30 August, 2012

What is it with "Apocalypse World"?

The game Apocalypse World has been an indie darling for a while now...months, years...I don't know. The one thing I do know is that every time I look at it I just think to myself, "Yeah, it's got a couple of interesting ideas, but is it really deserving of all the attention it's taking away from other game concepts in the indie sphere?"

Here's what I'm seeing.

Basic Mechanism.

A player rolls 2d6 for their character (they modify this by an attribute relevant to the task). On a 10+, a full success is earned (the character gets what they are after and they don't have to give anything up in the process). On a 7-9, a partial success is earned (the character gets some of what they are after, but they probably have to make some kind of sacrifice to achieve this). On a 6 or less, the action fails (and something bad probably happens).

Complications

Everyone gets a range of "Basic Moves"; these are things that everyone in the setting can do. Each move specifies a specific attribute to be added to a roll, as well as the results achieved through the various rolls. Characters are made up of their attributes and a range of bonus moves available only to their character type (you start with a few of these moves and experience allows you to either increase your attributes or buy extra moves that improve your versatility).

My Thoughts

I've looked through the various characters types in Apocalypse World and read through their moves. I bought a copy of Monsterhearts when it was recently released. And I keep thinking that there's something I just don't get about it.

It seems that no matter who you deal with, the social challenges against an backward yokel are just as likely to succeed as those against a seasoned dilettante, the combat challenges against a wheelchair bound invalid are just as likely to succeed as those against a trained martial artist. There is no modifier for action difficulty, it's all just hand-waved as "This is a story game, it's not meant to be realistic".

On top of this, the game system seems to be a gestalt of various subsystems. Every move follows a certain template, but every move is different in its effects and potential outcomes. In this it seems to echo the earliest RPGs, where there was one system (or move) for combat, a different system (or move) for physical actions, another one for social interactions, another for magic. You need to learn a dozen subsystems to play the game.

Sure, in this case the subsystems are fairly simple; they can be reduced to cards (as an example, check the Monsterhearts cards here). But it has taken other people to develop these play aids. The original game "Apocalypse World" and the lovechild "Monsterhearts" obviously left something out if other people need to fill in the gaps...I think that the thing they left out was the instant playability.

There are plenty of other deserving systems out there, but few seem to be getting the hype that this one does. The games I've run so far using Monsterhearts have been reasonable...nothing revolutionary, nothing to get fervently fanatical about, but not bad either. I don't see why it's getting such a cult following, or why it's ancestor "Apocalypse World" is considered such a darling of the indie game community (beyond the cult of personality surrounding it's author). I'm not one to completely judge a system without playing it in a variety of situations, so I'll be running Monsterhearts at a convention in just over a month. I'll be interested to see how it responds to a variety of player types.
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