30 July, 2015

Sword and Backpack


Just this.

That is all.

Props and Weapons

Looks like I've formally been accepted to give a workshop on prop and weapon creation for LARP and cosplay, focusing on the materials and techniques common to both and the inherent difference between them (LARP stuff needing to be soft, but sturdy so that it can take a beating but avoid hurting people when they are used... Cosplay stuff needing to look good and more finely detailed, but just as sturdy so it can handle photographic shoots).

Time to start building some props.

I've got about a month and a half.

The Boffer LARP Heartbreaker

The terms "Heartbreaker" and "Fantasy Heartbreaker" have almost become running jokes in many design circles. Like "What is Roleplaying?" and recently "What is a Game?" The idea of a heartbreaker seems to have broken beyond it's original concept to envelop a nebulous field of game design where a lone individual (it's stereotypically an individual, but might be a small group) work to improve on their traditional game, and then they try to tell the world how wonderful and original it is.

In the stereotypical narrative of the heartbreaker, the lone individual knows everything about the game they are trying to improve, and they've probably been at it for years. They haven't really come up for air in this time, and they haven't seen the wide range of other products on the market that might already be doing the very things they are trying to achieve. If they have seen these other products, they might think that thse products are "doing it wrong" based on third hand information about a play session where the players didn't understand the rules anyway. Thus the lone individual continues working on their ultimate fantasy roleplaying game, unaware that the general market has already addressed their issues and has moved on to other things in the meantime.

If we look at a colour analogy, we might say that roleplaying games run the full spectrum. If D&D is "Red", the fantasy heartbreaker designer might know blood red, glowing embers, ruby, rose red, scarlet, cherry, crimson, vermilion, their knowledge might spread to duller reds verging on browns like terracotta or red ochre, they might accept a dark pink as the lightest shade they'll tolerate and maroon or even shiraz as the darkest, and they might possibly expand their knowledge to a few rusty oranges. But everything else is foreign to them. Pushing into the infra-reds, they see board games and those aren't RPGs to this designer...anything yellow or further in that direction "isn't really a game" because they don't have crunchy rules.

I think I see a wider spectrum than that, I've played numerous games over the decades with varying rule sets from the extremely minimalist to the most heinously crunchy. I've had fun with many of them, and have had negative experiences with quite a few as well. But I'll accept that there is a point when my colour vision refuses to see roleplaying games on that spectrum.

My point here is that I've run into a conflict of interest in my Boffer LARP. The current rules set feels like a Boffer LARP Heartbreaker. The designers saw a few things that other people were doing and said "I can improve on that", but they don't seem to have actually experienced other systems that have actually improved on those concepts, and they don't realise that some of the fundamental principles they are working from are actually short sighted visions and vague approximations.

I've already done a series of blog posts where I built a LARP system from first principles according to what I'd like to see in a game, so I'm not going to do that again. I'm just frustrated that there are people who think the edges of roleplaying exist when you make witty banter during your sword swings and derring do. It's like saying that Tekken is more of a roleplaying game than Streetfighter or Mortal Kombat, because it has movement in two dimensions across the arena rather than simple linear movement across the screen... then going further and saying that Mass Effect is too airy fairy with all that story getting in the way and who wants interruptions to the combat anyway...

...it's striking me as GamerGate all over again. "We want the gams we want, and we don't want you to make those other games because they're not the games we want to play".

I even had one of the LARP players (actually an admin), tell me that if we were going to cut out the combat from the LARP games, he didn't want to play, and he actually thought the combat rules were too complicated anyway. It appears that he just wants to run around a parkland with rubber swords and hit people while wearing a fantasy costume (the fantasy costume is what make hitting things a "roleplaying game" rather than a "re-enactment"). I've had long discussions with people debating whether the SCA is actually an elaborate roleplaying game (it fits all my criteria, and the only reason people don't classify it as one is the fact that the members get histrionic when you do call it one). The SCA is actually closer to what I'd like to see in a LARP, some players get to fight, other players get to craft things and set up a world in which that fighting has a purpose. I'm trying to push for a game where everyone has something interesting to do, rather than make the vast majority of players a group of extras for the valiant heroes and savage monsters (both of whom are generally glory hounds). I'm not trying to spoil the fun for one group, I'm trying to expand the fun for more groups.

But the hard core warriors see only red.

29 July, 2015

City Geomorph Step by Step (Part 2)

As we start this post, I've got the basic layout for the geomorph pencilled in. I'll remove the template from behind the hex, so that we can get a bit of a clearer image.

Here, I've got streets and coastlines marked in for the small harbour, and a couple of vague ship shapes. 

Next, I'm one of those terrible people who starts inking things before the pencilling is complete. I've got a pretty good idea of where I'm heading and how to get there, but I like the chance of screwing up a bit to make the workflow a bit more prganic and unexpected. 

I have a range of felt-tipped pens in varying thicknesses (0.1, 0.3, 0.5, and 0.7mm). I like to work with the idea that a thicker line means a more dramatic shift between the mapped terrain on either side of it.  0.1mm lines reflect things that can be easily traversed (moving from concrete path to road, or rocky terrain to sand). 0.3mm lines reflect more significant changes that present a minor obstacle (fences, roadside curbs, crates, small trees and bushes). 0.5mm lines are dramatic changes that typically can't be crossed without game/story effects (building walls, moving from land to water, major elevation changes like cliffs). 0.7mm lines represent basically impenetrable barriers (walls of a cave or dungeon).

I've started here with 0.5mm lines marking the coastlines and the docks. The coastlines are drawn freehand with a jagged continuous stroke to look natural and a bit rocky, the docks are drawn with a straight edge to contrast the manufactured quality. I haven't done much with a straight edge on any of the geomorphs so far, because it's typically quicker to work freehand, and I've practiced drawing relatively straight lines for years (decades)... It's just my style.

Next, I draw in the streets with 0.3mm linework. I'm deliberately continuing the linework of the streets off the hex frame, because if these geomorphs are foing to be printed up, there needs to be room for bleed. 

I've noticed here that the street leading up to the point comes to a dead end, so I find something small to trace around for a turning circle. 

Oh, I'll also point out the gap in the coastline at the lower right. This was a spur of the moment decision during inking, but like all good docks there will be a seafood/fish-and-chips resaurant here for the dockworkers to have their lunch and for tourists to sample the local edible aquatic delights.

Shifting to a mix of pens, I start adding more detail. I outline some warehouses (the rest of the dock area will be filled with shipping containers and trucks), these are done in 0.5mm. Ship outlines are also marked in 0.5mm. A breakwater is added between the "island" and the mainland, in a mix of 0.3mm and 0.1mm. Finally a few beaches are added to the shoreline in 0.1mm.

Next we'll move to a few more buildings.

Urban Geomorph Template

I've drawn up an improved Urban Geomorph template.

The way I'm using it, it's a large image. It's designed to be used as an A3 sheet (420mm x 297mm) to produce a hex that is 300mm across the points. But if you're interested in using it, there's no reason why you couldn't scale it down to A5, to produce hexes that are 150mm across the points (or whatever other size you wanted).

Here's the link.  

Feel free to use it, but please tell me if you do, I'd like to see what is done with it.

28 July, 2015

City Geomorph Step by Step (Part 1)

I'll work through a geomorph example. I've got a basic idea of a small industrial dock, a big dock might sprawl across two or three hexes,but this might be suitable for a few small container ships. 

The contrast on these early images has been turned up, so that you can more clearly see the geomorph template through the page. The total size of the hex I'm using is 30cm across opposite points. 

First, I lay a blank sheet over the template, and mark in the corner points so there are good anchor points for this page if it accidentally slides off the template underneath. 

I haven't always drawn the hex, but I've decided it might be a good idea to do it regularly from now on.

Next I start drawing in some of the streets. 

In this case I'm just drawing streets on the bottom edge and the lower left. All of the other edges of this hex will be aquatic, so I don't have to draw streets there. I'll be adding more streets in and connecting these street up, but for the moment I just project these edge streets into the hex a reasonable distance. 

Once I have an idea of how things might work within this hex, I start joining the streets together. I'll probably add in a few more streets and different ways that they interconnect, but at this stage I'm adding in a side road around and upward on the right, aiming to get a cove or harbour shape happening.

Making the City Geomorphs

To ensure my city geomorphs line up correctly, here's the template I use.

You'll note that the middle road can either be used in street configuration or motorway configuration, and also note that there are very few geomorphs (with the notable exceptions being the "Old Town" and the "CBD") where roads specifically follow one or more of these 'street lines' directly across the hex.

The second step is to place a piece of paper over this and mark the corners of the hex, then maybe draw up the hex, and mark where streets will need to cross the borders.

Then, what's inside is fair game. It's only the edges that need to line up with matching streets.

In a few cases, I've drawn streets that form dead ends as they cross into a new hex. Where possible I've limited these dead ends to the street two in from the corner (moving counter-clockwise around from each corner, or four streets in from a corner if you're going clockwise), this ensures a dead end on one hex doesn't connect to a dead end on a second hex, and thus leave us with that chance of an orphan street not connected to any other roadways.

City Geomorphs (Part 5)

We've reached that part whe most of the photographed work-in-progress images are pencil sketches, and probably don't show up too well on a screen. These are the last of the geomorphs I found in my pile of paperwork, so they are being posted for the purposes of completeness.

This second "Edge of Town" is a general suburban sprawl. They call it a sleeper suburb, because most people spends their nights here in relative safety and quiet away from the rest of the city, while they spend their mornings communting to factories, skyscrapers and other workplaces in other parts of town. This is the home of the dwindling middle class, the lower level managers, the well paid tradesmen, the small business owners. It's a very vanilla part of town, nothing particularly good, and nothing particularly bad. It's just quiet... But underneath the quiet, who knows?

The "CBD" is the commercial hub of the city, unlike the capital where the laws of the land are maintained, this part of town is where big business makes it home in crystalline towers of glass, concrete and steel. Like the old parts of town, the streets are laid out on a grid dating back to the 19th and early 20th century, unlike those other old parts business has thrived here. The motorway connects to the CBD bringing business from all over the city, and further abroad. There has even been a push to beautify the area and maintain high property values by installing parkland on one side of the grid. From afar, this is one of the areas of the city that marks the horizon.

Sprawled over two geomorph hexes, the "Airport" is one of the main connections between the city and the outside world. With a pair of parallel runways that stretch the length of entire suburbs or sectors of the city, the airport is a symbol of modernity and globalisation. 

27 July, 2015

City Geomorphs (Part 4)

The "rural edge of town" sees a distinct lack of apartment buildings, and the detached houses exist on building blocks that grow larger the further you move away from the confines of the city. The city becomes more green here, with open plains, trees, and eventually scattered farmland. The people here are wealthy, those on larger properties own horses and other livestock; yet they still live close enough to other city facilities that they can keep their finger on the pulse of commerce and industry. Many of the citizens here have houses further in the country as weekenders and holiday homes, if they aren't a part of the 1%, these citizens aren't far off it. 

The "capital" is inspired loosely by Canberra.

It seems like all motorways lead to the "Capital", they radiate out like spokes from a central hub. At the centre lie the grand buildings of central government, where every approach seems to provide a picturesque and grandiose image of power over the citizenry. Surrounding this central hub are lesser government and corporate offices where bureaucrats and lobbyists work to shape the destiny of the land. No one lives in this part of the city except for a few a bassadors and dignitaries who hold standing reservations at some of the most exclusive and expensive hotels. At night the area publically swarms with police and private security, during the day when business is conducted they are a little more subtle.

"Lake's Edge" is another highly desirable part of town to live, but it wasn't always this way. The river leading toward the main water was once polluted with the run-off from factories and other heavy industry, but years ago when the economy pushed manufacturing to far off lands where the labour was cheaper, the industry closed down, the factories were demolished, and the land subdivided for new homes. A few technology industries moved into the area, shiny and crystalline where there used to be metal and rust. On weekends, families come to the reclaimed parkland for picnics, and to walk their dogs among the other families doing the same things. 

City Geomorphs (Part 3)

Here's a few more detail shots of the modern city geomorphs. I might do one more post after these three before working through the design process over a couple of posts.

The "signature industrial complex" is a massive factory, with accompanying warehouses and office buildings, owned by a global mega-corporation. The city was proud to get the company to have a base of operations here and it's been great for the local economy... Who knows, maybe the global corporation started here. A sweep in the motorway leads people toward the gleaming office buildings that control the complex before diverting them in other directions so they can't get too close a look...and certainly can't see the massive industrial workings on the other side of the steel and glass (except to acknowledge it's presence). Numerous houses and apartments cluster around the complex, feeding it regularly with workers.

A dual carriage motorway travels across gently rolling picturesque farmland, before approaching the "edge of town". The first things visitors see on approach (and the last thing they see on departure) is a dazzling complex of bright lights, shopping strips and gleaming office buildings beside awell-crafted   interchange between the motorway and the regular streets. Here is where the city presents itself best with it's first impression to new arrivals, and where it tries to leave a good final experience to those who are leaving. It's said that many of the city's citizens living in this area don't venture any further into town, they live on it's edge and use the motorway to commute across the countryside to other cities where the grass is greener. 

Now we start getting to some of the plain pencil maps where none of the inking has been done.

The motorway branches where the "medium density utilities" can be found. Two of the branches have offramps, because many people travel to and from this part of town. One of the signature features of this area is a school facility, though it's hard to tell what age range this caters for (it's a massive complex of buildings), it might even be a college. The other signature feature within the bend of the motorway is a hospital, dating back decades it could probably do with some more funding due to a shortage of beds and a surplus of patients (often industrial accidents, or victims of violent crime in "old town"). Beside the regular wailing of ambulance sirens, and the constant hum of the motorway, this is a pleasant part of the city, there is scattered greenery and a few local shops so that citizens don't need to head to one of the major shopping districts, the streets aren't overly congested because it's easy to get on the motorway and head somewhere else quickly.

26 July, 2015

City Geomorphs (Part 2)

Here's a closer look at some of the work-in-progress geomorphs.

"Old Town" is the central and most established area of a city, it dates back to the 1800s or early 1900s when it was fashionable among town planners to lay things out on straight lines, north to south, east to west, regardless of the actual undulation of the terrain. There's an old cathedral in the middle of Old Town, which might once have been the centre of a thriving community, but now lies dwarfed by larger buildings that have also fallen into decay while the vibrancy of the city has moved to outer regions and suburbs. Between the decrepit buildings are dank and crime ridden alleyways, few people come to this part of the city anymore, except the occasional tourist who wants to get a feel for the way things used to be (they usually leave disappointed).

Most people catch the motorway and drive past this "Light Industrial Area" without giving it a second thought. They see warehouses and don't consider what secrets might be hidden in storage, they see  factories and don't wonder about the devices or consumables that might be made within. Areas like this are the lifeblood of the city, creating the trade goods that drive commerce, and providing income to thousands of workers. On the edges of this area are basic houses and apartment blocks typically home to the many workers who gain their livelihood from the factories and warehouses at the centre.

While the "Light Industrial Areas" might provide the livelihood for the city, "Medium Density Commercial Area" is home to shopping centres, cinemas, and the shining lights that show a thriving community. Sometimes these shining lights are honest signs of a vibrant community, sometimes they conceal a deep corruption and inequality between the working classes and those who control them through hypnotic advertising and lies of greatness through consumerism. These areas also provide an interface between the motorways and the regular streets, thus allowing citizens to quickly move from one commercial centre to the next.

City Geomorphs

While digging through some paperwork for the new iteration of FUBAR, I found a pile of paperwork containing some modern urban geomorphs. There are about 20 of these in various states of completion.

It's another one of those projects on the current theme of modern urban storytelling, the kind of project that could easily link into my new version of FUBAR, or Other Strangeness... Or maybe could be released as it's own thing.

Generally, these are two-phase geomorphs, with one side variant containing five equally spaced roads/streets linking across to the next geomorph, and another side variant containing four streets/roads and a split motorway. A few geomorphs (though not as many) contain blank edges that might be farmland or rural territory on the outskirts of a city, and a few contain water edges to help depict coastal cities.

If there's interest, I'll finish off this project and release it.

25 July, 2015

Work on the Physical Book Begins

Here's the working logo I'm going with for the new iteration of FUBAR.

It might not stay this way in the final product.

In fact, it probably won't stay this way for the final product, because a hard copy of the book might be the first encounter that some people have with the FUBAR system. It generally does work as a working title because this is my attempt to revive the game and make it relevant to a wider audience, but I might just run with a straight "FUBAR" title for the book.

I've generally given the book a structure, and now it sits at 80 pages, with a rough dozen pages of setting, lots more hints about how to run a game using the system, plenty of space for play examples, and lots of imagery.

Now to start filling in the details.

A Quick Question?

In a fairly generic system designed to tell a specific type of story in a variety of settings, do you like to see a default setting for the system? Or, would you prefer to leave things completely open so players don't have a preconceived notion when they begin the worldbuilding process?

(I realise I've influenced the answer through my wording of the question, but this is the third time I've written it and the most neutral version I could think of).   

24 July, 2015

Logo for the Darkhive

Just toying with some new imagery for the Darkhive setting that has been bubbling away in the back of my mind for the last couple of months.
I'll probably be turning this second picture into a painting, I might even do another live paint session as I turn this mock up into a suitable cover image. If it doesn't work out as a good cover image it might still be good enough to use as an internal illustration.

On Magic in FUBAR (Part 5)

One of the things I love about the latest incarnation of Mage (M20, the 20th anniversary edition) is a more clarified interpretation of paradigms. These are the thought patterns that underlie the beliefs of a Mage, they describe an interpretation of magic and a understanding of what it can and can't do.

This sort of thing is easy to accommodate within the existing rules of FUBAR, simply by applying this concept to relationships, and going back to an old idea I was toying with. This idea stated that relationships had a positive side and a negative side. For example, if you had a relationship defined as a friendship to someone, then attempts to heal them or assist them came with bonus successes equal to the relationship level while attempts to harm them or create obstacles against them came with penalties equal to the same level. Conversely, if you had a relationship defined as an enmity to that person, these situations would be reversed (it would be harder to bring yourself to heal and enemy, and easier to inflict penalties on them).

Relationships to paradigms make perfect sense in this context.

If a mage's mystic understanding says that certain things should be possible with magic(k), then they gain a bonus to achieve these tasks. If their mystic understanding states that such things are hard, then they gain a penalty on these actions. Relationships only play with the number of successes, not the number of sacrifices, otherwise they get too unwieldy.

Paradigms are vague concepts, best handled through a simple relationship (which is actually better than we have presented to us in the Mage rules). The important thing to remember is that a paradigm is a different way of looking at reality, and this can often get a Mage into trouble. I'd consider applying a series of points into a paradigm, every time the Mage accepts a mundane complication due to their unusual beliefs in the structure underlying reality, they get a point on their paradigm relationship. They may expend these points on magic(k)al effects when they try to manifest them. (The maximum pool might equal to Arete score, where Mages may transfer a single point at a time if they have a loose relationship to their paradigm, or two points at a time with a tight relationship). Even this might be getting too complicated for such a freeform system, but a lot of people have complained that Mage is simply too freeform, so a it more structure might be a good thing. More mechanical effects manifest when the paradigm links to reality through a magic(k)al practice.

A practice has closely associated focal instruments for the magic(k), a couple of allied spheres, a deficient sphere and an equal number of bonus and penalty effects (maybe 3 of each).

A Mage may closely adhere to the tenets of a single practice, typically acquired from their mentor, but they might deviate from that path. From a FUBAR perspective, we'd say that a  

Here's an example:

Superficial Alchemy:
A student of superficial alchemy is the traditional apothecary and herbalist who concocts potions, and transforms materials from one element to another. Those who study it long enough begin to understand how these alchemical effects transform not only base elements, but also living beings.  
Traits: Academics, Crafting, Investigation, Research, Science 
Foci: Lab, Obscure Chemicals, Textbooks, Designs, Devices
Allied Spheres: Matter, Forces and Life 
Deficient Sphere: Time
Bonus Effects: Manipulate Physical Properties, Poisons, Energy Enhancement
Penalty Effects: Spiritual Manipulation, Temporal Effects, Communication

   (This whole example is VERY subject to change)

Text in bold must be chosen by a Mage following this practice. A character might choose to blend two practices (thus having a loose relationship with both), or may focus on a single practice (and thus have a tight relationship with it). Characters with the loose relationship gain the emboldened traits, and a single bonus/penalty effect; those with the tight relationship gain access to all the traits and effects. I'm also thinking that this practice trait might be an integral part of characters, and that's why I've applied five traits to it.

Since FUBAR uses four core elements to define a character (what they do, who they associate with, what their reputation is, and what their edge is), we could easily substitute the edge for the character's magic(k)al practice.

Filtering this idea across the other four core elements, a character's general day job fills the first category (what they do), their tradtition/craft/convention/etc. fills the second (who they associate with), reputation still works as something to define a quirky aspect of the character's persona and what that brings to the story.

This gets me closer to what I hope to achieve with the Arete and spheres.

Since the whole FUBAR system was only really designed to tell one-shot stories of revenge and redemption, it never really had much of an experience system, but maybe that's one of the next things to address. Especially since one of the main themes (inherent in the title of the game) is Ascension, which implies improvement and advancement.

23 July, 2015

FUBAR Fever Now Online

I've thrown together all of the play sheets and information I used for last weekend's FUBAR session into a zip file and made it available for sale over on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow.


Unless I manage to do something thatI'm really happy with for this FUBAR Magic(k) system that I'm working on, this will probably be one of last supplements before I launch a formal Kickstarter/Indiegogo project to produce a hardcopy of the rule book.

On Magic in FUBAR (Part 4)

Those who followed the development of FUBAR will know that it evolved from a few sources. One of these sources was +Vincent Baker's theory of boxes dice and clouds, where the story feeds into the mechanisms and the mechanisms feed into the story, both contributing to a feedback loops that favours certain styles, depending on the specific nature of the individual elements. Another source was +John Harper's Ghost Echo, and the sheer minimalism of that game is something I've continually tried not to wander too far from. Other sources include my own 'Vector Theory', the work of the artistic Dadaists, and the ludicrous events that seem to always unfold in action movies, revenge movies and cyberpunk narratives, events that never seem to get fully resolved but we often don't care because we're engaged at such a visceral level.

I could run magic through the system without needing to make any real changes at all. It could fundamentally work like any other part of the game. In this way, a group would...

1. Determine what traits might give an advantage (as defined by the current narrative situation).
2. Roll the three dice and determine the way the traits modify the outcome.
3. Apply new positive and negative traits as determined by the result of the dice.
4. Continue on with the story.

But that's basically like saying a "Powered by the Apocalypse" game can simple be reduced to...

1. Choose the attribute most applicable to the task at hand, and pick three positive outcomes (where the absence of a positive implies the presence of the outcome's negative).
2. Roll 2d6 and apply attribute modifier.
   10+: All three positive outcomes come true.
   7-9: Either two of the three conditions come true, and the third condition invokes an inverse effect that complicates the story in some way...or, one of the three conditions comes true, and the others are basically ignored.
   6 or less: None of it comes true, and the pain comes down.
3. Continue on with the story.

It's an oversimplification that could easily be applied to any "Fate" powered game just as easily, and as a cold, reductionist description of play mechanisms, it really doesn't do a lot for any of the games to be described in such a manner. The other half of the equation is the story, but that can be pretty loose and freeform (or very linear, depending on the GM and the group's play style). It's the interface where things get interesting, the nebulous relationship between mechanisms and story.

+Ron Edwards writes some great posts, and a few months ago he wrote one on the powers within the game "Champions" (actually, he writes about this game reasonably often; but there's one particular post that I'm thinking of). In that particular post he described the way powers could be bought as a range of abilities (which could be mixed and matched on the fly to create the effects of a hero...even the vague Schroedinger's box of "Batman's Utility Belt"), or powers could be bought as specific effects. I vaguely remember the post describing the way certain effects were limited by the current narrative, this was reinforced by a more recent post (this week I think) where power costs could be bought down by applying certain penalties to them (where such penalties would have instant narrative potential).

That's basically where I'm going with this magic, but making sure it seamlessly integrates with the rest of the system, ensuring it is informed by the same design methodologies that created the game in the first place, and yet the addition to the game must add something new and beneficial to the mix.

Magic(k) with a "k" brings concepts like paradox, Arete, vulgar and coincidental effects, spheres, and quintessence. Pretty much everything else is dressing to help a player manipulate those fundamental concepts.

But what does magic(k) actually do. In the narrative, it has the potential to do literally anything; it can take almost any appearance but some appearances are harder to achieve than others (hence the coincidental/vulgar divide). In the mechanisms, it has a basic spectrum of effects...completely stop progress along a specific avenue...impede progress along a certain avenue...accelerate progress along a certain avenue...completely skip parts of the avenue to get ahead in the story. At the crudest level, the same could be said about anything in any RPG. Combat might be improved by certain mechanisms or impeded...the wider mechanism of combat itself might improve or impede the grander story. (Here's where I think a lot of players don't like the "railroad" style of GMing, where protagonist actions that should change the narrative have no effect, thus deprotagonising the "heroes" and finding things simply directed back to their course...but that's another rant entirely).

But let's focus on the Magic(k).

Arete determines how good you are at fundamentally changing the course of the narrative, type of sphere constrains the type of manipulation from a narrative perspective, level of sphere determines how proficient you are with a specific narrative blend of magic(k), quintessence empowers the effect (making it easier to manipulate the narrative), and paradox basically applies complications to the ongoing story. 

Paradox is easy in a FUBAR. We have tokens that move back and forth as the story progresses. Paradox could simply move tokens against the flow, new things to overcome as reality gets in a character's way (it might be possible to have personal paradox that simply increases the difficulty or complicates actions for a single character, or communal paradox that affects everyone, but conversely may be addressed by anyone).

Quintessence is also a fairly easy fit, because it links in with Paradox (through the "Quintessence Track") and because it exists in game as a pool of expendible points. Since we've already got pools of tokens, adding another variety of interactive token doesn't bend things too much. FUBAR has already experimented with single use traits (in one case allowing rerolls, in another case expending a trait allowed a new trait to manifest as a part of the action). I've seen these work, so there's no real new ground covered here.

Spheres and Arete, they get a bit more tricky. Both of these work on scales (Arete 1-10, Spheres 1-5), while FUBAR works with a two level scale (basic/advanced). For a Mage hack, I'd be inclined to use the longer scales, for a standard FUBAR system I'd be inclined to use the two levels (I'd also shift the spheres, in order to make a distinct mysticism for the game).

But more on that with the next post...

22 July, 2015

...and now for something completely different

The illustrious +Paul Czege has developed a new type of game design challenge. It evolved out of a few conversations regarding the lack of advanced game design challenges. Game Chef is a great entry level contest, anyone can participate, they just need to consider the four ingredients (incorporating at least two of them into their design), and the year's theme. A few other contests have come and gone, but there really hasn't been something more challenging in a while.

To address this imbalance, the #Threeforged RPG Design Challenge has been formulated. This is a fascinating concept where a designer throws together a basic game, which is added to a communal pool. From the pool, each designer is assigned someone else's game to expand and clarify before returning it the pool for a final phase. In the final phase, another round of expansion and clarification occurs, and hopefully a well rounded game is developed. None of the designers know who will be working on their game, or whose games they will be working on... it's all anonymous.

If I engage in this contest, I won't be able to do so as publicly as I engaged Game Chef this year. But I am interested to see how things might evolve as this challenge unfolds.  

21 July, 2015

On Magic in FUBAR (Part 3)

FUBAR flows fast.

I've typically found that once players get used to the system, it only takes seconds to work out how many dice to roll, allocated them between the three categories, then continue on the way with the story's new direction (which may have been accelerated, slowed down, or diverted in course due to the roll). I don't want magick to mechanically slow things down, but many of the system scenarios going through my head have done just that.

Since I'm working with the idea of rotes and freeform magick, separate to coincidental effects and vulgar, we've got 4 possible options. That gives us 4 basic options...

Coincidental Rotes - These are the easiest and most subtle types of magick for a mage to shape reality with, they are also typically the ones that will disrupt play the least. 
Coincidental Freeform Effects - These types of magick are subtle, but may make things go in unexpected directions because they simply can't be accounted for at the start of play.
Vulgar Rotes - These types of magick are dangerous, but the oracle knows of their existence before they manifest, so their potential impact on the long term story can generally be accounted for. 
Vulgar Freeform Effects - These are the hardest magickal effects to accomplish, but they are also the most dangerous to the world and to the narrative.

The manifestation of these various effects is basically covered in what I determined during the last post. It doesn't need something complicated for each possible variation. The only thing really needed now is a way of differentiating those effects based on the spheres used, and the specific choice of manifestations.  For that I'm thinking cards.

If it has been specified that a magickal effect can manifest a number of traits equal to the user's sphere level, then it might also be said that a Mage has access to a number of cards with specific trait effects on them. For a level 3 effect, combine 3 cards to determine what happens. The higher the Mage's sphere level, the more powerful the cards they have access to. If a Mage has a higher Arete than the sphere level they are trying to manifest, maybe they can use cards that buy off potential penalties, or modify the effect in some other way. (In that level 3 example, if the Mage has Arete 4, they might be able to add 1 extra card into the mix, or buy off 1 potential negative trait...thus the only people able to cast level 5 effects with no chance of negative traits at all would be the "Arete-10 Ascended Oracles"...but they're basically deities anyway). The aim is to quickly throw down a bunch of cards, read off the effects and interpret that in the context of the story. Rotes basically become pre-determined card combos.

Just something I'm toying with. Seems quick and easy, let's see what happens when it hits play.

On Magic in FUBAR (part 2)

FUBAR is simple, really simple. Adding too much complexity to it is a distraction, but I like my magic to feel different to the mundane events of the world.

In Mage: the Ascension, we have coincidental magick which functions subtly, and Vulgar magick which is blatant "rip-apart-your-perceptions-of-what-is-and-what-should-never-be" stuff. We also have 5 distinct levels of power in each of the 9 spheres of mystic influence.

These are the two things that really make the Magick work in the game and the setting.

Each level of power is slightly more removed from reality, and you need a level of raw mystic insight (Arete) before you can access them. I'm thinking of bundling up a lot of this stuff.

With that in mind, my first direction takes us toward an idea that invoking a level of magick automatically applies and equal number of positive and negative traits to an action. Level 2 magick, gain two positive traits, gain two negative traits... Level 5 magick, gain 5 of each. You always take the good with the bad, and the further you go the more extreme the outcome will become. The maximum you can go is equal to your Sphere score (which is in turn limited to your Arete score). The names will be filed off, refined and rebadged when the final version of this is good to go.

I'm also thinking that something closer to Ars Magica's magic system might be useful here. By that, I'm aiming toward the idea that magick can be cast on the fly but it is harder to do (automatically lose  positive traits or gain negative traits), while magick that has been practiced is easily for the Mage to invoke. Thus, each mage has a range of rotes that they have mastered...maybe gaining a free one every time they increase in Arete (or increase in a specific sphere) and spending an XP on any additional effect they want to have mastered.

I'm also considering the idea that Coincidental Magick deliberately has a lower profile than Vulgar effects, but is easier to work within the confines of reality. Maybe we halve the modifying traits (rounding up)... A level 2 coincidental effect gives a single positive and negative trait to the action, level 5 coincidental effects give 3 of each.

If magick manifests through another die added to the roll, maybe this die roll needs to be substituted into either the "Success" or "Sacrifice" slot and cannot be dropped, regardless of whether it is good or bad. If you have a good result, the magick enhances your action dramatically. If you have a bad result, you get burned. Spending Tass/Quintessence or burning away your soul for the effect, might allow a character to roll multiple mystic dice, and then choose to substitite one of these into the success / sacrifice result...but a mystic die still has to be added. The extra power gives a better potential result, but such power is hard to come by.

We're basically looking at two concurrent complimentary die rolls. I'm still trying to resolve the coincidental / vulgar divide in a more elegant fashion, perhaps as an offset to the lower positive/negative traits added, we allow the player to avoid adding in the mystic die for a coincidental effect.

20 July, 2015

On Magic in FUBAR (part 1)

FUBAR works simply, you roll a minimum of three dice, you allocate the results of the best three to different categories...

Success determines how well you've done.
Sacrifice determines what you give up in the process
Story determines who narrates what happens

High Plains FUBAR adds an automatic fourth die and a Speed category to determine who goes first when such things are important.

Dead and FUBAR'd introduces the idea of relationships, which provide instant benefits when someone bears a relationship that is significant to the action they are taking. It also brought in undead, and powers fueled by a dark hunger.

Walkabout changes a few fundamental mechanisms, but is generally the same game. It allows characters to engrave their skins with tattoos and scarification a limited number of times. Each of these symbolic skin markings is an act of honour to a spirit or an outward sign of belief and affinity to a concept. When a character performs an action aligned to that affinity, they gain a bonus.

I've thought about a system for super powers in the game, something based on narrative ideas. My thoughts worked on the idea that super powers often do amazing things, but quite often they have side effects just as dramatic as their potential benefits. Super strength may break down a barrier at the expense of innocent lives being lost in the collateral damage as the building crashes down around the impact. Mind reading may unveil secrets that completely change the nature of the story. Being invisible may cause people to inadvertently drive through you, when they think the way is clear. The paradoxes of time travel are well documented.

Taking this a step further, I've been thinking sporadically about a magic system for a while. The modifications to the rules (and subsequent new ruleset), facilitate certain things that may make magick of the "Mage: the Ascension" style more viable.

Both High Plains FUBAR and the dark powers of Dead and FUBAR'd add an extra die to the basic resolution to bring a distinctive new effect into the game. So with that in mind, maybe a dice of a distinctive colour reflecting mystical potential integrated into an action. Mage uses Quintessence as a mystical source to fuel magic, so maybe we could use a number of these dice equal to the amount of power expended. few dice, every one that is successful infuses the action with magical effect, but we still need the success to see if something superhuman occurs, and the sacrifice to see if paradox is generated.

I'm thinking that a character using coincidental magick may choose whether to include one of these distinctly coloured dice in their success/sacrifice/story allocation, while a character using vulgar magick is forced to automatically use one of these dice (the lowest one rolled...because more powerful magick is harder to control).

This needs more work, and at this stage it feels like an inelegant patch onto the core FUBAR rules, but it vaguely feels like it's heading in the right direction.

I've also been thinking of the way skills and attributes work in Mage as compared to FUBAR. Perhaps once a character has the Mage third level in an attribute or skill, they gain a FUBAR positive trait. If they have a Mage fifth level, this translates to a FUBAR double positive trait. If a character has a Mage attribute of one or a complete lack of skill in something they are attempting, this might count as a FUBAR negative trait toward the action. A character automatically applies traits from a single attribute and a single skill when they declare an action (where positive traits apply to the success and negatives apply to the sacrifice). This is different to the core notion for FUBAR magick, and closer to my storifying mage concept, but further thought down this path might bear fruit.

Game Chef English Language Winner Announced

It's almost done...

The English language winner was announced.

A well deserved win for Good Night Fairy Theatre.

Congratulations Emily Griggs.

A well produced package, and a clever game. It may not have scored the best according to the criteria I chose, but I can certainly see why it won overall.

19 July, 2015

A Reflection from Another Game Chef Finalist

I just read this interesting response to Game Chef.

I can't help but think that certain things have been aimed at me.

Quality is Subjective

My response:

I agree 100%. My marking rubric is purely my own. I don't claim to know what is innovative (but I've had a go at a vast number of games over the years), I can only say what looks new to me. I don't claim to love all games, and reading through my reviews you'll note that certain types of games have probably had a tendency to score higher (or lower) than others. I expect debate, I encourage it, I probably didn't get as much of it as I had hoped in my wade through the field. I'm saying what I like to see, and I'm not a formal judge of the contest. Next year I'd love to see someone else take on the challenge of writing as many reviews as possible, that way we can compare notes.

In the spirit of openness and sharing, I posted links to every game that I reviewed, so that people could have a look for themselves, and decide if they agreed with me or not. Only one designer specifically requested I take down that link (for reasons of their own), and within 24 hours (as soon as I saw that request) the link was removed.

Operation: Coincidental Magick.

Reflecting back on things, it worked.

The aim was to inject the premise of a coincidental freeform magick system constrained by an individual's beliefs and their understanding of the world. In a two hour session, I didn't think I'd have time to explain how magic might work, or what it might be capable of, so I just threw some subtle hints into the background elements of the game...some of which individually looked like blatant hints toward something else entirely.

Given that is was a pseudo-late 1970s setting, the random characters chosen for the session included two hitmen (one brawler, one shooter), a phone phreak (with a jury rigged laptop, in an age when laptops shouldn't exist), a doctor (with a peyote addiction), and a supersitious petty thief (with lucky lockpicks).

On top of the random characters, I tried to set a fairly mundane but dark and gritty setting for the story...Then I repeated several times that this game was more "cinematic" than realistic. That priming seemed to be enough.

Our phone phreak engaged into text based hacking of Proto-BBSs operated by DARPA and pre-hacker activist groups using his acoustic coupler modem. Our peyote fueled doctor went on a vision quest, seeing things that contibuted to leading everyone toward the climax. Our hitmen asked if their guns could continually fire without reloading a la John Woo films, our superstitious thief asked to do healing actions via reiki-style massage. There was also some more potent mystical exertion applied, when all the characters with an element of occult lore decided to work together at one point to focus against a swirling mystical vortex (that the peyote infused doctor was seeing in the sky). 

My answer in every case was "you can try", then let the dice determine the fate. If it seemed within the bounds of reality, it was relatively easy the more cinematic and unfeasible it was, the more difficulty I threw at them, but this also meant that such risks instantly furthered the story and got them closer to their goal. 

In the end, we found a rival phreak/hacker awakening a monstrous entity in the middle of an import-export warehouse (in which our peyote laced doctor was seeing Nazi symbols everywhere), we saw a minor showdown with some villains. But the time ran out before we could get a serious climax happening, we had a few tokens left in the secrets pool, so that meant there'd still be complications in the characters lives, basically setting things up for a instant sequel, or the beginning of a series... In fact that's what the whole game felt like, the pilot episode for a gritty funky late-70s/early-80s urban magic TV series. A bit early for the movies "Wargames" and "Big Trouble in Little China", but those films were mentioned as pop culture references during the game.

It really wouldn't take much to throw a paradox/quiet system into this. The more magic you use, the more surreal things become, but in order to actually defeat the story's menace you need to see it for what it is... confronting it both physically and metaphysically.

18 July, 2015

Ettin Con

So, I've just returned from the inaugural EttinCon.

This convention was basically what I imagine a lot of those independent conventions in the US, like the GoPlay ones, are like... or at least how they started. Groups of friends gathering in a venue to play one another's games, and the new stuff from around the world.

(Photo by +Jez Gordon, I hope he doesn't mind)

My table is the one in the back corner near the organ.

FUBAR has reached a new audience of players and has piqued interest in others who either heard what happened or saw the game in progress.

I think we've reached a good balance point with traits and how they interact with the system. The game was quick to pick up by players who had never seen it before, the relationships worked as traits that prompt action as well.

(This photo mine, focused on three of the players from my session)

I also got the opportunity to playtest another round of "Bug Hunt", with a couple of very interesting suggestions to add to the rules.

Time to revise, replan, and relaunch.

All in all, a good day.

New Version of FUBAR

Over the years I've thought more about the way the core system of FUBAR works. It generally does what it's supposed to do, but there are a few things that have generally bugged me about the way the various systems interact with one another to produce an overall play experience.

The FUBAR Director's cut was an attempt to clarify certain rules, and that pushed things in the right direction, but it still operated as a slow burn game...slowly, gradually accumulating the risks faced by the lowlifes...but maybe a little too slowly. The "Walkabout" incarnation of the rules pushed thing further, by applying positive and negative traits to characters immediately when they entered play. That seemed to improve the speed of the game, but a build up still took 4 hours or so and had a distinct possibility of stagnation. Stagnation runs contrary to high action, adrenaline filled chaos.

This afternoon I'm about to run a 2 hour session at an invitational convention. I need speed to run this, something to kickstart the action toward a climax from the opening paragraph of the game. To that end, I haven't added more traits, instead I've modified the way traits influence the outcome of actions.

To those ends, I present...

FUBAR Redux (Pocketmod Version)

...if this works, a full treatment of the game will be worked up shortly. This might be the version of the game that goes to crowdfunding for physical copies of the book.

17 July, 2015

Fubar Fever

It's the dawn of the 1980s, between soft rock and disco dominating the commercial radio waves, there are the screaming howls of punk in the alleyways. The Cold War casts a sinister shadow across the world and computers are starting to invade the family home as Atari 2600 game consoles and 8-bit machines that get tuned into the UHF band on the family television. Concorde flies the world at twice the speed of sound, and there is talk of returning to the moon after an absence of manned offworld exploration.

Now imagine that in the shadows, there are technologies of the modern world. In the hands of spies and technowizards, drawing on the future that may be (our reality) and the various futures that might  never come to pass (nuclear apocalypse, 2010 Space Odyssey, Skynet). Remnant eugenic programs enhance potential super soldiers under influence from self-exiled Nazis, state sanctioned Soviets, secretive American facilities, and numerous other nations. 

I've wanted to run a game in the Alt-1977 milieux for a while, and I think a James Bond / Kingsman / Technocracy game might just scratch that itch. The basic theory is that the surface world has technology appropriate to the era, coincidental magick is stuff that might be likely to occur and things that occur in movies within the bounds of plausibility, vulgar magick is stuff from our current world like genetic engineering, computers, mobile communications, etc... and things from movies of the era that stretch plausibility too far (eg. terminators, alien visitors, artificial intelligence, etc). 

I'm thinking of revising my "Storifying Mage" concepts, and simply apply a modified version of the spheres into my FUBAR game system. One of the key issues with that project was the constraint of using the standard character sheet. If I abandon everything and just use the spheres and magick ideas,  his might work. 

With that in mind, here's 19 characters prepared for a FUBAR session I'll be running at a mini convention tomorrow. With the notion of eugenics, and technocratic genetic manipulation, I'm thinking of an "Orphan Black" styled batch of clones.., as beings that should not be, they exist outside the natural order and this have a propensity for awakening as Mages.

Since FUBAR starts with semi random characters, I've generated up everyone and applied a pair of songs that say something about the character. From the 19 characters, everyone will randomly choose a single character to be an antagonist (added to the Rogues Gallery), then a character that they'll choose for themselves.

My next post will either reveal a few more preparation details, or be a debrief regarding the convention session.

15 July, 2015

Remaining Finalist reviews

All of the remaining Game Chef finalists have hidden their games in zip files. Since only my iPad is accessing the internet that means accessing zip files is problematic and trying to download new apps  to access them is just as problematic with the internet issues in the area. Maybe I'll look at a few more games over the next few days until those issues get remedied.

In the meantime, +Steve Dee has finished his round up of the finalists (and can be found here)

Game Chef Review 55: Dreams of Dragonflies by D. X. Logan

Dreams of Dragonflies

Ingredients: 8 [Dragonfly (4), Dream (4)]
The use of dragonflies in this game is clearly evident, through the images of the insects, the world through which they fly and the name of the game. The dream is similarly in the title and integrated with the mechanisms since the game is about interpreting symbolism. It's a clever use of the ingredients and actually works better than a lot of the other games where I've seen these ingredients used.

Theme: 7 [6 +1 Bonus for specifically addressing the different audience]
This game has been specifically designed for a target audience that I haven't seen too many games address, and the design builds on this concept through versatility. It is capable of addressing a variety of "different audiences".

Would I Play This?: 6
I like the ideas in this, but after all my work on geomorphs and map design over the last couple of years, there are a few things about the tile placement that I would have to change before I could sit down to play this. There are some great concepts here that I'd be happy to incorporate into other games, or slight modifications that I'd make to this design. It feels so close, and I'd definitely be interested in playtesting this to get it to the next level, but I don't feel it's quite there yet.

Completeness: 8
I really like the way the game is presented diagrammatically, the whole process is explained beyond words. It has simple cards iconically depicting locations and things encountered, and it provides a variety of ways to play the game. I think the biggest things missing here are some examples of how the rules work, and a full play example. These would have helped to clarify certain concept in the rules.

Innovation: 7
There are a few concepts in this game that really intrigue me, a lot of them have been seen in earlier games (the symbolism on the collected cards reminds me of 'Everway' in it's method of telling story through archetypal icons). The tile laying I've used in plenty of games myself. The idea of moving through the drawing of cards is something I'm currently toying with for another project. The configuration of the various components works in this design.

Output Quality: 7 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (2)]
The language in this game is simple and direct, and thus highly appropriate to the target audience. The layout is better than most, but leaves a bit to be desired... nothing that couldn't be fixed up with a bit more time or focus. The imagery is better than most entries, and arguably suits the audience to whom the game is addressed, but if this game were to be refined for a new version that's where I'd start.

Overall: 74% Credit [24+14+6+16+7+7]
I can see why a few people have commented on the similarities between this game and my own, superficially they are quite similar...both employ tile laying strategies to form a map, both are targeted at an audience who identifies more strongly with symbolism than words. Beyond these superficial similarities, the games are quite different though, with one focusing on large groups (mine) and one focused on small (Logan's), one focused on more concrete numbers and quantified systems of social integration (mine) and the other focused more toward psychological symbolism (Logan's). I think this is a great entry, and it probably would have made an easy distinction level if it weren't for the image quality (and that's just a personal irk of mine as an artist and graphic designer).

Game Chef Review 54: Stay, Still by Heather Silsbee

Stay, Still

Ingredients: 9 [Stillness (4), Abandon (4), +1 Bonus for 'Dream']
Great and unexpected use of the elements 'Stillness' and 'Abandon', most of the other games that have used stillness have focused on deep space shutdowns or incidents, or have combined them with dream to create a hypersleep/stasis environment. Here the stillness is incorporated as a mechanical element where the group's leader/GM can pull someone into line if they become too dominant. The 'Abandon' element is one of the outcomes of the game. Dream is a loose application of the ingredient, but it's present.

Theme: 3
This game fits into a specific niche of existing gaming, and I can't really see how it addresses a different audience. The claims of addressing an audience dissatisfied by existing media narratives doesn't particularly hold water for me, since most gamers like to tell their own stories to explore narratives in genres they know. Still, that gives it a couple of extra points.

Would I Play This?: 3
I'm not goimg to fall into the trap of saying that this isn't a game, I'll just say that in my experience this sort of document is a toolkit to facilitate a certain specific experience, and that's a delicate experience that requires the right kind of players and GM to work adequately. Too often I've seen games like this fall flat. There are procedures written into the text here to prompt players when things might fall flat, but I'd be more interested in incorporating these elements into a more robust system than let them stand on their own.

Completeness: 6
One of the fundamental issues I have with this style of game is that it is inherently incomplete. Gaps are deliberately left for groups to fill in and flesh out. I've already made my opinion felt in other reviews that I consider this to be an excuse for lazy design, where the designer is just passing on an incomplete concept. This particular game isn't that bad. It gives ideas for how to fill in the gaps, and a group of experienced gamers could convert the mechanisms here into a fully functional play experience.

Innovation: 4
I toyed with a lot of the ideas in this game when I was trying to modify my white whale post apocalyptic game "Walkabout". The idea of placing tokens in a jar (or removing them) to determine narrative outcome, was something I'd seen in a few places before. One of the flaws I see in this variant of the theme is that the outcome is reliant wholly on the number of tokens, and everyone can see who is putting their tokens where. There is an implied tension that is completely defused by the fact that everyone can see what is going on. I'd give everyone a series of black tokens and white tokens, then have everyone put a token, in each container (white indicating that they agree with this, and black indicating that they don't)...the container with the most white tokens in the end gets the communal outcome. Maybe even give everyone black tokens and a unique colour. This way when the final outcome is revealed, we know who has voted where, and who the leader will need to keep an eye on if the rebellion fails (or conversely who the potential leaders of the new group are if it succeeds). It's not much of a change, but it adds a whole lot more depth to the end game.

I'd also consider the option of having players cross out choices when defining the leader, building up that character by eliminating the kinds of leader the individuals wouldn't follow. Again, it's a subtle difference, but reflects a very different style of story.

Output Quality: 4 [Language (3), Layout (1), Imagery (0)]
The language is appropriately instructive and informative. The layout is sub optimal, even if it does provide cards and a questionnaire to determine the Leader. Imagery, not applicable.

Overall: 56% [27+6+3+12+4+4]
There are clever things in this game, but nothing overly innovative or stand out about it. It squarely fits into the genre of "half-baked, so let's call it freeform and make it sound edgy" school of design. It's the kind of thing the gaming hipster kids are fawning over, so it's hardly surprising that at least one game from this niche might find itself in the finalists...but like I said in other games of the same general ilk, I get a bit of an "Emperor's New Clothes" vibe. On the positive side, this game has given enough pointers in it's vagueness to actually facilitate a game. So unlike most games of this type in this years competition, at least it scores a pass.

Other Game Chef Finalist Reviews

Steve Dee has been posting his own set of reviews on the finalists. It's always nice to see how different people view the same pieces of work. It's basically like the aesthetic notion of defining art, and the determination of what might be considered good art compared to what might simply be trying too hard.

Once a game has been declared as good, it's easy to come along and make a judgement call on the art and in so doing, make a judgement call on the person who first made the declaration.  

Game Chef Review 53: Dragon, Fly by Paul Beakley

Dragon, Fly

Ingredients: 8 [Abandon (4), Stillness (3), +1 Bonus for Dragonfly]
Despite the name, dragonflies don't really play a part in this, but I can't particularly fault this when my interpretation of "stillness" was so unconventional.

Theme: 8
While many of the games in this contest have focused on a specific audience, this game circumvents that by offering variants that can be played as multiplayer narrative, solo narrative, or solo procedural. While each of those game forms are existing niches of play style, that's a really clever way to address the theme and I wish I'd thought of it.

Would I Play This?: 8
This seems like it could be a good game to play, in any of it's incarnations (single or multiplayer). I'd be interested in trying it in any of these configurations, I'd be interested in trying it in more than one of these incarnations to see how well it plays under different contexts.

Completeness: 9
Pretty much everything is here to play the game in it's various configurations. But a few aspects feel like they could be made a bit clearer. Maybe it's just that I'm reading through the game after midnight, and I'm tired.

Innovation: 7
There's a clever manipulation of cards that integrates with the narrative elements used in this game, I haven't fully worked out how the mechanisms of card manipulation work, based on a cursory look at the game, but different characters seem to focus on different ares of village defense and different types of tales that they tell in the impending arrival of the dragon. I've seen a few games that are remotely similar, but nothing exactly like this. It has me intrigued enough that I'd like to explore it further.  

Output Quality: 10 [Language (3), Layout (3), Imagery (3), +1 Bonus for professionalism]
This is a well put together game. I can't fault anything in it's presentation, from the language to the layout or the imagery. The designer has even gone out of his way to produce varying accesible versions of the files for use in the game.

Overall: 83% [24+16+8+18+7+10]
I can clearly see why this game was nominated as a finalist, and could easily see this winning the contest, it's a clever game that can be played multiple ways. The connection to the ingredients may not have been as strong as it could have been, but there really aren't too many other issues I can see with it. I'd be surprised if I didn't see a revised version of this game available for sale soon.

14 July, 2015

Game Chef Review 52: Dragonfly Wings and Starship Engines by Steven Schwartz

I was just going to do "finalists" from this point onward, then maybe a few others that caught my eye,  but a polite note on the blog from Steven Schwartz (who has apparently been reading through these reviews) made me go and open up his files to see what he had produced for the contest. I'm glad I did.

Dragonfly Wings and Starship Engines

Ingredients: 8 [Stillness (3), Dragonfly (3), Dream (2)]
The combination of Dreams and Stillness to form a cryosleep setting was certainly a common theme this year. I think I've reviewed a half dozen of these now. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, just that it's a thing. It's also interesting that in a lot of these entries, dragonflies appeared as either drones repairing the ship containing the dreamers in stasis, or existed as the shape of the ship itself. This follows that solid consistent setting, but deviates from other games after that point.

Theme: 6 (4 +2 Bonus for showing how the audience is addressed in an interesting way)
It's really interesting to see how different people have interpreted the theme. Ways that I might have dismissed earlier in my reviews are recurring in later entries, and this game tends toward one of those. The theme of a different audience is addressed in this game as a projected dream sent to an audience of dim-witted dragonflies, not quite sentient, but developed enough to be used as tools by a crashed ship's AI. As a game, it doesn't particularly project itself to a different audience, but within the game, the notion is certainly addressed.

Would I Play This?: 7
This reminds me a bit of two different concepts...firstly the RPG "Paranoia", possibly due to the tone of voice used on the opening page, then due to the multiple lives aspect reflected here by multiple dragonflies... Secondly the Star Trek collectable card game (though I'm sure there are other games that use similar mechanisms, this is the one I'm most familiar with), I'll dig further into that in the innovation section.

Completeness: 8
Setting (check), Set Up / Character Generation (check), Turn Sequence (check), End Game Sequence (check), Play examples (check), Alternate Ways to Play (check), Necessary cards and sheets for play (check). Yeah pretty much all the boxes are ticked on this one, which is far better than most of the examples I've reviewed. Maybe it's just my cursory glance so far, but there are bits of the rules that seem to need a bot more clarification, and I'm sure a playthrough or two will confirm or dispel that thought. Maybe I'm just nitpicking again.

Innovation: 6
I've seen a lot of these ideas before, not in this configuration, but the components are familiar and I generally know they work. When I said that the game reminded me of the Star Trek CCG, it seems to work on the idea that you assemble a team, then flip cards that modify the team before they are able to actually confront the climax of the mission... some of these cards affect a random member of the team, others specific target a member with the highest (or lowest) stat... Then once those cards have suitably modified the team the final values are compared to a certain threshold to determine success. It's an elegant system, it tells a story through the resolution. I'd flesh out the game by adding more of these complications into the mix. It's certainly one of the methods I'd use when formulating a diceless game.

Output Quality: 8 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (1), +1 Bonus for overall layout]
There has been some good attention to detail in this, with language at a good level, layout on a par with most of the entries, and a great cover image. If this game were to be refined I'd love to see a few more images of the dragonflies added in, maybe a few sidebars for the play examples, general layout improvement (maybe an evocative header font...something digital to reflect the AI, or something more organic to reflect the dragonflies). All in all though, not bad.

Overall: 73% Credit [24+12+7+16+6+8]
It really wouldn't have taken a lot to push this entry up to my distinction level. It's the kind of game I like, and certainly something I'd like to see refined in the future. There are a few bits where the mechanisms don't seem to gel into a coherent whole, such as the conversion between projected dreams and actual dragonfly actions, but nothing that couldn't be remedied or clarified fairly easily.

Game Chef Review 51: Vovetas by Michelle Lyons-McFarland


Ingredients: 7 [Stillness (4), Dragonfly (3)]
Stillness plays a strong part in this game as a manifestation of the "Eye of the Storm". A safe and still zone that tribe members are sheltering in, trying to create what is necessary to survivewhen the storm passes back over them. Dragonfly is used a bit more vaguely; it appers in the game title, and in the flavour text setting the tone for the game, but is element feels like it doesn't completely mesh with the concept. But on the other hand, pushing it further might have compromised the game as it stands.

Theme: 6
I've seen a few games like this over the years, not many, so it's a pretty exclusive niche (as far as I'm aware). It addresses a dofferent audience by alerting people to the plight of the Cheyenne tribes, but not in a heavy handed way. It remains light and generally abstract, rather than trying to ritualise a play experience.

Would I Play This?: 7
This seems like it would be a fun game to play a few sessions with. I'm curious to the number balance in the game, between different components and different crafting items and how they all accumulate toward victory conditions. I'd be interested in playing this a few times to see if the balance actually does work out (something feels off, but I can't put my finger on it).

Completeness: 8
Providing instructions for play, and cards, is good. Almost everything necessary for play is here, the only other thing I might consider adding is an example of play through the game, but that might just be nit-picking.

Innovation: 6
Like I said previously, I have seen games like this before, and it's a fairly standard model. But it is interesting the way different players have different roles within the game. It's not quite asymmetrical play, but I could imagine the game experience being quite different depending on which role you were assigned. The various mechanisms of the game have been assembled in an interesting way that feels fresh.

Output Quality: 8 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (3)]
The language is functional and descriptive, no problems there. The layout is pretty standard, I might have gone with a more evocative title font, but the cyclone glyph on the frontage is a step in the right direction. This is one of the more image intensive games (like my own), The simple use of glyphs from the game-icon site is more than adequate to convey the archetypal feeling of the card concepts. Original imagery might have pushed this further, but since I used the same site for most of my game, I can't complain too much.

Overall: 70% Credit [21+12+7+16+6+8]
This is a clever game with a decent number of moving parts contributing to the overall play experience. After confronting Tjukurpa on the "cultural appropriation" front, I don't know whether I should be doing the same thing here. I just don't know enough about the Cheyenne Tribes to know whether this is respectful or otherwise.

13 July, 2015

Review Page Update

I've just updated my review page for Game Chef, adding in all of the new reviews, applying names to all of the reviews on the page, and making a note of which games ended up as finalists.

It looks like most of the finalists weren't even looked at in my reviews.

So I've got a few more to do if I want to make sure I review all of the finalists.

From the final list...

Dragon, Fly by Paul Beakley [EDIT: Reviewed]
Dragonfly Brewing Company by Michael Wenman
Dreams of Dragonflies by D.X.Logan [EDIT: Reviewed]
Far Away From Home by Aleksandra Samonek
Good Night Fairy Theatre by Emily Griggs [Reviewed]
ISP Dragonfly by Kevin Omans
REDREAM by Ron Langton
Sisters of the Hive by Jordan Saxby [Reviewed]
Stay, Still by Heather Silsbee [EDIT: Reviewed]
Tea Ceremony by Niamh Schonherr [Reviewed]
The Long Sleep by Bill Templeton
Wings by David Rothfeder [Reviewed]