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.

Game Chef Review 18: Get Well Soon by Vulpinoid Studios

I'll preface this review by saying that it was a game designed in this house, I helped contribute to it a bit by offering some support and working through some general concepts with the designer. This review is more of an attempt to see how well the marking system works with regard to a design that I'm pretty close to.

Get Well Soon

Ingredients: 9 [Dream (4), Stillness (4), +1 Bonus for Abandon]
Other games about coma sufferers have been awarded at least 6 points for the Dream and Stillness association (see The Last Hour), so it's only fair to offer at least the same points here, the bonus point for each ingredient comes through the specific mentioning of these elements. Since this game specifically adds in the term "Abandon" as a concept that grounds the flavour

Theme: 5
Like many of the freeformy games, this one seems catered to a specific audience, but I know that it;s the kind of audience that the designer wouldn't normally design for (the designer loves minutiae and crunchy systems). Given that I know the context behind the stuff normally produced by the designer, and I don't know this for many other designers in the contest (as it is their first entries), I could score this higher but it wouldn't seem fair to others... hence an "average" score.  

Would I play this?: 6
I could cheat here and give the game a 10, because I did run through some of the concepts before I finished writing this review. But to answer the question in regard to the final product, I would probably run this as a brief interlude in an existing campaign, an introductory session for a new campaign, or even as a one-shot at a convention with the right people.

Completeness: 6
It feels like almost everything is here to play a game, even given it's short word count. There is a premise, vague context, a core mechanism, an end sequence... but there are a few elements that generally feel missing. An experienced roleplayer should have no trouble sorting out a game from the elements presented, but a few more pointers could have enhanced the rule set, and some idea prompts might make it more inclusive for players new to the "loose rules" genre.

Innovation: 4
The way cards are used is a bit different, but similar to several games I've seen over the years. If I was to rewrite the game, I might add in something where each player starts off their story by drawing a random card from the deck which has a meaning used to prompt the story being told about the comatose girl. Given my current kick, I might even use a tarot deck to set the tone of the story. Again, nothing that hasn't been done before, but it might make things a bit more interesting and focused.

Output Quality: 7 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (1), +1 Bonus for presentation]
The language of the entrant is fine, generally. I can see that the font choice was done to give the impression of a "Get Well Soon" card, such as you might find in a typical hospital where the story unfolds, but it does make reading the entry a bit hard. The layout is simple and fairly direct, the imagery on the front page is a nice touch. As a single sheet game with a low word count, it does pretty well, unlike some of the other games of this type that just present a wordprocessed document. It feels like a greeting card.

Overall: 66% Credit [27+10+6+12+4+7]
In comparison to the other games I've been seeing in the contest, it's a reasonable entry but certainly not at the calibre of some entrants. It has some nice ideas in it that I might incorporate in later designs, and I'm sure with more time and a bit more refinement it could have been a very good game.

Game Chef Review 17: Rent the Veil by Adam Robichaud and Kelley Vanda

Rent the Veil

Ingredients: 7 [Dragonfly (4), Dream (3)]
I like the way the dragonflies are presented are agents of change linked to the element of water. The notion of dream is solidly presented and fairly integral to the game structure as well. These two elements are linked into the game far more intimately than I've seen in a lot of the designs so far.

Theme: 7 [6 +1 bonus for explaining how the game addresses a different audience]
All things considered, this game borders on the type that I have been giving low scores to. It would appear that I shouldn't like it, but it actually does something I've been looking for in freeform/jeepform games, it explains things, it bridges gaps, it opens the more free narrative style of roleplaying toward traditional gamers by explaining why certain things are necessary and maintaining a few half-way compromises like token based economies rather than simply saying "Here's a situation, here's how to relate to each other...now GO!!". In its way it doesn't open up a new audience, but it shares the love between audiences. So, kudos for that.

Would I play this?: 6
I know a few gamers who really need to learn the concept of "Yes, and...", so this might be a good primer to get them into that frame of mind. It's the kind of mindset I've encountered frequently when running games at conventions. Generally, this game seems to be a good step toward that issue. I'm not sure how well it would address the situation, but you never know until you try it. I'm not sure how many times I'd play this, the premise might get stale quickly, but it feels like the kind of things that might make a good showing after a traditional campaign and before moving into more "indie" territory. (Maybe it would make a good end of session mini-game before characters spend XP or level up, to show what they had learnt over the last session or so).

Completeness: 8 [7 +1 bonus for going above and beyond in trying to show inclusivity]
Everything seems to be here to play a game, rules, examples, cards, principles of play (that you might find in an freeform/loose/indie title), an end game sequence (that might determine "victory" in the sense of a more traditional game), there's even a pair of hints about desires and desperations.

Innovation: 5
While this game does a lot of stuff to promote inclusivity between audiences, it uses a lot of familiar techniques to do this. I've awarded plenty of points elsewhere for that inclusivity, but I can't really award them here for innovation. The use of tokens in the method described is common to several games I've seen. That's not bad, I know that it works, it's just not overly innovative.

Output Quality: 7 [Language (3), Layout (3), Imagery (2) +1 bonus for overall package]
The languages is appropriate in this game, the layout gains bonus marks because it has title pages, and pages for evocative quotes. I've thrown in the second point for imagery, because even though the game doesn't have a lot of pictures, the quotes help set the tone and feeling of the game through the mental images conveyed in their words. Again, it looks like the kind of game that I'd expect to find with decent reviews on an online pdf RPG store, and basically looks like it's ready for publication in a game anthology or paperback PoD.

Overall: 70% Credit [21+14+6+16+5+7]
It's a simple game, but it does what it sets out to do fairly well. I wasn't sure what to expect when I went in, but I was generally pleasantly surprised.

Game Chef Review 16: Being Freud by Crews, Shelton and Thornton

Being Freud

Ingredients: 6 [Dream (4), Dragonfly (1), Abandonment (1)]
The core ingredient here has got to be Dream, though I would have thought Jung would have been a better match for psychoanalysing dreams. Either way, it's about taking fragmented images with archetypal concepts associated with them and playing a guessing game. Dragonfly and Abandonment appear in a couple of the dream fragments, but not really enough to make a significant difference to the overall product.

Theme: 4
We seem to have plenty of designs stuck in a niche gaming space, which is a little disappointing given the theme of "a different audience". Without enough reference to understand how designers have picked their different audience, it can be hard to tell what was aimed for, and how this difference applies. This sort of game does exist and I know people who have played this sort of game in the past, so once again I find myself offering 4 out of a possible 10 for this category.  

Would I Play This?: 5
I'd lay this as a one off, maybe a couple of times over the course of a night. I don't know how well the replayability would work, because once everyone had seen the majority of the dream cards in play, they'd know the archetypal concepts linked to them and beyond this point it would basically become a game of memory. I can certainly see the enjoyment of hamming it up as pioneer psychiatrists at the dawn of psychotherapy.

Completeness: 8
Everything is here. A concise description of the rules, cards for play, a play example.

Innovation: 4
I've seen a lot of this before, maybe not in this particular configuration but certainly there are familiar components. The core premise of the game reminds me of the core mechanism in the X-Files collectible card game released over 15 years ago (and I've seen it in a few other places), ad almost following a lineage back to boardgames like "Mastermind". A bunch of cards have a few options linked to them, the other player tries to guess a specific element among them. It's a seasoned mechanism, it works, but it's been done (and therefore it's not particularly innovative).

Output Quality: 7 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (1) +1 bonus for overall package]
Language is descriptive and about what I'd expect for a professional game (certainly what I'd expect for a game that had 3 people working on it compared to the many solo entries), Layout is standard, nothing much to complain about, and it has a title page so that contributes to the bonus point. Imagery consists of a great public-domain/photostock cover, and that's about it... but it doesn't particularly need more.  

Overall: 58% Pass [18+8+5+16+4+7]
Don't get me wrong, this is a pretty solid parlor game, and actually apretty good example of the genre in my opinion. The only things setting it down in the marks are an adherence to only one of the ingredients (with others as cursory things that seem thrown in just to meet the requirements), and a general feeling that I've seen this sort of thing before (which hampered the theme and innovation).

27 June, 2015

Game Chef Review 15: Fallen by Gwen Foster

Ingredients: 6 [Abandon (3), Dragonfly (3)]
I'm giving points for "Abandon" because the children portrayed are Orphans, and I get the feeling that their environment has been abandoned by everyone as the military comes rolling in. Neither is really a strong fit, but the two interpretations build up to a fairly solid i gredient use. The points for dragonfly are  obvious on a read through, but I get the feeling that the dragonfly could be replaced by many other things, so it doesn't quite get the full points.

Theme: 3
It's a solid entrant in an existing genre of games. I'm at a bit of a struggle to see how it addresses a different audience. The contrast of light and dramatically shifting dark moods in the game, reminds me of that highly praised Train game which seems to be about rail efficiency then turns in a commentary of Jews being shipped to concentration camps in Nazi Germany... a pretentious heap of smouldering crap engulfed in a cult of personality and "art". This game doesn't quite inspire my ire as much as that game I'm referring to. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh in this score, maybe the game inspires a diffeence in the audience...but that's a bit of a stretch. I'm leaving it at 3 for the moment.

Would I Play This?: 5
I'd consider playing this, and it would get added to the list of games I'd be interested in playing at some time. It seems simple enough, but adds a bit more complexity and backstory compared to similar games in the genre (see below).

Completeness: 7
All of the cards are there for play, the rules are reasonably descriptive, but a few play examples wouldn't have gone astray, and maybe some kind of better tracking sheet to show who had been hit by bullets and who had accumulated lilies. But as a playtest kit for a new boardgame, this would be more than adequate to determine how the mechanisms of the game functioned.

Innovation: 6
This reminds me a lot of the game "Get Bit", characters determine their positions in a row, being chased by a shark...the one at the back of the row gets bitten by the shark. This definitely makes some twists on that formula, so it gets points for innovation that way. I remember thinking that Get Bit was pretty innovative when I first found out about it, and while this seems a rough duplicate of that, there are enough interesting twists to keep it fresh and interesting.

Output Quality: 7 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (2)]
The language is direct and concise, nothing to fault about that. The layout is pretty decent, generally functional, but nothing particularly noteworthy about it. As an artist, I think the i ages could be improved, but this game is far more visual than most of the other entrants I've looked at, so it gets a higher score in that regard than most other games I've looked at.

Overall: 56% Pass [18+6+5+14+6+7]
Honestly, it's not a bad game. It has come in as a decent pass, with a few decent tweaks I might like it.  It's simple enough for most people to get, it has a message. I don't expect too much more from most games, but as some entrants in this years contest have shown...sometimes games can really push the envelope in ways that don't just fall back on shock factor war-porn. 

Game Chef... I have received a review.

I've just been notified by one of my reviewers that a critique of my own game "Dragonfly Brewing Company" has been posted.

Thanks Steve Dee.

26 June, 2015

Game Chef Review 14: Tea Ceremony by Niamh Schönherr

Tea Ceremony

Ingredients: 8 [Stillness (4), Dream (4)]
A player must meditate for a moment of stillness as the tea/liquid in their cup settles. A single player takes on the role of the dreamer, and relates one of their dreams as the focus of conversation during each round of the game. Both elements are simple, concise and focal to the game as it unfolds.

Theme: 10
This is a very personal game, a soul laid bare in mechanisms and meditation. It is a game that can be played without the players even realizing that it is a game, it doesn't so much push the notion of game out into the world but absorbs the wider world into it's embrace. I didn't think I'd see a 10 according to my scale, but this one seems to fit the bill. It makes the audience a part of the game, no matter who that audience might be. It's probably one of the most open games I've seen.

Would I play this?: 8
I would totally play this. I would play it without telling people that I was playing it. I would conduct dinner parties around this. I considered trying it as I was writing this review, and did have to track down my tea set and my sake set to see which might make a better conversation starter.

Completeness: 9 [8 +1 bonus for making everything necessary available to all participants]
This game is very specific in what it is, and what it isn't. The game doesn't claim to be an immersive experience of angst and catharsis, it simply is what it is. Specific (and almost ritualised) instructions are provided for the host and the guests to follow. There is no victory condition, but none is needed beyond the simple having of a good time.

Innovation: 9 [6 +1 for presenting in an innovative way +2 for using a medium I haven't seen before in games]
The idea of making a tea set the central element in a game and actually engaging game mechanisms to that prop has stunned me as an innovative idea. In fact the whole game has crash tackled my psyche, and manifested a new level of gaming awareness. This is what I'm doing the reviews for. It's personal, it's shared with the world. I'd love to see it bundled up with a tea set and sold in places where games are sold, or in places where tea is sold.

Output Quality: 7 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (1) +1 Bonus for simple elegance]
The language is up there with many of the entries, simple and functional for the most part. The layout is simple, but gets a slight upgrade due to having a separate Host sheet and a separate Guest sheet. While the game has no images per se, I've given it a point for imagery de to the eviactive nature of the writing throughout the text, but most particularly at the beginning (in the "About this Game" section).

Overall: 86% High Distinction [24+20+8+18+9+7]
I didn't think a game would reach this level, but I was wrong. It seems odd to be scoring a lot of the freeform/jeepform games really low while this one has been scored so high, but the sheer simple elegance of this ritual game just struck me with it's purity. It makes good uses of the ingredient components and rather than trying to pull players into a world were they're given the scene then they have to do all the hard work, it simply overlays concepts of ritual and game onto an everyday activity. It strikes me almost like a meditation. I might have created a few nicely laid out pages in the forms of invitations for the host and guests.

Game Chef Review 13: Virtual Dream Era: How The Story Went by Karyssa E Perry

Virtual Dream Era: How the Story Went

Ingredients: 10 [Abandoned (3), Dragonfly (2), Dream (4), Stillness (+1)]
Pretty much everything is here, and eve thought the various ingredients are present to various degrees, regardless of how I work the numbers, this basically means it gets a 10 in my book. A virtual reality imposed on unconscious characters who have abandoned reality... that's awesome.

Theme: 6
This game sits pretty well in the "How to Host a Murder" school of game design. There aren't a lot of game developers playing in that space, and it can be a nice bridge for outsiders to get into the hobby. With a generally predestined outcome, but a meandering path to get there, I don't know if replay-ability would be very high but then again with most pre-written modules the whole concept is a disposable "play-once" story. Unlike the "How to Host a Murder" games, this allows players to create their own characters (even if these characters have no real mechanical benefit). It addresses audiences in a different way to almost anything I've seen before outside of a computer "rpg".

Would I play this?: 6
I just don't know. I've experimented with the idea of games that follow a distinct wide narrative path with numerous player driven options along the way, but in this game the scenes that comprise the longer narrative aren't really established by the choices of the players, instead they feel arbitrary. The sense of player character agency feels a bit stripped away, but I guess that's restored through the specific small choices along the way and those small choices might snowball into something beyond the scope of the framework established by the preset scenes. There was a time when I would have jumped at this, especially because it takes things further along a path I hadn't really considered. There are also times when I wouldn't have touched this at all. At the moment, it's something I'd play when I got the chance, but chances to try new things are few and far between lately.  

Completeness: 7
Yes, it a complete game, I could run a session with it. New players might have trouble trying to work out what character and players actually do, but this sort of things could be pretty easily overcome by someone who has a basic understanding of the conventions of roleplaying. The game is decently laid out with titles and the big page that tell readers not to move beyond a certain point, so that's a step in the right direction. Character sheets aren't really necessary, nor are relationship maps, players keep track of all this stuff in their heads and there's no real mechanical influences that need to be taken into account. There's a few things that will need to be filled in along the way when certain path scenes might not provide information that is assumed in later path scenes, but these wouldn't be too hard to overcome for a "Path Reader" who has adequately prepared the game.

Innovation: 7
I look at this and even thought I'm falling back on comparative descriptions to "How to Host a Murder", this feel fresh and different, or at least re-exploring territory that has been long ignored by a wide section of the gaming community. Deliberate following of random scenes is a clever mechanism. Most of the other elements combined in with this are pretty pedestrian though.

Output Quality: 4 [Language (2), Layout (2), Imagery (0)]
Spelling error in the title, on the front page!!! ("summary" not "summery"). A few other grammatical bugbears as well, along with sentence fragments and abbreviations where they felt out of place. I might have let it slide, but there was a credited proofreader. The layour

Overall: 73% Credit [30+12+6+14+7+4]
I like this game. I think it would have scored better except that there were a lot of little niggling details that could have been cleaned up better before it was presented. I feel with a bit of refinement, this could really become an interesting forerunner to new ideas in the hobby. Where those refinement might take it, I'm not sure.

Game Chef Review 12: A Traveler's Handbook by Johanna Hamren

A Traveler's Handbook

Ingredients: 5 [Dream (2), Stillness (2), +1 Bonus for "Abandonment"]
This is a game about travelling in a metaphysical sense, the ingredients offered are simply suggestions for where that travelling might take place. They aren't really integrated in the rules in any way, and the game has no prescribed setting so they certainly aren't an integral part from that perspective. After my first skim, I couldn't see where the ingredients were at all... it took me a second thorough read through to even notice them. But at least they are mentioned.  

Theme: 2
Again, in reference to The Zone and The Last Hour, I have to give this a 2. It's honestly not that I don't like this type of game, it's that we've been seeing so much of it lately and it's a very insular and specific type of roleplaying that excludes much of the tabletop community let alone wider gamers and the wider community around us all. It's a narrow niche, and while it may be exploring new themes within this niche, the contest isn't about telling new stories to the same audience, it's about "a different audience". Sorry.
Variant: (Theme 4) Since I really don't want t be too hard on someone doing this for their first time, let's look at a variant interpretation of the theme. Johanna is Swedish, let's assume that her "different audience" is English speakers. A quick look through G+ shows that she speaks (or at least types) English well. But we'll give he the benefit of the doubt as a non-native speaker, two bonus points. 

Would I play this?: 3
I'd tack this onto another game to give it stronger thematic content. Otherwise I don't think I'd really give this game a second look. It's a relational tool, with some vague ideas for setting up scenes. I could (and have) sat in a pub after a convention and written more elaborate games about interpersonal dynamics with prompts for setting scenes and resolving conflict through narrative on beer coasters. I've even played these games at conventions. I'd play this in conjuction with something else, but as it stands I don't really consider this a game...more of a freeform tool for establishing set dressing. 

Completeness: 2
See above. I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt here. I could add this to an existing game to make it much richer. I could remember these rules while I'm drunk and make an epic pub crawl with some gaming mates. But it really needs something else before I consider it even a game (even if that something else is an awesome GM who can ad-lib like a demon bard). The game on which it is "based" has a marker based economy according to the website, but this one doesn't even have that.  

Innovation: 1
Sit's squarely in the jeepform/small-freeform/angsty-catharsis school of minimalist design. I don't see much envelope pushing here at all.

Output Quality: 5 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (0)]
The language is a bit disjointed, but I won't mark this down for a non-native English speaker. The layout has a titlepage, headings, and bits with bullet points so it's a bit all over the place but generally functional. After looking at Johanna's comments during Game Chef, I'm actually a little disappointed that she didn't use more illustrations, place the text onto a background that looked like a traveler's journal, or even produce a game that was predominantly illustrations. As a fellow graphic designer I'm sure this could have been an awesome way to go. 

Overall: 32% Needs Work[15+4+3+4+1+5]
Variant Overall: 36% Needs Work [15+8+3+4+1+5]
I don't want to discourage a first time entrant, but as I've said a few times in these reviews, I think that this sort of entry is just lazy design that needs a lot more before it can seriously be called a game. No further comment.

Game Chef Review 11: Driven to Tears by wraith808

Driven to Tears

Ingredients: 10 [Dragonfly (3), then here's where it breaks the marking rubric a bit, 2 points each for Stillness, Dream and Abandon...hell, I'll just give it the 10 points].
All of the ingredients play a part in this design, and while the author claims that the dragonfly is the central concept representing the ships jumping out to alien worlds, I feel that this is actually the weakest of the ingredients because the ships could have been named anything. I could have given the dragonfly 1 point, and everything else 3 points because those other elements are elegantly linked into the scene resolution system. Either way it's still 10 points.

Theme: 4
This design straddles two camps of gamer mainstream, in an interesting way, but it's still a way that I've seen before at many conventions. It has the elements of establishing story and role through it's development of characters, and it has the elements of game in pitting two sides against one another. It's pushing some boundaries and producing some new ideas, but is it enough to really be aiming at "a different audience"... I'm not sure.

Would I play this?: 6
I'd give this a go. I'd twist it a bit though, maybe playing a two session event at a roleplaying convention. In the first session I might even blend it with a game of Dragonfly 3RROR, where the ship and it's crew are undertaking the voyage to a mysterious new world (finishing up with the bit where a new world is created). Then for the second session we'd gather together two or three of the groups who undertook that voyage in the first session, we'd sit in a circle with 15 participants divided along factional lines, or run it as an Aussie Freeform. The whole thing would tell a more grand and epic tale. But I could also see it being played straight, perhaps setting up the history for a sci-fi campaign. I'm getting all sorts of ideas from looking at this.

Completeness: 7
There's a lot to this design, but does that actually make it complete? In this case, there's certainly enough to get the game working, but  think it really would have benefited from a character sheet for the AI, and a planetary detail sheet (both of which have various numbers to keep track of). Maybe name badges for the delegates in various roles, especially since the players might be portraying a variety of different individuals over the course of play. A few play examples wouldn't have gone astray either. These issues aren't insurmountable, and probably would have been fixed if the author had spent the whole contest period working on the design, rather than just the second half.

Innovation: 8
I like the idea of the spin dice. It's similar to several die reading mechanisms I've encountered over the last couple of years (like the advantages and disadvantages in D&D5), but it's different enough that I can say it really feels innovative and fresh. I haven't specifically seen this before and I could see it being adapted into other games quite easily. I like the idea of the competing teams or roleplayers, and haven't seen this often in an RPG (it's not new, but it's uncommon). I also think it's interesting to have the basic GM/Arbiter role portrayed in the game world as the terraforming AI. A few novel ideas in amongst the mix of standard stuff, presented in a way that looks more like a research paper than a game.

Output Quality: 6 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (0) +1 Bonus for having references]  
The language is fine, the layout is decent, with titles, line breaks and 1.5 line spacing like all the academic work I've been doing recently. Nothing notably bad about it, but generally pretty ordinary. Some images would have spiced it up and made reading a bit more easy. But as I've said previously, that's just a personal preference.

Overall: 72% Credit [30+8+6+14+8+6]
This is pretty standard gaming fare, but it's got some great innovations in it that I could easily see ported across to other gaming designs. A few play examples, and maybe some more background fluff or imagery might make the whole thing a bit more readable, but on the whole this is a pretty solid effort for something that was basically started once the contest was already half over.

Game Chef Review 10: A Requiem for Faerie by Willow Palecek

A Requiem for Faerie

Ingredients: 7 [Dream (3), Stillness (3), +1 Bonus for Abandon]
This is a game about faeries in a world of dying magic, since fae are traditionally associated with dream, there s a connection present and this is reinforced through a specific dream power that might be possessed by certain characters, but it's not a key intrinsic aspect of the game. Stillness on the other hand is something that doesn't really start in the game but seems to gradually creep in and magic fades from (or possibly abandons) the world.

Theme: 3
This game really gives me an anime vibe. I don't know if this is just my sensibility coming to it, or if this is something intrinsic in the design. While I like it, it feels pretty safe in what it aims for, and doesn't see to really push toward a different audience beyond the possible lure of anime fans (which we can see being catered for in the Cel-style games). It's an existing niche, not really pushing the envelope much, except as a simple game that might be suitable for kids (hence a bit of a boost in score compared to similar games that are targeting existing gamer culture niches).

Would I play this?: 5
I don't know that I'd play this straight away, but it's something I'd like to try at some stage. There's an interesting built in narrative with the fading of magic occurring over three sessions. It might make a nice interlude between acts of a longer campaign in another game system, something light to take our minds off things for a couple of weeks.

Completeness: 7
Everything is basically here to run the game, even a few play examples, but there could have been a few more towards the end. Maybe the author ran out of time. I think the game probably also could have benefited from a few more play props and aids (things like character sheets, a location sheet for the place that everything is focused around, maybe some tokens or a power expenditure track...etc.). It's all basically there, it's just a bit cluttered and uneasy. Nothing too much for a gamer with a bit of experience to overcome.

Innovation: 4
I've seen most of these components before, deriving event resolution based on the consensus of the group and what might be good for the story, spending points to fuel powers, playing two sets of characters within the same narrative. Individual components from the past, assembled in an interesting way. I do think the weakening of magic through reduction of faerie magic points is a novel concept that might be brought into onto games effectively.

Output Quality: 5 [Language (3), Layout (2). Imagery (0)]
The language is generally functional and I have no problems with it. The layout is simple and generally functional, but certainly nothing spectacular. There are no images what-so-ever.

Overall: 55% Pass [21+6+5+14+4+5]
This marking system is fairly subjective but in it I try to be pretty fair and benchmark a majority of the marks against quantifiable things than than my personal qualitative tastes. I like this game, but it just didn't hit the marks that I think are necessary to good performance in this design contest. With a bit more work (and a few more examples of play, a nicer layout and some illustrations) this could be a fun and clever little game. I'd be willing to offer my services as an illustrator and layout artist to help push this game to the next level if +Willow Palecek were interested.   

25 June, 2015

Game Chef Review 9: The Last Hour by Jenn Martin

The Last Hour

Ingredients: 6 [Stillness (3), Dream (3)]
I'm going with these two ingredients because they seem to make the most sense with the context of a central character who is comatose. Certainly no "Dragonfly" elements and anything "Abandon/Abandonment" seems a bit of a stretch.

Theme: 2
After my review of The Zone, I could hardly give this game a better score for the same category. This game also caters to a specific niche of the gaming community rather than expanding the audience, or catering to a non-gaming audience.

Would I play this?: 3
This sort of angsty catharsis isn't the kind of game I'm drawn to, certainly not for it's own sake. I might consider using this as the starting point for a campaign though. This is the kind of game that in my experience tends to set up more questions than it answers, but as an exercise in linking characters together it works well.  

Completeness: 4
This at least as complete a game as many designs of this genre, but that doesn't mean I find it complete by a long shot. There is a lot of background knowledge that needs to be imparted (through experience of the conventions and traditions of roleplaying, or the practices of drama) before the game becomes something that can be fully engaged by players. In a lot of cases, I know gamers who will look at this and try to work out where the game is. They'd wonder what to do with it? How to resolve conflicts in it? It's a roleplaying exercise, but is it a game? I can ever view something like this as a complete game.

Similarly, if this was a self contained and completed unit, it would have been nice to have formatted cards to play with.

Innovation: 2
My thoughts for The Zone apply here again. If I didn't know about Jeepform, the history of Australian gaming, or exercises in drama classes, this might seem innovative. But since i do know about these things, it just looks like it sits solidly in the middle of that school of thought. It's all a part of that "I'll design half a game, and let the players fill in the gaps to facilitate the stories they want to tell" school of thought. If the designer is running the game we actually see a whole package. If the designer is giving it to someone else to run, I'd put at least as much credit into the hands of that third party.

Output Quality: 4 [Language (2), Layout (1), Imagery (0)]
The language in this one is mostly point form and sentence fragments. It seems rushed. Little attempt at decent layout seemed to have occurred. No imagery at all.

Overall: 39% [18+4+3+8+4+2]
This is a pretty pedestrian entry for this style of game, it blends into so many other "let's get dark and angsty, because that's real art" designs that it really doesn't make a huge impression. It's generally the kind of thing that I'd gloss over if I saw it on offer at a convention. But like I said, it could be a novel way to develop a character relationship map between PCs in a longer term campaign revolving around the comatose patient.

I'll stop here, because at this stage, it almost feels like I've written more in this review of the game than the actual text of the game itself.

Game Chef Review 8: Good Night Fairy Theatre by Emily Griggs

Good Night Fairy Theatre

Ingredients: [Dream (4), Stillness (2)]
Dream is a pretty clear part of this design, it's a game about fairies competing to work their magic over a child's dream. The second ingredient, Stillness, occurs as one of the dream options. So, while the second ingredient exists, it's not really integral at all.

Theme: 7
The idea of a game for kids (arguably focused toward young girls) is novel, there has been a bit of it in this contest. Outside of the contest though, most of the roleplaying games focused toward kids seem to have been games about kids having adult adventures (fighting monsters, exploring the world, defending their homes) but with lower stakes than might be found in the typical adult versions of these stories. Instead this has been written as a game of the style that might appeal to young girls.

Would I play this?: 8
I have a young niece who would love this game. She might be a bit young for it at this stage, but I'm definitely going to give it a try in a couple of years. I like the idea of the randomly rolled magical energies, they keep things simple but there is a twist in the way the magical energies interact with one another. I might make a few tweaks to the way interaction occurs between the narration and the dreamer, but it actually seems pretty elegant as is (I wouldn't make any changes until playtesting it a few times first).  

Completeness: 8
Pretty much everything is here for the game, it doesn't need character sheets, but I would have liked to see some pre written cards to get quickly into play the first couple of times. The game is targeted at a young audience and I could see the inconvenience of writing up dreams being a speed bump in that first session.

Innovation: 7 (6 +1 for innovative presentation)
The way the energy is determined by rolling dice, and the rock-paper-scissors interaction of the energy types aren't necessarily new ideas but they way they are implemented here are definitely innovative. It's an incremental evolution. The presentation a form reminiscent of a children's book n a nice change of pace and that's where I'm offering bonus points.

Output Quality: 10 [Language (3), Layout (3), Imagery (3), +1 Bonus for good overall presentation]
I can't fault this at all. The layout is beautiful and perfectly tailored to the intended audience for the game, there are illustrations through the text that add to the atmosphere.

Overall: 76% [21+14+8+16+7+10]
From first glances I would have thought this could have been a winner. The biggest thing to have let the design down was the lack of strong presence from two ingredients. This is another game I'd lay money down on if a hard copy became available.

Game Chef Review 7: The Zone by Julius Doboszewski

The Zone

Ingredients: [Stillness (2), Abandon (maybe 1), Dream (maybe 1 bonus point)]
I'm trying to give the benefit of the doubt here, because I'm pretty scathing elsewhere. The link to the stillness ingredient is probably the strongest, but even this is pretty vague and determinant on the location being played, and the fact that a player starts the game alone. Possible bonus points have been added for "abandon" because the game abandons the trappings of typical play, and possibly because the world has been abandoned (thus leading to the stillness). Another bonus point has been added for dream because it could be used as an exercise in daydreaming, but that's a bit of a stretch.

Theme: 2
I don't really feel like this game is addressed to "a different audience", I feel it's squarely aimed at an existing niche within gaming, and this is a group that requires a bit of training (consciously or unconsciously) to be a part of. I'll touch on this further in other comments.

Would I play this?: 2
I look at a "game" like this, I'm reminded of the Emperor's New Clothes. I wonder to myself, is this actually a game? Is it just a thought exercise? Is it something I'm just not getting? Is it trying to hard to be "hipster-artistic"? Is it post-ironic-pseudo-deconstructivist, and I'm either over-analysing it from a postmodern perspective? Or it is just a simple little game?

I could strip ideas out of this game, but they're mostly ideas I've already had regarding my "Walkabout" project. These are notions of using an existing space to feed the narrative, walking through a place and using the location to improve immersion. The post-apocalyptic vibe is already there.

Completeness: 3
If I handed this to most non-gamers they'd look at me and shrug their shoulders. If I handed it to drama students they'd use their background knowledge to fill in the blanks, but it would just be a variant on so many other exercises they'd already done. If I handed it to most tabletop gamers they'd wonder where the rest of it was. Technically if fulfills the requirements of a game of this genre, it give a setting, a list of concepts to address, a few rules to restrict the way play unfolds. But the way I understand it, it requires a lot of previously acquired baggage before it can really be considered playable (whether that baggage comes from freeform roleplaying, jeepform, or theatre classes).

Innovation: 2
...and I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt here.

Ten years ago, before I'd heard of Jeepform, I would have said that this game pushed some boundaries, I would have thought it was a looser version of the type of thing we were doing in Australian game conventions 20 years ago. It's even more an interpretation of a drama class exercise than some of the previous games I've reviewed...a few basic rules, some concepts to address...and GO!
I've been seeing people raving about games like this for a few years now, but it's seemed more to be a cult of personality thing. "Hot Designer X scribbled this down on a napkin at that exclusive con held in someone's attic last September. We love everything that Hot Designer X does, therefore we have to love this and tell everyone that they should love it too, otherwise they're not real gamers."

Sorry, no. It feels like lazy game design to me.

Output Quality:4 [Language (3), Layout (1), Imagery (0)]
The language is fine, it does it's job, so there's no points lost there. The layout is standard pedestrian stuff, paragraphs and titles but nothing interesting about it. No images at all.

Overall: 30% Needs Work [12+4+2+6+2+4]
This one scraped in at the bottom of the Needs Work category. There are people who would claim this is a piece of solid minimalist design, and I just don't get it. But that's the point of my low score, it feels like a single tool in the kit of a certain type of GM rather than a game in it's own right.  

Game Chef Review 6: Wings by David Rothfeder

David asked me to review this for him, and it's actually one of my assigned formal reviews for the contest. So here goes...


Ingredients: 8 [Dragonflies (4), Stillness (3), +1 Bonus for Abandonment]
This is a game about faeries and dragonflies, and the relationship between them. It focuses of the time when faeries need to move on from their dragonflies, an awkward stage of adolescence and transition. The dragonflies seek stillness while the faeries seek to find their place in the world either by separating from the dragonflies of resuming the status quo. These ingredients seem to play well into the concepts of the game.

Theme: 8 [6 + both the bonus points]
There are a few games around for pre-teen girls, but not a whole lot. So this gets moderate points in that regard, where the bonus points come in are for the way the author addresses the way the game is directed at that audience...it's not just a pink version of monopoly, it's a tool for addressing the issues that a pre-teen girl might ace in her daily life and a way to explore those things. As a therapeutic tool to explore issues it could be useful.

Would I play this?:7
As a teacher in training conducting research papers into using games in the classroom, I can see how this game could definitely be used to explore themes within a "safe zone". Group therapy could be engaged using this system as a barrier interface between the issues that don't want to be spoken about and the "real world". Its not a perfect fit for all audiences, but the author readily admits this and often a one-size-fits-all approach isn't a good fit for anyone. I might make some changes regarding the number of scenes taken by everyone, because there seems to be scope for more interesting scenes as the game progresses and tougher decisions have to be made. But even as it stands, it's one to add to the pile of games to look at and play when the time is right.

Completeness: 9 [7 + 2 Bonus Points]
There are a couple of bits in the rules where some proofreading would help (some parts indicating "defiance" while the character sheet simply uses "defy", it's just pedantic stuff but it took a second read through to make sure I was appropriately grokking the text. On the whole though, there is information about how to make characters, information about how to set up scenes, cards to cut out, character sheets [that's a bonus point], ideas for how things might need to be changed to account for colour blind people (like me) [that's a bonus point], and there's even a pretty decent play example at the end. It's a pretty tight package.  

Innovation: 5
No game is perfect, and here's where things slip a bit. I've seen just about every component of this game before, maybe not in the configuration offered here, but the components are all familiar. The relationship between faeries and dragonflies reminds me of the dynamic between wraiths and their shadows (used by White Wolf 20 years ago), on the surface this game doesn't go as dark as that predecessor, but it still feels like that dynamic. This is one of the reasons why the game has scored fairly well in other areas. I know these components work, I have seen some of them working together, and I've seen them easily understood by non-gamers. But even though these ideas are presented in a way that is a bit new for a new audience, they feel familiar. It doesn't particularly feel like it's pushing the envelope.

Output Quality: 9 [Language (3), Layout (3), Imagery (2), +1 Bonus for a good package]
The language is generally informative and concise, no issues there. The layout is possibly the best I've seen so far, with borders, columns, iconography, and simple but elegant font work. The cover illustration doesn't have a dragonfly on it, but again that's just being pedantic and it's a pretty cover regardless. There are plenty of dragonflies elsewhere to generally make up for this.

Overall: 79% Distinction (24+16+7+18+5+9)
It really wouldn't have taken much more work to push this game into a High Distinction category. Certain one of the more professionally presented and thought about games so far. There could have been more depth and consideration given to the mechanisms of play, but the freeform angle here is probably right for the style and the audience so I really can't complain too much there. I foresee it being hard to beat this one according to my criteria.

Final Review Ratings (Game Chef)

In my reviews so far, I've decided to give the final scores a general grade based on the total percentage. For those who have been wondering, I'm just using the university grading system common in this part of the world.

85-100% = High Distinction. 
An exceptional game that I really can't fault especially given the time constraints. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if none reach this mark.
75-84% = Distinction.
A game of great quality that really feels like a coherent product that I'd offer money for. I'd expect maybe 10% of the games to reach this kind of mark.
65-74% = Credit.
A solid effort that either brings something new to the field or is simply well presented. I'd expect about 30% of the games to end up here.
50-64% = Pass.
An adequate game that is generally functional and meets the criteria of "a complete game", but nothing particularly noteworthy. I'd expect about 40% of the games to end up here.
30-49% = Needs Work.
No honest entry into Game Chef should be considered a failure, these games may not have quite met my criteria, but there is obviously effort there. I'd expect maybe 20% of the games to sit here.
0-29% = Try Again.
No real effort seems to have been made here. Most people who produce a game at this level know what they've done (or haven't done), and they don't bother entering such a design into the contest. I don't expect to see any games of this level.

Game Chef Review 5: Dragonfly by the Warden

by The Warden (Todd Crapper)

Ingredients: 8 [Abandonment (3), Still (3), +1 Bonus: Dragonfly, +1 Bonus: Dream]
Every ingredient plays a part in this game, but I figure the name of the game is probably the least relevant of these. It feels more like surface gloss, and the author readily admits this. The concepts of holding in card games are common, and a holding/stillness mechanism makes sense in the game, the same applies to the concept of discarding cards or "abandoning" them. The hand of cards is called the "Dream Hand", but again that feels more like surface gloss than something integral to the game. Still, all of the ingredients are there, and that earns a high point count in my book.  

Theme: 9 [8 +1 bonus for it being a personal game dedicated to a loved one]
This was written for the author's wife, which is a different audience to the games he normally claims to design for. I love the way this game starts, dramatic and grandiose, it addresses a fictional reader in multiple person voice, drawing you into it's world. I also really like the fact that this game is addressed to a specific person, that's clever and beautiful.

Would I play this?: 7
I really want to play this because I feel like there is something about the game that I'm just not getting, and maybe a play through might get the concept to gel. I've played a few traditional card games, and I know that this sort of game always has regular players especially when they use a standard deck of cards. Easily accessible and familiar components make games more accessible to the wider audience, so it wouldn't be too hard to get players for it.

Completeness: 8
There feels like there is enough to play the game, all the procedures are there. But it would have scored even better if there were a few play examples. This might also give a better feeling of how the game plays without the actual need to play the game and find out whether the game is actually suitable for a player's sensibilities. But generally, the game looks as complete as anything you'd find folded up on a sheet in a deck of cards.

Innovation: 6 [4 +2 Bonus through the clever presentation of the game and the way it addresses the audience]
All of the mechanisms comprising this game feel like the kind of things that you'd find in a traditional card game. They might have been assembled in a different way, but none of the components feel particularly unusual or innovative. A general read of the game gives me the impression that it's marginally more strategic than "War" (where opposing players simply flip cards, high card wins, and the winner adds both cards to their deck), but it has the optional element of playing with the dream cards.

Output Quality: 7 [Language (3), Layout (3), Imagery (0) +1 bonus for an overall good package ]
I can't fault the language on this one, and the font is a nice atmospheric addition that feeds into the style of the game. I haven't offered any points for imagery, because there are no images in the game. But these are concise rules that don't really need images. On the whole it looks elegant.

Overall: 77% Distinction [24+18+7+14+6+7]
This game has me intrigued. If it had been presented in a dry fashion I probably wouldn't be impressed by it much, but I guess I'm a sucker for a well presented gimmick.

24 June, 2015

Game Chef Review 4: American Dream by Abram Bussiere

Let me preface this by saying that I think hacks of existing games are a lazy design practice, and I've stated my disdain for making everything an Apocalypse World hack numerous times over the past couple of years. Despite this, I'll try to keep this review as open minded as possible.

American Dream

Ingredients: 4 [Dream (3), Maybe Stillness (1)]
The name of the game is American Dream, and the whole things seems to be an exercise in futility against a decaying system that is rapidly approaching an end. Is this "abandonment" of the dream? "Stillness" at the end of a civilisation that still believes it is the pinnacle of achievement? I'm clutching for that second ingredient, but nothing really seems integrated into the design.

Theme: 7
It's an interesting idea to address a a game to a post apocalyptic audience. The game doesn't particularly do this well (it still uses all of the regular conventions of roleplaying, requires quite a few pieces of standard gamer knowledge to fill in the gaps, and probably makes a whole lot more sense if you are aware of the existing game it is hacked from), but the attempt is there and I appreciate that. So I'll give good marks here.

Would I play this?: 3
I was so tempted to throw a zero here (as indicated by my preface), but I'm trying to be fair. There are certainly ideas that I could strip out of this design and use in other places. Looking through it, it's actually less "Apocalypse World"-ish than most of the hacks I've seen. It includes start-of-session, and end-of-session moves, and Storyteller moves (there's a point where the rules refer to the "Emperor" and other parts where it refers to the American Empire, and I'm not sure if these are really connected, but it feels like they should be...perhaps the Storyteller is the Emperor of the Pre-Apocalypse society). I could strip out the character creation system, or elements of the way it works, for a modern campaign. It certainly aims to reflect the inherent unfairness and injustice in the world, but I'd play more with racial lines as well as cultural and socioeconomic ideas to reflect different types of injustice and prejudice.  

Completeness: 4
I've played numerous games over the years, and included among these is Apocalypse World, so I'm familiar with the conventions necessary to get this thing working. But there seem to be a lot of logical leaps and prior knowledge necessary to fill in the numerous gaps in the game. I think that if I gave this to novice gamers they'd just look at me and wonder what to do with it, I could see non-gamers being utterly bamboozled and the referenced post-apocalyptic audience would also need this background knowledge before many of the games integral concepts actually fall into place. (Also no character sheets, so no bonus points there.)

Innovation: 2
Again, really tempted to give it a zero here because I'm generally sick of Apocalypse Word hacks, but I'm giving it a 2 because it's mostly the same stuff but there's a few interesting ideas in it. There aren't a plethora of socially aware games trying to explain the depths of imbalance in the world... at least this game is aiming in that direction.  

Output Quality: 4 [Language (2), Layout (1), Imagery (1)]
The language looks a bit rushed, it's generally functional but confusing in a few places and there's a few grammatical issues in it. The layout is similarly functional with paragraphs and titles, but everything is basically in a single column without page breaks or anything to improve readability or break things up. It gets a point for the cover image.

Overall: 43% Needs Work [12+14+3+8+2+4]
If a 50% mark is a pass, then this one doesn't but I can see the effort. It wouldn't take a whole lot of work to make a playable game, maybe even something that I wouldn't mind playing. I don't know if the coin flip mechanism would survive many more drafts of the game, especially after playtesting (I've seen coin flipping attempts numerous tomes but they've always ended up very unwieldy when they actually see play).

Game Chef Review 3: Mere Players by Windcaller Studios

Mere Players

Ingredients: 7 [Dragonfly (3). Dream (4)]
The dragonfly is a distinct position in the game, a prominent role, and the card referring to the player in this role are marked with clever dragonfly glyphs, but I get the feeling that this player could have been named anything.  I don't really feel anything "anisopteran" about this role. Dream on the other hand is very strongly connected into the game. This is a game of fey and dreamers, where dreams are variously a meal or an escape.

Theme: 7
This game incorporates the idea of "a different audience" into the core of the game, this is made quite clear and I appreciate the way it has been interpreted by the designers. It's not really a different audience with regard to different people who might be playing the game, but it's certainly a valid interpretation of the theme.

Would I play this?:7
I've seen games like this played at conventions for years, often as things between regular tabletop sessions, sometimes as experimental multiforms, and sometimes in the pub once the convention is over. I've even played them a few times, and know that I could quickly get a crowd together who might be willing to run through it.

Completeness: 9 [8 +1 for all the cards being present]
Everything is here for the game, it even looks like it could be easily uploaded to a Print-on-Demand company to make a hardcopy book. I've seen plenty of games available through online PDF vendors at this level of completeness. The only reason I haven't given this a full 10 out of 10 is that it probably could have done with a few more examples of play to clarify things a bit.

Innovation: 6
This reminds me of a lot of Theatesports exercises, perhaps a few of them strung together into a guided improvisational play. It's also very reminiscent of the exercises done in drama classes, but twisted into a competitive game. Then there's the ritualised phrases which remind me a bit of Polaris. So, there's a few interesting ideas put together in a way that is vaguely familiar but pushing the envelope a bit. If I hadn't seen a lot of improvisational theatre exercises, jeepform stuff, or played in experimental Australian freeforms for the past 20 odd years, this might seem really fresh.

Output Quality: 8 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (2) +1 Bonus for overall package]
I certainly can't fault the language here, it's functional, it not particularly evocative or atmospheric. The layout is pretty standard, but might have benefited from more thematic font choices, maybe borders. The imagery is simple with a title image and the dragonfly glyphs, it doesn't really need more and feels understated...but there just feels like there's something missing about it. I can't quite put my finger on it (and that's why it got the high completeness score despite missing something here).

Overall: 74% Credit [21+14+7+18+6+8]
I like it, and I could see myself running this to the right crowd at a convention. I expect this to be one of the better entries according to my scoring system, it looks professional and as though the time limit was used efficiently.

Game Chef Review 2: Dragonfly 3RR0R by Daniel Violato

Dragonfly 3RROR

Ingredients: 8 [Dragonfly (4), Stillness (3), Bonus +1 Abandon]
I'd be teetering between adding an extra point to "Stillness", or giving extra points for using "Abandon/Abandonment" in two ways (the game's central cryogenic starships are abandoning the earth and the characters are abandoning) so these balance out.
Theme: 7 [6 +1 bonus from the author's description of how the different audience applies]
Daniel Violato state in this game's text that English is not his first language, and therefore he is writing to a "different audience" to his normal fare by writing in English. The game text also describes how the game addresses a different audience by simulating machine code instructions. This thing is dense, it might be the issues of overcoming the language barrier, but I think it's more due to the various interlocking parts in the system...I'll get to that.

Would I play this?: 6
This reminds me a bit of Roborally, and that has seen all sorts of fun in this part of the world, so that gives it a positive. I also know a few programmers who might really get into the idea of using a pseudo-programming code to succeed in a co-op game, so that gives it a positive too. I'm torn between "5" (I'll add it to the must play list) and "8" (I should get the guys around to run through this a couple of times). So I'll give it an average between the two, round down because I could strugge getting the guys to actually give it a go.

Completeness: 9 [8 +1 Character sheets, tokens are all present]
There's definitely enough to play the game, all in their own files. For a playtest kit, I really couldn't expect much more. The game includes examples through the text describing how the various components work together, and while it could do with some playtesting to get the numbers right (the author admits this) there are enough pieces to get that playtesting happening.

Innovation: 6
The idea of a co-op board game isn't new (there are plenty of existing games that do this), the idea of programming robots isn't new (case in point mentioned earlier... Roborally). But I haven't really seen anything that attempts to combine these ideas. It's clever and feels like an evolution in an interesting direction, but it also feels like some of the crunchy board game designs I've seen in a few boardgame design testing sessions lately. Maybe some tweaking of the rules might see something really clever and innovative manifest from this design.

Output Quality: 7 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (1) +1 Bonus for title pages]
I'm not going to fault the language, it's generally coherent. It took a bit to grok on the first pass, but as examples were included it started to make more sense. The layout is good, nothing particularly noteworthy about it, but it structures the rules adequately. Like the last entry, a couple of images might have broken up the text, but at least the planet cards had different coloured circles. The use of a "machine code" looking font adds to the atmosphere of the game.

Overall: 75% Distinction [24+14+6+18+6+7]
I think with a bit of testing, this could be a great game. A bit complicated and certainly not for everyone due to that complexity, but it's trying to do some thing that are either new, or not very common.

Game Chef Review 1: Dragonfly Ranch by Graham Allen

Dragonfly Ranch

Ingredients: 6 [Dragonfly (4), Stillness (2)]
It's clear that dragonflies are a key element to this game, and I can vaguely see that stillness is important because a player who runs in game is unable to catch a dragonfly.

Theme: 2
I'm really not sure that this game pushes the envelope of "a different audience" at all. It's not a typical gamer mainstream design, it's quirky. But I've seen a lot of quirky games emerge over the past couple of years. I don't know what kind of stuff Graham Allen normally produces, so this is a pretty vague score and might possibly be on the low side.

Would I Play This?: 4
I'd be willing to play this, but I seriously think it needs some substantial playtesting before it would go into regular rotation. From what I can see in the design so far, it seems to be more luck based than strategic. Either you happen to get close to a dragonfly and it randomly runs into you, or it shoots away. In one way that means the game is easily accessible for young players, but from the other perspective it means more mature players would get frustrated quickly. I'm not sure how well it would work with replayability either, a variety of modular maps might improve this.

Completeness: 7 [6+1 bonus]
There is generally enough information here to play the game, the game board is presented, but no tokens are given for ranchers or dragonflies (notes are given in the components indicating that thee are required for play, so that's a start). A pencil drawn map is offered, along with a functional clearer map (so that's where I gave the bonus). A more finalised version of the game might have given a "cube nets" that could be folded into crude "dragonfly dice", or stickers to apply to dice. Maybe some formatted cut-out cards would have been nice here too. Certainly needs more in this regard, but I can see where it's headed.  

Innovation: 4
I like the "Dragonfly AI", it's clever and pretty simple. The idea seems familiar, but I can't specifically pick where from. Generally there in't much new in the design, but it is a combination of components that seems interesting (even if I do think it could do with some serious playtesting to confirm the reservations I have regarding the mechanisms of play).  

Output Quality: 6 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (1)]
I can't really fault the writing, and the layout is generally functional. As I pointed out earlier, the layout might have improved with formatted cards but generally not to bad. The imagery bit is purely what I like to see in games, there's plenty of clip art of bugs or butterfly nets that could have broken up the text.    

Overall: Pass 54% [18+8+4+14+4+6]
Not a bad attempt, and a week isn't really long enough to expect a fully polished masterpiece, but I can see enough potential in thi game that I'd be interested to see what a bit of shine might add to it.

23 June, 2015

My Game Chef Review System

Every review system is going to be biased. Some people love crunchy stuff, other people like minimalism. Some are attracted to high concept artworks that really make them think, other just enjoy a simple diversion.

I'm going to be reviewing Game Chef entries by the things that I like to see in a game. That means my perspectives may match with yours, but they may not. I'm open to discussion with designers or interested third parties, but that probably won't change my gut reaction reviews.

The games deigned will be marked according to 5 criteria, each marked out of 10 and given a quick couple of sentences to explain why I've given that score. Then an overall weighted and averaged score.

Can I see two ingredients blatantly within the game as presented? How well have those ingredients been integrated? This category has triple the standard weighting when used for the calculation of the overall score, because I think this is one of the biggest challenges in the Game Chef procedure and one of the key aspects of the contest.

This scale relates to the most prominent two ingredients, their values are added together. 
0: No ingredients visible
1: Ingredient vaguely visible
2: Ingredient generally visible but doesn't really mesh
3: Ingredient is well linked into the game 
4: Not only is the ingredient linked into the game, but the ingredient is presented in a fun and interesting way
+1 Bonus Point: A third ingredient is visible
+1 Bonus Point:  A fourth ingredient is visible (or the third ingredient is integrated into the game really well)

Since the theme is "a different audience" and many of the contestant will be first time entrants, I'll really have no idea if the game are actually being designed for a group that the designer doesn't normally address. If I think the game addresses a group that doesn't see a lot of game action, then I'll give it a higher score, and if the designer has specifically addressed the way their game does this, I'll give them bonus points. But this is a pretty subjective category (actually, most of them are pretty subjective). This category has double the standard weighting when used for the calculation of the overall score (it would get a higher weighting, but the theme is fairly vague and I readily admit that this will be a very subjective grading).

0: There seems to be no attempt to address the theme at all.
2: The design fits into one of the smaller niches of the hobby, rather than being "gamer mainstream".
4: The design pushes the boundaries of gaming in some way.
6: The design addresses a group for whom I have seen a definite shortage of games.
8: The design addresses a group I hadn't even considered as a gaming void.
+1 Bonus Point: The designer make a not of how the game addresses a different audience
+1 Bonus Point: The game really is something different and unexpected, but looks like it would fit really well within a traditional non-gamer space. 

Would I Play This?:
I am middle aged (just turned 40), socially middle class, college educated, and deeply pop-cultured, I am the typical target audience for many games. So it may seem that the "different audience" theme means designing games for anyone BUT me. On the other hand, I enjoy all sorts of games and love to explore new ideas, cultures, subcultures, and experiences. I like things if they resonate as something of quality, regardless of who they're aimed at...my music collection can testify to this. This measurement is jut a subjective as the last one (but only has a standard weighting behind it).

0: Why am I even looking at this?
1: I don't think this would ever see the table.
2: There's one or two good ideas in here. 
3: I might be able to strip some of the concepts out for modifier/house-rules in another game.
4: A few tweaks and I'd be willing to play this. 
5: I'll add it to the "must play" list.
6: I'll add it near the top of the "must play" list.
7: I could run this at a convention.
8: I should get the guy around to run through this a couple of times.
9: I need to play this ASAP, it could see regular rotation in these parts.
10: I played this before finishing the review, and will play it again soon.

A lot of the completeness concepts are reflected in the theme, ingredients, and whether I'd actually play the game as is. But there is something more to it than that. This is basically a measure of how complete the game is. Whether it feels like everything is present to actually play the game. Are character sheets provided (if they're needed)? Are special tokens or maps presented (if needed)? Are there glaring holes in the rules? This category gets double weighting because it's a pretty integral part to the whole game design contest.

0: Not enough here to do much of anything.
1-2: Not enough to actually pay a game, but enough to add into another game, or generally intuit what might be meant.
3-4: Many of the pieces are in place and with a few logical leaps a complete game might emerge.
5-6: Most of the game is there, and a seasoned roleplayer could probably fill in the blanks.
7-8: Definitely enough information to play a game.
+1 Bonus Point: Character sheet (or maps, or tokens) are presented if they are needed.
+1 Bonus Points: Designer when above and beyond in their attempt to make everything accessible for the game.

I like game design contests because I can see where other people are going with their game designs, I like exploring new ideas and seeing those new ideas filter through into the design community. Everyone has new ideas, or new ways to combine old ideas, and every year we see some great concept emerge from global contests such as these.

0: Same old stuff.
1-2: Mostly the same, I'm not sure if I've seen that before, it might be deja vu. 
3-4: Pretty pedestrian, but there are a few interesting concepts floating through it.
5-6: Enough element of this are fresh and different that it really stands out.

+2 Bonus Points: The design is presented in an innovative way
+2 Bonus Points: The design uses a medium that I haven't really seen before in games. 

Output Quality:
This is certainly not a part of the design contest, but it's one of those thing that lures me to a game. If someone has put love and care into their work it shows in the text and the presentation.

0: Overall Rushed, nothing much good about it.
Then 3 points each for; Language, Layout, Imagery:
1 (Language): Seriously needs grammar and spell checking
2 (Language): Generally good, a few grammar and/or spelling errors. 
3 (Language): Generally fine.
1 (Layout): A few paragraphs and titles. Generally functional.
2 (Layout): Generally neatly presented, but nothing spectacular.
3 (Layout): Cleverly and thoughtfully presented. 
1 (Imagery): One or two pictures
2 (Imagery): A few well placed illustrations or diagrams.
3 (Imagery): Beautifully and atmospherically illustrated, appropriate to game text.
+1 Bonus Point: Overall good package, well presented.

30% Ingredients
20% Theme 
10% Would I play this?
20% Completeness
10% Innovation
10% Output Quality

Total = 100%