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).
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