I've finally finished reviewing all the entries.
When Destriarch first mentioned that there might not be a prize for this contest, I gladly offered up a copy of my game, Perfect. Perfect's set in a Victorian Dystopia, and it's about criminals driven by their passions. The game is about people who are pushed into the underground by their desires and beliefs.
If there's one thing I pride myself on in Perfect, it's creating an evocative setting that you can really play into through the mechanics.
That's essentially what I made the criteria of my prize. To recap:
I'm giving a copy of Perfect to the person who best merges evocative setting/situation with mechanics.
a.) is focused on a situation and premise, rather than generic and universal.
b.) ties characters to setting in a meaningful way.
c.) Makes exploring the world or immediate situation an interesting and thought-provoking exercise.
I've rated each game on a scale from 0 to 5, based on how well they focused their mechanics and integrated them into the situation and/or setting at hand.
In order from lowest score to the winner, I'm going to give a little mini review of each game.
Keep in mind a few things:
a.) This is a rating and review of how well the game did this particular thing, not my overall opinion of the game.
b.) I've tried to be frank about the things which I disliked. This means some reviews read quite harshly. Please don't take it personally.
c.) My reviews are a fairly subjective thing.
Okay, here goes:
That I Might Fly
Kirk Mitchell is my roommate, and thus I'm declaring him a conflict of interest and excluding his entry from my prize. He already owns a copy of Perfect anyways.
I didn't feel that Halfelven offered me anything new. Part-fae creatures living in a modern world has been done many times, to the point where “urban fae” could be its own cliché for the Reinvention contest.
The character creation system didn't say “halfelves” in any significant way. The attributes and skills were very generic. The one place that your system reflected the setting was in Traits. Mostly, Glamour reflected the fae nature of characters in the world. Also, things like Phobia and Depression and Disability reflected the feeble nature of humanity in the modern world. Other than these Traits, I felt the game was very bland and generic.
I felt that Fae had a core system that was very generic. The skills list was expansive and gave me no real sense of what the system was about.
The premise you came up with is cool: You're fairy creatures equipped with insane bio-weapons and you're fighting for the control of a species who doesn't believe in you anymore. A lot of gonzo awesome is included in that. Beamers and other bio-plasma lobbing weapons!
I feel that all of that is lost to a bland, generic system that is overly complicated for the genre it is playing to. You lost points in your skills list and overly complicated (for this game) combat system. You gained your 2.5 points in your weapons and equipment lists, because that was focused on the crazy, armed fae militants quite specifically.
Cross Familiar had mechanics that reinforced both magic and animal instinct, but there was little that explored the interplay between wizard and familiar. I felt that this part of the description remained undelivered.
I felt that certain things were dead weight: carry weight, the extensive weapons lists, armor. If I'm playing a game about the cooperation of man and animal at the crossroad of magic, why do I need or care about how much damage a bazooka would do in combat? I feel that these bits could be stripped down and/or removed.
One thing I might suggest is to have everyone create one human and one animal – and thus play each other's familiars. That way there would actually be a familiar character for every wizard character, and there could be dialogue (talking!) between the animal and the wizard.
The Hunger/Wild mechanic for feeding is a nice one. It would have been interesting to detail what bloodlust entails a little bit more. and to create some structure/guidelines for dealing with the Vampires' guilt or hunger or greed in terms of human blood.
I think the Specialities focus the game on exactly what you want to see, with the except of the Specialities of Fight – they are very bland, generic and unfocused. Things like Snarl, Blood Rage, Finesse, etc would have given some more flavorful options, instead of just “do you attack or defend well?” The Specialities of Meta have some cool stuff in them.
Super Power Man Wrestling
Super Power Man Wrestling was quite focused on what it was about – kicking super ass. The fact that your attributes shifted as the fight progressed was an interesting and awesome idea – superheroes were often quite static characters over a whole story, but would get beaten down quite a bit during an actual fight. I'm not sure, though, why experience exists if this is the case.
The choices of combat maneuvers gave it a wrestling feel, which I liked. The superpowers would probably be a useful tool for players trying to make up characters – and the fact that there are rules for new powers and maneuvers means that they don't feel constrained or railroaded into picking from a confined list either.
I was hoping to see something about earning money/having a day job, or MPTV, or being the last of the heroes. That was a bit of the premise that didn't feel delivered on. The wrestling bit was awesome, but there was more in the initial pitch.
Cold Wizards gets such a high score for the way it treats radiation poisoning. The transition between temporary power and permanent poisoning is marvelous. The fact that one needs to pre-empt this power by pumping oneself full of rads is spot on too: You don't know what kind of power and might will be required, so you have to risk being resourceless or accept a long-term suffering. Rads give the game a really Cold War feel and bring home the dangers-of-power theme that runs through this game.
The mechanics are simple, and wizardry is just differentiated enough from regular actions to give it distinction, but not differentiated so much as to complicate the system. Magic could have had a bit more definition to it, but as is I was happy too. Similarly, Drives and Slicks are very, very similar… but differentiated enough to highlight what they do differently (basically, the volatile nature of Drives).
Things I felt there should be rules for: Agent creation, handling Spooks, civilians detecting or learning of your magic (and basically 'magic scandal' rules in general).
Restless has some amazingly cool setting wired into the mechanics, through way of Dark Urges and Darksends. The fact that you can choose to enter a catatonic state of near-death in order to avoid detection is, well, brilliant for a zombie game. the fact that you can crumble to dust to avoid being hurt is, again, brilliant.
There is one section of the mechanics which doesn't feel well merged with the world and game of Restless, though: Attributes and Skills. There are a lot of skills which don't support any of the cool stuff going on in Restless: Firearms, Literacy and Algebra are examples. Including Algebra as a skill means you would like scenes to be focused on how a character uses Algebra to overcome difficulties. If the restless are using Algebra instead of crumbling to dust and growing inhumanly strong and wigging out in their frenetic states, then something is clearly wrong with the picture.
Awesome work, but Restless needs some cleaning up and narrowing down in the Skills department.
The thing I like most about Eighth Sea is its Skill packages. Things like Bosun, Cat and Powder Monkey give me playable archetypes I can riff off of, show me how disparate skills can be brought together to form coherent characters, and make the pre-game labor significantly easier.
The other thing I like is the Integrity-Piracy Scale, and how it is actually wired into the game through Coin and Freedom. This strikes me as being the kind of thing that “alignment” always tried to do and failed at. This gives player freedom but puts significance and karmic weight on in-game actions and behaviors. It's a good way of enforcing the consequences theme that you touch upon.
Bribing crew members for a vote is a nice touch.
One thing I wish is that there were a way to put negative traits into beneficial use, or to make use of your faults and flaws. I think that a pirate being repulsive and grotesque looking would scare off the pretty damsels, but it would also help intimidate the prissy governor. I'd be excited if there were a way of turning things on their head in that fashion.
Coils of the Orinoco
Coils of the Orinoco is a really focused, evocative game. Of all the games in this contest, this strikes me as the easiest one to share with someone – it's easy to write a back cover for or a pitch for, and I've told a couple people about the game and just the words “river dragon” bring it all home so quickly. Props for creating a really catchy, evocative, simple situation to build a game around.
The mechanics enforce it well, too. The Rush and Delay pebbles (although presented in a confusing way) are a simple way of making the linear track feel like an actual journey. The journey got longer or shorter depending on how quickly you moved.
One thing is that the river had less personality in the mechanics than I had hoped it would. Nothing distinguishes between a cold night obstacle and a rushing rapids obstacle. I think something like giving the river Drives might add that bit of flair I was hoping for.
Now, for the hands-down winner…
Ninja Mom has laser-focused mechanics. You have two stats: Ninja and Mom. You've got too little time and way too much to take care of at once. You're struggling to cope with a divorce, take care of your children, hold a day job, keep up appearances, and carry out secret ninja contracts along with other ninja moms.
It feels as busy as a game about single mothers should. I really like how the Hungry, Homeless and Unruly Children triggers affect resources and capability in the game. The treatment that a scene with Social Services gets is spot on.
The single best thing about this game is the fact that each turn you get 3 Time Tokens. You need to somehow keep down your Social Services chips, earn 5+ money every turn, support the other mothers, carry out ninja contracts, and keep your kids happy. There simply isn't enough Time to stay on top of the kind of resource management you need to. I've told about 5 people about Ninja mom, and when I explain the bit about only having 3 Time Tokens every turn, it clicks and they suddenly appreciate the nuances to the game.
My one criticism I see in Ninja Mom is that the tone is a bit scattered. You mention Nicotine Girls in your notes, but I get a much sillier and more playful sense from the opening pages of the game. It'd be nice if a single tone carried the entire document.
Congratulations, Oreso. Contact me at joepub88 [at] hotmail (dot) com to arrange your prize.