Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: Burning Empires


I just got done reading this book, and reading a few play-throughs, and... wow. Damn.

Burning Empires is a game based upon the graphic novel series Iron Empires. The story of said graphic novels is that humanity, once an intergalactic empire, is being destroyed from within by the terrifying species the Vaylen, which is a combination of a human and a parasitic worm life-form that gains sentience from being joined  to the human, called a Naiven. Once the Naiven is joined to the human it takes over the human's brain and can never be removed, otherwise the human will die. Using the Burning Wheel mechanics, Burning Empires revolves around the invasion of the Vaylen to your planet.

To say that this book is revolutionary is a bit of an understatement.

From the very beginning, the game makes it clear that this is not your typical "do whatever you want" RPG. Quite the opposite, this is a competitive RPG between the players and the GM, who plays whatever side the players don't want to play. Unlike most RPGs there is a very clear winner and loser, and the game is meant to be played as a "we'll only cooperate as much as it helps make the game run", type affair.

Players begin by designing the world and society their game will happen in. They must negotiate everything, from the basic geography to the level of quarantine the planet has on its goods. Each point must be negotiated because it has a mechanical effect upon the advantages and disadvantages upon the GM and players. After designing the world, the players base their characters off this world, and they help the GM come up with several Figures of Note, the people who will be central to this conflict. It is recommended that at least one player be a Figure of Note. The players are required to have relationships with people on "the other side".

This brings to light the central question of the game: what will you do to save yourself? Will you sacrifice your family, friends, loves, sorrows, everything, to save them? At least one of them's with the enemy already, and your character may not even know it!

The game is then played out in three phases: Infiltration, where the Vaylen try to get a toehold; Usurpation, where the Vaylen try to take over quietly; and finally Invasion, where the Vaylen are out of options or where all that's left to do is take out the trash. The game should take anywhere from 18-36 sessions to play, depending on how much you do in a single session,which brings me to maneuvers.

The game is played out on the ground level with a series of maneuvers, which represent the actions of the GM and the players. Maneuvers are decided upon at the beginning of a session and played til they are done. There's usually 1-2 maneuvers played a session, depending on the amount of time spent hashing things out. The maneuvers break down into scenes, where the players RP their way into the final ending conflict that decides the maneuver. This happens over and over again, until its over, and everyone attempts to pick up the pieces.

There's a whole heck of a lot more than that going on, but that isn't what's important. What's important is this: if you want a good, intense story this game'll give it to you. Yes, you'll have to put up with some  (at times) very complex mechanics. But trust me when I say that it's all to the point of making a good story in all its glory.

If you can find anyone who wants to play a truly intense game, balls-to-the-walls paced, get this. I'm glad I did.