Thursday, February 28, 2013

FreeMarket Read-Thru Review

For any hard-core DnD nerd, this game is nothing short of a mystery. How the hell can this game exist? It's a game that discourages all the traditional tropes that we expect of role-playing games. There are no driving needs in this fiction that we could normally identify: you won't die if you don't do anything. You can just coast along if you'd like.

But where's the fun in that?

Nothing, of course! So what's the point of the game? You wanna make something, but space and resources are limited, so you have to prove that your ideas have merit to the general populace. You have to earn their approval and respect, otherwise you'll get thrown off the station.

The basic mechanics of the game use custom cards provided in the box set. Whenever you set out to do almost any task you play it out. This card game is very suspenseful and can strategic, considering it's based on random draw.

It wouldn't be a Luke Crane game without some form of player direction, and this game has that in the form of Memories, long term and short term. The Super User (GM) is supposed to take these as inspiration for the session, and is supposed to cross-pollinate people's Memories with each other for story hooks. I found their section on GMing to be incredibly informative and helpful, to the point that I'll start using their ideas for my next game.

 There's one significant disadvantage to this game: the price. 65 bucks! It's hefty and hurtful, and what's more, the print run is limited. I don't know if they'd run out yet, but they hadn't when I ordered mine. There's a PDF, but there's no instructions as to how to assemble your own deck, and no way to order replacements/extras. I'm hoping Sorensen and Crane eventually fix this problem, because it could be a major problem with the longevity of playing this thing. Ultimately, though, you can construct your own deck and play this thing out.

These are my thoughts before a play-through. I'll write another review when that's done, folks!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mass Effect Trilogy Review

So, I FINALLY completed the Mass Effect trilogy. I didn't spend as much time as some people, but I played how much I wanted to and, after all three games, I finally feel like I have an opinion worth writing about.  My rating's gonna be based out of 10. I am reviewing the games as a single entity, and will rate on gameplay, characters, story, music

Gameplay: I'm just gonna get the worst thing out of the way right away. Let me be clear, as a trilogy the gameplay is questionable, mostly because a clear third of the trilogy's gameplay (Mass Effect 1) is incredibly fiddly and mediocre. Mass Effect 2's gameplay was a leap, and 3's was even more of a leap forward. I enjoyed that game the most by far, but found that the same old bugs kept it back. Although the games have a very noticeable improvement rate, it still retains some of the things that irritate the hell out of me: bad targeting and almost-perfect contextually-sensitive commands, that only screw up RIGHT when I don't want them to ( I swear, I had to restart quite a number of missions because of almost hilariously bad bugs).
Summary: While the 3rd game is awesome, 1 and 2's mediocrity don't quite make up for it. And those damn bugs.... 4 outta 10

Music: OK, this is where the series really is at it's best. I loved each part's music a lot, but again, 3 really is where the quality comes out in full force. I mean, I just might buy 3's sound track. It's that good. There's a good amount of quality, and each piece is just...perfect.
Summary: Um, yeah, already wrote it I guess. 9 outta 10

Characters: Oh, this is where you think I'd sing the praises of the game, right? Well, yes and no. While the supporting characters are amazing (Mordin and Tali, if only I could play with you all the way through!) and deep and inspiring, Shepard is not. He's nothing better than a tabula rasa, a man who's convictions and emotions are forced and contrived. I know I'm disliking the very concept of Shepard, but when I find that I like Link and Master Chief better than the Shepard I spent 100+ hours with, you can start to see the issue. And I've never even played a full campaign of Halo! That's a huge hit against what really should be rated higher.
Summary: Gah, Shepard, you're boring... 6 outta 10

Story: This yet another part that should be rated highly, but again, it's not. I was unable to download the updated endings for Mass Effect 3, so I was stuck with their original creative vision, and man, was I disappointed. There. Was. No. Frickin. Conclusion. None. The fact that I have to go look up these endings and/or download them is a horrible crime against the story. I mean, damn, people! After 100 hours of gameplay, and the original conception was this? Gah, no wonder everyone got so pissed. And, to be clear, I've looked up these extended endings, and wasn't a big fan of any but the secret one, the "true" one, as it were. If I'm gonna spend so much time on something, I want to be rewarded, not condescended too!
Summary: The quality of a story can be judged on it's ending. This ending sucked. 2 out of 10 stars

Overall, I'm completely turned off by BioWare games. The fact that I spent so much time and got very little to show for it just puts a really sour taste in my mouth. Remind me to just stick to table-top.

Overall Score: 5 out of 10

On the bright side, at least I know that there are other things to do with my time...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fluff and Crunch, AKA the Second Greatest Lie in Gaming

Most of us gamers have grown up with the DnD conception of Fluff'n'Crunch: the "story of the game" and "mechanics of the game". Thanks to the greatest lie in RP'ing (one game can do it all), story is usually set against crunch, as if these two don't entirely cooperate. And, to be honest, after playing years and years of such games, I find them to be quite boring. They don't do it for me, at all. And, from what I can tell, they usually don't do it for a lot of adults, either.

As an example of this, I recently formed a new gaming group at my college so I could try out all my weird indy games that most people have never heard about. I decided to start them out on Misspent Youth, just to see what would happen. All these people have had some pretty extensive experience of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons and some Pathfinder. I threw this game, where you don't even roll until there's an open conflict, at them, y'know what they did? After a short amount of hemming and hawing and "I don't know what to do because nothing is there to hold my hand anymore" they BLOSSOMED. It was an amazing thing to watch! They realized that the rules were made to enforce a particular type of story, and that the rules made the story and if they just relied on the rules a story would naturally come of it. And boy, has it ever! I'll be posting what they were up to in my review of Misspent Youth (to be written after they're done with the game) but, suffice to say, we're crafting a tragedy centered around the loss of innocence and the hardening that happens when anger is a key emotion in personal development. These people actually like the rules (not something you'll hear typical non-DM players say!) and are thrilled every week to play this game! Fluff and Crunch have morphed into something entirely new: an honest to God game, which requires strategy, thought, and heart. Like all great games do.

How do games like Misspent Youth, Burning Wheel, My Life with Master, Dogs in the Vineyard, etc. do this? It's actually pretty simple. They work like sports games, which:

  • Set up a winner-loser paradigm.
  • Give the means to win.
  • Deny any other method by means of penalty.
  • Give a few exceptions to shake things up. 
Let's take basketball for instance. To win you have to have more points than your opponents at the end of time. You do this by throwing a ball into the opposing team's basket. You may not "travel" with the ball, but must instead bounce it from the ground back into your hand along each step. The only real exception to the dribbling rule is that you can take a few extra steps when doing a "lay up", thus encouraging movement even more. 

We'll pair up baskeball with Burning Wheel. You and your opponent(s) set up a victory condition of your own, and then you try and pick out the "best" moves you can, based around what your opponent will do. You then play these moves out in rock-paper-scissor fashion, one at a time, and resolve them. The loser is the one who gets to zero first, and the winner is whoever is left with the highest points standing. Some conflicts, like Fight! are pretty simple: the loser is unconscious, and the winner is not. In the Duel of Wits it's someone has lost the argument and the other player has won. 

Soccer's an even better instance. The win condition's the same as basketball: score more points by the time your time's up. You do this by bouncing the ball into the goal past the guardian. You may use any part of your body, but not your hands. Only the guardian, the "goalie", may use his hands, but he can't leave the goal if he wishes to do so (once he leaves the goal the goalie must not use his hands). 

And let's pair this up with Misspent Youth, shall we? The conflict is based around a chart with whole positive numbers from 2-12 showing on the sheet. The Authority gets to claim numbers, starting with 7 in the second round. The players roll 2d6 each round, try to land on a number they rolled and hoping to avoid the numbers the Authority has claimed. If they win, they get what they want, and the Authority doesn't. If they lose, they can either opt to lose the conflict or sell out a personality trait and make it darker. The game ends when one player has entirely sold out, and he gets a really bad ending. The players win the overall conflict if they managed to dismantle most of the Authority before one player loses.

And what I find even funnier is that the sports teams these people follow have stories associated around them, just like with RPGs! I mean, sports movies are nothing less than the entire culture remembering a really great game and the people within it. Entire families are sometimes founded on the mythology that a team makes. I mean, what's really the difference between the nerds and the jocks? Physical vs. mental focus, really. There's nothing really all that different. Both "groups" are obsessed about something, lay down their lives for it, and practically live for it. It's just a mental/physical divide.

Basketball, soccer, bowling, fencing, boxing, all of these sports work because they're inherently competitive, and hack into our nature to be the best we can be. Like it or not, this stuff is hardwired into our brains, and so when someone proposes such an asinine thing as "fluff vs. mechanics" the average person is turned off, for the simple reason that they haven't been hardwired to respond to such a thing as "no winner or loser". It is a basic fact in this life that there are winners and losers, that there is a hierarchy. Without a hierarchy built in, all is chaos, all is boring, all is communist. Or, in gaming terms, all is modern DnD, where no one is a loser and so therefore no one's a winner. 

I say let's get rid of our inner communist and go back to being human. Bring back victory and good rules to RPGs!