rules that govern when I can play what cards is not written very clearly, so I’d have to sit down and write out my own more explicit guidelines. Also my experiences playing Once Upon a Time leads me to be skeptical of games of this style, which often encourage players to create very jumpy, random, lame narratives in order to win. I like the rhyming poem a lot, though. I just wish it was attached to something I felt more confident about playing.

Conclusion: Warm.

28. David Donachie – A Parliament of Rooks

Premise: The players play rooks meeting in parliament to decide who is innocent and who deserves to be eaten. The rooks take turns prosecuting randomly generated victims’ cases while each victim is potentially defended by one or more other parliamentarians. Each rook has a limited number of votes to spend either for or against the various victims and whoever successful prosecutes victims with the highest collective value (and eats them) wins and is named Lord High Chancellor or something.

Thoughts: This is a really cool structure for a game, one I’ve never seen before. There are a few lawyer games out there — like, uh, Sea Dracula — but I’ve never seen one where you actually play a legislative body. Granted, in this case, it’s a legislative body of murderous birds, but still. My main concern is that the dearth of votes — 10 per rook — will stifle the debate, forcing players to save their votes for prosecuting their victims and only leaving them with minimal opposition from the rest of the parliament. I suspect that at least twice that many votes, 20 per player, would be more effective at generating some more interesting tactics. Still, that kind of thing could be worked out with just a bit of playtesting.

Conclusion: Baked.

29. David Wendt – Raven, Wolf, and Cow: Tales from the Murderland Cafe

Premise: The players play the Norns, except that they run a cafe in the middle of nowhere. They make prophesies about the various customers in their diner, determining which ones are true by a weighted voting system. At the end, the Norn with the most true prophecies narrates what happens to the patron after they leave the cafe.

Thoughts: Seems solid enough, but I’m not sure why I care about these random people we just made up and what happens to them. Plus, the Norns themselves aren’t really interesting as characters but basically serve as avatars for the players. So in the end, I’m not sure where you invest in the fiction as a player, which is my main stumbling block here. Sure, you hope that the prophecies that are true end up being the most interesting ones, but I can imagine just getting invested in the customer’s life when they leave the diner and the game ends. If there was a sense in the text that that was the point, building this fleeting connection to a random person in a diner over a bottomless cup of coffee, that would be cool, but I didn’t get any of that.

Conclusion: Warm, but maybe baked enough if you can create really compelling content from the get-go.

30. Elizabeth Shoemaker – Murderland

Premise: Players play the classic Cluedo characters, except that they are all in trouble with the mob and, worse, are trapped in a house together with a bunch of weapons, a bad containing 2 million in cash, and are told that only two people can remain standing at the end of an hour. So the players essentially played a dark, twisted version of Cluedo (or Clue, as it’s called in the US) and try to kill other characters and end up with the money.

Thoughts: Very cool. Obviously the premise and hack of an classic board game are fantastic. Rules-wise, I have a couple of concerns. Players can use weapons or other resources to steal the victory die during the back-and-forth exchange of fighting, but it’s not clear to me 1) what happens when both players want to spend resources in this way, 2) why you would steal the die early in a fight, and 3) what good it does you to steal the die even near the end of the fight, if there’s still at least one exchange left giving you a 50% chance of ultimately ending up with it. So, right now, just looking at the rules, it seems like weapons don’t actually do anything, which is worrisome. Also, the endgame involves the first killed player serving as GM, basically, and secretly giving the bag of money to whichever character finds it first, without the other players knowing. But I really wish there were instructions in the rules about how you do that. Like maybe there would be slips of paper on which are written “You find nothing + You find nothing + … You find the money,” which the GM hands out anytime someone searches a room. Otherwise, secretly allocating the money seems very hard. Finally, the game is artificially cut short after 1 hour of playtime and my sense is, especially running the game the first time, everyone will die because the victory conditions won’t be met, since it will take time to get used to the rules and run enough fights so that most characters are dead. Two hours might be more feasible, I think. Still, definitely a game I would be excited to play, assuming I could figure out how spending resources during fights it supposed to work.

Conclusion: Browned, maybe baked if some clarity can be gained on resource use.

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