Archive for June 2011

June 28, 2011 Tuesday-One game, Two Reviews

June 28, 2011

So, I bought the Dresden Files RPG last month and since then I have been hammering away at the game system.  I started creating an introduction adventure and also evaluating the system for a review.   Why has it taken so long; because this game is complex.  First of all, it is two games in one.  I feel like I have to review and understand the FATE system and then understand how the Dresden Files is layered onto this system.  Unlike Star Wars Saga Edition, where I can assume everyone knows the D20 system and just consider how the system is worked into the movies; or Mouse Guard, where Luke Crane assumes you never played his system and has just simplified it to fit the comic; Dresden Files is uncompromising to the FATE system and setting while still being obscure to the general public.  I am reviewing two games in one and that has made it all the longer.



June 24, 2011 Friday- It is Never as Simple as Two Mice Entering a Bar….

June 25, 2011

The thing that makes Mouse Guard RPG interesting to play (along with other games created by Luke Crane, such as Burning Wheel or Burning Empires) is that each choice a player makes for their character usually has multiple affects.  It is never as simple as entering a bar or picking a lock; there is an additional goal, motivation, or influence added to such an action.  The game creates sublime dilemmas for the players that are attuned to the games reward system which is disguised by a narrative story.  Perhaps it is better said, “Success is easy, but the cost is variable; which creates the story.”  Success is devalued, which is unusual for most role-playing games, but rather, more interest is placed in the cost or secondary gains from the initial success.  

True, entering a bar and looking for action, is more complex than other systems.  However, players get more out of their rolls beyond a little bit of color. 

June 23, 2011 Thursday-Two Mice Wants their Drinks for Free…

June 24, 2011

Yesterday we were talking about the Mouse Guard RPG game and what to expect from entering a bar.  We continue with this example:

Cullen has been wounded with the following conditions: Tired and Angry.  There are no hit points for characters but instead conditions which affects their rolls.  Logan has only been wounded with just a Tired condition.  They have gotten through the worst of what the GM has thrown at them, they have made it to Appleloft and it is their turn.  Their mission is over, so any goals involving that is removed from their consideration; leaving only their own personal advancement or recovery.  They both have two Checks (rolls that possibly do something.)  Cullen needs to get rid of both of his conditions, while Logan just needs to rid of one, but Logan also wants to increase his Circles abilities, which acts like contacts in other games. 

The two of them debate how to use various skills with their checks along with various ideas

Logan has the instinct of “flatter and praise women first, then everyone else.”  He volunteers to use his check first.  He wants to make his circles roll to find some friendly faces that might help them remove their awful conditions—women and booze will relax and lighten the mood for everyone.   This is not the actual rolls to remove any condition, but rather gain a bonus to that roll later.  

Logan: “Follow me brother,” then he raises his voice “for I have heard from far and wide how the women of Appleloft are the cheeriest and quickest to laugh.  How there renowned mirth can lighten the heaviest hearts of men.” Logan searches for one of the towns woman and makes eye contact, “You there with the most delicate of ears, can you not prove to my brother the accuracy of your town’s legends?”  The poor girl blushes away giggling.  “Do you hear brother, does this not confirm, these women are filled with such mirth that the mere suggestion causes it to bubble out of them.” 

Now Logan continues bringing attention to them as he looks around.  Logan’s players want to make his roll; but Cullen’s player has joined in Logan’s performance and wants to aid Logan’s roll.  So Cullen adlibs “You mean when we met the merchant’s daughter Mora, when they visited Lockhaven, how she laughed and sung? Well, Cullen is Angry so he is not as silvered tongue.   Logan has a Circles of three, add Cullen’s help of an extra die.  The GM says they need three successes and Logan’s roll meets it, with the use of Cullen’s die; so the GM uses Cullen’s adlib:

“You silly mice, you met my sister Mira not Mora.  My father and she were at Lockhaven just before winter; but she never mentioned meeting any charming buffoons.”

Logan: “Perhaps your memory is far better than hers!  Is there a chance for two buffoons join you and find out?”

Because Logan just barely made his roll, the GM gives him and Cullen an extra die to roll for their checks to remove the Tired and Angry.  Logan does get advance his circles too.  It is Cullen’s turn to make a check, based on the current story.  He tries to remove his Angry condition by simply spending the evening drinking hard cider with his brother, Mira’s sister, and her friends.   Logan helps his roll by telling a story how Cullen saved him from the baker’s wife; making Cullen look noble and witty.  He has double the dice needed to make his success and wonderfully exceeds his roll, he is certainly no longer Angry. 

Logan wants to remove his Tired condition with his second check.  To remove this condition he has to make a Health roll or simply get a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.  He knows the wisest choice would be a health roll, but he has that extra die from his earlier success.  From a metagame perspective, he can easily make his health roll without the extra die-okay there is a little bit of risk there, but we are talking about metagaming.  He could gain more by trying to succeed on another skill that would still give him the same affect.  In other words, he could sleep under a tree (making a health roll) or he could find a good bed to share (which would involve convincing fair young local to invite him.)   The choice is up to him….

Cullen chooses to sleep under the tree and with that extra die, he is no longer tired.

June 22, 2011 Wednesday-Two Mice Want to Walk into a Bar…

June 22, 2011

The sticky sweet scent of rotting apples permeated the whole town of Appleloft, even the smell of baking apple pies, fritters, or just plain roasted apple could not hide the sweet and sour smell.  Cullen, who was tired and angry from fending off the constant threat of wasps over this last day, could only find complaints to share with his fellow travelers.  “Great, just when I am threw dealing with the fish monger; I have to suffer the BO of this town.  If it is not one thing, it’s another.”  Cullen scowled at the grey mouse merchant.

Logan, Cullen’s younger brother and fellow Mouse Guard, was admittedly tired; however, he did not take the wasp’s interest in the merchant’s salted minnows as personally as Cullen seemed to have nor did he blame the merchant.  After all, the merchant had shared roasted tadpole over the last two nights with them and wasps were all over the fallen apples that peppered their day’s walk towards Appleloft.  “Brother, what you need is a cup of their famous hard cider to put off that gripe.  That is what I am looking forward to….and the possibly snuggling up in the warm soft fur of a girl for the night.  What we both need is Appleloft’s finest tavern.”  Logan waved his hand and tail up into the air in praise, as if the town was theirs.

“I am sorry to say, my dear protectors,” the grey fur mouse interrupted them, “Appleloft’s mice are independent folk, tradesmen yes; but they compete with each other on a more personal level.  If there was a tavern in Appleloft; then everyone in Appleloft would open a tavern.  To avoid such high expenses, those who have brewed a good cider would compete in the town’s square.”

The Mouse Guard RPG infuses three facets of role-playing together; mechanics, metagame, and then the story.  First off, a game session is divided into two turns-the GM’s turn and then the Players.  During the GM’s turn, she throws at them all sorts’ problems to wear the characters down; yet at the same time, how the players role-play their characters determines how much they can do during their own turn.  During the players’ turn, they try to recover from the crap thrown at them and possibly gain an advantage in the next game session.  This is done by limiting the number actual effective dice rolls made by a player which influences the metagame, called Checks.   Additionally, the character’s advancement is solely based on players’ choices; not on rewards given by the GM.  There are no “Classes” in Mouse Guard, just skills, traits and special abilities, each sub-category advances only if you use them.  From a metagame perspective, a player is placed in the following character dilemma during their turn; do I try to recover from the crap my character has suffered, do I try to advance the mission that has been given to my character, or do I try and advance my own goals in my character.  Then the final veto facet; can I tie in my decisions into the current story?  Based on these three facets, a player has to choose which takes priority. 

Tomorrow we will continue with an example.

June 18, Saturday 2011-A solider, a toddler, and almost a Zombie enter a Bar…..

June 18, 2011

Lola stands behind the bar serving Tanqueray to the old woman in a wheelchair.  They are playing a cat n’ mouse game, not only with each other; but also with themselves.  In the last twelve hours their lives have changed.  In the last twelve hours their reality has change.  There are parts which they willing to accept and then there are those parts which they are not ready, and that is the dance they are moving with each other.  They are not so much as sharing reality nor supporting any realization; but artfully establishing the boundaries for themselves. 

Jake breaks the door open with his foot while holding a child; he quickly tangos around armless, shutting the door against the aggravated groans of the zombies outside.  He stands catching his breath in his Army fatigues as military jets screech over the bar, moments later, a faraway beat of helicopters start.  “She is safe and unharmed” Jake claims as he hands the child to the old woman.  Jake never leaves Lola’s eyes as he takes her hand and says “I could not leave knowing that you were here and your sister lost”  Jakes start leading her away upstairs….”

NO NO No that is enough, Lola’s player says.  I am not falling for his seduction during these horrible times. 

“Really?” says Jake’s player as he spins his color coded D6.

The group response: “yes!!!” each grabbing their own D6.

In the RPG game Zombie Cinema each player GMs their own character’s scene, they can tie in other characters or other players can have their characters join in too.  The player can say whatever they want during their scene; they have almost godlike powers, until.  That is a big UNTIL, another player disagrees with what is being said.  You do not even need to be in the scene to disagree.  Once there is a disagreement, each opposing player grabs their colored D6, all other players hand off their own D6 to the player whom they want to win.  Whoever rolled the highest D6 finishes the scene; in case of a tie, Zombies disrupt the scene. 

I love this system; there is no haggling over abilities or skills.  There is no debate as to what type of roll to make, there no series of repeated rolls.  It is a fast system where the real conflicts between players are brought up quickly and minor details are left up to the players.  If Jake wanted to start his story in bed with three women he can, if no one disagrees then he moves on with his scene. 

So everyone sides with Lola, other than Jake.  Lola’s player rolls three D6s vs. Jake’s single D6.  Jake rolls a four, while Lola rolls 2, 5, and 6-the six beats his four.  Unfortunately, it was the old woman’s die that beats Jakes; the old woman’s player finishes the scene because she was actually in it.

The old woman interrupts Jake’s action, “Sisters are sisters and they belong together, as long as they are not undead.” She hands the child to Lola and starts scolding the soldier, “you soldiers are all alike, if you are not shooting off one gun, it’s another!!!”  Then she winks at Jake, “reminds me lot of my second husband, he was a sailor”  Lola takes the opportunity to get as much distance from Jake.

Monday June 13, 2011-Two scoundrels and a Wookiee enter a bar…..

June 13, 2011

Before they even enter the hotel, Lando flips a credit chip to Chewie and tells him “rooms are on me, I get my own.”  Of course he does this in front of a few porters, doormen, and people who always hang outside of any hotel; if there is a woman he winks at her.  He walks right through the lobby like a politician, ignoring everyone around him; even Han pauses with Chewie so they can organize the logistics of renting rooms.  Lando walks with purpose, going directly to the bar as if he had been there a dozen times.  Lando is in the mood for something and he has plenty gold to buy it, without paying a dollar more.  That gold is charm. …

So, in Star Wars’ Saga Edition the group of Heroes gets some rooms at the local Hotel.  Many GMs, myself included, could quickly gloss over this fact.  Yet, some players would protest, some players want “color” and “hero definition” where a hotel bar could be an opportunity.  After all, Lando cannot demonstrate his suave and charming side while piloting the Millennium Falcon.  Being a good GM, I let the player play out a color scene for his hero, Lando. 

The player wants to use his charm and charisma to get a little nookie.  WHY, this is D20, who really knows?  Maybe the player just wants some of that old time rag; piss off the other players by showing off their Hero’s skills, or maybe there is a lead of some sort to work out later?  One of the amazing things about D&D and D20 is that players can call for scenes and skill rolls that have every little consequence on the current situation.  Yet, at the same time, the more they gather the more they can use against you, the GM.  Some players use a shot-gun approach, especially if you use any bonus with “natural 20’s.”   The more BS rolls they make the greater chance to get a “natural 20” which gives them a useable boon.  Unfortunately, there is no mechanic to address this situation within the game.   

Anyway, let’s get back to the game; roll for “somthum and somthum.”  That is how D20 deals with it, make a roll for “somthum and somthum” if you make it, then you got somthum; if not, then you didn’t.  Now comes the stupid ass complications, are you making an ability or skill check, what skill are you using, is this an oppose roll or using a DC number, should you use everyone within the room Will Def as a DC?  The problem with D20 is that the system only deals with the immediate results of an action, not “officially” anything else.  It does not matter what you used roll, all that matters is if you succeed or fail.  This simple go/no-go roll makes it really boring for all the players, including the Jerk-off who requested the roll in the 1st place. 

And then there is semantics, you just want to get some nookie? Okay that is an easily DC 10, you rolled a success!!! You are awakened by a man screaming for Lola in the lobby and hall.  The amazing woman that you met last night has been replaced by a frighten abused woman, whose name happens to be Lola.  The player never said what type of “somthum” he wanted.   

Wednesday June 8, 2011– Formula D Board game Review

June 8, 2011

Pull on your jumpsuit that has every brand slapped on it from Pennzoil to Gran’s Cookie Jar Investment Firm, then flex those driver’s gloves and start pretending that you are a formula 1 racing car driver—The Formula D Board game makes it possible.  This game makes you feel like you can sit behind one of those single seat, low wing, and V8 engines without losing 50 (or so) pounds.  If you start getting bored playing the game, do what every racing syndicate does; throw in a few bucks to make it interesting.  My nine year-old walked away very happy when cash became a goal of this race.


Formula D is an auto/sports game that has passed through a few publishers, which we need not go into.  The current company, Asmodee, has three expansions and one promotional thingy.  The game works with the original publisher’s supplements, creating over twenty additional race tracks, if you can find/buy them.  Despite all this industrial mumbo-jumbo of marketing; the point that should be taken, is that Formula D has a solid racing mechanic which keeps a fan base enthusiastic.  Both are so strong that I found the game by reading criticisms of other racing games which I was researching.   That’s right, I was checking out another game, but I bought this one.


Crunchy Bits

There are five basic components to this game system. 


Wear Points:  I love it when a game system promotes something as one thing, only to have it really be something completely different.  Formula D claims that WPs (Wear Points) is damage taken when you break the rules.  In reality, it is a resource for you to use to bend the rules; where the expense is cheaper with foresight and more costly when used as a reaction.   Run out of this resource and BOOM you are out of the game.  Unfortunately, it does not provide the visual that most NASCAR fans are hoping for.


Stick Shift/Gears: At the being of your turn you can up shift or down shift your car moving into a better gear.  This means you roll a different die for your car’s movement; they are nicely color coordinated with your gears.  A higher gear is represented by a larger die, such as D8 then D12.  Don’t be fooled by the dice, especially you D&D players, despite the fact you are rolling an eight sided die; it only covers 4-8 with the odds favoring 6-8 rather than a four or five.  All the dice are stacked in this manner, if you shift up to sixth gear and roll that 30sided die, then expect to move around 25 spaces, you will never roll 20 or under. 


Corners: Each of the track’s corners has a stop value, which demonstrates slowing down for the curve.  You have to end your movement within the corner area an number of turns equal to that’s corner’s value.  The sharper the corner, the more times your car has to end their turn.  If a corner has a value of two, then you need to end your turn twice within that area.  If you do not do this, really bad things happen.


Breaking:  You do not need to move your full movement that you rolled; sometimes you simply are force not to.   All you have to do is put on the breaks, keeping your car in current gear, but taking Wear Points.  This is an easy mechanic, every movement point you do not use takes one off your Wear Points.  This is especially helpful during those 2 or 3 level corners.


Overshooting:   You do not have to make that last stop in a corner, you can overshoot it.  Overshooting allows you to take that last die roll’s full movement out of the corner but you take Wear Points for every space beyond the corner that you drive.  This is only for the last “end movement” for the corner, if you have not stopped the other times, then you wipe out your car and are removed from the game. 


Fiddly Bits:  There are a few minor rules that require a regular D20 die with the full range of numbers.  These fiddly bit rules mimic the realism within a Formula race, such as collisions or starting performance.   In the advance game the number of fiddly bit rules increase.  Unfortunately, these additional rolls have a low chance of failure along with a small penalty.  This makes each individual roll unimportant, unless you are playing with a large group of players, where there are more rolls, and the rolls add up. 


The Advance Game

The advance game categorizes the Wear Points to six different car elements, which are then loss to specific rules.  Overshooting affects your tires WPs, while breaking wears down your brakes, and collisions affect your body.  This place more tactical decisions on the player with their resources, a player will not be able to overshoot every corner while ignoring breaking.  Additionally, there are more fiddly bit rules and optional fiddly bit rules, like weather conditions and hard or soft tires.   


Soft Chew

Formula D feels like a racing game and then strives to be even more realistic with advance rules and supplements.  The greatest strength is that the game achieves this feel with the basic simple game system.  Decelerate before the corner, accelerate out of it.  Do you beat up your car now to get an advantage or do you play it safe, the choice is up to the player.  There is a fair amount of risk/luck with the game, which might disappoint those tacticians.  The advance rules favor the tacticians, so let them play that game.  Also this is a game that favors more players, it plays ten, and it is pointless to roll for collision with a two player game. 


Ironically, there is a small chance of role-playing with the optional rules.  There are a dozen characters to choose from, each with their own car stats and special abilities.  If you talk like you are from Harvard when you play Professor Plum, then these characters will give you plenty of attitudes.  Most of their special abilities are geared towards the game system, but there are a few that reflects personalities.  Like How Sweet!  She is so good looking that players passing her lose a movement space because they have to look.


Tasty Bits

Build your own car: You can create your own car and it is easy to do.  Because the Wear Points act as a resource, this really hints at how you plan to drive.


Bitter Bits

Formula D selects a “wide range” approach to their rule system.  There is a basic game followed by an advance game, with optional rules added, and then more with further expansions.  This provides more choices for players and also provides more rolls that have a small chance of an effect.  True, more rules covers more stuff, but what are the costs to game play?  Their approach moves towards a more realistic game, but at the same time bogs down actual play.   Players have to find their own balance between flow and realism within the crunchy mechanics. 



This is a great fast pace racing game that anyone would enjoy.  Additionally, you can customize it to fit your group, do one lap for those who like short games or do three for longer ones.  Take time to build your own car or just grab one of the characters.  Add more optional rules to make it more tactical or just make a bet to add tension.  Although this is a simple racing game, there are plenty of choices to make each turn and you do have to put some forethought into those choices. 


I am really tempted to buy some of the supplements; they are little pricey-around $30.00 for two maps and more optional rules.  My gut feeling is to draw out my own maps just for the fun of it.  However, there is some math and drafting skill that is needed to do this.


Content: Four out of Five.  This is a good example of how a strong game system concept can overshadow the written material.  Even though it is a simple game, the rules are not well organized or clear.  I am glad that I watched reviews on YouTube and even then I made a few mistakes in the first few games.


Style: Three out of Five.  This too has strong concepts overshadowing the actual look.  The way they organize the player’s cards, including a stick shift to move so you can keep track what gear you are in, is clever.  However, the actual look of the game is very bland.  Sure, they cover everything with art but it looks like they knew that they had to.  You are not going to impress anyone by setting up the game.