25 June, 2015

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.  
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