Stage One: Reviewing 1-3

December 17, 2011

Last batch! Watch out for the Bullet Bills! Thanks to everyone for making this event so awesome, and I apologize deeply for not getting to this last set of reviews sooner. Now I’m excited to play these and work on putting the anthology together in the new year!

13. Half of Everything is Luck (Goldeneye): Mike Olson

This game is straight-up terrific. Since it’s a solo game, you should play try it out right now, if you haven’t already. Mike has had strong showings in the past couple years of Game Chef, but, despite his excellent design skills, I was admittedly skeptical about a Goldeneye-inspired game. While I played the multi-player shootout for countless hours, I’m not generally a huge first-person-shooter fan. However, Mike knocked this one out of the park. Using college-ruled paper to measure distance to objectives is genius, plus it gives the game a strong crafty, DIY feel. The guards act like guards in shooters: it doesn’t matter how many times you hit them, you need to hit them in a very specific way to kill them, which is hilarious. Both the first level, the dam, and the outline of stage two (“The Facility”) are evocative and sound exciting to play. There are a few weaknesses in the text — notably, a couple of the examples are confusing to read, the opposite of what you want in an example — but, along with the Shadow of the Colossus-inspired game, this really takes solo tabletop play in an interesting direction that I hope we can keep exploring. Even the name of this game is great, simply reeking of Brosnan-era James Bond. There are sections of this that’ll need more playtesting and analysis from hardcore min-maxing gearheads to ensure they’re challenging but not impossible, but this game definitely gets an invitation.

14. Lost Colony (Alpha Centauri): Mendel Schmiedekamp

Parts of this remind me of a game I playtested some years back, maybe an early draft of Mars Colony (?), crossed with the line-drawing mechanic from It’s Complicated. Overall, it’s pretty successful, though I feel like I’d need to play it to get a better sense of what the experience would be like, because it’s hard to tell just from the rules. I’m left with a few practical questions — what is the “T” in the technologies after stage zero? how do we decide what later technologies actually are, since they are semi-random associations of keys? do Wonders or civilizational changes mean anything? — my main concern is about the imaginative content of play, or the lack thereof, which isn’t really specified much in the short text. I can see this game going either way: fleshing out moves into imaginative encounters (not quite scenes, more vignettes or montages) that involve a few players, or being much more like a light strategic boardgame, where you make your move, interpret it, and then move on. Either way, it’d be nice to have a stronger sense from the designer which is preferable or if a mixture of approaches — depending on player preferences — is also doable. Overall, though, I think it’s ready for internal playtesting and maybe a bit of outside playtesting to see if it measures up to the designer’s vision in practice and (importantly) can sustain interest after the first stage or two. Nine stages, the number recommended in the text, seems like a lot.

15. Pokemon Paper Edition (Pokemon): Robert Bruce

I’m probably one of the only people in the world who owns a copy of the Pokemon Jr. Adventure Game, Set 1: Pokemon Emergency!, though I think it was actually recommended to me by Jason Morningstar (?). It was the only box set published by WOTC in a planned line of Pokemon tabletop RPGs for kids. Robert, you really need to find a copy of this game and play it, because you’ve created a game that’s remarkably similar — no surprise, considering the source material! — though yours captures certain aspects of Pokemon better, especially the elemental interactions between Pokemon. Overall I have two main concerns: (1) as with Mushroom Kingdom Adventures, will this game still be grabbing and enthralling when it’s about “MegaPets” (or whatever) and their owners, rather than Pokemon trainers; and (2) rather than having all the Pokemon in a separate appendix (when everything was supposed to fit on two pages), I’d like to see them worked directly into the text. If both those issues are resolved, then I think we can start talking about the next steps. Removing the Nintendo IP while maintaining interest is going to take a bit of thought and work, so I’d just like to see what this game looks like then before we move forward, assuming Robert’s still interested in being part of the anthology.

16. Heavy is the Head (Civilis/zation): Simon Carryer

This is another game that’s seen some play since the contest ended. Trying to model Civilization (yes, we spell it with a zed in the U.S.) is a brilliant, ambitious goal — like with Alpha Centauri — and I think Simon takes a good shot at it, though there are a few remaining issues. It’s essentially an Apocalypse World hack for 2 players, but one player — the one in charge of the main civilization — seems like they will be having much more fun than the other. While I like a lot of what’s going on, I keep thinking that it would be much more fun if it was re-framed as a multi-player game where each player controlled a neighboring civilization on the same map. The choices made by a single player, after all, seem much more interesting when viewed in comparison with different choices made by other players. You wouldn’t necessarily need 5-6 PC civilizations, but maybe 2-3 plus a couple other NPC civilizations. Ultimately, this may not be the direction the designer wants to go. From reading some of the playtest comments, it sounds like Simon might be exploring other ways in which to make Player Two’s role more active. Overall, this still needs a bit more polishing and playtesting before it’s ready to submit to the anthology, but I hope that ultimately happens because it’s a great take on a genre that’s only been partially explored in tabletop RPGs before. The politics grid is an especially neat thing and I hope that it has a more central presence in the final version. The way Civilization views human history in a social darwinist fashion is all kinds of problematic, but it’s definitely something worth capturing and messing with in a game like this.

17. Paperboy Unleashed (Paperboy): Lorenzo Trenti

Wow, I will admit, this is not at all what I expected from a Paperboy-inspired game. Lorenzo really took the premise and ran with it! I really like how the paperboy is de-personalized: no one player plays him, but you collectively determine his fate, which seems reminiscent of the faceless protagonists of early video games (and some later ones: Link and Masterchief are still like that). The lists of good and bad encounters are classic (“breakdancer”) and overall the game reads almost like a tabletop parody of experimental Nordic larp / Jeepform. You describe encounters, roll dice, and either take harm or not (symbolically ripping up a sheet of newspaper if you take harm), and have encounters with the Grim Reaper, all the while trying to learn lessons from the harm you’ve taken so you can overcome death itself. It’s wacky and dark and kinda hilarious at the same time, just due to the absurdity of the juxtaposition of mortal doom and an 8-bit kid on a bike. I’m honestly not sure where Lorenzo should go with this but I double dare anyone to play it and hopefully some actual play experiences will illuminate things further. In any event, I hope it turns out to be a blast in practice, because it’s utterly insane and would be great to have in the anthology.

18. The Fissure (Guild Wars): Trevor Waldorf

As with the other video games that I didn’t have much background in, I spent some time watching Guild Wars footage on Youtube, so I could say some intelligent things about this game. I’m not sure it helped that much in this case, though, since the action seems to occur mostly in the abstract, not connected that closely to fictional events. The mechanics take place in real-time, which is neat, but involve rolling d8s over and over again until you match the role made by another player (modified, I think, by your class). I guess this symbolizes that you need the cooperation of other players to accomplish anything? But then once one pair of players have made their rolls, the last player just attempts to tie their previous roll. Once you pass a set number of different types of rolls at your current location, you can move to a new location and do it all over again. Overall, the map structure is cool, but the actual fictional things that you are attempting to do seem to be a bit lost in all this rolling, though the descriptions of the objectives on the map locations are actually pretty interesting. They just need to connect more closely to what the players are actually doing in play. Also, I can’t figure out from the rules how you actually take damage. Does it happen when you haven’t rolled a match in 30 seconds? Players can make a lot of rolls in 30 seconds, though, so it doesn’t seem likely to happen. In any event, this definitely needs some internal playtesting to iron out some of the kinks and allow the designer to see what parts of their vision came through and what parts need some work. Some good ideas, but not quite there yet.

4 Responses to “Stage One: Reviewing 1-3”

  1. Simon Says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for the review! You’re right, that’s not really the direction I’m looking at taking the game. I thought about multiple civilisations, but I can’t see a way of that not getting competitive, which wouldn’t work at all. I agree the game needs more work to be finised, and that Player Two needs to be more engaged (although their role is at least as engaging as a GM role in any other game).

    So where to from here? I mean, I’m gonna play it some more and probably change some stuff, but I think the core of the game is pretty good as it is.

    • Hey Simon!

      I’m working on a site page for Stage One right now, which will try to track progress towards the anthology. It’s totally cool if you want to take your game in a different direction. As long as it works, I’m happy to stay out of design decisions and let folks make their own choices. Once you’ve playtested the game and think it’s pretty much done, the next step is to submit a “final” version of the text (from your perspective). Then, once we agree that the game is ready to progress towards publication, we’ll work through it in the editing and layout processes.

      Does that answer your question?

      • SimonSimon Says:

        Kinda, yes. I’ll work up some changes based on the playtesting I’ve done and further thinking, but I’m not sure that it will address your criticism of the game particularly.

        My core design goal for the game was for it to feel a little like a structured conversation about politics. The structure of the game is essentially a Socratic dialogue, with one player asking questions and the other player answering them. I think that dynamic is working fairly well in the game as it stands. I’m thinking about an “Emmisary” phase of play though too, which might give Player Two a bit more of the creative fun that Player One gets.

        Thanks again,


    • That sounds great. It’s totally possible that your reframing and clarifying certain aspects of the game will make my previous concerns irrelevant, so don’t worry too much about making any particular changes that I suggested.

      My take on feedback is this (which I got from someone, though I don’t remember exactly who): suggestions and negative feedback is a sign that something could be improved, but it doesn’t really tell you what or how. In general, players are really good at spotting where something isn’t quite working, but — since they’re not the designer and don’t share your perspective and intentions — they can’t really tell you how to fix it. And I haven’t even played your game yet! So you definitely should take any suggestions with a grain of salt and act instead out of what you think is best for the game.

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