Monday, September 14, 2015

Threeforged Game Thoughts: Part 1

I've been working through the Threeforged Competition entries (in reverse numerical order). I haven't been reviewing them, closer to writing up a few throughts and impressions. So of this revolves around personal preferences, but I also hope I offer useful feedback in places. I'm a little over 25% of the way through and my intent's to give all of them a scan. I've seen some interesting patterns: playing cards, Harry Potter, set number of players. One point these really make to me: my favorite story games are those with tightly engineered rules and constraints. They don't strangle, but instead make play clear and leave room for exciting and interesting play. It isn't loose-goosey. I'll come back to that more when I'll completely done reading- at which point I can talk about my two entries and post my first round game that died somewhere along the line. 

15149 The Dream Palace
It feels complete but thin? Even as I say that I recognize that too much more would render this less ethereal. As it is I think that may be my problem. It feels like instructions for a therapy session, and perhaps it needs to transcend that.

15148 Fetch This!
The key concept's interesting and seems playable for a one-shot. There's some writing style choices that get in the way of the flow. I think a good editor could make this much smoother and tighter (which stating the obvious). But it reads choppily. I'm a fan of shared group resources and the choices those force. Seems playable. Which now I notice I've said twice.

15147 Yearbooks in Disgrace
Precise Tasks...yikes. But if we're going for the feeling of unfairness in High School, that's a mechanic to simulate it. I'm glad there's GM advice at the end, and that probably needs to be referenced earlier. It feels pretty complete, but I'll need a third read to get how the mechanics actually fit together.

15146 Arcane Engines
Here's a dumb concern that pops into my head. If you have a set of classifications with two traits and have symmetry with the first traits, you probably need either symmetry or complete non-symmetry with the second. Wow that seems petty when I write that, but each time I read this the Anomaly Aspect list bugs me.

The character build section needs concrete examples for the Connections, Skills, Facets. The play structure of the rounds feels clunky. I have a hard time seeing the flow of the play. In theory I like the idea of alternating scene class between the position of the character and of the organization.

15145 20.6 Miles
I like it. I dig the way of setting characters and organizations up. I'm not a fan of stating up the supporting characters, but that's a minor quibble. Clear rules for play. Tightly written and quite good. I like spy stuff, so I'm extra amenable to this.

15144 Imperial Measure
Hello big font.

I'd like some discussion maybe about the implications of the choices the group makes in building the setting? Maybe? It might be good to establish the stakes and effects of skills earlier. I feel left without a guidepost in that cc section. Six memories done at the start of a campaign might wear out its welcome. Perhaps three and then three on the fly later? Are these only for the fiction? Again would be good to make that clear. If they are just fiction establishing, might connect it to the world building from earlier.

"The dice pool is equal to the Citizen’s Skill being used + the Career for that skill + Help dice." Wait, what? Do you get a score in the career? in the skill? that's unclear. Feels like it can't decide how open story vs. mechanical resolution it wants to be.

15143 Apprentice, Wizard, Familiar
Not a fan of "in your town" frames, but that may reflect an intended audience? Aimed at younger gamers?  Are the characters shared? Or does everyone have a wizard? Not entirely clear to me early on. I think everyone plays the same single character. I wish this had some discussion of how that sharing occurs. If it is, as I think it is, aimed at younger crowd, I think that ought to be addressed. (Or I'm wrong and everyone has a character, in which case the text's murky).

15140 Game of the Gods
I like it better on a second read-through. I appreciate the clear set of bullet points at the outset. You have a tight space, so I appreciate when writers get the premise and play area out front.

Another pass could fix minor problems like terms used before explanations of them. Pantheon creation sound quite cool and I like the mechanisms, but they're a little jumbled in their presentation. I had to read it a couple of times to get the whole of what it wanted to do.
I like random charts to build large concepts, like this quest thingy. The resolution mechanic's simple but works, I like the escalation to divinely backed actions and the cards work with that. Seems eminently playable.

15139 Millennia
I love Microscope, so I had a weird, high bar in my mind on first read. Going back and rereading...

A good editing pass could really help, small but distracting errors.

Theoretically I like the concept of the different ages and players taking active roles in shaping it. That has great potential and moves it away from the 'outsider' (?) role of Microscope. I think that's worth exploring and developing further. The diced resolution system's workable and gives a useful resource management choice.

But everything feels rough and that gets in my way more than a little. A revision might want to hit consistency of presentation and elimination of repetition.

Ugh. I hate getting my head stuck on that. That's why I came back for a second read. I like the core idea of collaborative world-building where the players take specific and active roles in the development process.

15136 The World as Such
I love this. It hit right in my brain chemistry. Love it and can't even imagine what the earlier versions must've looked like.

15135 The Book of Armaments
Specifically three players, interesting. There's room for that kind of specific player count, small group game out there.  Cards, which is something I generally like. I dig the idea of hand management connected to scene calling. I'd like to see more discussion of the logic and motives for each role earlier on. I wonder how long a round would take to play out?

15133 If At First You Don't Succeed
Generic backdrop, supported by scenarios. Most mechanics seem standard, so the weight of this really rests on the rewind mechanic. Had Life is Strange in my head as I read this. And Tragedy Looper. Time travel of a sort. Designer mentions Run Lola Run as a source, but I always imagine that as revisionist stories, ala Rashomon. GMless: helps? hurts?
OK, the revision mechanic. Building timeline. A sample card could be cool here. There's a lot of weight on the final scene. It sounds cool and I'd like to play it. The designer recognizes it will get complicated. Are there ways to make that less complicated for the group at the table? Best practices? Cool idea and decently executed. Not sure we even need the random card element.

Is there a more grabby title?

15131 Field Work
Reminds me a little of the excellent Time & Temp right out of the gate. I'd be curious about why the designer made the formatting choices here. Ugh. Nope- that's fine, it's just an artifact of opening that in my browser rather than Acrobat itself. Doofus. Carry on.

Distinct scenes as player and others as GM. Wonder how much that isolates things. I like playing with the other PCs and this removes that from the table a little. Otherwise feels like InSpectres, which isn't a bad thing. Could be a good reskin for that. Do you roll both dice? OK, and the one not applicable to the situation can't help, but does harm? OK, the example a couple of pages later makes that clear.

Interesting, and I like again that we have a game really tuned to three players. Has real room to increase the "tone" of the setting. More material from within the setting. I'd play it.

15130 At Any Cost
Again, I like the concept of rpgs tuned to a particular player count (especially tuned for low player numbers).

There's a lot of amazing work here, especially in the card design. As well there's a fairly involved card game mechanic, so much so that I have a hard time disentangling the rpg/card game sides of things. Weirdly despite all the card work and elements developed, it left me wanting something more specific. It wants to do the "Heroic Journey," and that's awesome. But I'd be interested in setting some backdrop specific card sets and elements.
That's especially true because the game aims to handle solo protagonists. That's something rpgs generally don't do as well. All the examples in Robin Laws' Hamlet's Hit Points build on single character leads.

15128 Gashlycrumb
I'm a little torn. We have a lot of games in the competition which are "X" with the numbers filed off (most often Harry Potter). But this is a game of an actual existing property, with an illustration taken from that. That makes me a little uneasy.

The game itself sustains an consistent voice, written in the direct second person, the Steve Dixon of rpgs?* There's a Shaggy Dog story to get the players into the roles of the children.  I'd have to see in play what you gain by having the players be characters who inhabit the bodies of secondary characters. That's a very particular choice, and I the designer clearly opted for that over just having the players run the kids. Was it always that way or did that emerge in later versions?

*That the most obscure reference I can make and only because I had to suffer through teaching some of his stuff at the writing program he was a part of. So I'm glad I finally got some use out of that.

15127 Untitled?
At first I thought the title was “In 30 Seconds”

Opening paragraph veers between two game concepts. Could be clearer about the object of play.

Ugh. Sorry. Why those example names? Throws me out of the text. From a practical standpoint, why would you choose to have a bonus to a skill roll versus bonus to a stat roll?
Are we limited to four players? Wait, how are partners determined? Not a card game player like this; going to need a reference sheet to track this play.

I think some hyphens got stripped out in the formatting.

This feels like it could be a good mechanized board game rpg, with a lot more things set and perhaps drafted characters. I think it that might be a stronger direction.

15126 Through the Woods
There’s an opportunity missed here with all the generic advice and commentary maybe? That could be better tuned to the specifics of the meta-setting or at least the dreaming tone.
I’m unsure of the intended tone. Narnia or Grimm? The choice of asking if there are any survivors suggests a much darker game. American McGee’s Alice? But everything else suggests lower stakes and tension. I think that may just be my own hang-ups in reading through. It feels unformed? What do I mean? I guess that it seems like there’s a lot not spelled out. I’ve seen that in several of these games, so I’m not specifically hitting this game. But it goes: loose premise, make up characters with general traits, establish a resolution mechanic AND THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS and there’s your play.

15125 Pony Express
The first pbf style game I’ve encountered so far. Does a great job of setting up the concept and defining the play space. I like that. Also, it offers a new term for GM I don’t have on my big list. I like the idea of the marks and rewarding players for having been the GM. I like the invocation of keyword concept, that’s a neat idea: flexible and expandable. I’d be curious to see a complete transcript of a round: how much gets done? Do different response levels significantly impact?

My Little Pony meets Carnivale?

Weirdly, I think this is the first game I definitely put in my top ten.

15123 The Perfected City
The big blue box filler keeps distracting me. Minor quibble: establishing the founding of an ageless city.

Always difficult when you have to establish a lot of terminology, especially many which are not proper names and hence not capitalized to distinguish them. Overall I get a Houses of the Blooded vibe. Maybe even a little Exalted. I’m wondering how long this cc process would take at the table. It seems like it might take a while. We get some interaction at the end.
Establish stakes: yes. I like the establishing a hidden element: big believer in putting secrets out in the open for play. “in a freeform way.” We have a lot of structure for the establishment of the scenes and then a miracle occurs or a duel. Is the endpoint of any scene a duel? Besides chips, what’s the fiction explanation of short/medium/long duels. I’m wary of full popularity contest interactions, especially once we’ve built this atop some potentially heavy emotional stakes and investment.

This feels like a good start- it clearly will only get stronger with more room for development.

15122 Shadow of Ares
Formatting isn’t doing this one any favors. Also, I now know what Rhenium is, having apparently forgetting all my HS chemistry. There’s interesting world-building here and I’d really like to see this outline of material developed and deepened. The game moves straight into the setting material, without opening with any kind of overview or explanation. That’s a risky choice and I’m not sure it works here. Not knowing the focus means I don’t have a through line.

What’s the ordering logic for the locations? The set up has the characters as persons on a ship. Is that the ship for the whole colony? For just their group? Is this a kind of Firefly operation? We’ve gotten some outline of set up here, but some big picture issues need detailing and development. I expect will see a chunk of this in the reviews, but a good workshopping session with the designers might be awesome: going through the questions readers had about the setting and what they felt they needed to know to be able to play or make characters.

The mechanics have a similar outline feel to the background: lots of ideas, all of which could benefit from development and deepening. I’m really curious what the designers see as the kind of play going on here and the stakes involved. Right now it feels like an interesting backdrop and some mechanics, but a little lacking in forward motion or hooks. This may be the most sketchy of the games I’ve read so far.

15120 Tales from the Vasty Deep
Sci-fi setting feels pretty generic at the outset. Independently funded version of teams from Ashen Stars? A space Mission: Impossible force with independent funding and decision-making? “Step Two” designer might want to examine the order in which info is presented here. Took me a couple of reads to get the process. Is there an important distinction between abilities and skills? Do the abilities or skills get a number or do they use the TF? Careers. What do these mean? I expected a list with some stuff later on, given how this was presented, but it seems to be purely color. Motives and personality can mechanically impact.

Resolution. “If a character attempts to use a skill or ability that the character doesn’t have, the Talent Field rating is used in place of the skill rating, though at a reduced rating.” Again a distinction made between skill and ability, but I don’t see that there’s a functional division. This sentence suggests skills have their own rating, independent of the TF, but I don’t see that actually in the rules. I may have missed something, but I’m not seeing if on a second reading.

So what’s the big hook here? The setting? The mechanics? I’d be curious which the designers felt excited about. The backdrops established, but then dropped. What’s the cool element of the resolution system?

15119 The Red Token
I love when an introduction simply and cleanly sets everything up. Nicely done here. Post-Colonial Dog Eat Dog? Simple and directed world-building. Keeps it tight and easy enough to do in a one-shot. Character options are good. Worth expanding for a revision? A bigger table? Roles appropriate to settings? Echoes of The Quiet Year when we get to the actual play, but freeform in the questions. This will need a reference card of some kind in play to follow the options.

After all that, I’m unsure about the Red Token, especially in the context of the example given. So a player can try to struggle through to find some redemption for their character and another player can shut that down. That decision really sends a message. I don’t necessarily disagree, but it certainly makes me hesitant about playing it. That mechanic and the game end both feel more than a little anti-climactic. I’d like to see more explanation and development of those areas of the rules.

15118 The Week of Sharks
OK, the title’s got my attention. Intro really does set up what we’re going to be doing. I like that we have a big group game here, aiming to be a kind of party game? If we have a lot of players, we’re going to end up with a lot of plot elements. That brainstorming’s going to be wonky for larger groups. Seems like this could use a moderator. I’m a little lost: we have our own characters, but there’s a pile of other characters and you dig those out to play from time to time in other people’s scenes. Not sure of the purpose there. Maybe need a max # of set characters? OOH this may be simply to provide chum. There’s a lot of “should” in here: good to leave those open or can we tighten the mechanics. i.e. Vescor must go after a doomed character first.

Is there a reason Vescor would choose anything but teeth in the early scenes. If not, then why even go through the process. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here and I’m a sucker for lists. But I’m wondering if in the loose places, the game would be stronger by tightening those up. Especially if part of the intent is to handle a large group.

15117 Tales on the Weird Seas
Tomas the Trawler? You play living boats. One of the top ten sentences from any of these games:

“Other than the boat thing, magic is somewhat limited in this world.”

The whimsy I see on page one quickly takes a turn for the dark when I learn they have to kill sea monsters on page two. Need to establish the presence and name for the GM earlier. Why “resulting in a speed,” is there a formula? You’ve got cool ideas: buy into them. Tell us to drag a flag, tell us to organize our character sheets that way. I’m down with that.

Some serious and violent traits here: Magic Boat Prestige Class Feats. A little more crunch than I expected. I’d have to see how that plays. How much do you have to record and reference in play? Could these be simplified? Would that fit better or not? I want more traits like the Aeolian harp that imply weird things about the world.

So we can play a mystical boat or is that a unique thing? Are their humans back at the port, unique and friendly characters (like the Harbour Master)

You say this is a silly game, but man we have a bunch of numbers and bits to track? What’s the intended age range here? It reminds me a little of Disney Crawl Classics. “Hey, want to play fun living boats? OK, the Squid pummels you for 15 points of damage.”

Still I like it and I wonder if there’s a way to compromise better between the two impulses here.

15116 Dark Secret
At first the concept didn’t grab me, but I’m digging it on second read. That’s my reaction throughout. The resolution felt mushy, but now I see how it fits together. Now I’m hungry for more stuff like more Sample Secret ID’s.

More than most of the other games I’ve read, I really need to see how this game actually plays at the table. It sets some structures where I’m not sure if how the stakes get set, how the Act limits impact, how interesting play is for the different roles, and how long each part will take. The machine looks interesting and cool, but I need to see the output.

15115 The Reunion
Weird to come to this immediately after reading Dark Secret. Physical objects…interesting. “the highest roller’s item stays to be used.” And the rest? The process could be clearer here. I do like the Touchstone and Centerpiece idea, so making that crystal clear’s important to me. I’m wondering about the presentation order here. We get the placement of the objects, but also how they’re defined. That definition comes later, so I wonder if holding that off until the section where you make those determinations would be stronger. At first glance it almost looks like you define object meaning before setting, but that isn’t the case.
I like that we have to distill the answers down to a simple sentence.

Wait, wait…how do we determine these secrets? The earlier mechanical writing makes it seem like we begin with these filled in. When do we write these down? What are the guidelines?

There’s some neat stuff here, but I’m having a hard time disentangling the process.

15112 Anthill
I'll admit I flinched when I saw the premise. But now I'm sold. Well written- seriously clean, simple and smooth style. Strong consistent voice. Minimal rules and easy to grok. I maybe wish there was a little more about the Changed and their relation to the whole and how that plays into the play. But overall really good.

1599 Bag Pulling Game
I'm always leery of games with fiddly bits, based on our playing a homebrew that has lots of fiddly bits. I know you need to look for how to cut things to make it fast and not break the flow. I like the mechanical idea, but some aspects of it seem like they'd be a problem at the table. So it turns on if that actually works.


But more importantly, the opening seems to set up what the game's about: a team, in distinct roles, working together to achieve a task. There's the suggestion that we'll get a game which focuses on synergies in interesting ways. As Mischa Krilov said, OK it's like a Leverage team. But the game itself doesn't support that. It's just a resolution system. It has an assist action, but it certainly isn't creating interesting synergies and new effects out of that. I had in my head something like unique paired effects.