I've been reading some entries in the ThreeForged RPG Design Challenge. If you haven't heard of it or checked it out, head on over to http://halfmeme.com/threeforged_voting.html. Here's my first installment of thoughts.
As you can probably tell I am only just scratching the surface (11 down, 90 to go!). I started by picking games by name, but then I just started going down the list so I wouldn't get lost. I preface these rundowns with "sticking with a strict 1-5 rating system can be hard at times." A 5 is, "yeah I'd play that", and a 1 is, "why did I read this?".
Entry 153 - Double Potions (4 out of 5): Just use Harry Potter references directly already. Its clear that this is mimicking potions class from the series and all of the near names (e.g. categorization cap in place of sorting hat) is distracting at best. That said, its fun. Professor Snape... er Snoop's reactions are definitely the highlight, but everything all around helps manage to capture the feel of a Harry Potter group potions lesson. This game is really designed as a one shot, for those evenings when your Fiasco group wants to try something different.
I'm not quite sure what the Dice tables for stage 2 at the end are for. That section's a bit of a mess, but its not necessary either.
Entry 155 - Ultranormal Encounters (4 out of 5): As a fan of Fiasco, I like this. It certainly captures the same feel of that game. The card mechanic seems solid enough. Without playing it, I can only wonder as to the average length of a game as you need to go through the whole deck. However, the doubt mechanic looks to be the most fun rule here. You're essentially passing the spotlight and putting your fate in someone else's hands simultaneously. The only downside I see is that it would be easy for just a couple of players to monopolize the card draws and thus all attention, but the same can unfortunately happen in Fiasco and similar games due to strong personalities.
Entry 156 - The Deep (4 out of 5): I was worried when I started reading this. Doom the card game? Dead Space was a yawn, and Doom never did it for me. Event Horizon was good at least. None the less, this clawed back from the deep that is its namesake to deliver a solid game. The resolution and conflict mechanic is, over all, solid. Add to the mix the character classes and personalities and you have just enough flavor to change it up. The real kicker though is that the game's not over when you die; your role just changes. You still want the others to accomplish their mission, just not come back alive. This keeps people involved; that's awesome. I love it when games take that into account.
Entry 159 - Its Forbidden (5 out of 5): The tagline "A Story Game of Creating Cultures" has my attention. Let's see how well it holds it.
So, I'm pretty sure I did something like this in social studies; though, it certainly has some twists, like the bountiful/harsh/strange statements and the roles.
Overall, well laid out, and the examples are a fantastic addition. This game is less something I would play with a group of friends and more something I would use at a camp or in a classroom to teach about cultural differences and how laws both arise and affect society. That should not detract from the quality of it, however, as I like it very much.
Entry 1510 - Damned (2 out of 5): Where the initial premise comes off a bit hokey, the character creation hits some of the right buttons. Stats are simple and easily explained, and the introduction of "precious memories" as a stat, fungible resource, and story tool immediately bring much welcome depth to what could otherwise be a very banal theme. At this point, not knowing anything else about the game, it has a solid hook in me. Though I am left asking, "why would you not take that +2 bonus to dark arts?" As it looks like the only way to get that stat and all the other bonuses are just +1.
Once you get past character creation, game play reminds me of the old game books and early TT RPGs. Its pretty straight forward. Unfortunately, the brilliant promise of precious memories also becomes lost; they just become currency at the market with no other game value. Its a shame because they could have turned this game from a basic dice roller to one with some solid story push and pull.
Entry 1511 - Galactic Arena (3 out of 5): This game's setup relies heavily on a mechanic I use in Krendel to form relationships: The first party writes something on a card and then hand sit to another person to continue or finish it off. Its an awesome mechanic for backstory and set up. Perhaps unfortunately, the game is still applying this half way through the rules to develop the world. This makes me wonder just how much game time is devoted to set up vs. game play. Now its not that all bad; from experience, I can tell you that these sorts of relationship building cards are amazing fun for those involved, but it would seem a bit of a let down if the rest of the game was short by comparison.
The action mechanics are a bit unclear, specifically the last line of the first Taking Action paragraph, which indicates there is a different resolution mechanic for some situations, but this isn't described. The muddlement continues in the event mechanics. Athletic Events have a mechanic called "the line", but there's no indication as to what it actually is or does.
Where the Closing Ceremonies could use a bit of treatment, much like the opening ceremonies got, the aftermath results certainly aren't lacking. They will remind players of Fiasco given their breadth, but they are a bit more controlled and meaningful here. I think the aftermath is something best kept secret from the players.
On the whole, the beginning and end are awesome, the middle needs polish.
Entry 1512 - Anonym (2 out of 5): The intro is a slow windup to a cute idea. If condensed it would have true zing, like the advertisement it is intended to be. None the less, the concept is kind of fun: you play people trying to protect the true names of mystical creatures. It strikes me as Men in Black with words of power and a splash of Paranoia.
Use of "2(n+1)" should be avoided. I understand math, but its a turn off for a lot of people. Part of me likes how character creation is a competition that can end with the character going rogue if you overbid and you having to start over, but another part of me hates having to repeat the process in any game. I had this same struggle with Traveler: I get a laugh out of the idea but hate the practice.
I appreciate what the game goes for with its words of power approach, tying syllables to the names of beings of power rather than just having them out there. This gives them a bit more oomph and a lot more flavor. It also makes for some weird situations when you think about it. If the being receives a chime every time one of their syllables is used, no matter the intent (lack of intent and knowledge means you get no power), then some of those guys have some serious headaches. One example given is the first syllable of the name of the first cat: Ka. That cat must never sleep.
On the whole, I think I would rather rather take the setting and use it with a different system than use the system provided. Its simple enough to make use of, but that same simplicity is a bit stifling for someone like me.
Entry 1513 - Blue Shift (3 out of 5): We're playing in a planetary junk yard? Time to turn on some Weird Al and have a dance party with Wreck-Gar. Where that may not be totally appropriate (I haven't gotten that far into my read), that's totally what's going on in my head now. OK, so the setting veers away from Junkion, but that's OK. It instead gives a pretty fun set up that we can all laugh at when we think about what might be growing in our friend's fridge (Come on people. We all know at least one person that fits that description).
Character creation is simple and relies upon both personal creativity and collaboration. Being so free form, I can see where players who require more structure may get hung up, but this is a minor issue easily overcome.
Conflict resolution is certainly interesting. I'm not certain I like it because it can be so incredibly random. I appreciate a system where good "skill" counts in your favor. Here, the way the fate dice (or destiny dice for people who, like me, prefer Arabian Nights) work, that skill can easily turn against you. You get to choose the order of operations for your math, which is the saving grace.
How it works is that you choose what dice you roll based on how applicable the traits you leverage are to the action you are performing. You roll them plus a number of fate dice equal to the trait dice you rolled minus one. Fate dice are 6 siders with 2 "+"s, 2 "-"s, and 2 blank sides. Once you roll these you build your equation with a blank fate die meaning you remove a trait die. So if you roll 1, 5, and 18 with a - and a blank you have the blank remove the 5 and then set up 18 - 1 = 17.
The math guy in me says you want one big trait die and then one or two tiny trait dice to maximum your odds, but the key is that resolution is incredibly random. The dice really do decide it all; your "skill" is just along for the ride. This is explained in the rules as, "Life after the Blue Shift is chaotic and not every mutation or accidental creation is a positive one." Which I frankly find to be a single eyebrow raising excuse.
That said, I do appreciate the death mechanic. You don't really die. You come back combined with some other random thing in the environment, which adds a new trait to your character. So you become "stronger" or at least have more options when it comes to adding dice. It flows with the setting them nicely and lets you expand your character. In other games I'd say it made you stronger, but here we have a weird resolution mechanic that could get in the way. Of course, this mechanic also makes the game play example of an assassination mission all the more amusing.
As a random note, its amazing how many games require / use index cards and how they are something we take for granted. I say this because index cards do not exist here.
Entry 1530 - Q (1 out of 5): This game sucks you in with a brilliant set up and then immediately lets you down. The premise is that there's this war with monsters, but rather than having a personal investment with your characters fighting the monsters you are telling the stories of other people (perhaps your parents) that fought, and these characters are ones that you probably didn't even have a hand in creating, which is adds another layer / barrier to personal investment. Where there is something to be said for not being too invested in characters, without any investment, why am I here?
Things get a bit more annoying when character creation is referencing attributes and skills for which there is no frame of reference.
And that's just the first page.
For character creation, it turns out that there is a character sheet on the last page for frame of reference, and even then I'm not quite sure how the dots work or what guidelines there are for things like skills and problems. The process, or at least the references you need to understand problems and skill, is fleshed out once we get to page 9, but until then you're just left confused.
That's actually a good example of text flow for this game. It splashes down some rules for A and goes along assuming you understood that and with no promise of further explanation. Then later you come across a section that if cut and pasted into the prior text would have made things so much better.
As a final note, I'm not a fan of the end game; though, this would be easy enough to fix. The final scene begins when all of one player's characters are dead. That means that at least one player is sitting out the entire end game. That's just dumb, particularly in a collaborative story game.
Entry 1540 - To Return a Wallet (5 out of 5): I like the GM/Player reversal and the fiasco-esque world/character building includes a lot of fun options. I very much enjoy that it takes a fairly simple premise and turns it into a completely wacky adventure. To Return a Wallet is definitely more of a parlor game than a TT RPG, but it looks like a lot of fun. If I had any concern it would be about its novelty as I'm sure I read something almost exactly like this before on G+, at least the premise about the wallet itself.
Entry 15149 - Dream Palace (2 out of 5): I will admit that I like the concept that is presented; however, I think it would work better as a mechanic within another game rather than a game itself. What's there can really be played in one evening and used to develop characters in a session zero of just about any other game. The time frame that it presents for the game is, frankly, arduous, and I don't think I could see myself maintaining the investment it asks for over that period as the sessions themselves are so short. Maybe as a bulletin board game though..