Friday, October 1, 2010

Autumn's Judgment: Game Review Month

This October I'm going to repeat something I did last year-- devoting the whole of the month to doing game reviews. I hope to do a review a day and keep them between 750-1000 words a review. Last time I went wildly over that mark. I thought I ought to begin this year by laying out an explanation of my approach and perhaps

(Last year I reviewed Things We Think About Games, Strangers in Prax, Gumshoe, The Esoterrorists, Fear Itself, Dying Earth, Kaiin Players Guide, HeroQuest 2e, Robin Laws, Villainy Amok, Scion, Legend of the Five Rings 1e, Way of the Clans, Winter Court, Walking the Way, Legend of the Five Rings 2e, and Mutants and Masterminds 2e)

The sad and horrible truth is that I buy more games and gaming supplements than I will ever be able to play. Even if we write off half of what I pick up as meh, that's still a bunch I won't get to the table. And that's even though I run four campaigns and play in one. We tend to run longer campaigns, each game we do play will be on the table for some time. That reality shapes what I buy now and how I approach it.

For one thing, that means most of my assessments will be reading reviews. In some cases I have played with the games and the mechanics, but usually not. I'm presenting my impressions after a read through or two. That's not always the greatest approach, but given what I'll be focusing on, I think it works.

We tend to play homebrew games in our group. In the last decade we have played True20, GURPS, d20, Storyteller, Storytelling, Unisystem, Rolemaster Classic, Rolemaster Standard, Basic Role-Playing, Gumshoe, Fading Suns, Dying Earth, Mutants & Masterminds, Cyberpunk, Ars Magica, HERO System in addition to several homemade or heavily hacked systems. We've finally settled into a few systems and at this point I've respectfully promised my wife that we'd stick with simpler games. So most new games systems I see aren't going to be run as is.

Now, mind you I love rules and complexities-- I enjoy figuring those out. But when I come to the table to run, I find I really prefer to have those left aside. On the other hand I'll play anything at least once if someone will explain the rules to me. So I'm looking forward to working through Apocalypse World and some others for ideas-- and maybe there'll be enough there that I will have to run a session or two.

So what do I want from rpg books? Source materials for play; neat campaign settings; novel mechanics I can port over to other games; ways of handling things at the table; interesting plot ideas and adventures; cool NPCs and locations-- these are key.

As a related note, I don't care for most flavor text. I'll read short bits at the start of chapters and a longer piece if it comes at the beginning of a book. In the former case, it short be short and snappy. In the latter case, you piece of fiction should give me some insight into the game. What does it look like to be a player in the setting? Do I get a sense of the key themes of the game? Any piece of fiction in a game book should really serve a strong purpose. It shouldn't feel like filler.

What I want to know when I'm buying things:
* What's the key idea or pitch of this game?
* How is it different from other materials in the same genre?
* Does it have some new or novel system I should be interested in?
* If it is part of a series, what does it add?
* Is it a pretty, pretty princess of a game?
* How much of the material is mechanics, rules or stats?
* How easily can this material be ported or adapted to other games?

Even with that set of picky questions-- I buy a lot of game material. I still buy d20 supplements, knowing that a good deal of that will be crunch which I will never use. I don't buy many bestiaries or modules but setting sourcebooks I will drool over. With that in mind, my goal will be to answer at least some of those questions about a number of games and supplements throughout the coming month.

Tomorrow: I continue my quest to review all of Gumshoe with Mutant City Blues


  1. What I want to know when I'm buying things:

    I wish publishers were ready to answer those questions at cons.

    I look forward to this month's articles. I picked up several supplements I thoroughly enjoyed last year, based on your reviews.

  2. Your story about the weak pitches at Gen Con stuck with me. I've also been reading "Save the Cat" and he puts some stress on being able to state those essential elements clearly.

    Hope to get through the Gumshoe products I haven't yet reviewed, some interesting pdfs I picked up, Roman rpg resources, the Changeling the Lost books, and some others.