30 June, 2015

Game Chef Review 24: Dwolma by David King


Ingredients: 7 [Abandoned (4), Dream (3)]
The players in this game each take turns being the "Abandoned", a person caught between reality and dream. The "Abandoned" is blindfolded to reinforce the notion of being seperate fro the world as they journey through a landscape described through collaboration of the other two players (yes, this game is specifically designed to be played by 3).

Theme: 6
While this game fits into a distinct and well-worn niche in the gaming spectrum, it makes distinct reference to the theme and tries to apply a specific spin to it. I would admire the game for that, if it were the only reference to a different audience, but the game is mysterious and shrouded (both metaphorically and physically)...arguably a bit pretentious, but that feels right for mood of this game.

Would I Play This?: 6
I'm not 100% sure about the Bēodan, phase of the game. Especially regarding the way the tokens are drawn from the central pool, then bid. I'd want to tweak it, or serious run through a couple of simulations before I played it... but the fact that I'm thinking about the logistics of this is a good sign toward my desire to play the game.

Completeness: 7
It is a whole game, complete with the phases necessary to guide an abandoned through their narrative journey through the Dwolma (meaning chaos, chasm, darkness, in Anglo Saxon). I would imagine that the game would be played out three times, once with each of the participants taking on the role of the 'Abandoned'. The rules include the cards referred to at the end of the game, but there seem to be a few moments where the fruitful void has been taken advantage of. Some say that gaps in the rules allow for players to tailor the experience and allow for innovation through the play rather than through the mechanism of the rules. Personally, I often find that to simply be an excuse for rationalising the cutting of corners trough doublespeak. This game skirts that in a few places.

Innovation: 7
I like the idea of the blindfold. It's a rare mechanism that I've seen in one or two games previously, but it's still fresh. The bidding mechanism is also reminiscent of a few games I've seen, so too the ritualised act structure. I'm giving partial bonus points for both the innovative presentation of the way the game plays out, and the blindfold medium. Both are clever.

Output Quality: 7 (Language 3, Layout 2, Imagery 1, +1 Bonus for Overall Presentation)
The language used in the game is more than simply functional, it sets the tone of mystery and dark beauty. The layout is simple but elegant, it does more than just provide headings, it also gives us a text box for the Bēodan game within a game. Like Tea Ceremony reviewed earlier, a point has been given for imagery despite the lack of actual pictures... this was purely done do to the evocative writing.

Overall: 67% Credit [21+12+6+14+7+7]
There is something surreal and mysterious about this game. A solid entry that addresses the criteria of the contest in an interesting way. I'd like to see a bit more competition between the ushers who guide the 'Abandoned', or even a way for the 'Abandoned' to completely fail rather than simply getting more chances to succeed until they finally get through...which basically destroys the tension of the whole thing.

29 June, 2015

Game Chef Review 23: Dragonship by John Evans


Ingredients: 3 [Stillness (2), Dragonfly (1)]
Within the mechanisms for the game is a concept called stillness which basically determines how many turns the game lasts. It's a decent fit between the name and the mechanism. The dragonfly point I'm giving for the image at the start of the game, because the ship is described throughout the text as a "dragonship", not a "dragonfly ship".

Theme: 3
I'm struggling to see how this is for "a different audience". Like many of the other games I've reviewed so far, it fits a distinct niche in existing game formats. Even in the inspirations, the designer has specified that this game is basically a hack of "Microscope", from what I know of Microscope this treads very similar ground and only slightly deviates from it. Having the whole gametext on a single simple webpage makes it a bit different to the PDFs and books common to the hobby, so that's another reason for a few points.

Would I Play This?: 4
Maybe, but I don't think I'll rush out to do so. I've been designing a lot of ideas like this as prep work for campaigns. As a game in it's own right, I feel it's missing something. Maybe there should be something where the stillness is compromised from unresolved elements, and brought back under control when new scenes resolve those issues (thus building a more coherent history). That would bring my interest back, and would make it more of a game (in my opinion) rather than a simple set of procedures.

Completeness: 6
The designer admits that the game is extremely vague and unplaytested, so nothing in this should seem too unfair. Generally, the procedures seem sound, but as I said above, it feels more like a procedure that continues for a fixed number of rounds, there doesn't seem to be any tension in it, no drive. I feel that there could be more to it...it could have even be directed as a tool toward history students or speculative-fiction/alternate-history writers.

Innovation: 3
As a vague hack of an existing game, I can't give it too many points for innovation. It's basically an oracle applied to an existing procedural worldbuilding system. Not a lot new here.

Output Quality: 5 [Language (3), Layout (1), Imagery (1)]
The writing is fine; not a lot of it, but it does what it sets out to do. There are headings and occasional use of bold font, but really nothing much more. I'm giving the imagery point for the dragonfly picture that starts the page off.

Overall: 35% Needs Work [9+6+4+8+3+5]
It's a novel combination of common ideas that have already done well for other people. I know I've given credit for elegant combinations of basic ideas in other games, but in those games there seemed to be more work to make sure the ideas integrated well. I just can't do that here.

Game Chef Review 22: Alchemical by Jacob Hockins


Ingredients: 4 [Dragonfly (2), Dream (2)]
The Dragonfly is a character token,and the Dream is linked to the dream merchant location. Both of these could be fairly easily substituted out for something else, so even though they are present they aren't integral to the design as it currently stands.

Theme: 4
I can't really determine who the audience is for this game. It seems to be a game for young kids, or even adults who are into anime. If it went one way (for kids), I could see lots of bubble-gum and sweet ingredients, if it went the other way (adult anime), I'd imagine far more subversive ingredients and dark humour packing the flavour text on each card. Either of these options is a niche market within the existing gamer space, so it's not really catering to "a different audience". I don;t know the kind of work commonly done by the designer, so I can't award extra marks for seeing him work outside his comfort zone.

Would I Play This?: 8
In it's current state, no. If it were finished, absolutely. It looks like a simple enough game, and it seems to have fed off a few of the same inspirations that I used for Dragonfly Brewing Company. It;s always interesting to see someone else's take on these ideas.

Completeness: 3
It just looks like the author ran out of time. This is a common problem in Game Chef, it's a pretty intense period to try and get a full game happening. This game seems pretty ambitious, and reminds me a bit of my own entry in the contest, it looks like it could be an awesome game to play with young kids, but in it's current state there is just too much missing. Cards are referred to, but not provided, sample ingredients and recipes are present, but there need to be more to get a good feel for how the game might work. There are other gaps in the core mechanisms such as determining whether characters trade cards if they need an ingredient from a shop they can't enter. It honestly looks like a great start, but then it falls flat.

Innovation: 3
This game has numerous components that I've seen in many other places, They've been added together in ways that aren't particularly fresh or new either (but given that the concept is similar to my own, maybe they are fresh and new to the wider population, and they've just been over-analysed in my head). I'd love to see some more of the cards involved in the game, maybe these would have pushed the envelope a but further.

Output Quality: 5 [Language (2), Layout (1), Imagery (2)]
The language that is present in the game seems fairly coherent, there's just not really enough of it (sure there's more in this incomplete entry than in a lot of the full entries, but this one alludes to a lot of details that aren't fully fleshed out). Generally the layout isn't bad, but the sample ingredients and recipes document is all over the shop. The imagery gets points because I'm intrigued by the map gien for the board, it looks like there's some great potential there.

Overall: 44% Needs Work [12+8+8+6+3+5]

Game Chef Review 21: Over Agitation by PiHalbe

Over Agitation: A Role Casting Game

Ingredients: 5 [Dream (3), Stillness (2)]
This game blows away a lot of the conventions in the marking system, so bear with me. None of the ingredients seem particularly integrated n this game. Dream is certainly the strongest when it comes to the ritual phrase that starts a participants podcast episode. Stillness is mentioned as a 24 hour break between episodes to give participants a chance to reflect on what has occurred.

Theme: 8 [6 +1 bonus for non-English speaker designing in English, +1 bonus for branchng out to new possibly non-gamer spaces]
I'm giving this one a high score because it's such an interesting concept. Generally, it could be as mundane as many of the freeform games that I've indicated a dislike for, but there are some interesting ritual effects that bound the narrative as one participant takes over from the next. The game comes from weaving a story within these boundaries, and picking up the threads left by previous participants. It almost feels a bit like a loosely edited freeform "olde-timey" radio play...but I'll get to that shortly.

Would I play this?: 4
If I had a decent internet connection, a decent set of speakers and audio input for my computer, maybe. So I'm not judging this based on the technical limitations that would prevent me from playing it, instead I'm judging it on the fact that I'm generally pretty introverted and a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to putting things out for the world to consume. I don't participate in a lot of hangouts or podcasts for this very reason. Do I think there's a market for this game? Yes, it's just not me.

Completeness: 6
All of the necessary procedures are there, a play example is present (which also seems to kick off the game). It would have gotten more points if I could ave worked out what was going on with the " ...is special. If... then..." but I had to make a few logical leaps to get it, and just couldn't pin down specifics in the rules as presented.

Innovation: 9 [5 +2 Bonus for innovative presentation +2 bonus for a medium I hadn't considered]
I cant deny the innovation of gaming as a set of interconnected podcasts. Not just recording the sessions of an existing game, but making the podcasts themselves into the game. The closest I can think to games like this occurred many years ago when a group of people I knew had an audio cassette and told stories onto it before passing it along to the next person. They were telling a Cthulhu-esque story, with each investigator in turns learning a new piece of the puzzle while trying to learn what happened to the investigator before them. This is something different again.

Output Quality: 7 [Breakdown not really appropriate...see below]
I can't really comment on language, layout or imagery with regard to a podcast. I guess the major contributing factor is the language, which seems appropriate to a podcast (so it gets a 3), and average results (2pts each for virtual layout and imagery).

Overall: 63% Pass [15+16+4+12+9+7]
This is a very different game, hard to judge according to the marking rubric I've given. It seems like an interesting step in an odd direction, and like most of these early steps it feels like there is something uncertain and lacking confidence about it, that doesn't mean it's bad it just means that there is a lot of unexplored potential that might be opened up here. I'd like to see more games like this.

New mapping tool

I'm really excited about the work being done by Jonathon Roberts (aka +Fantastic Maps) with regard to his Fantastic Mapper project. The map depicted here took about 10 minutes to make, and I haven't added in much in the way of roads, settlements or other interesting places for characters to visit. So far it's just a fragment of an ancient empire, shattered states warring in the wilderness around a neutral territory which will hold the major "free city" of the region. Red waterways are contested territories, other colours are specific lands dominated by specific races/cultures. 

For something quickly thrown together it's great. The only issue I'm having with the mapper at this stage is the inability to get beyond a certain size on the iPad and trouble access all of the hexes when certain menus cover hexes that I'm trying to manipulate.

I'll try it on the laptop next.

28 June, 2015

Game Chef Review 20: Sisters of the Hive by Jordan Saxby

Sisters of the Hive

Ingredients: 7 [Dream(4), Abandon (2), Stillness (1)]
Dream is the obvious central aspect to this game. The game is about crafters of dream, each working in a quartet, each working to transcend (or abandon) the quartet. There is also an inherent desire to manipulate the dream from the background, the shadows, maintaining a stillness that does not disrupt or disturb the psyche of the dreamer.  

Theme: 5
When looking at a game like this, I start to wonder if I'm seeing elements in this that were present in other indie/freeformy games. I can see a structure in this one, it's more of a ritual than anything else, maybe akin to the ritual in Tea Ceremony. Within the narrative, this game plays to the audience of a dreamer, the characters portray arcane pseudo-technomystics who provide dreams to this individual. Outside the narrative, as a part of the ritual, the audience for the story is the other players, no more no less. As a game it's still designed for the subset of gamers and improvised theatre types drawn to this kind of expression, but in this particular case, the procedures are ritualised, hand movements mean something and body language actually plays a part in resolution. It's more inviting than games that simply set a scene and make the participants do everything else. This game would have gotten a 4 for that, but it's careful explanation of play bumps it up a bit.      

Would I Play This?: 5
If this were available at a convention, I'd seriously consider playing it. I don't know that I'd run it myself, but I'd be intrigued enough to see how it played out. There are restrictions built into the game that unfold over play, so it's not fully freeform and I typically think that restrictions add to the challenge and refine the final story.

Completeness: 6
This game has a tag line describing it as "a semi-cooperative storytelling game", which implies that it is also semi-competitive. The rules holdup to this description, there are rules to describe how players may manipulate the narrative experienced by the dreamer, rules to describe how they might collaborate and how they might compete, as well as end games resulting in individual victory, group victory or failure. Things don't always go well in this game.

Innovation: 6
I've seen a few competitive roleplaying games over the years, and have experimented with some of my own competitive storytelling games, but it's nice to see someone else playing in that space with some interesting ideas their plucked from a range of sources to create this design. I'd like to see how this evolved over a few playtests.  

Output Quality: 5 [Language (3), Layout 2, Imagery (0)]
I have no issues with the language on this one, it's generally functional and clear. The layout is simple and no overly complicated but it gets the job done. No images at all. 

Overall: 59% [21+10+5+12+6+5]

Game Chef Review 19: Forgotten Dreams by Philip Beverly

Forgotten Dreams

Ingredients: 7 [Dream (4), Abandon (3)]
The game is centered around dreams, memories and nightmares, so it's hardly surprising that this would get decent marks. The characters have been abandoned in this realm and must find a way t return to our world, but this doesn't feel as strong as the dream ingredient. All in all though, it's a pretty decent integration of these concepts into a game.  

Theme: 6
The idea of luring people to roleplaying through visual arts rather than dramatic arts is a reasonable interpretation of the "different audience" criteria. It's actually one of the things that I really appreciate here, if only other elements of the execution hadn't let it down.  

Would I play this?: 4
The whole games feels too arbitrary to me. I appreciate the concept that roleplaying is a shared imagination space, where everyone contributes to the unfolding narrative, but I was never particularly fond of having my visual artistry sullied by the work of other individuals. It's just a pet irk, and a reason why I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to play this.

Completeness: 4
I'm really not sure that there is enough here to constitute a complete game. At the very least, this game could really do with a lot more examples and clarifying text. Certain elements of it are just confusing and I'm sure that I'm missing something when I read it.

Innovation: 5
Boiling down the mechanisms of the game, there seems to generally be a 50/50 chance that a memory will improve with a vagary element or degrade with a nightmare element attached to it. Then it's a case of choosing the best of the available memories to confront a nightmare to return to the real world. I'm not sure I've gotten this right, I've read through it three times and it still seems a bit confusing. If I'm right, it's all a bit arbitrary, but then again so was the Dadaist artworks which first inspired the concept of multiple artists contributing to the same artwork. So, there's innovation, but it follows an innovative path over 80 years old. I do like the idea of using illustration as a mechanism though.

Output Quality: 3 [Language (3), Layout (0), Imagery (0)]
I could have shifted the Language to 2 and the Layout to 1, but either way it's hard to read and acquire the relevant game data through the reading of this text. Maybe it's the monospaced font, the lack of decent titling and sectioning of the text (yes, the game text is divided into sections, but it's all just one wall of monospaced text...which seems a really odd choice for a game that is meant to be predominantly visual. Similary, imagery has to get a zero.

Overall: 53% Pass [21+12+4+8+5+2]
It's a clever idea, and it's different, but is it clever enough or different enough. I'm not sure, and as I've admitted, even though it's a very visual game and I'm a very visual thinker, it doesn't mesh with my sensibilities.