2011 Reviewing

The initial reviewing process for Game Chef 2011 starts around July 25th, with reviews and recommendations due by July 30.

Which Games Should I Review?

Chefs are semi-randomly assigned four games to review as follows.

  • Take your entry number (based on the order your game was submitted) and add +1, +3, +6, and +10. This will give you the numbers of the games you are supposed to review.
  • For example, if your game is number 23, you would review games number 24 (+1), 26 (+3), 29 (+6), and 33 (+10).
  • The numbers will ultimately wrap around, so the final dozen chefs to submit will be reviewing some of the games submitted earliest, but that will be all spelled out.
  • To avoid any confusion, I have added the games to be reviewed and the numbers of their reviewers in the comments below. Make sure the games you are reviewing have your number or name next to them.
  • If you end up being assigned a close friend’s game to review, please try to arrange a swap with another chef, trading review assignments with them. This is both to avoid bias and just because — come on! — you’re gonna read your friend’s game anyway, right? Get to know some new people!

How Should I Review My Assigned Games?

I’ve reviewed a LOT of contest games over the years (more than 100, certainly) and, while I haven’t always done an equally great job on every review, these are the principles I try to more-or-less stick to, which I think have served me well and are among the most helpful things for designers to hear.

  1. Try to avoid reading other reviewers’ comments on the game before reading it yourself. Be your own reviewer!
  2. Read the games in a cooperative spirit, not like a harsh English teacher looking for flaws, but as someone who’s potential interested in playing the game with their friends. If you can, print the games out and take notes on the print-outs as you go, so you’ll have a record of your initial reactions to specific passages.
  3. When you’re ready to write a paragraph or two of feedback, start off by mentioning what you like about the game, what excites you, what the designer has done well. In addition to what you would normally look for in a game, consider how well the theme and ingredients were incorporated, how much the designer was able to accomplish with a limited wordcount, and how brave the designer has been in attempting new or difficult things.
  4. Then, talk about the parts of the game that you don’t think are clear, that you don’t fully understand, or that you feel uncertain about. Think more about how you would present this game to your friends or organize a session of play to try the game out. Do you have the information and instructions you need to do that? What clarifications or additional tools might you need? Try to ask questions or admit your own confusion instead of criticizing: “I felt unsure about the part where…” or “What did you intend this part to do?”
  5. End with a few positive thoughts about the game as a whole and how it could move forward to be even better or more “finished” (whatever that means). Is it ready to be tried out? Does it just need a couple things before it’s ready to hit the table? What’s the minimum amount of work that the designer needs to do to get it to the next level? Don’t list a bunch of things or talk too abstractly. Suggest one or two concrete steps or improvements.

Where Should I Post My Thoughts?

Post your reviews as replies to the comments below. That way I can tell when all four reviews for each game have been completed.

If your review is more than a couple paragraphs — or if you want to post your review elsewhere or send your comments privately to the designer — please just post a link to your review (on your blog, on a forum, etc.) or a short comment telling me that you’ve sent your comments to the designer.

How Should I Pick One to Recommend?

Please do not indicate in your reviews which game you are recommending as a potential winner! Honestly, the business of winning — which I mostly view as a necessary evil — should not get in the way of providing helpful feedback and support to your fellow chefs.

Instead, please fill out the form below to submit your recommendation, picking 1 of the 4 games you reviewed to be a potential winner of Game Chef 2011.

When picking an overall winner, consider:

  1. Are you excited to play this game, right now?
  2. Do you feel able to play this game, right now?
  3. How well did the designer use the theme and ingredients?
  4. How brave was the designer in attempting this game?

Your selection will be anonymous unless you decide to announce it. Additionally I’m not planning on announcing the number of votes each game receives, since I suspect that would be a distraction from the more specific comments each game accrued in the reviewing process and simply appreciating everything the participating chefs have accomplished.

What If I Can’t Finish by July 30th?

Please let us know as soon as possible, since there are a number of former Game Chef participants and friends of Game Chef who’d be happy to step in and help out with reviewing. There’s no harm and no foul here, since we know lives are busy and getting things done in the middle of a work week can be difficult. If you already know, looking at it, that you might not be able to get your reviews done, passing it on to another eager reviewer is the responsible choice.

Honestly, I don’t really see any reason to disqualify people for opting out of reviewing. It’s your loss, really, since reviewing is a great opportunity to build connections with people, but sometimes things happen and we won’t hold that against you or your game.

That’s it and thanks for helping me out! Reviewing all 59 games last year was fantastic but exhausting and way too time-consuming.


431 responses to “2011 Reviewing

  • Jonathan Walton

    (1) The Bard’s Daughters by Patrick Phelan
    A dramatisation of the creative process; the characters are plays seeking performance and immortality.

    Reviewed by: (66), (64), (61), and (57).

    • Joel

      Colin, what a fascinating direction to take with this theme and ingredients! “Dramatizing the creative process” is pretty ambitious. And your implementation of that goal has a lot of things going for it. Building a Canon, complete with Sonnets, is nice, especially the way Sonnets affect the cream world when used. The “heat of inspiration” as hitpoints for living creative ideas is great. In fact the whole reskinning of standard RPG structure to fit personified creative development is pretty ingenious. Bravo!

      There are a lot of individual aspects that I struggle with, though. In particular, it’s hard for me to get a grip on what actually HAPPENS in the game. The idea of each PC having different Manifestations of characters within their play is good, but because the PCs are abstract concepts, I can’t really visualize what they are as characters. What do they feel and think; what do they do? If you had a conversation with one of them, what would you talk about? There’s not much to go on regarding Adventures, either. They seem to be sort of mission-based, with Despairs and Exiles as monsters and Big Bads. But I’m really unclear on why the Dreams go on the Adventures, how the Bard initiates one in fictional terms, and how the Adventures represent the Creative Process, except that the Dreams just happen to level up along the way.

      As a side note, the writing of the draft–and I understand of course that it IS only a draft–left me a bit confused on some of these points; at first I thought maybe I was playing characters IN a play, and the scene progression mechanic sort of reinforced that. It only gradually dawned on me that the characters ARE the play, and the Adventures take place outside the plays themselves.

      All in all, this looks like it could be a great game for a poetic, surreal experience. To help pull that off, I’d concentrate on clearing up exactly what you do in play, and tying all the elements together to show how they all relate to the Dream’s’ journey to artistic completion.

      Peace,
      -Joel

    • Paul Lyons

      The concept of metaphors fighting to become full-fledged creations is compelling, and the Sonnets mechanic in particular has a special core. The actual game you play is simply a dream world that refers to the mind of a man in despair. You’re on a sort of crusade to get more power so you can conquer competing metaphors and survive. That’s it. Nothing coming from the system or the actual story told seems to be Shakespearean in nature. You could rename Heat and Acts/Scenes to Health and Level and nothing changes. The resulting play experience seems to be remarkably like Dungeons and Dragons in Dreamland. You quest, level up, rinse, repeat. Which is fine unto itself, but it doesn’t seem relevant to Shakespeare.

      The idea that really asserts itself to me is drawing on Sonnets and how their Natures might twist the narrative. How this works, on the other hand, is unclear to me. To call upon a Sonnet’s nature, the roll must be relevant. However, the fiction then twists toward the Nature. This seems inconsistent if the nature is supposed to be fitting in the first place. If I were going to improve this game, this is the gem of an idea I’d hang onto. Not necessarily “Sonnets” in particular, but the idea that a literary image can emerge from play and then be fed back into play in order to reinforce a theme. Or that a literary image can be interpreted in different ways, causing a diversity of theme or an active control of theme through two stages of interpretation: writing the Nature and then implementing it later. Building the play mechanic around that instead of a party of adventurers seems more natural and potentially much more Shakespearean.

    • Benjamin Branson

      Patrick, you’ve done something brilliantly ambitious here. I love the way the play of the game interacts with the problems of creating art, and especially the way you’ve interpolated classic rpg structure with Shakespeare’s textual structure. You’ve set up a wide, wide world for your players.

      If anything, I think what this game would most benefit from is specificity. Give us some examples–a LOT of examples!–of Natures and Manifestations. What are those things adding to the game, either flavor-wise or mechanically? As a player, I want to know what a Nature is, as well as how it’s going to help me tell my Dream’s story. Is it to my advantage to choose, for example, the Nature “Most Awesome at Combat”? Similarly, I think it would behoove you to take some time to introduce Ideas, and how they possess Brightness and Darkness, in their own section near the beginning. Rolling against Brightness or Darkness was a litte confusing to follow: do players get to choose which they roll against? If so, why would they ever roll against Darkness (given how awful the consequences are)?

      Your description of the Adventures was great, but it left me wanting more. What kind of narratives might these games follow? What other stakes might these characters encounter on their journeys? I think you have what I affectionately call the Nobilis Problem: a idea that’s so original and different from normal tabletop that players may not know how to approach their stories initially. I can tell from reading what you’ve got that you have ideas; I’d love to see them spelled out! Great game!

      (P.S.: I love I love the dice-equals-sonnet-parts idea, so I hate to mention that Shakespeare’s sonnets are 12 and 2, unlike the Petrarchan sonnets of 8 and 6.)

    • Marc Majcher

      The Bard’s Daughters approaches the process of creativity in a really interesting way. I like that the game takes place on this ethereal plane of ideas and concepts within the mind of the “Bard”, and how concepts like establishing Canon and using Sonnets and Daughters (completed plays) are used as concrete things in the game that the players can use to help their Dreams complete the journey from a simple unformed idea to a full play. The elements used in the game – the d8+d6 for 14 lines of a sonnet, the Blood, Love, and Rhetoric stats, Heat, Rhymes, Brightness, Darkness, Despairs and Exiles – these are all nicely evocative, and give a good amount of flavor to the game while reading through. I haven’t tested it, of course, but on first look, the system seems to be a nice little engine that will propel players through adventures, and allowing them to advance and work through the Banal and Fantastical realms.That said, in thinking about the actual game play, while the setting feels like it could be nice and dream-like, I’d be a little hard pressed to come up with something meaningful – this may be the limitation of my own imagination, and I’m sure that in actual play, it’d be easier to be inspired by the players’ own Natures and Manifestations and whatnot, but just upon reading it, I’m not finding any strong point of entry to an adventure. Perhaps more details or examples would help for folks like me that really need to be pulled in to something like this. Also, I get a bit of a feeling that some of the flavor that these attributes and .. well, flavor, is just that. Thinking about how an adventure might play out, it feels like it could just be a regular old romp through an arbitrary dreamscape, with three or four different “Dreams” trying to tie together their own particular stories, and the flavor bits could be anything. I don’t know if this is a plus or a minus, but the system feels like it could be easily drifted to play a non-”these are plays fighting to be written” adventure with characters of any type. But overall, the text is fairly straightforward and clear, even though there are a ton of original ideas in there, and it all hangs together very well.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (2) Faded Glamour by James Mullen
    Exiles from the Faerie Realm make a home in 30′s Hollywood and struggle with dark emotions that constrict the choices the characters can make.

    Reviewed by: Patrick Phelan (1), (65), (62), and (58).

    • Patrick Phelan

      The one thing I love most in games – when I think games are living up to their potential, what makes them unique as storytelling opoprtunities and as fun-having moments – is when the game mechanics are integral to telling the story. I don’t think they could be woven in any more tightly in Faded Glamour; the darker emotions that had your character exiled from the Shining Realm determine your actions, your actions determine how you express those darker emotions, and this lends the whole thing its air of melancholy and low. The stance mechanics weren’t quite clear on the first skim through, but on an actual reading, everything made perfect sense. I like the diceless nature of the rules, and how it focuses the attention strictly on story. This also helped with the setting, the 1930s Hollywood atmospheric bringing up black-and-white noir films, and how perfectly that reflects a seemingly ‘colourless’ world after the joy and brightness of the fairy realm.

      There were only a couple of things I saw out of place, and these are probably casualties of the word count. The first was an issue of clarity about how stances alter after a deal; on rereading, this was my fault, so can be mostly left aside. (It’s still a little unclear – can both parties shift their stances if they so choose? – but more than clear enough to go to print with.) The second is really an issue of tone. In the introduction, it seemed that the Shining Realm exiles chose not to be purged of these negative emotions because the deeper life of accepting pain was more satisfying in the end – however, the ascent the characters seem to strive for is simply a matter of purging these negative emotions and returning to the state of childlike innocence. Is the implication that the experience was worth it, that the purge had to be done personally, or that the exiles probably should have accepted the purge, but were too darn stubborn? Again, likely it was only the word count that left this unclear, but it’s something I’d love to see expanded on.

      If space limitations were no issue, there’s a lot I’d love to see worked in – examples of character creation, more deal and action examples, some light information about 1930s Hollywood and the studio system (with some example studios for the characters to work in), what kind of creatures tend to come from the Shining Realm, and the like – but those would simply be gravy. What’s already here is a fine and splendid game that I fully intend to play with friends in short order. …I must also compliment the fact that the ingredients can all be worked in in a single sentence; the characters forswear their nature and are thereby exiled, tada!

    • Cedric Plante

      Faded Glamour

      I find the stance & deeds very interesting. I like how you create a palette of themes for your character by choosing 4 of them and how you use your stances & deed as a thematic & behaviour matrix to navigate the scenes. As for the stances & deeds themselves, I think they are well chosen, they are broad enough and don’t overlap each other, the deeds are also interesting ways to move things forward and to create connections between characters. I like how the options they give will create and mess up a relationship map. Priority and draws are also a nice touch to push characters forward and they are good flags to underline what interest the players. I also find interesting that the GM stance represent the general mood of the city. The diceless negotiation of actions through the accept / react & fold / deal options seem to work and seem fun to play, again a good to way to move forward the fiction and to get meaningful interactions. Finally I like how the glamour rule provide a end game for the characters by removing stances.

      So I really like the game system when reading it and I would really like to try it in a actual game session to see how it play out and how I would actually appreciate it. But I must admit that the premise of playing exiled brooding Fae in a gloomy noir setting don’t really appeal to me, but this is only a question of personal taste. So I don’t think that I would have the enthusiast needed to animate a game session, but I kind of could be tempted to try the game as a player if approached by a motivated GM who dig the setting and the premise. So I am way more interested by the system then the premise, I admit it a little strange since both are well connected.

      That said the premise and the game system cover well the ingredients of exile, forsworn and nature.

      The text is well presented and pleasant to read.

    • Andy Hauge

      Firstly, this is flat-out the best-designed character conflict mechanic that I’ve seen in a good long while. It’s a blend of subjective character detail and objective mechanics that makes me very, very happy. The premise is cool, too, and it’s in that Fae aspect that the Shakespeare tie comes, presumably. I’m a big fan of White Wolf’s “Changeling: the Lost”, so I’m a sucker for the Fae/Human interactions.

      The centering of the drama around seven basic broken aspects of personality drives the story in very specific directions. I really like this. It’s a strong leading, but it still gives the players plenty of freedom to work with. Even more interesting is the idea of tying Priorities and Draws to your Stances, connecting your character’s emotional outlook to the story and the world as a whole. Finally, the bet/raise conflict system is a really cool idea, and a very strong mechanic.

      There were some problems I had with the game. For one, I couldn’t understand what the motivation was for the Exiles not to start burning Stances with Glamour ASAP. If returning home is as easy as performing three miracles with Glamour (i.e., helping three of their Priorities) then it should be a snap to see them gotten to a happy ending. This rather seems to run counter to the whole feel of the game that was established. I like the Glamour/magic rule, but there doesn’t seem to be a big-enough downside to performing those miracles. I also don’t think the Fae theme is quite strongly-enough tied in…I’m having a rather hard time seeing the Shakespeare influence here.

      That being said, I think that a little reworking could fix both of those problems. I think that the incorporation of the characters’ Fae identities would really help here. Maybe there’s a bunch of families of Fae, and each different type has a specific sort of Glamour magic that they perform, but also a specific level of Sacrifice that the character has to suffer if they no longer have all four Stances. Maybe each type of Fae suffers a different sort of psychological instability as they purge themselves of the Stances, trying to sort out the tension between their world and the mortal world. The core mechanics of this game, however, are very well-designed, and I applaud the creator for such an original concept.

    • Sp4m

      I love role-playing games that encourage bad behavior. As an adult, I fantasize less about warriors and dragons than I do about “acting out.” I think this is why I love the games that challenge players to take actions that are not, strictly speaking “in their best interest.”

      In Faded Glamour, twisted faerie exiles, obsessed with the feeling of negative emotion, struggle to return home, all the while pushing their characters and others across the emotional spectrum. This is a very interesting idea, set under a backdrop of a gritty golden age hollywood backstage.

      The part I had the most trouble with was the layout of the book. It was difficult for me to understand the mechanics of the game without first knowing why they matter. Unfortunately after a coupler read-throughs, I was still unable the description of why you want to shift stances in the first place.My impression is that going through so many mood shifts over time is part of a victory condition.

      This game has a largely structural connection to the theme, and less so a thematic one. I feel like the fairy themes and use of “glamour” were not at all necessary to the world or game play. The game does feature Shakesperean Tropes through gameplay, so that could very well have been all the connection necessary, but the functional connection to fairies is, I feel, tenuous.

      Faded Glamour looks like a hell of a good opportunity to misbehave. With a little clarification ot a flowchart demonstrating the mechanic, it would be a lot easier to understand the author’s intent.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (3) Blood, Love, and Rhetoric by Jeff R.
    A game of intrigue in the court of a Queen as capricious as she is beautiful, in which character sheets are sonnets composed during play.

    Reviewed by: James Mullen (2), (66), (63), and (59).

    • James Mullen

      A good solid introduction sets the scene well for this game, telling you exactly what to expect from it with an economy of words and entices with the promise of writing sonnets during play. The sonnet writing is well supported, using some good co-operative & competitive elements (each player writes down some rhyming words but should then only choose the words written by the other players), as well as the rhetoric table; this is probably the area I’d most like to see developed further, with more suggestions and guidance added in future drafts. Also, you get to play the Queen, which is a strong encouragement to participate and a meaty role for everyone to share, plus you can send courtiers into exile, an excellent inclusion of that ingredient; the use of forsworn is also apt and is a good marriage between rules and narrative, but I’m not sure nature was as well served, feeling like a place was found in the text where the term could be fitted in.

      The board game aspect is a bold inclusion and I’m impressed with the way it is used to direct scenes, but there’s a lot going on at the table (portraying characters, writing sonnets, playing a board game) and I’m afraid that the individual parts, though well executed, suffer from being merged together. It feels like there’s enough raw material here for two or three games! Coupled with the use of so many specialised terms and components for play, it was hard to imagine what a session of the game would actually look like. A series of examples to illustrate each stage of the game and choices to be made would be essential in taking the text any further, but it’s understandable why they aren’t present here, given the word count limitation.

      It looks novel and fun, challenging players to use talents that most other games don’t reach, and it’s certainly something I’d be willing to play, once a greater focus on one of the three main elements is in place; if the board game aspect could be simplified and the sonnet writing promoted to the forefront, this is something I’d happily offer as a convention game.

    • Paul Lyons

      Blood, Love, and Rhetoric is a concept after my own heart. I’m one of the few people I know who has an abiding love of poetry, so while I’m not sure this game has a large target audience, I’m the bull’s-eye. I love the attention paid to reinforcing themes in each line in order to acquire the Nature or Artifice necessary to get currency and push forward. I think that’s a mechanic that’s not required to make the game work, but still makes all the difference.

      A couple difficult spots appeared to me. First is that the set-up of pleasing the Queen feels like a restriction that isn’t advantageous to the game. The sonnet-writing process through play is where the game shines, but it could just as easily serve a variety of scenarios in which multiple people are competing for the same goal. If you want to keep the Shakespearean flavor, it could be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern styled characters meeting with Hamlet; or Romeo’s friends and relatives trying to convince him of how to act on his love for Juliet; or even a situation that does not explicitly contain a third party, the Queen in this case being replaced by natural outcomes – as an example, the players could be faeries playing tricks on a large group of interconnected people.

      The second issue is one I’m not sure has a solution, and, in a way, could be a plus: the learning curve. I’ve played in and run games for players who are chronically indecisive about things like their Aspects in Fate or their Beliefs and Instincts in Burning Wheel. The sonnet lines are, individually, much more throw-away, but combining a general lack of poetic knowledge with indecision could make the process like pulling teeth. This could also make later success after practice very rewarding, but I’d ultimately have to play it with a bunch of people to get a bead on the degree of problems that could crop up. A potential solution to this is that a player could earn less Nature/Artifice in order to recycle a phrase from a list of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Not great, but play could reveal that such a crutch is useful.

      Overall, I’m very interested to test out Blood, Love, and Rhetoric. It’s simple to grasp, but nuanced in execution, even if the text is a little confusing at times. Opening the game up to more possible scenarios could elevate it from attention-grabbing to brilliant. I could even see some very simple campaign rules in which you derive some benefit from the previously written sonnet in the voice of the same character. The fact that I’m eager to plug more pieces into your game says a lot about its success so far as well as its further potential.

    • Mathalus

      I cheated and read James and Paul’s reviews. I completely agree with them.

      Writing sonnets is the best idea for a game, but all this courtier stuff is for the birds. Why are these courtiers writing sonnets while discussing issues of state with the Queen?

      I just want to write awesome poems. Why do we even need to be courtiers? Can’t we just be minstrels trying to get laid? Or maybe we could just be the poems themselves? You mentioned that this came from talking about sonnets as character sheets. Why not get crazy and just let us be self-creating sonnets writing our own lines?

      Or you could make this more of a story game than a straight competition. Why not let the players write four sonnets that describe a single affair? You could collaborate on scenes, and then take pieces of those scenes and incorporate them into lines. Or the other way around. Write lines and then whoever can organically bring them up in the scene gets a narration point. Or something.

      Your explanation of high and low rhetoric is well constructed and introduced into play. You should build an economy entirely focused on that. In a story game you can just reward tokens of narrative control based on criteria that make a good sonnet. In a more competitive game, the goals should still be to write a great sonnet, but maybe you could only allow each person to grab Nature and Artifice from any given definition once to encourage use of all the forms.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (4) Daughters of Exile by Steve Darlington
    Your Father wishes you to marry. You wish to decide for yourself. Cut a path between duty, love and rebellion.

    Reviewed by: Jeff R. (3), Patrick Phelan (1), (64), and (60).

    • Patrick Phelan

      “I thought it would be about how Shakespearean female characters often threaten to step out of gender roles but never actually manage it, and repairing that issue,” I said to my mother, “and it turns out that while it is that, it’s also Blade Runner.”

      What strikes me most vividly, and what I like a lot about this game, is how ripe it is for both tragedy and irony. The Daughters are desperate not just to live but to live on their own terms, but living on their own terms is the one thing they cannot do, which will ratchet up their programming violations until they snap. The sense of longing and needing and being forbidden – of wanting to touch something under glass – is simply redolent in the rules. There’s never any question of the feel it will evoke. The mechanics of automatic success under most circumstances really worked for me. With the question not being ‘can you do it’, but rather ‘will you do it’, the game focuses right where it should; on the Daughters minds, not their bodies or adventures.

      The only thing that bothered me, reading the rules, was that constant problem of exploring a situation where people are trapped by gender roles – the game sometimes seemed to be shooting itself in the foot. The potential for tragedy wouldn’t be nearly so grand otherwise, of course, but the fact that the Daughters’ rebel against “being forced into total submission in an arranged marriage” and end up either “being forced into total submission in a chosen (with hard-to-avoid elements of duress) marriage” or “mad” is particularly bleak. This could, of course, be dealt with by giving the Daughters some way to buy off programming violations… or it could be dealt with by leaving it exactly as it is, because there’s no doubt that the sense of inevitability adds a lot to the atmosphere. On that note, a couple of bits of language, while excellent Lady Macbeth quoting, also seem to imply that to be like the Daughters is to be feminine, and that women really shouldn’t step outside their role, or that stepping outside their role makes them less womanly… It’s a mild moment that makes things slightly difficult – is this simply a simulation of a flawed world, or is the rulebook on the flawed world’s side?

      That said, the simple mechanic (in which the single score is both good and bad) is exceptional, and the game is skillfully and interestingly written, with strong worldbuilding drawing things all the more interestingly,,, in. But the strongest point of this game is by far the atmosphere, and the emotional reaction that it evokes. The sense of tragedy, inevitability, rage and despair at being denied what one deserves… it’s rather like King Lear, if Cordelia was in Lear’s place, and not a crazy person who’s basically wrong to start with.

    • Jeff R.

      Let me start out by saying that I really enjoyed reading this game. The setting is evocatively problematic, the mechanics perform a clever trick of turning something that’s usually a mechanical flaw (death-spirals) into the central dramatic engine of the game, and the text itself is positively dripping with the theme. (I particularly enjoyed the Winter’s Tale gag.)

      In fact, there’s very little that I would want to change in it. The one possible exception is the tone and language: writing a futuristic, sci-fi game in archaic English is a bit dissonant, and if you’re only doing that to provide camouflage for the numerous direct quotes of and allusions to Shakespeare, I’m not sure that it’s worth it. Where I have quibbles here are almost entirely not a matter of disliking what was written, but rather wanting a bit more.

      As I see it, there are two fairly large holes in the explanation of the setting; big questions that I would want answered as a player or need to decide and work out as a GM, and even if they are things that should be left to GM discretion that fact itself, and some of the implications, should probably be mentioned. The smaller of these issues is that of monogamy, and whether it is part of the Daughters’ definition of ‘love’ or even ‘marriage’. Is it possible for the men in this setting to gather harems? If so, would this be desirable or a possible dark fate for them? (If trustable men are such vanishing resource in the world and it is possible to share one, after all..)

      The larger hole, though, is more difficult to work out. Is a Daughter capable of bearing a child? They are certainly manufactured things themselves, but made with biotech of unspecified sophistication, and it certainly goes without saying that ‘Bear a child’ is certainly a talent that a dutiful wife would possess, but there is no mention anywhere of the Grandsons or Granddaughters, and I get the impression that the situations are old enough for them to be around. (Its also possible that in this setting everyone who leaves Earth Orbit is permanently sterilized by radiation or something, although if you’ve got the biotech to create artificial people you could probably get around this.)

      One more very small suggestion/unclarity: the initial text mentions having rebelled against an unhappy marriage as a possible Daughter background, but the rules give no guidelines for dealing with this special case.

      As I said, I find this setting very interesting and that there are a lot of possible stories to tell with it. I would want either answers or at least advice, if these areas are meant to be canonically uncertain, before starting a session.

    • Benjamin Branson

      The worldbuild for Daughters of Exile is magnificent. I love the space opera setting and the feminist perspective; it reads a lot back into Shakespeare’s work in a clever, evocative way. The art and design is gorgeous as well. I have no idea how you did this in a week.

      The most notable areas for refinement are the mechanics. I couldn’t figure out what some of the Curses and Blessings meant: “Learned” is pretty clear, but “Lithe”? Similarly, it wasn’t clear to me how using a virtue could help adjudicate between daughters in case of a conflict. It might help to choose more specific Curses and Blessings for the characters with which people are going to be less familiar; even if we don’t know what Katharine’s virtues mean, we know who Katharine is. Also, though I can see why you didn’t have space here, including a sample game would go a long way toward elucidating what kind of situations might require checks, how checks work, and what sort of role the GM plays in establishing conflicts and stakes for the characters.

      Lastly, the “fey” and the “gods” could use a little more explanation: I couldn’t tell what kind of entities they might be.

      I think the kinds of stories you can tell in this world are great, and with a little more structure, you’ll have something exceptional. As it is, I’d be excited to play this game.

      • dconstructions

        The thing is, for almost everything you list here, the answers were cut because 3K is very very few words! Thanks for the praise though (and the same to all my reviewers)

  • Jonathan Walton

    (5) The Exiles’ Tragedy by C. W. Marshall (tophocles)
    Advance the cause of others in this game / (sans ref, sans dice), thy soul preserved proclaim. / But thou a hero art, and seekest fame…

    Reviewed by: Steve Darlington (4), James Mullen (2), (65), and (61).

    • James Mullen

      An impressive amount of hard work must have gone into producing this in the time allowed; to not only write a game and write it on a theme, including selected ingredients, but to set yourself the additional challenge of writing it entirely in verse form shows commendable ambition. In a contest where you had to write a poem about gaming with a Shakespearean theme, this would be the hands-down, all-out winner.

      The chosen form is an impediment to the material though and deterred me from reading it when it was first posted on the submissions thread. It’s a brilliantly lyrical piece of poetry but that is precisely what obscures the game it contains, leaving too many questions unanswered: how do you choose ratings for your Blade, Policy, Temper and Divine at the start of the game? Where and when is the story set? Why do we have conflicts and what are we trying to achieve? The use of forsworn works well in the rules about the making and breaking of oaths, but the inclusion of the exile and daughter elements is left up to the players, with no support other than the suggestion for using those ingredients.

      This is an amazing piece of writing, but it needs to accompany a version of the rules in plain language; presenting it as an annotated verse, a lost work of the Bard subjected to critical analysis and extrapolation of its meaning, would make it more accessible and provide an opportunity to bake in the ingredients a little more.

    • dconstructions

      Like my fellow reviewer James, I’m impressed at the effort it took to write the entire thing in iambic pentameter, but feel it may have cost too much clarity for little gain. It’s such a huge risk, as well, because if you’re going to do it, you have to get it right, you need to have the perfect tone of the Bard, and there’s no way any of us can compete in that light. I applaud that risk, and that effort, but if you gamble, sometimes you lose.

      However, if you can get past the form, the poetry actually reads well, and swiftly, and avoiding a text book feel is always a good start for any rpg (that’s why I love Supercrew, which is entirely in comic book form). You can read it quickly and learn it quickly, and the rules are simple enough that a few read-overs can clarify what is lost in the rhythm. And there does seem to be something quite clever in here.

      I like the way players basically rank their abilities, and those are winning fights, winning arguments, and effectively hit points. I like that losing each level of hit points means you lose a tagged story idea – that’s brilliant and I am totally stealing it. I didn’t quite get the economy of all the hit points going up and down, and how to work out who wins what – it’s hard enough to remember the purpose of any given scene without all these little mechanics for settling ties. I can also imagine that, even with a reason to be Exiled and a backstory, the players may have no idea at all how to actually frame the first Act’s scenes. This is even more problematic because we know nothing of the Duke and his daughter, and have little reason to care. (Indeed, the game seems more about helping your fellows resolve their Exile – the Duke could perhaps be removed to give it more focus?).

      To sum up: there’s a first rate character generation system here, and some clever mechanics for trading belief and sacrifice in order to win conflicts. That rocks. Unfortunately the mechanics get a bit too confusing while the setting vanishes, leaving those characters somewhat lost in the precise execution of it all. Such is the curse of these hard deadlines – the reach exceeded the grasp, perhaps, and I would be interested to see the solid foundaitons become more focussed, fixed and fleshed out.

    • Joel

      C.W. I won’t lie; I’m in love with the iambic pentameter. It’s entirely appropriate a Shakespearean game, of course, and it’s still really intelligible as a game text. You’ve done a delightful thing here; you’ve made a game that makes me want to play it just so I can read out the instructions aloud to folks.

      I’m trying to clear that love from my head so I can evaluate whether the game rules hold up on their own. It looks like they do–simple, diceless, yet coherent and robust. I like them a lot! The stats and questions are all quite apt and inspiring. You’ve got some intriguing procedural stipulations, such as that NPCs can never speak to each other. Love that one. Structures the roleplaying in a strong yet subtle way. The tension between Conflicts sometimes forcing you to give up something precious, but virtually requiring each player to have at least one Conflict per Act, is a nice bit of pressure. I also like the loser describing victory. It’s a nice balance for a simple conflict system without a lot of options for securing success, and helps support a bittersweet tone to play.

      I struggle a bit with the Conflict system itself. At its core I like it–simple, bold, dramatic–but find myself wishing there was a bit more choice involved. With straight stat comparisons, it means the winner is nearly always certain. Only on a tie, and then only a Hero vs. Hero tie, may either party win. This means a bunch of characters are walking around with their players KNOWING, if they pay attention, which of them will win or lose in any given clash. There is at least the choice of fighting back with the same skill or with Temper, but still. The only stat that appears to rais or lower is Divine (love the Oath system btw); if the others could also change during play it might make conflicts a lot more dynamic and uncertain. I’d also, since giving up a thing to win a tie is so huge, and sometimes you’re FORCED to, against an NPC, like to let players choose which thing to give up, instead of going down a list. Giving up Loyalty FIRST seems especially harsh.

      A note on gender–I started seeing masculine pronouns fly about, and briefly thought “Agh, C.W.’s assuming the players are all men!” Then i reviewed the doc and realized, the *characters* are all men, and the text refers to them. Which makes sense, and it’s entirely appropriate for the game to be about male protagonists. Just wanted you to know it rang some bells.

      If you develop this further, I wouldn’t add a lot. It’s pretty coherent and aesthetically pleasing as it is. By all means, stick with the pentameter. It’s more than just a nod to Shakespeare wonks like me; it’s a wonderful device for conveying tone, which is as much a part of the game as “mechanics.” A bit more description and guidance on the fictional situation might be good, especially about how to conclude: how do you know if you’ve successfully allied with Orsino or Amanda, and which of them has triumphed? If the answer is “you just know, through play, and the outcome of Conflicts,” that’s a legit answer, but make it clear, and let players know what they should be driving for and how. In any case I can’t wait to play this, and I wish you well!

      Peace,
      -Joel

      • C. W. (Toph) Marshall

        I want to thank all my reviewers for taking the time to consider my game. These comments here are very helpful, and will help me as I revise it. Joel, I appreciate the detail of your comments: you are right that giving up loyalty first is harsh (that’s why it’s a tragedy! In a comedy, you might be able to lose your Love, but regain someone else’s.) I’m pleased you think the oath mechanics would work in play. As you sense, it’s possible to avoid ties and win if you want, but that deprotagonizes you (someone else narrates the victory). By having a choice of skills (Temper or X) and so few available, my sense is that ties will be regular.

        So thanks to you all — you’ve given me a lot to think about, and I am very grateful.

    • Joel

      PS I would suggest to my fellow reviewers that they try reading the text aloud!

    • Sp4m

      Not only is the prose excellent, but the organization of the information is completely linear, and functionally understandable. The Exile’s Tragedy gives the opportunity for a group of peers to GM by committee, and all play an equal role in their tale. Very interesting.

      I think the author gives us enough information right out of the gate the understand what they want, and how to play, unfortunately because the author was going for a particular style of presentation it makes the structure more difficult to follow than it NEEDS to be. For example, there is no easy way to flip back to the text to use it as a quick reference. The only improvement I could request is a cheat sheet that provides the rules in a simple table.

      Well Done!

  • Jonathan Walton

    (6) Cardenio’s Daughter, or “Follow the Lady” by Nick Wedig
    One moment, Cardenio is a Duke in exile. Then, he is a college professor. Just as quickly, Cardenio is a foolish rogue. Which is the real world?

    Reviewed by: C. W. Marshall (5), Jeff R. (3), (66), and (62).

    • C. W. (Toph) Marshall

      I really enjoyed reading this game, and am very excited by the prospect of the tightly intertwined narratives. The mechanisms in the game seem to work towards that, and there is a really strong sense that with the right people the game will give exactly the experience described. The idea of the three Ambitions representing rival subconscious desires of the same character in separate worlds is particularly strong, and I can see that this is a mechanism that could be yoinked for other contexts. Then you ramp it up and give each Ambition a world to control in which they do not exert primary power, and from this emerges the sequence of scenes between the three universes. This seems a very rich beginning. The only quibble I had with it is the Fool driving a flaw and self-destructive acts: while it would be a great role to play (my first choice, for sure), I don’t think this corresponds to the Shakespearian fool, who is free to speak wisdom to power.

      The simple use of select cards as tokens is also fun. I like the option for the Daughter to assign randomly or deliberately, and the hint that the choice can be tactical, and there is fun to be had with echoes of Vortigern between the worlds (and kudos on using the name from a pseudo-Shakespearian character for the only principal controlled by no one player). The weakest mechanism in the game as I see it is the soliloquies: it feels arbitrary to let one or none be true, and it’s not clear how one gets from this to eventually Cardenio accepting one. In contrast to the other mechanisms, this lacks the clear focus present in the rest of the game (how often should soliloquies occur? each scene? once every two or three scenes?) —but it’s just a hiccup, because right away you integrate the outcomes with the face-down cards. As for the competition elements, “Exile” seems a bit forced, but that doesn’t weaken the game.

      Can I add that the layout is both beautiful and helpful? I particularly appreciate the 3/4-5 player notations, making it clear which rules apply when. Strong visual presentation is so helpful for making the game comprehensible, and can be underrated.

      So – would I bring this to my table? Absolutely: if I felt surer about the soliloquy mechanism, I could see this producing a great evening’s play. I would choose the short game and keep it to one session, and I don’t know if a longer game spread over multiple sessions would be able to maintain the momentum of creativity. Based only on a read-through, I don’t know how much replayability the game offers, though I think you could pretty easily offer two or three alternate scenarios (skins) of three-worlds-in-collision that would avoid the inevitable repetition of devices already used.

      Toph.

    • Jeff R.

      First, I have to complement you on the beautiful and clear layout of the game, especially the use of the icons, and also on a clear and easy to understand written text. While I’m going to talk more about the mechanics, I like the idea of a three-card-monte resolution system, and the theme is well-expressed, as are the ingredients (even if they are taken in some cases to a very high level of abstraction).

      I’ll start with a minor issue or suggestion: first, in the ‘Creating Cardenio’ section, by my reading of the rules in a three player game only a total of 3 questions get asked, while in a 4 player game that number is 8 and in a five player games it’s 10. This doesn’t seem like enough to make all of the settings specific enough in the 3 player case: perhaps players should be told to go around the table twice or even three times.

      My bigger issue with this game, which admittedly may have more to do with my own play styles than with the text, is that I don’t see what motivates the players during play. I don’t see exactly what each player should want to accomplish during a scene, other than the highest-level “collectively create a set of three interlocking stories” one, and the mechanics of this game are sufficiently, well, game-like that I think that they need game-like motives; a sense in which Ambition players want a specific outcome (Cardenio choosing their card? Cardenio choosing the spade in scenes in their world and anything other than the spade in all others?). The problem is worse for Cardenio’s player, since he has no pre-existing preference between the worlds: my wild stab at a goal for him would be “end the game with no spades on the real world”, but that may not really be sufficient here. And it is at its worst for the Daughter; I have no idea what is supposed to motivate play in that role at all.

      As the game stands, it may be that if followed it would succeed as a story-generative ritual activity, but I think that more work needs to be done on these motivation issues before it would succeed at actually producing fun during play.

    • Cedric Plante

      Cardenio’s daughter

      I like the premise a lot, I am a sucker for alternate and shifting realities. Exploring different versions of a same character is great and intriguing. I also like the idea that we don’t really know until the end witch reality is the “real” one. Oh and I like the concept of the 3 ambitions.

      The resolution system using soliloquies seem interesting, naturally it hard to tell if I would actually like it without giving it a try, but it look fun to play. The outcomes are simples and effective. The jack of spade about things getting weird is very cool. But I wonder a little bit how it affect the game that no positive or negative resolution is prescribed for it. The way I read it is that the outcome should not be clearly negative or positive.

      The endgame is simple and the stake is great (knowing finally witch reality is the real one).

      Would I play the game? Definitively. :)
      But I think I would prefer to play it in 1 session instead of 3. Especially with five players since some roles are maybe a little bit more secondary. I think as a player what I would like best would be to play Cardenio in one world and to control a other world. This give us 3 different interpretations of Cardenio, one from each player, witch I find very interesting.

      The role of the daughter seem intriguing, I think I would like to play her, I get that I can try to favor one reality or some types of outcomes, but I wonder for what I would advocate during the game.

      A other reason why I would like to play the game in 1 session instead of 3 is that Cardenio is a fine character that I appreciate, nothing is wrong with him, but at the same time he don’t especially talk to me or enthusiasm me. There a lot of things already build-in in the setup: the main characters, the 3 worlds and the 3 roles played. I think that I would be more tempted to play it in 3 sessions if the game would give me some tools to let me appropriate a little bit more the game elements during the setup. Like maybe if the game could offer me the option to establish one of those components: establish the main character or the 3 alternate worlds or the roles played in those alternate world. Like the game author keep two of those and give one to the group. That said, I appreciate the setup question during the setup. :) But having a precise prebuild premise and setup like in Lady Blackbird is fine and the way the game is setup with it build-in elements give a good focus and totally work within the game chef constraints.

      Is the game ready to play right now? I think so, I think I have what I need with the game text to give it a try with a group.

      Oh and the game presentation is super well done and inviting, the game text is nice to read. All in all, I super appreciated this game.

    • Paul Lyons

      I really like the interpretation of Shakespeare’s multi-layered plots and the attention to a balance of themes in Cardenio’s Daughter. It’s easy to make a game with Shakespearean STUFF in it, but enforcing theme is exciting.

      A lot of collective storytelling games have softness to them that allows events to simply go wherever without recourse in the mechanic – the next narrator gets to respond in the fiction and that’s that. In this regard, Cardenio’s Daughter is sturdier because of the soliloquies. Cardenio is restricted to a certain motivation and possibly path of action by soliloquies, resulting in true collaboration instead of simply taking turns. I like this, but I think it could be taken further into each scene in order to constrain what events can happen there. Perhaps allow players to reveal their cards mid-scene in order to generate or veto some event. They still make soliloquies as normal, but now Cardenio’s player might know which course of action corresponds to which card. Effectively, players can choose to increase their own control temporarily, and Cardenio gains more control over the final outcome in exchange.

      I think my desire to see a rule like that exposes my biggest complaint: the game feels a little too open. Fun? Sure, it does sound like a good, simple game. But in order to engage the players, I think there needs to be more restrictions and mechanical options; especially if, by the end of the game, you want the three different stories to interlock in a sensible and interesting way. The standout quality of Shakespeare’s multi-layered tales is that these layers interact. Giving some teeth to the mechanic and somehow pushing interaction among the three stories seems to be the next step in creating a rewarding experience.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (7) Star-Crossed Lovers by Jarad Fennell
    A group of suitors woo their brides-to-be, while seeking to impress their future father-in-law.

    Reviewed by: Nick Wedig (6), Steve Darlington (4), Patrick Phelan (1), and (63).

    • Nick Wedig

      Star Cross’d Lovers

      I really like the overall structure of the game, with several suitors seeking spouses and a patriarch seeking successful marriages.

      The “Much Ado about the Shrew” variant suggests a single betrothed, but doesn’t address how the humorous natures are supposed to be reflected in this case. It would seem like any setup with fewer than four children would penalize suitors of a given disposition, which might make the game unfun. And in “Much Ado About the Shrew” that problem would be heightened: one player of a matching temperament would have a large advantage if there is a single available bride-to-be. (You might also consider giving Signor Torregrossa a temperament of his own, and possibly a mother figure or other parental type, thereby limiting down the required number of children and making some decisions more complex.)

      A bigger concern for me though is that I don’t see any place where the fiction and the mechanics interface strongly. The game has a potential to become “parlor narration”, whereby you describe what happens, but your desription doesn’t really have any impact on what happens: just the die roll matters. This has a potential to end up like playing Monopoly while talking in a funny voice. Eventually, the game’s rules overtake the playacting, and the funny voices are dropped. And for a game of winning love and respect, you’d expect the petitioned bride to be or parent to make more judgment calls based on what the suitor did. This can be fixed, though, by having the patriarch give bonuses for describing particularly romantic scenes or convincing promises. The current forswearing rules cover some of this territory but are again very mechanical with little reference to the fiction.

      With some work, though, this could become a solid game.

      • jaradfennell

        Thanks for the comments, Nick! Okay, on to your concerns:

        I imagine that players could modify the number of intended brides as they see fit. What I might add is the caveat that the humorous natures should only be repeated in games with 4+ intended. Also, it was my intent that every character, including Signore Torregrossa, have a nature. The idea of introducing other parental figures is interesting. I’ll have to think about it.

        I will also have to consider the interface between the fiction and the mechanics. Perhaps giving Signore Torregrossa some license to reward or penalize players for good/bad role-playing is warranted. As written, I was worried that the mechanics determined too much of the fiction, so I think it’s a valid point and there should at least be an optional rule which allows the players to influence the die rolls more.

    • dconstructions

      I like this game a lot. It’s well structured both in scenes and acts and combines a fun gaming luck elements with good story results. Luck plays a factor but if games are kept short this shouldn’t matter (and losing can be part of the fun when it makes a story).

      I totally disagree with Nick, I think story and mechanics are very well knit together, since you took the time to specify what kind of things equate to what kinds of die rolls. Plus all of it is nicely summarised at the end. If you could react to story too much, the Patriarch could just be a jerk or it would end up being a game of “who can improvise better”.

      My only problem is I don’t think the humours system is interesting enough to give the characters distinction. It’s not quite enough to just invent names and backgrounds, we could use some examples or guidelines or even random tables. I like that the humours make your personality affect the game but it might be a bit unfair for whoever lucked out by choosing the wrong one for the Patriarch, and thus loses a dice every turn he tries to gain Esteem.

      Small niggles, easily fixed I suspect. I think I’ll give this one a try soon.

      • jaradfennell

        I appreciate the comments, D. You are absolutely right. I should have added more examples and advice for playing out the humours, but… I was already over the word count limit.

        If you do give it a try, please let me know how it goes.

    • Patrick Phelan

      To start with I’m going to apologise for having put this off so long! There’s no excuse. The reason is my particular head-in-sand freaking out about responsibilities. Waffling over, let’s move on to the game!

      To start off with a very simple introduction, I really liked this game. The atmosphere built up readily, likely because of the well-chosen and thriftily out-of-copyright images. I could see the Italian villa, the heady sun, the bare vines waiting for fruit, and those two actors from that one how-to-Shakespeare production I saw in high school, though that might just be me. That made the rest of the game seem comfortable and expected, even the bits about suicide and cuckolding. Speaking of which, from a tactical standpoint, I loved the fact that the players couldn’t simply pour on points and hope to succeed. Trying to impress a girl and her father at once should feel like walking a tightrope.

      I think the game’s pretty complete as it is, and that it is what it is, boxed and defined quite perfectly. I do wonder about the humours – while they make a wonderful period moment and helpfully tie in an ingredient, it seems like a poor choice could ruin a player’s chances through no fault of his own, particularly in Much Ado About The Shrew. Perhaps, spitballing aloud, have a Prologue before the Acts where the suitors can judge the girls’ Natures, and then make their actions to each girl based around a Nature?

      As well, it’s not clear how or if one can ‘switch targets’, and that leads to the possible situation where a suitor targets all his wooing towards one intended, ignoring the Patriarch altogether, and then switches to another on Act V, proudly proclaiming that since both his Esteem and Affection are 0, they are perfectly matched and thus grant wedded bliss. And then all the other players would throw dice at him, but it might be nice to nip it in the bud, rather than rely on dice-based judgement.

      But these are minor matters. The game is very complete on its own and looks like an entirely fun way to spend an afternoon; I hope to find suitable players to run a round before long. Again, I love the atmosphere, the mechanics, and the opportunity for langourous backbiting gossip. Full bars.

      • jaradfennell

        Believe me Patrick, it’s okay! My own week was pretty hectic, and for some reason I thought the deadline was July 31st rather than July 30. I only finished my own reviews this morning. That said, thank you for the feedback.

        You make a salient point about an ill-chosen humour ruining a suitor’s chances and the importance of judging an intended’s nature before paying suit. I imagined this as taking place in the first Act or two, which is where a lot of the player interaction would take place as suitors figured out between them who was best suited for each bride. I can imagine a situation out of Taming of the Shrew, in which Hortensio convinces Petruchio to woo Katherina (who are alike in nature) so that he can pursue her younger sister.

        My intention was that the Patriarch character would never reveal the number of dice he is rolling (perhaps rolling them behind a screen), so the suitors never have any mechanical indication that they are suited or unsuited for a particular bride. They have to guess her nature based on the Patriarch player’s role-playing.

        In general, there should be plenty of discussion between the suitors and the Patriarch about who should be hooking up with whom. That’s the meat of the game.

        And yes, I expected there might be competition between suitors and some switching of targets. You make a valid point about the propensity some players might have of switching intended at the end in order to “win” wedded bliss. To fix it, I would add the rule that a bride’s Affection (even a zero) only counts once the player has attempted at least one Demonstration roll with her. Perhaps I’ll make the threshold for wedded bliss a little narrower as well.

        Thanks again!

    • Mathalus

      Star-Crossed Lovers

      I will be completely honest. While I was first skimming through this game, my eyes started to glaze over a bit. The text seemed tiny and long, though the pictures were nice. A day later I printed it out and was flipping back and forth, trying hard to give your game the attention I thought it deserved. (I think you can move most of your first two pages to the back as advice. The game starts near the end of page 2, with The Suitors & Their Exile).

      So, I’m skimming the text and trying to get excited about the Greek Humors, when… I saw it. The last entry in the first table, “Double suicide.” (Shakespeare Fist PUMP).

      That is awesome. Needless to say, I started reading the game more thoroughly.
      My base nature is that of a powergamer and now I had a challenge. How could increase my chances of such an awesome ending? I was excited to find out that I get to pick my Standing and Passion. (Passion 3, here I come double suicide!). So now I was all set: I can max my rolls by starting low and building up. I’m not required to attempt a Promise, so I won’t run the risk of gaining any Esteem. It’s unlikely that anyone who is taking a balanced approach will be able to overtake my lead for combined Esteem and Affection, so I get to pick my suicide buddy. I guess I only have one question left:

      Why are the other players here? I get the Patriarch’s purpose, but the other players can’t help or hinder me. We all frame our own scenes. I guess they could be in a scene with me, but it will already be me and the Patriarch playing his child. If we have five people playing Star Crossed lovers, 4 of them won’t get to have any narrative control or influence over 75% of it.

      Reducing the children to just one would solve this problem (Much Ado about the Shrew), but it would create another: now the game is a straight competition, but it lacks the strategic breadth or depth to make the competition interesting. And, as the reviewers above point out, there are no rewards for excellent story-telling and no benefit to narration, so it can’t even be a “who can improvise better” contest (which I would have no intrinsic problem enjoying).

      • What advice would you offer to the Patriarch for choosing the natures of his children? Should he make sure he covers the spread, or try to match it to the suitors?

      • The Patriarch narrates failure, who narrates success? (Please say the suitor!)

      • There seems to be little mechanical difference between Passion and Standing. Instead of having them be perfect mechanical synonyms, could they work differently with nature?

      I like the suitor sheet, it is well organized and helpful.

      • jaradfennell

        Thanks for the comments, Mathalus! I understand what you mean about the text being a chore to finish. I handed a copy to my wife, and her comment was, “Uh… Yeah, it looks okay. It reads like a textbook.” I recognize that the text was often redundant, and this was deliberate, since I was trying to be clear about the rules. If I get around to revising the game, the first thing I want to punch up the prose a bit and give it a bit more panache.

        I think it’s cool that you decided to aim for an extreme outcome rather than a balanced one. While a balanced outcome is fine for supporting characters, the really interesting tragic and comedic characters in Shakespeare tend toward the extremes of the spectrum.

        Regarding the other players, I saw the suitors getting together to discuss Signore Torregrossa’s daughters and trying to nudge each other in the direction of one bride or another. If I were to play this game, I would love to see a scene out of Much Ado about Nothing in which the other players trick a character like Benedick into making a demonstration of love to an intended like Beatrice. Or a character like Don John convincing Claudio that Hero was being unfaithful. You are absolutely correct that this kind of player-character meddling should be reflected in the mechanics. Perhaps they could offer a Standing or Passion die as an Esteem or Affection die to help another player cover the stakes of a roll? If the rolling player wins the roll, he gains one Esteem or Affection, will the assisting player gains the other. Or a rival suitor can add to the Patriarch or intended’s roll, gaining a single Esteem or Affection from screwing over their fellow suitor.

        To answer your bullet points:
        I was considering adding a rule that instructs the Patriarch player to assign intended natures to cover the spread. I liked the idea that the person playing Torregrossa could play him as friendly and welcoming to the suitors or hot-headed and suspicious of them, fair or unfair, but I guess something should be done to ensure that the setup itself isn’t unfair.

        Yes, the suitor narrates the outcome of successful rolls.

        I’ll have to think about how to make Passion and Standing more mechanically distinct. Perhaps Passion works better in some way with “hot” natures (sanguine and choleric) while Standing works better with “cold” ones (phlegmatic and melancholic).

        Thanks again!

      • Mathalus

        How do you compete over the same child? That seems like good fodder for a story, but in this game if you don’t get your first pick, you get your second. Is there a way to represent two individuals throwing away time and resources chasing the same girl so they end up worse off in relation to the others?

        The Patriarch doesn’t have to be fair in a Story Game. Now that the game can have an unlimited word length, you could just give advice on how to be mean and how to be nice.

        Maybe you could make the Passion dice “exploding” d6’s, or the Standing dice could be d4+1 to show how reliable they are.

        I think this game is cool. Do you have a thread somewhere to continue discussing it?

      • jaradfennell

        Thanks, man! The distinction between rolling for Passion and Standing has possibilities.

        I’m flattered that you’re interested in the game. I’m tentatively planning to playtest it after GenCon whenever I can get some friends together.

        I have created this thread at the Story Games website for further discussion:

        http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=14837&page=1#Item_4

        This review process has been extremely helpful. Please stop by and comment further when you get the chance. I may take a while for me to revise for a second draft, but I will post updates to the thread.

        Again, thanks for all the feedback!

  • Jonathan Walton

    (8) Return to Canopy Kingdom by Devon J Kelley
    You and your Actor friends have been kicked out of the Canopy Kingdom. Use your unique skills to get back into Court and capture the Princess!

    Reviewed by: Jarad Fennell (7), C. W. Marshall (5), James Mullen (2), and (64).

    • James Mullen

      The strong use of the themes in this game is one of its standout features: there is a judicious and not overly-excessive use of aptly titled stats and resources that reinforce its theatrical inspiration. I’m especially taken with the Comedy & Tragedy mechanics, which neatly cement the rules with the way that scenes are acted out. I can’t resist the temptation to suggest using Othello counters for the Drama points! A good use of the theme of the contest which blends the ingredients neatly into the setting, though perhaps the fate of Princess Kimrey could have more support in future drafts, especially if this was used for campaign play. Some good thought has gone into the support materials provided and I can them facilitating play significantly.

      The only question I have about the game is, why are the acts timed? There is a point in each Act at which the game mechanics bring it to a conclusion, so I’m not sure what the time limits are supposed to add? Other than that though, I can imagine myself sitting down to play this with a group of my friends, or even willing strangers, and there’s enough mileage to drive play for several sessions, into the further adventures and misadventures of the troupe.

      • Devon J Kelley

        I added the timing of the Acts in to give the Actors a sense of urgency, of time running out on them. Since the game is following the model of being a play, I also wanted that in there.

        I honestly have no idea if it’s going to work. Someday I’ll give it a playtest and find out. Thanks for your great feedback!

    • jaradfennell

      If I was going to pitch this game to a group, I would describe it as Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits meets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The premise of this game is fantastic. I love the idea of playing exiled actors working for a foreign kingdom to kidnap a princess. The list of attributes is wonderfully concrete and specific, and reinforces the notion that the player characters are performers utilizing their skills to avenge themselves against the crown that exiled them. I find that the idea of the game centering on a play-within-a-play- players portraying actors who are pretending to be different actors in order to pull off a caper- to be pleasantly Shakespearean, and I thought this year’s ingredients were well-used.

      Okay. Here’s where I confess that I was stumped at times. While reading the rules, I sensed that the various types of dice and points might become confusing or unwieldy in actual play, especially when the game is run online: comedy and tragedy dice for attributes, Drama and Cross points, as well as Popularity. From my reading of the rules, all of these totals change multiple times within a scene. I am not sure I understand why Cross points (while the explanation of the name is clever) are necessary. If the Director runs out of Cross points during a game, does conflict stop? My understanding of the game is that if the Director runs out of Cross points, only the players can give him or her more by spending Drama, but if the Director is unable to mount a challenge by spending Cross points, Actors have no incentive to spend Drama points. The fact that the Director has to spend a Cross point to initiate a conflict and loses a Cross point if he or she loses the challenge seems to indicate that the Director is going to burn through Cross points quickly, and it also sets up a competitive relationship between the Actor and the Director that may be undesirable. I imagine that a clever (or annoying, depending on your perspective) group of Actors could effectively shut down play by starving the Director of Cross points. Granted, the Director starts with a lot of Cross points, but a possible solution would be to eliminate them altogether or allow a base of one die per challenge. I admit that I have not playtested the game, so I don’t know if this is a legitimate concern or not. Perhaps the three hour time limit will obviate the possibility of the Director running out of Cross points.

      I was also curious about how the Director should handle a situation in which an Actor reaches zero Popularity. The text indicates that this Actor “is no longer a part of the story, and walks off the scene, forever.” In a way, this mechanic is marvelously disruptive to the fiction-within-a-fiction that the group is creating: characters don’t just disappear without resolution in classical fiction, and here, they seem to literally walk off stage with little fanfare. I like the way it reminds the group that they’re performing in a game about performance, but I wonder if I’m approaching it in the right spirit. I’m still trying to get a handle on the way Popularity is used conceptually in this game.

      In closing, to the author, please update me on future revisions of this game. I want to play it, and I’m hungry for more information on the setting of the kingdom itself that you hinted at in these pages, but that you don’t have the space (understandably) to develop here. I’m sure this will become a common complaint I’ll make about all the games I review, but I would have really liked more sample setting details (perhaps a lengthier description of the Canopy Kingdom and its rulers, as well as short descriptions of its neighboring realms) and some examples of play. I think a few more details like these are needed to help players generate Connections and consistent Exile stories in Act I.

      Congratulations on writing an excellent game.

      • Devon J Kelley

        Thanks! As far as an Actor walking off the scene forever, I think I wasn’t clear enough, there. If an Actor takes a sword wound that reduces him to 0 Popularity, he could very well die. Or, perhaps he’s wounded so horribly that he’s too ugly for the stage. Or, he is attacked with a witty comment that strikes too deep and he chooses to disappear. I tried to leave it vague enough that the player could decide why the Actor “decided” to no longer pursue his path.

    • C. W. (Toph) Marshall

      Return to Canopy Kingdom is an interesting game: I really like the nature of the world created, which continues to use theatre vocabulary while offering a story that exists entirely in a fantasy kingdom. It’s a fun blend, asking players to immerse themselves in the fiction while recognizing the world of the stage, and it’s particularly clever for RPGs, where we regularly flip between story immersion and game mechanics. We see this in the character stats – where the skills are appropriate to actors rather than the characters they play. That’s good fun – I would love to play a game where Memory and Voice are stats that one wants to have (even if some will think of them as Intelligence and Charisma with a different name). Things like this will really help shape what the players choose to do. The Popularity value straddles both of these worlds, representing both how well known you are in the kingdoms and with the wider audience. I also like the timed acts – it controls the game, and keeps things regulated, though it’s not clear what happens if, for example, the players don’t each have a 7 popularity by the end of two hours. Exile is introduced as something that operates on the narrative level, but is not supported by game mechanics.

      At the core of the game is the conflict mechanic, with the muses and drama points. There are a lot of variables here, and my sense is that it all could be a little tighter. There seem to be many ways to get drama points: doubles, from spent crosses, with popularity, and spending popularity in act III. But there are fewer opportunities to spend them – only when you lose the initial roll or you want to change the dominant muse (and it’s not clear why someone would want to do that – part of the fun is having to narrate a scene as comedy after two or three of tragedy). There will be no shortage of drama points, whereas the cross points, while starting high, will quickly diminish. I think it would help if the rules gave clearer guidance to the Director for how many cross points to spend on a conflict – it looks like matching the player’s dice will mean that the Director will quickly run out. You might streamline things a bit by removing the choice of muse – would it really be any different if someone started with four tragedy points, or two and two? Finally, I left wanting to know more about Mishaps – ones will happen regularly enough that a bit more guidance here would help.

      The conflict between comedy and tragedy in different conflicts will be really interesting – different players will favour one or the other depending on how they like to tell stories, and that could create a very wide-ranging game. Impressive stuff.

      Toph.

      • Devon J Kelley

        I’m a little concerned with how fast the Cross Points will be burned as well, but I couldn’t get a good sense of how fast they’d be used while writing the game. I have a general idea, but it’s going to need a playtest or two to see how it actually works.

        With Drama Points, there are only a couple of uses for them. I wanted them to be a bit more versatile, but didn’t want to bloat them either. I’m sure that, as time and development passes, more ideas will get put in.

        Thanks for your great feedback!

    • Benjamin Branson

      Having the heroes all be actors absolutely tickled me. I love that their attributes are all stage skills–particularly because it implies to me that they’re faking their way through everything, like con men. Sounds like rollicking good fun to me.

      A couple minor comments first: some guidance in the setup might be helpful: what kinds of connections should the actors establish? You imply, though I think you don’t spell out, that these will matter to the story; it would be great to see examples of ways in which the actors and directors can make these connections have impact on the narrative. Also, a quick question about crosses: you say the cross loses a die from its dice pool when it loses. Does that mean the cross now sticks around with some number of dice? What happens when the cross runs out of dice? Is it a powerless NPC, or does it gain them back?

      What I’d most like to see to develop this game is a more fleshed-out world. What is the Canopy Kingdom? Who is Princess Kimrey, and why will kidnapping her affect the King of Canopy Kingdom? What’s the overall feel of the world–swashbuckling Europe? Imperial China? Medieval Persia? I think a little will go a long way here, and you’ve put together a great game already!

      • Devon J Kelley

        Thanks for the feedback!

        Yeah, I can see where there may be some confusion on who to create and how to use them. That’s both a product of me understanding exactly what I was saying and limited word-count that didn’t let me add in any examples. My idea was any person who has strong feelings regarding the Actor, whether they be good or bad. Someone with such a strong emotional connection can’t help but be drawn into the story, whether to help the Actors accomplish their goal, or trying to get in their way.

        For Crosses, they maintain their dice until they have no more dice. They, they are defeated. If the Actor hit them with a Tragic success and decided that they are dead, well, they can’t come back. But, if they were still alive after being defeated, I as the Director, can bring them back into the story by spending more Cross points to give them another dice pool. I really wanted to support those recurring characters and be able to have them suffer multiple defeats and still be a threat. Any lasting injuries are going to hang around, for as long as they are a part of the story.

        I really don’t have a good idea of the Canopy Kingdom, yet. I threw out some loose details, but haven’t thought much else out. I’m definitely going to be working more on this game. I have this vision of the Canopy Kingdom being buildings like the Ewok tree village on the scope of an Elven city, with open air markets on vine ropes strung between great-trees. Lots of fun stuff could happen, there!

  • Jonathan Walton

    (9) Chaucer’s Daughter Lost by Bryan Hansel (Bryan)
    Time-traveling Shakespeare kidnaps Chaucer’s daughter, and as ransom, Chaucer must put down his pen. Help quest for Chaucer’s daughter.

    Reviewed by: Devon J Kelley (8), Nick Wedig (6), Jeff R. (3), and (65).

    • Devon J Kelley

      Let me begin by saying this game is very different from anything I’ve ever played before. It starts off getting me very excited to play in the SETUP section. This game is a play where the actors are the audience in a very explicit way. This game seems very much like a LARP, which is not a bad thing, just different than I first expected. The game is laid out in the text in a very clear way, although I would perhaps look at reordering the discussion of moves. I found it confusing as written, until I got to the moves list, and then went back to the first mention of moves to reread that section.

      I did find it a little confusing when the author mentioned that the players are playing actors playing a Shakespearean play, halfway through the text. That wasn’t clear to me at the beginning of the text, but once I wrapped my head around the idea, I found that I enjoyed the concept of the game even more. I would suggest discussing what the players are going to be doing and what their goals are at the beginning. Their goal is not to save Chaucer’s daughter, but to become famous actors by garnering critic reviews and scores.

      A couple things were unclear to me as presented: I didn’t see what effect the levers and dials had on following Acts or Scenes. The game also seemed to lack a bit of some central, directing authority. I can see this degenerating rapidly into a “too many chiefs, not enough indians” situation. I think that, with some further discussion in the text on those points, this game can excell.

      While I’m excited to play this game, and I think it’s completely playable as it’s presented, I’m sad to say I don’t think I’d be able to convince my game group to try it out, as it is more of a LARP.

    • Nick Wedig

      Chaucer’s Daughter Lost

      This game is really interesting! The setup is somewhere between improvisational theatre, jeepform larp and more familiar roleplaying games. I think that the intersection of these fields could be very fruitful. And it provides some very interesting, very innovative new methods of determining things. The game’s framework is good.

      This draft sometimes doesn’t explain matters as thoroughly as it could. I’m unclear what on the character sheet relates to the actor and what relates to the character (the text seems to sometimes use character and actor interchangeably, which is confusing). The text initially seems to suggest that you are the characters in the play. The idea that you are actors pursuing a goal separate from the characters in the play is good. It can give the players some distance from their characters, which means that they can enjoy things going awry for them. After all, what actor will turn down a good death scene?

      I’m not convinced about the critic being a good setup for scoring. It seems like the critic could easily get invested in the game and score based on having his ‘team’ win rather than on what is best for the game. The distancing of players from Chaucer and company helps a bit with that, but that just means they may be overly invested in the actor layer instead of on the character level.

      All in all, I think that this game is very promising. With some development, it could turn into a really successful game that opens new doors for gaming. (It would also be easy to develop additional roleplaying plays using the same core system. Just make a few more characters and an interesting situation and a few scenes starters.)

    • Jeff R.

      This looks like it would be a lot of fun to play. It establishes a set of characters and scenes that manage to be both strongly evocative and able to be varied during play widely, and all with a remarkable economy of words.

      It could be improved, though, with more clarity and organization, especially on the rules side. I’m left with a large number of minor questions on the rules: When playing with fewer than eight players, are there any ‘forbidden’ pairs of characters (Chaucer and Shakespeare, Dee and the Friar? Or other pairs to minimize the extent to which players are required to dialog with themselves on stage.) How are points awarded for scenes involving all of the players, which can happen on any scene with four or more characters at curtain up, if nobody exits? How exactly is a plot element ever played on a character? (Mentioned in the Act I section, but the only playing of plot elements anywhere else is on scenes as a result of a soliloquy). Does anything particular happen at the end of the game? Do actors whose characters have Exited still gain points for that scene?

      A couple of assorted quibbles on the moves: I’m not sure that all of the dials, especially in the later acts, are really ordered according to ‘intensity’ in any meaningful sense. And I don’t see any value in listing ‘support’ and ‘oppose’ as separate possible moves when you’re defining them as being the same as the other two moves.

      There’s a bigger problem here, though, in terms of goals and motivations during play. With a game like this, you have to worry about three different points of view per player, really: that of the player, that of the actor, and that of the characters. The characters are all strongly-motived, which should drive play quite well during the scenes, but after the scenes things fall apart. What are the goals of the actors? To score the most points? But, by invoking ‘Whose line’ in the critics section, you’ve made it clear that the awarding of points is entirely arbitrary and may vary in order of magnitude from scene to scene, so the this boils down to ‘be in every scene with at least one character’ (and, at least in the four-player game, may very well mean a four-way tie every time) What’s worse, maybe fatally so, is that the main mechanic of the game, the ‘moves’ to pull levers and move dials, along with the Soliloquy plot element additions, do absolutely nothing to support any actor-level goals. With no motivation to do anything other than the pure joy of fiddling with the future, I don’t see anyone really ‘opposing’ or ‘supporting’ anyone else here except by pure accident.

      As I said, this looks like it would be extremely fun to do, but it looks less fun-like-a-game than fun-like-doing-improv, and as an extended improv exercise it looks a little too gamelike and complicated, using an odd form of democratic action to pick the path where pure chance, a ‘host’ deliberately upseting expectations, or cues from an outside audience might better do the job. (Or, of course, you could go the other direction, back to something more game-like and find a way to connect the Moves back to actor- or player-level motivations.)

      • Bryan Hansel

        Thanks for the review for pointing out the motivation issue. That’s an easy fix. I’ll just add that each actor has a type of play that he wants to star in: Comedy, Love Story, Tragedy, etc… That’s already incorporated in the levers and dials.

        I didn’t want to use the term dial for the reason you listed. A dial could turn up the intensity and might in some acts, but I was think of dials as not as what you’d find on modern day electronic appliances, but as dials were thought of back in the good old days. A dial was either the face of a clock or compass. There’s no different intensity based on where the needle points, it’s just a different direction. I need to add that to the text when I reorganize.

    • Sp4m

      Chaucer’s Daughter Lost is a very well organized competitive improv play. Though it provides a lot of structure at first, the game soon gives way to many open ended choices the players can make. I am very interested in this game, and will be sending a copy to my sister, a Youth Drama Teacher.

      I love the idea of levers and dials to control themes and the energy on stage. It provides an interesting between scene action for players. The meta game of players as actors competing for renown is fantastic, and one of the most fun aspects it seems.

      The visualizations produced take a good idea, and make it easy to implement, from explaining the flow of action with a flow-chart, to including printable character sheets, the Author has really made it possible to get an evening of entertainment out of this.

      One note I found missing was an estimated play time. This would really help hosts plan how many nights would have to be scheduled for a complete story.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (10) Durance by Jason Morningstar
    A game about social hierarchy told through the life of a penal colony, using the tools of savagery, desperation, and servility.

    NOTE: [NOT ELIGIBLE FOR RECOMMENDATION]

    Reviewed by: Bryan Hansel (9), Jarad Fennell (7), Steve Darlington (4), and (66).

    • dconstructions

      This is a very solid, very complete, very polished game, above the usual rushed quality of most of these entries (did you take longer, mr morningstar? or are you just that damned good?). In every single aspect, from text to mechanics, it’s neat, it’s economical, it’s well structured and well poised. The language is excellent (“dangerous, impossible and mandatory” will stick with me) and the explanations clear. And since I’m Australian, the setting has particular interest to me.

      I think there could be more guidance in setting scenes and posing questions but the oaths will help with that. I’m not sure why breaking an oath costs you your position though – one would think breaking it is exactly how one would go up in the world. Nor is it clear exactly when an outcome should be in doubt – how much doubt? I’m also not sure it’s entirely fair to let people choose to be tog dog in such a harsh world, although that depends on the gaming group. Finally, while I find the three dice names evocative, there perhaps could be more examples of how to resolve in that regard. If a Marine beats a Lag nearly to death to punish him for disobedience, is that savagery or servility?

      Much of this can be solved by an experienced group all on the same page, of course, but a few examples could go a long way to helping other groups get to that point. Meanwhile, the powerful setting, presented with razor-sharp, blood-soaked intensity makes me want to play. Lovely.

    • Bryan Hansel

      I really wish that Durance was eligible for recommendation, because it’s a solid game that I could play now. The interesting setting blends the social structure from Shakespeare’s plays (contest theme) with the future and adds a dash of penal colony. There’s just enough setting to support the player’s creation of the world, and getting to decide what to cross off the survey, status report is fun. As far as the ingredients, I see exile and forsworn fine, but nature could have been slightly more creatively used. It’s nice not to see daughter in one game that I’m reviewing.

      This is a pretty tight game without many problems that I can see, but I’ll point out a couple that I’d like to see improved. First, if my character is going to drop in status when I break an oath, I want that oath to have real meaning to me, so it should be something that I create. I don’t want the game to lose the exchanging of cards, so that should be for something else not so central to my character. Maybe I missed it, but there’s not a mechanical way for my character to climb the social ladder. He can fall when he breaks the oath, but how does he rise? Building a scene needs just a touch more clarity. How does it or when does it end if there never is an uncertainty? Shouldn’t you be framing it in a way that causes an uncertainty? Last, in setting up a scene, I feel like some characters might get skipped.

      I think this is playable as is. To improve it, I think you need to first add a mechanical way for the characters to climb the ladder. Then figure out a way so a character doesn’t get skipped in a question. And while not a deal breaker for me, I’d like to set my character’s oath. It’d be fun if you included a list of oaths.

    • Paul Lyons

      Everything about Durance works. From world and character creation to play, there is a very good balance of shared authorship and punctuations of individual choice. I love that kind of design for a restricted scenario.

      The best of these working parts is the dice mechanic/resolution system. It’s simple, bold, and directly enforces the themes of the game. I would like to see this system a little bit more game-able, though. Some kind of benefit for different character types when a certain die goes locked or unlocked, that kind of thing. But it works well without it. It’s just so good that I want to see more of the game aligned around this process.

      The worst of the working parts is the oath system. Especially in a game based around desperate circumstances and corruption, I’d much rather see oaths that drive players to action instead of avoiding outcomes. This seems to make the director’s job much more about screwing with other players and seeing how they can force characters into lose-lose situations. I get that this prison planet is a place where almost everyone loses, but that always creates a downward spiral instead of a story that engages people’s emotions and has any kind of dynamic conflict and resolution. The oaths don’t appear to outright ruin the game, but they appear to be designed more to hamper it than to help it.

      If you’re insistent on keeping oaths as they are, I’d consider adding some kind of reward-able, positive sub-goals to each oath in order to bring more action and success scenarios into the proceedings. Perhaps completing two or three sub-goals buys off that oath.

      Altogether, I dig it and would like to play it. And I like the hard twist on Shakespearean politics.

    • jaradfennell

      When I finished this game, it reminded me of something Peter Adkison wrote about the rpg Everway (I’m paraphrasing), “The game would have been a success if I could have included Jonathan Tweet with every box.” What I mean to say is that I really, really like the idea of Durance, and I’m excited by its potential, but I don’t know anyone personally (least of all me) who could do it justice as it is written. I wish Jason Morningstar came with the pdf.
      The opening is very dramatic, and the description of the colonial society ladder conveys a rich and coherent vision of the setting. The ladder itself recalls the concept of the Great Chain of Being that dominated Christian thought during the Elizabethan period and the colonial subject matter is appropriate to the theme for this year’s Game Chef. The game’s use of three of the four ingredients (exile, forsworn, nature) is innovative. The process by which the players create the colony, establish their characters, frame scenes, and resolve uncertainty is clear and I love how the Servility, Savagery, and Desperation dice establish the tone of the resolution. There’s also a neat mechanic which allows for a random disruptive event to occur in the case that two or more of the dice tie. Having recently watched PBS’ reality television show Colonial House, this mechanic reminded me that the transformative and completely unannounced arrival of goods, officials, and new colonists were part of life in the New World.
      To conclude, I’m not sure what else I want from the game, but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something. I’m having a hard time imagining a scenario of Durance as having a classical plot structure with an identifiable beginning, middle crisis-point, and end resolution. And perhaps it isn’t meant to be structured that way. It could be that the inability of a group to find closure, to return again to the beginning, reflects the experience of characters in exile that by definition can do anything they want but return home again. Finding pleasure in that experience sounds challenging, but I’m intrigued all the same. With the right group, open to the idea of playing characters adrift among the stars that are trying to recreate the society they are familiar with using unreliable tools, this game could be more than fun; it could be revelatory.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (11) Poor Players by Edward Einhorn
    A game of Shakespeare production most threadbare. The Bard Off-Off Broadway. Can you garner good reviews, or at least avoid bankruptcy?

    Reviewed by: Jason Morningstar (10), Devon J Kelley (8), C. W. Marshall (5), and Patrick Phelan (1).

    • Devon J Kelley

      I started out very excited for this game. The beginning made me smile and really piqued my interest for the rest of the game. The in-character writing of the game was a delight to read and the game direction was very easy to understand. I had a very clear picture of what the game was about and how it would play out after reading just a little of it.

      The theme was obvious, as you’re putting on a Shakespeare play. However, the ingredients seemed a bit forced and I only noted two of them. After looking at it closer, I saw the third, but like the others, it was slipped in without any real meaning.

      This game is rolling dice and referencing charts. The planning and money management make me giggle inside, and I do think I’d have fun playing this game, once. I really don’t see that it supports playing as a group, at all. I do think that, with some additional thought, this could be modified for group play. Perhaps have different players play roles such as Casting Director, Fundraising Supervisor, etc, and giving them each abilities to do during the different turns would be fun. Especially if it created all kinds of fun havoc when something went wrong for one of them.

      I think this is an exciting idea and am interested in seeing where it goes from here.

    • Jonathan Walton

      This is Jason’s review, which he had trouble posting:

      This game is written in an ascerbic and engaging style – I get the
      feeling the author knows of what he speaks from bitter experience. The
      events are well crafted and funny, the game’s sequence and mechanics
      have a brutal logic to them.

      It’s funny, because I feel like I’m the most free-wheeling proponent
      of “a roleplaying game is what you say it is”, and I’m inclined here
      to say “This isn’t a roleplaying game”. I won’t, quite, but Poor
      Players does lack certain reliable hallmarks, like characters and
      conflict. As a game it holds together, although I have no idea if the
      math works (this isn’t really a problem for a Game Chef game, it can
      always be refined). It reads like a regimented exercise and there’s no
      obvious place for interesting emergent factors to show up and enrich
      the experience. You make choices, things happen, those things impact
      your bottom line and you move on to the next choice. I may be
      completely missing something.

    • C. W. (Toph) Marshall

      I didn’t quite know what to think of Poor Players on a first reading, and so I ran a playtest with my son and a friend of his (aged 11 and 12). The game lasted for just over an hour and we had much more fun than I expected. The final scores were:

      Player 1, me (experimental Pericles in the Park) Art 24, Rep 27, Cash 5.
      Player 2, who won (traditional Macbeth in a Festival) Art 15, Rep 16, Cash 30.
      Player 3 (conceptual Tempest in Theatre) Art 7, Rep 1, Cash 1.

      It’s not really clear how much any of our choices really affected results, but the ups and downs of amateur theatre production were clear. The elements of play choice felt very arbitrary. The DoD mattered more than Popularity, and the Casting felt really fiddly. I liked the review mechanism (and felt good when the NYT came to see my play) but the rise in reputation that came from that came so late that it didn’t have a big effect on final scores. As you refine the game, I would suggest allowing reviews to come out week 7 (or even a preview in the last week of rehearsals, week 6). I also think some of the costs and rewards need tuning: to be strategic, next time I would pay a stipend and use the park, as donations exceed what you get from being in a co-production (this does not correlate to my experience in the theatre, too).

      Certainly, I think the game gives a fun virtual experience of play production, even if it’s not a traditional RPG or story game. It works as a solo game, and (as claimed) it could be played with a very large number if the rules were laid out more clearly. I think you could reformat the game so that it works more like a flowchart, with the relevant tables at the relevant turns, and even have ten boxes on the sheet so that you don’t lose track of the turn you are on. It would also help if things were phrased in terms of 11 turns, with a “turn zero” spelled out the same step-by-step way, as decisions get made about the type of production to be undertaken.

      On a few of the charts, decisions need to be made before the role (e.g. on press bookings, whether you have a press agent); on rehearsal results, though, we wanted to make a choice after the result – making the decision midweek, as it were, as to whether we hold and pay for extra rehearsals to up the artistic gain. Perhaps this needs clarification (whether you want to allow such decisions or not). It also wasn’t clear to me how in the fundraising phase you can have a reputation above 5 (let alone above 15 for a +3 bonus to the roll). Again, this is just a matter of tuning, I feel. (also, I’d remove the 126 dollars in fundraising – it’s a funny joke, once, but it makes the rest of your math harder than it needs to be).

      We enjoyed playing, and the arbitrariness of amateur theatre did come through. I would have liked to feel more attached to the particular play I had chosen, but it is a game we would consider playing again.

      Toph

      • Edward Einhorn

        Thank you so much for your account of the playtesting. It was very interesting to me to hear about your experience and what did/didn’t work for you. I really appreciate your taking the time and found all the feedback very useful. I glad you enjoyed yourself.

    • Patrick Phelan

      As I said to Jared Fennell above, to start with I’m going to apologise for having put this off so long! There’s no excuse. The reason is my particular head-in-sand freaking out about responsibilities. Waffling over, let’s move on to the game!

      This is one of those games that I enjoyed just reading. The dry wit with a tinge of absurdism ran just to my taste, and was perfectly executed. From my sadly lacking experience in the theatre, I was nodding along, chuckling, enjoying the relevance. It’s not easy to make writing both clear and a joy to read, and this game did it marvelously.

      I’m going to break the suggested structure of “compliments, then constructive criticism, then conclusion”, because three reviews later it’s all too obvious whence my constructive criticism is coming from. And it’s very nearly just unfair, given how easily it can be summed up as “the game wasn’t what I was expecting”. I think I could easily play it and enjoy it, even more than once to quite often – hell, I fully intend to. But I do think that with a little more interactivity from stage to stage, a more enjoyable variant could come up. With more time and no pressing word limit, I’d recommend a slight expansion of the current system, and a variant to play alongside it – where a group, perhaps, works together on a production, and either has some benefit system to influence rolls or simply has a GM looking over them. Sometime you want a drag race, and sometimes you want a rally, after all.

      But it seems truly presumptuous to say “I’d like this game more if it wasn’t this game, but it was another game”. Judging it on the game it is, the worst one can say is that it lacks replay value, and that it took me a while to note that you only roll on the Nature table if you’re playing in the park, which probably says a lot more about me than it does about the game. The writing is phenomenal, the situation evocative, the rolls well-balanced and the humour perfectly timed. For what it is, it’s extremely entertaining just to read, and by all accounts all the more so to play. While I must admit that I would like this game more if it was another game (based very strongly around this game), the PDF will likely stay in my RPG folder long after ones I’ve paid for have been deleted to make room for another hi-definition rerelease of the Avatar: the Last Airbender cartoon series. And there’s little more to say than that.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (12) The Daughter of Padua (+sheet) by Daniel McKenna
    The richest man in Padua’s only daughter must be married in 1 year, she chooses the groom. A storytelling game for 1 Daughter and 2+ Grooms.

    Reviewed by: Edward Einhorn (11), Bryan Hansel (9), Nick Wedig (6), and James Mullen (2).

    • James Mullen

      The use of a clear Shakespearean archetype makes it easy to visualise what this game would be like from the first page and the ‘daughter’ ingredient has inspired an engaging storyline. I like the setting, particularly the use of the changing seasons: I’d love to see this aspect expanded upon, with seasonal weather or festivals being used to underline the scene changes. The interplay of authority over mechanics & narration creates an interesting dynamic for the game, which rewards active participation in scenes where your character is not in the spotlight; a tight and efficient game package created in a scant amount of time.

      The aim of the game is well supported by its rules, and the Daughter as judge of the Suitors’ actions fits the intent nicely, but some of the mechanics seem to be a remix of components from other games, where I would have liked to see something completely original. I also wasn’t sure how or why one of the Suitors could die; perhaps being a Brother is a role that one or more players could choose at the start of a larger game, with their own prize for winning?

      Overall, this is a game I can see myself playing on a number of occasions, and producing a lot of merriment.

    • Nick Wedig

      Daughter of Padua

      Hey, a romance game, where several suitors vie for the affections of one eligible lady. A classic setup, giving plenty of conflict and interaction without requiring overt combat or action or traditional geeky tropes. (Still relevant in our geeky circles, though: a simple reskinning could give you Tenchi Muyo or Archie.) I also like some of the ideas of the game, like “a series of scenes, one for each season”. Or that a character who dies can enter and play a jealous brother back in town. Those are good ideas, though both need thought through more. The season thing is basically a throwaway line, while the brother’s interactions could be really problematic for the game.

      I have a few minor quibbles. (Oaths don’t seem to do much. The information probably would have worked better presented in a different order. Quipping isn’t really to the advantage of other suitors.) But the real qualms I have about the game come in the role that secrets play in it. In my experience, players keeping secrets from other players is rarely fun in a tabletop game. Characters keeping secrets can be fun, but I as player need to know your secret so that I can make it relevant to what I’m saying and doing. In particular, the way this game is set up it actively discourages revealing your secrets: if a brother guesses your secret, you’re heavily penalized. That encourages me to clam up and never hint at the facts that only I know, which means that no one else will have a chance to learn about them and bring them into play. If you’re going to have secrets in the game, you want to incentivize revealing of secrets, not hiding your secrets. (Incentivizing revealing secrets would require reworking how the brother works, but that can be dealt with.)

      The Daughter is a bit of a different case, as she has secrets for a reason, and the suitors trying to guess her secret likes and dislikes is the core of the game. But the suitors keeping secrets from one another doesn’t seem like it adds as much to the game as it causes problems.

      I really do think that this game has some potential to be a really great game one day. But it won’t get to be that great game without some careful thought about what behavior you want to reward and how you want information to flow.

    • Edward Einhorn

      I enjoyed the concept of the game a lot–the multiple suitors seemed very appropriate for the theme and a fun role playing idea. I was less certain about the mechanics–some things, like the death of a suitor or even the full concept behind the Brother characters seemed unexplained. I wasn’t sure I would feel confident sitting and playing it, as is.

      However, with revision and refinement, I think it would be quite entertaining.

    • Bryan Hansel

      The Daughter of Padua is about duel suitors competing for the daughter’s affection and eventually her hand in marriage. Right from the start I liked the game’s premise. Sort of like a competitive version of Breaking the Ice. I think there’s potential for an interesting game here. I particularly like the set up of the suitor. He has a secret oath, and additional secrets, that could be exposed during play. Overall, the game feels Shakespearey. It uses daughter, foresworn and nature well. I like the use of nature as human nature instead of tree-hugging nature.

      Here’s my biggest concern: It seems like it’d be easy to come up with a totally random, outlandish and bizarre action in a Romantic Scene that there’s no way it’d be on the daughter’s nature list, so how would she have to reward it. The example natures seem to describe part of her nature that she can’t stand, so as long as I don’t hit that in a Romantic Scene, I should get a smile. I see a hard time not getting a smile because of that. Because the game is so specific about that, I feel like I’d need to be working with a game defined list of potential parts of her nature to try to play to. My second: the dice seem very arbitrary. Dump them because you don’t need them. A third suggestion: the person playing the daughter doesn’t really do much. Since, it doesn’t seem likely that any character would die during the game, why not have her player also play the jealous brother.

      I think there’s potential her for a good romantic competitive game if you solve the daughter’s nature list issue. It’d be a guessing game – a bit like battleship – but it makes it far less random.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (13) Blood Tragedy by Timothy Ferguson
    A game about dying in a tragic bloodbath, Hamlet-style.

    Reviewed by: Daniel McKenna (12), Jason Morningstar (10), Jarad Fennell (7), and Jeff R. (3).

    • Jason Morningstar

      For BLOOD TRAGEDY, #13

      Blood Tragedy seems assured; it’s certainly confident enough to leave
      many important decisions in the hands of the players. Where there are
      likely edge cases (twoplayers taking the same role, for example) it
      calls them out with an efficient resolution. I like the
      predestination, which strongly guides play along the arc the game sets
      up.

      I worry about the freeform middle section, where there are some
      dependencies that a little structure might help address. “Everybody
      must be challenged” puts a burden on the players without any mechanism
      for helping them carry it. This will work – with the right players.
      Since this is out of your individual control, with the wrong players
      it may falter.

      I’m not sure why scene framing precedence requires randomness, and
      fighting over how the scene is to be framed seems like putting the
      social emphasis in the wrong place. Why not grant absolute authority
      over framing and then break that once it is established?

      The framing and control of plot elements seems needlessly fussy to me.
      You’re giving lots of authority in other areas, why not follow through
      on that impulse? The point totals and scoring seem a little arbitrary,
      but this is an area where testing will tell. I could be wrong.

      This rule: “If a player character is in a scene, but says less than
      six lines, it really is stage dressing, and loses 1 Nature.” is really
      splendid.

      Overall I like this and would love to see it developed further. It’s
      my kind of game!

    • dmckenna

      Blood Tragedy. Okay, definitely going for a Tragedy here. That seems Shakespearean. Like all good tragedies we know that most everyone is going to die by the end. Everyone decides how they will die ahead of time. I really like this angle. It’s neat to decide what your ending is going to be and steer events towards it.

      Reading on I see that characters can “dominate” a scene and this gives the player more control over the framing of the game. At first I was really turned off with the idea of scoring in each scene. “Get your points outta my rpg”, I thought to myself. That was a gut reaction and the idea of earning points did grow on me as I read on, but that initial reaction is something to keep in mind.

      I’m torn over the Exile and Soliloquy rules. I really like the way that a soliloquy as been worked into the normal play of the game. It’s very Shakespearean. What I really don’t like is that a player can be “written out” of the game until the last act. That just doesn’t agree with me. I’d like to find some way to keep them included during the down time. In practice this might not be an issue at all, but it’s definitely a place where I could see myself adding a house rule.

      I like the level of freedom that you are trying to give the players. In some games I think everyone will know exactly where they want to take things, but there isn’t much to fall back on if players get stuck. For this reason I think it might be nice to have some kind of central plot element that helps carry the plot forward.

      I think it might be interesting to experiment with giving the different roles (rules, servant, etc.) different narrative powers that they could use at the cost of nature.

      Overall, an interesting game. I think there is a lot of potential for a great game of tragedies to be made of it. With some expansion and tweaks to the mid-game to help push players along and some more attention given to the scoring rules and I think you will be on to something good with Blood Tragedy.

      • Timothy

        Hi, just a note on your reivew…

        Loss of all nature puts a character, not player, out of the game until the final scene. Every player canclaim anyNPC and speak through them, so the player can still influence the story.

    • Jeff R.

      This is a very successful first stab (as it were) at a fun-sounding game of Shakespearean tragedy and massacre. I like the simplicity of the mechanics and ritual, and see the contest theme strongly expressed through the game.

      There are some areas where I can see room for improvement, however. Right now, the document reads a bit jargon-heavy, especially in the early going and most specifically in the last paragraph of the introduction, and some of that jargon isn’t as clearly defined as it ought to be. You give lists of possible Crises and Roles, but the more important ones to the process of play, like Natures or Plot Elements, don’t have those kinds of lists. I think that a Plot Element could be anything from an army on the borders to a secret royal bastard to a stolen signet ring, but with only a single example given, that range doesn’t come across. Also, I really dislike the ‘forsworn’ rule, which seems to be saying to me “If you break the rules of the game you can’t win or have any more fun, but you have to keep playing anyway.” I’d rather do away with that and assume good faith.

      There is one problem I can see with the mechanics, which, as I said before, are praiseworthy in their simplicity, but that can be a problem as well as a virtue, since they are also very transparent and very symmetrical. My concern is that the outcome of the game will be too predictable once the beginning of the final act arrives. I wonder if you couldn’t insert more uncertainty into the resolution without complicating the rules by making the chosen character deaths secret until the very end of the game (just before the epilogue). You may also need to as a “I will kill someone with this method before I go” second piece of hidden information to help motivate players to kill people other than themselves in more interesting ways if you do this.

      In conclusion, this looks like a playable basic design that opens some fruitful new areas of play by inverting standard gaming assumptions about character death, and if you decide to develop it further, I’d be interested in seeing how it turns out.

    • jaradfennell

      In this game the characters are, to appropriate a quote from Macbeth, walking shadows, slated to die from the beginning. Writing a tragic role-playing game is an ambitious concept, and one I enthusiastically embrace. I was one of those few gamers that enjoyed White Wolf’s original Wraith game, and so I like the idea of a game in which players compete to kill their own characters in eccentric ways. What I enjoyed about Blood Tragedy in particular was how I could imagine recreating epic deaths from Shakespeare’s tragedies: Chiron and Demetrius baked into a pie, Macbeth beheaded by a man not “of woman born,” Cleopatra bitten by the asp.
      However, the description of actual game-play was a bit rough. This might be alleviated by introducing a list of game terminology early in the text (explaining “crisis,” “duty,” “plot element” and the role of each in the game). The description of the Five Acts established a structure for the game, but I wasn’t sure how play progressed within and between the Acts. For example, in the First Act, do players simply establish an overall plan for their characters? Or do the players frame scenes and roll dice in Act One as well? By “plan,” does the author mean the description of how a given character is going to die, or how he or she plans to overcome the crisis? Are the other players trying to foil plans for each other’s death, or are they trying to foil each other’s plans to overcome the crisis? I was puzzled by the frequent use of the term Plot Element in the mechanics before it had been explained, but I loved the idea that a given Plot Element could be “held” so that it accrued in value, but that it had to be used before the end of the story or it became a drag on a player’s final score. I think that’s one of the most exciting details of the game.
      I like this game. It’s short and sweet, the Nature and Plot Element rules are simple and effective, and the game would be a hoot if played in a group with a healthy attitude toward character death. With a bit of reorganization, clarification, and maybe the introduction of a few graphics, this would be a superb rule set.

    • dconstructions

      Blood Tragedy is interesting. It’s a competitive storygame that seems like it could be played very quickly. I like the idea of trying to kill yourself, and nice strict acts, in these regards it reads a lot like a theatresports game (and you’d need that kind of creativity to keep the momentum going). Unlike theatresports, however, it rewards blocking, because you win by denying your fellow players a way to die, or to die as they wished, or to get a word in edegways in a scene, or to not have their plans confounded. Some of these can be broken with die rolls, but since losers lose the stat they add to these, I can see a downward spiral leading to not much fun. I could be misunderstanding the rules though, I had a bit of trouble pushing through the middle.

      I really like the concept of this, especially the idea that the setting and characters are disposable but the act structure is inescapable, and the inclusion of a simple scoring mechanism to build a winner, but the execution isn’t quite there.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (14) The Daughters of Verona by Wilhelm Person
    A storygame of Shakespearean comedy.

    Reviewed by: Timothy Ferguson (13), Edward Einhorn (11), Devon J Kelley (8), and Steve Darlington (4).

    • Devon J Kelley

      This game seems to be very solid. The Shakespearean theme does come through during game play, but not many of the ingredients do. However, I don’t have a problem with that, at all. The game is written generically enough that you could tell any number of stories with it. The introductory “adventure”, if you can call it that, is written with the ingredients, and looks like fun.

      The Daughter’s of Verona is well put together and well written, if a little dry. The cards add interesting scenes and twists and turns. I don’t think I’d have any trouble convincing my game group to give this game a play through, and the set up seems to be minimal. This game would work great in a pick up slot, or sitting around the table after dinner.

      With a game set up like this, I would normally complain that it could degenerate into a yelling match, but with the Soliloquy mechanic, I don’t think that would be a problem at all. This seems like a fun exercise in roleplaying and building a story.

    • Timothy

      There’s a lot to like about this game. I like the way the game uses cards to create a game space, or perhaps a ritual space. I like that the players use stage directions to move their characters into and out of the action.

      My areas for improvement, or perhaps simply my areas of inexperience with this form of game, are three. I can’t see a dispute resolution mechanic for if the Fool wants to throw an egg at my Lover and I do not want him to. Even if the mechanic is that all the players have veto on all incidents, which is fine, I didn’t see that stated explicitly. As I say, I may have missed it.

      The other point is that I’m not seeing the Path to Fun for people working their Blockers hard, or even the Fool. The Win is in the bag, according to the act structure.

      If sililoquies are going to be rare, then there should be a limit on them. If not, call them “asides.” IMO, because I think you’ll get a lot of short ones.

      Not so much an area of improvmeent as an area for development if the game is polished after Game Chef: I’d like variable decks of cards, perhaps with different settings or genres on them.

      The game was an interesting read, and I can see it would be fun to play. Thank you for developing it.

    • dconstructions

      I think it’s good we’re more and more blending true roleplaying games with “story-engines” but on the other hand, one isn’t quite the other, although when it comes down to it, it could be hard to separate them. Which is to say I think this is an excellent story-engine or idea factory, if perhaps not a great roleplaying game.

      Random characters are dealt from a beautiful deck (names are often the hardest in games, so I like this); random scenes must be chosen, in random locations. So far, it seems like a Shakespearean twist on the excellent game Once Upon A Time. Then somehow, a scene occurs. This is great if you are a writer or a genius at improv but since the characters have no given attributes apart from their role in the play, I can see a lot of these scenes just ending in stupefaction. Yes, characters are assigned roles but this doesn’t give you much inspiration for an individual scene – and is also just supposed to happen with discussion. Extensive notes are provided on structure and format of a comedy, but notes aren’t the sames as tools.

      I can imagine Will Shakespeare himself using this engine – sitting down and pulling out characters, some scenes, drawing some lines and following his strict rules of act design and comedy resolution. It is possible this game fell through a time warp and Shakespeare DID use it. But while I might use it to generate a story ala Once Upon a Time, I can’t see it engendering much roleplaying, and to me, that seems a weakness.

      I’m keeping the cards though. Oh yes. Love the cards.

    • Edward Einhorn

      I enjoy storytelling games a lot, and this is definitely of that genre. Which seems slightly different than role playing, but that may be a quibble. The basic ideas–The Lovers, the Fool, etc are clever, and I liked the riff about what constitutes humor.

      However, this game seemed like, as it stood, it would be hard to engage in. The cards are interesting but limited, and the rules a bit nebulous. I would love to see this developed more.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (15) My Daughter, The Queen of France by Daniel Wood
    Shakespeare has become estranged from his only daughter; with the help of his friends, he tries to direct a play discovering why.

    Reviewed by: Wilhelm Person (14), Daniel McKenna (12), Bryan Hansel (9), and C. W. Marshall (5).

    • Wilhelm

      I read this game yesterday, and now I have had some time to think it over.

      The cool stuff:
      * I think the idea of revisiting scenes over and over is very neat. I can see that being much fun in actual play.
      * I am fond of the idea of layers of playing as well, first everyone plays the friends, and then the friends in turn play roles. I think that could open up for bolder acting, thanks to more levels of separation between the player and the actual role.
      * The questions for the father and the friends are very good and probing. I think much fun can come out of them, when everyone does what is “obvious”.

      The stuff I would consider revising:
      * The endgame. There is no way to actually change the way that the fact that the daughter is estranged. I think it would leave the players more satisfied if the game left a hint of them reuniting again at some point in the future. At least if the father gained some insight thanks to the acting/discussions with his friends. Something inside me wants the game to be a comedy, and not a tragedy. :-)
      * “Their/they”. I saw this in another game as well, so I guess it is the new hot thing to do. But when I read “their” and “they” it translates to several people. I was sent on a wild goose chase through the game to find how many people there actually were in the collective that played the father. Maybe people who are native speakers are not bothered by it, but for me it was a problem.
      * The name/theme. Shakespeare feels very much like the wrong theme for the game. If you go ahead and polish the game after the competition I suggest you find a better name or theme.

      I want to play this game.

    • dmckenna

      Very nice and simple format. It’s unfair of me to take that into consideration, but I do. It’s just more enjoyable for me to read when some thought has been put into the presentation.

      Let’s get to the meat of it. Right from the start I’m interested. I like the idea of a father going over the minutia of where he went wrong with his daughter. There is room to explore. I also like that it really comes off more like it’s his friends analyzing what happened and telling him the truth of it rather than the fiction he has built for himself over the years.

      System wise, I don’t really have any complaints. It looks like it should work with a minimum of fuss and do what it sets out to do. I think there could be a little more room for throwing curve balls at the players, but it otherwise looks solid to me. I think I would need to sit down and play it with some friends to know if there are any spots that need more attention.

      The biggest, possibly only, problem I see with this game is that I’m not feeling the Shakespeare. Sure, Shakespeare is in it, but as is noted in the game he could easily be replaced with anyone. This game could just as easily be a post-mortem of a messy breakup. I’m by no means a Shakespeare expert, but this kind of examination of one’s life just doesn’t feel like Shakespeare. Maybe one or two of Hamlet’s soliloquies are as introspective, but that’s it.

      I think you’ve hit on something good here. Replaying events and looking at them from different angles could work with so many different stories. I’d love to see this idea taken and applied to a variety of tales. I’m also strangely reminded of the film Big Fish and the novel Ireland. Both are stories about father’s trying to relate to their estranged children (sons in this case). The difference is that they try to do it through their own fictions. I think that’s an angle that really could have really brought Shakespeare into this story. If, after all the introspection, he writes a final play which is played out in a similar way as the other scenes with the players building off his ideas. It could be his final attempt at reconciliation or maybe just something for the daughter to find one day after he has died.maybe just something for the daughter to find one day after he has died.

    • C. W. (Toph) Marshall

      There’s a lot to be excited about in this game. The notion of revisiting particular scenes time and again allows a Rashomon-type experience, introducing conflicting realities, and I’ve not seen that in a game before (though it’s something that I’ve seen in improv theatre). The growth of Certainties as each scene gets redone is a great mechanical effect as elements of the truth emerge with increased clarity, while still allowing continual variations (in that respect, I’m not sure what is gained by allowing Shakespeare to revoke certainties in the optional rule on p. 6). I also like that the first scene is the last chronologically. That creates echoes of Pulp Fiction, but also (since it is a premise that this is the last thing in the story) to things like Highlander, where events in the past cause resonances that continue to be played out today. Both of these things are narrative techniques that I would like to incorporate into my own gaming experience. Exciting stuff. I also like (in the supplementary material) your awareness of how portable this game is: that it is not fundamentally about Shakespeare. That self-awareness points to the rich possibilities the game offers: it made me think of Merlin in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, who lives his life backwards: the game would offer Merlin’s perspective, with the actors continually playing younger versions of the people he meets – that’s jut one possibility. The authority to say, “Yes, That’s How It Is (Was)” is a cool mechanism. All of this fired my imagination, and built links with things I find cool.

      Against this, the places where I felt hesitation were in rules that seemed to limit just these possibilities. The wording of the Soliloquies rule is an example. I’m not sure what is meant by the limit of once per interpretation (not once per scene), and what is gained by any limit like this. Further, the recognition of the narrative burden that this puts on players with the associated risk of failure leads me to wonder what real substance the rule offers, except for a way to circumvent the Limits. I think it’s the Limits that worried me most: it might just be the wording, but even having read this short section many times I am not sure I really get what is being said. I don’t know the games of Jackson Tegu, and maybe that would help, but the rigid sequence of changing limits, and what exactly each one is preventing and for what end, is not clear to me. The initial questions offer an interesting mechanism, but it seems to me that as scenes get revisited, there is a strong possibility that I am going to end up at some point playing the friend made by someone else. There’s therefore a big pressure to really understand what each other is saying from the very start: these answers aren’t just for your own benefit, but have to be able to be taken on by each other at the table. I suspect that this process could be streamlined more, and perhaps made less formal (especially for the friends). The elements don’t play a large role: in a way, the game would be cleaner if you even removed the “Shakespeare gathers his friends to do a play” idea. For me, the great strength is in revisiting scenes in the past.

      I am really excited by the type of story this game offers, and even if my daughter never proves to be the Queen of France, the game brings some truly elegant narrative features to the table.

      Toph

    • Bryan Hansel

      My Daughter, the Queen of France is a well-thought-out game about reinterpreting memories. With the studies into witness memory showing it to be pretty unreliable, this seems like a game that can explore that. Also, as we age, old memories sometimes gain new meanings, which might also happen in the game. That’s a really cool concept. As far as the theme, Shakespeare is there, both as a character and as a play. I see daughter and exile, but I don’t really find the argument for nature in the supplemental material that compelling. I think that this explores the nature of memory, so I’d give it to you.

      Overall, I think it’s playable as it is, but I do think it could be better. I can see how Shakespeare’s questions are brought into play, but I’m having a hard time seeing how the friend’s questions are brought into play. The game should mechanically require the use of the friend’s questions. I’m also not satisfied with how the game ends. It seems pretty arbitrary. As a player, I want to know the story between Shakespeare and his daughter. The game should aim towards that goal. The repeating scenes aren’t appealing to me as a player, but I’d sure like to watch.

      I think you have a solid game, but it’d be better if the questions were mechanically used and the game produced a story. I think with a few tweaks the first is easy, but you might need to add more structure to the second. Why not add acts that require Shakespeare to aim for certain goals that tell that part of the story? If Shakespeare had a goal that he had to create X number of scenes before he could repeat, then it’d be more interesting to me.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (16) The Night, the Wilderness, and the Power by Paul Edson
    A dutiful daughter braves the night and the unknown. What will she risk, what promises will she break to gain her heart’s desire?

    Reviewed by: Daniel Wood (15), Timothy Ferguson (13), Jason Morningstar (10), and Nick Wedig (6).

    • Jason Morningstar

      This is a compact, simple game that sticks to the ingredients and theme nicely. The cards feature well chosen bits of Shakespeare and would, I think, drive play in the right direction. I particularly like the idea of a promise scene upon failure – this is a cool bit of character-driven fun.

      All of the things I’d want to see improved are mechanical, and that’s really good news. That’s the easy stuff to bang into shape post-contest through playtesting and clarification and further thought. Some general notes and questions:

      It states up front that it is a two player game, but later on the draft mentions “other players”.

      Can you have 0 in a humour?

      There is no guidance for the number of challenges to provide, but the player has a finite resource for addressing them.

      Given the die mechanic, failure is going to be very rare. I think there’s an inverse death spiral at work, with players gaining dice , or perhaps staying near the baseline by using Heart’s Desire and rolling 3+ successes.

      My initial thought is that the die-rolling procedures could be streamlined – there are several special cases and exceptions to the core challenge mechanic and I’m not sure they are really necessary.

    • Timothy

      This game is particularly evocative. I don’t think its very Shakespearean, in that it seems to be without ensemble, but it works quite well as a Grimm or Zipes sort of story. I can see it creating flavorful scenarioes.

      There’s a mention in mechanics of the player being added by the other players: I presume the game was, at some stage of its development a multiplayer game.

      I dislike that there’s a Shuddering Halt result in the promise scene’s die rolls. As far as I can see the character has limited resources to burn on tests, and so eventually, depending on the difficulty of the tests, will run low. Once they don’t have extra humor dice to throw in, then if they hit a promise scene, they are toast about 18% of the time. I may have missed a mechanic on my read-through, though.

      Again, I think it evokes a good atmosphere, and would be an interesting play experience.

    • Nick Wedig

      The quotes from Shakespeare as framing a scene are good. I like that, because it gives some starting point for telling stories. This sort of thing helps prevent the ‘blank page’ problem you sometimes can have in a game. I think that the same device might be well served in the character creation phase, where the blank page problem might be worst. Give the player some choice quotes from Shakespeare about daughters and duties and desires, and then let them figure out how they apply to their character. (If you haven’t already, check out how Ganakagok uses Tarot cards for similar “creative spark” purposes.)

      There don’t seem to be any guidelines for what happens if you are already
      forsworn. Such a failure will be more likely once you are forsworn, but there’s no guidelines for what should happen then. Easy enough to fix by adding in some rule.

      I think my biggest qualm with the game is that the structure doesn’t seem terribly Shakespearean. It seems more like a traditional fairy tale than anything else. Perhaps I’ve read the wrong plays or something, but this doesn’t seem to match the plays I know. In particular, the bargaining with an otherworldly power as the end of a story seems off: the plays I know that involve otherworldly forces (Macbeth, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) usually have the bargaining be the start of a tale about the consequences of that bargain. Which once again might be my own limited knowledge of The Dude from Avon instead of a flaw per se. But after this Game Chef is over, that won’t really matter too much anyway. You’d then be free to make the game as much or as little Shakespearean as you see fit. You could even draw on other sources for quotes: Christopher Marlowe and other poets would provide as good of quotes as Shakespeare, for what you’re doing.

    • Daniel Wood

      First off, I really like the premise of the game — the opening paragraph on the cover page is evocative (as is the photograph.) Along with the name, I get a strong impression of a sort of dreamlike, fairytale story. The idea of a character who is yearning for something at the edge of her world, and who is taking a risk to try and find it, is very appealing.
      On the other hand I feel like this set a very high bar for me, and some of the specific mechanics seemed to be disappointingly ajar from what felt like a very clear, moody atmosphere. I felt like the premise carried through the descriptions of the Acts and the central questions to be answered in each one — but the game kind of lost me once it started describing the character’s stats and the dice mechanics. I was particularly disappointed in the way the Heart’s Desire and the Promise — the two crucial thematic elements of the character — were implemented in the die mechanics. These two unique elements of character really seemed to cry out for more than a bonus die and a reroll, respectively, and that is definitely something I would recommend rethinking or expanding in future versions of the game.
      My review-copy page with the description of the Promise Scene is similarly littered with question marks. I had a lot of trouble understanding why the mechanics worked the way they did — this very arbitrary (and statistically fairly likely) chance of a very abrupt end to the character’s story really didn’t make sense to me, and I couldn’t tell if the goal was simply to encourage the player to succumb to the temptation in the scene, or what. This ties back into a general concern from the Act descriptions: I kind of expected the Epilogue to include more resolution vis-a-vis the Heart’s Desire. The idea that this Night is not necessarily unique, but maybe one among many, didn’t fit with my expectations up to that point; by the end of the night I kind of expected the protagonist to either have achieved her Heart’s Desire — or some irrevocable assurance of its future occurrence — or not.
      All that aside, I like the quote cards and the Act questions quite a lot (though I feel like maybe the questions could be more directly tied to what that Act represents.) I do feel like given the importance of the Heart’s Desire, the game might provide a little more assistance for the player, to help them come up with something appropriate and evocative enough to drive the story. I’d like to see both the Heart’s Desire and the Promise woven more directly into the structure of the game, instead of appearing as a separate, stand-alone scene (and only when triggered by a mechanical effect.)

  • Jonathan Walton

    (17) The Trouble with Rose by Todd Zircher
    A fast and light romp about exiled Rose and her friends. Players create a tale of drama, tragedy, comedy, and betrayal where everyone has a secret agenda.

    Reviewed by: Paul Edson (16), Wilhelm Person (14), Edward Einhorn (11), and Jarad Fennell (7).

    • Wilhelm

      The cool stuff
      * The table on page two where you build setting based on playing cards is very neat. I think it could find it’s way into a multitude of hacks and light games.
      * Using dominoes for resolution! I like the combination with the advantages and disadvantages, and that you get more points when you fail.
      * There are too few competitive games out there, good work on adjusting the ratio with The Trouble with Rose

      The stuff I might consider for revision
      * How many people play in a scene? I sort of get the impression that when it is my turn I set the scene, show my tile and narrate what it means. Then the other players rate how good I expressed my advantages/disadvantages and I get points. Then it’s the next player’s turn. Did I get that right? Is this a story telling game? Either way you could add an example or reformulate a bit to make it clearer.
      * I see good reasons for doing so (like holding blank tiles until the very end where you die), but drawing the tiles of the game in the very beginning, and thus knowing your own hand. Well, won’t that lower the suspense a bit? I thought that perhaps every player draws tiles like in your version, and then have some mechanism for letting another player play the tile in your scene. Then you don’t know what you’ll have to work with when you set the scene. And you don’t know what you’ll face later / how good your hand is. I think it would make the game more interesting.

      I don’t think I would play this game as it is written, but I like the basic idea and might very well reconsider if there comes a 2.0-version.

    • Edward Einhorn

      There are some good ideas here, but I’m afraid it seemed a bit undeveloped to me. Also, changing the mechanics from cards to dominoes (and this may be nitpicky) in mid game seemed too scattered. This was a game that needed focus, I felt, and the unifying concept (a protaganist NPC named Rose) was not compelling enough for me to be drawn in.

      Of course, there could be more there, I just didn’t feel like it was conveyed in its current form

    • Paul Edson

      I like Rose – it’s a shame she’s in such trouble!

      Things I like:
      - The use of playing cards to help break the inspiration barrier in establishing setting is good, and the list is well thought out.
      - Being assigned a secret agenda by the pull of a card is good – it establishes something that the player needs to deal with.
      - I particularly like the use of dominoes to establish two of the character’s traits which will need to be brought to the fore in each scene. This is clever, and I think it works nicely as a cue to the player if he or she isn’t certain how to proceed.
      - I also enjoy the basics of the audience voting on whether those traits have actually been highlighted.

      A few questions:
      - Since the only given commonality between the characters is Rose herself, might you want to add some guidelines for building relationships between PCs?
      - In play, can the player who is primary in a scene involve other players in the action to take the part of NPCs and such, or is the audience role limited to “Yes, and…” and “Yes, but…” Can more than one PC appear in a scene?
      - If the total number of pips kept determines who gets to narrate the resolution, this means that someone could lose the vote once or twice and still have control of the end of the story. Is this intentional?

      A few other things:
      - The Shakespearean examples are great if one knows the play, but don’t do a lot to provide guidance for players trying to make their own decisions. Perhaps fleshing out the process for non-referential character creation would be time well spent.
      - “Forsworn” does not mean what you think it means, I fear. As far as I know, “forswown” can indicate repudiation of something (one might forswear sex until marriage), a denial (“I am not a crook”), or the swearing of a false oath or commission of perjury (“I swore to protect your sister, and I do not intend to become forsworn”).

    • jaradfennell

      This is easily the most fully fleshed-out game I’ve read so far. I appreciated the numerous sidebars which summarized information and adumbrated ideas, as well as the frequent references to scenes and characters from As You Like It by way of example. I also enjoyed how open-ended the game was, and that it provided a card mechanic for generating a random setting and theme if the players needed inspiration. The simple character creation process through the assignation of six traits, and the use of domino tiles to frame scenes using those traits, was nothing short of brilliant. The overall tone of the game was playful and humorous, with a number of colorful visuals sprinkled throughout the text. The premise of the game is simple and concrete, and I find the rules extremely accessible and clear. The game may not be to every person’s taste, but it is apparent that the game will succeed in what it sets out to do; it creates an efficient framework for playing out a short Shakespearean narrative using a handful of characters.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (18) All’s Well That Ends as You Like It
    by Jennifer Hardy & Matthew Mazurek

    Dueling, wooing, vows kept or forsworn, drunkenness, thievery, costumes, identical twins, rightful rulers, virtuous innocents, ghosts, and much more.

    Reviewed by: Todd Zircher (17), Daniel Wood (15), Daniel McKenna (12), and Devon J Kelley (8).

    • Devon J Kelley

      This game seems very interesting. It touches on the themes of the contest very well. I can see at least three, if not all four ingredients coming through. It has an interesting story that will change with each time being played.

      I was a little disappointed that the game board was not more detailed, but that’s to be expected, given the time frame of the contest. While reading the game, I got really excited at the fact that each character has two different ways to win, both comic and tragic. The option really resonated with me.

      The characters are simply defined, yet with great possibilities for game play. The only suggestions for further development I feel I can give are a more detailed and interesting game board and reworking some of the text, perhaps with some examples. Given the limited word count, it felt very rushed and unclear at some points.

      I can definitely see myself having fun with this game and don’t imagine that I’d have any problems, at all, convincing my group to play it.

    • dmckenna

      I really like the title. I don’t really have a reason to like it, I just do. Everything about this game just screams out at me with style. It looks like fun. It looks like a lot of fun.

      I don’t have too much to comment on as far as the rules go. I like that there are two win conditions for each player character. It drives home the Shakespearean theme, but I do think that even the tragic endings lean more towards the comedic. That’s okay, this game is obviously meant to be played manically and with booze.

      While I like the game and truly think I would have a blast with it, I think that it might do better as a board game then as an RPG. I can picture a beautiful game board, little character pieces, and fully illustrated character cards complete with role play guidelines. I think with some tweaking to the role play elements that this could become quite the little boxed product.

      On the other hand, I can also picture you going in more of a How to Host a Murder direction. Keep the character cards with role play elements and add masks or other props. Declare sections of the house as the different rooms and have a couple of people take on the role of GM and you have a game that I would go to the driest cocktail party to try it out.

      Keep at it. I’d like to see this one after it has had a few layers of polish on it.

    • Daniel Wood

      This game seems like a fun, very thematically tongue-in-cheek, if somewhat over-fiddly board game that would be easy to colour up with character voices and little bits of fiction. Whenever the text tries to convince me that it is about coherent stories or traditional GM-led roleplaying, however, I cannot help but make a very doubtful face. The degree to which this dissonance would be a problem probably depends on the individual group and their expectations, but for myself I think I would probably struggle to reconcile the seemingly very fiction-driven character goals with the actual gameplay, which does not appear to require any fictional input at all — though it very effectively encourages a sort of madcap, satirical tone, I see that coming out mostly in quips & over-the-top descriptions.

      My recurring thought as I read the text and ran up against mentions of GMs deciding on this or that was ‘why does this game need a GM?’ All the things the GM does appear to be superfluous, and could easily be replaced by some slightly more rigorous procedures for NPCs — whose actions could either be fully automated or simply controlled by different players at different times.

      For me the most troublesome part of the game is (as mentioned) the character goals. Some of them appear to be achievable 100% mechanically — since, for example, you can marry someone without their permission — while others are completely fiction-dependent, and therefore seemingly impossible (eg. murder/suicide “due to a misunderstanding” or be killed by a “jealous” husband.) Most of the character goals seem to acknowledge and revel in the purely mechanical nature of the game (eg. marrying someone who you have never wooed), which makes the ones that can only be accomplished via fictional positioning stand out all the more. Also, character-wise, the poor Faithful Counsellor… ! What does this guy do except stand around in his chapel hoping other people make his goals possible? He really needs to be able to marry people elsewhere (ninja marriage attack), get some more proactive goals, or become an NPC.

      Theme-wise this game has the strongest Shakespearean feel of any of the games I reviewed, even if that theme mostly takes the form of loving satire precariously balanced on the edge of tedious-reference-based-humour. (Fool result #5 got a ‘*wince*’ in the margins.)

      I think this game has its best possible future if developed towards a full-on board/card game experience (cards = items & special actions, and maybe roll Luck points into the cards as well; eg. discard a card to use a character power.) Tweaking all the goals to make sure they are achievable by purely mechanical means while also being colourfully-evocative would be a crucial consideration, as would automating all the NPC procedures (possibly in an entertaining, competitive way, so that players can use the NPCs to mess with each other.) Also, in the current game I’m not sure that the Luck loss/gain mechanics really brings a lot to the table — it might be more fun to link the PC powers to circumstantial triggers. Being able to randomly lose Luck felt particularly not-fun, since Luck is how you get to use your fun abilities.

    • Todd Zircher

      I really liked the hybrid board game/role playing game aspects of this game. The map and cards provide a very hands on feel for where you are in the scene and what props you have available. The split goals is another nice touch since if gives the players some flexibility in how they can approach the game. I also like how the GM can reward the players with luck tokens for good roleplaying. A clean set of understandable rules. It would be cool to see this as an album game with a nice map to unfold.

      TAZ

  • Jonathan Walton

    (19) A Clockwork Spiral by Jason A. Petrasko
    Trapped in another world dominated by a strange machine, invited into this madness, discover yourself – explore your mind and possibly escape the spiral!

    Reviewed by: (18), (16), (13), and (9).

    • Timothy

      An amazingly complex play ritual for such a brief game. Very welcome in the tide of Lovers in Forests flowing through the competition.

      I’m not entirely sure I’ve grasped the mechanics as fully as I could have. I think I’d need to experiment with actual play to be able to make useful comments about its design. Superficially I have concerns about what happens if there are a run of stuck gears at the onset of the game…but that’s an ovious fault so perhaps I’ve missed the starting resources of the characters.

      As this game is very light on setting, and I’ve noted that I do not fully grasp the mechanics, I don’t feel I’ve done an excellent job of review. I can see the shape of play in my mind, and can see the game’s potential to force interesting scenes, but I’m having a little trouble with character (not player) motivations. Again that may be because I’m not fully grasping the mechanics.

      All in all, I’m intrigued by it conceptually and would welcome the chance to play the game at a Con.

    • ziastriga

      This game daringly combines a number of seemingly disparate elements, including Shakespeare, clockwork, and the stars. The theme certainly resonates with my inner steampunk astrologer, though the Shakespeare element got a little lost for me. I was surprised and impressed that the clockwork idea blended so well thematically with the astrology; perhaps because both are based on the idea of simple rules developing into a complex system. That idea of complexity building up from simplicity is a recurring theme in the game. It did leave me wondering, however, whether the Shakespeare element was just thrown in on top in order to qualify for the contest.

      The mechanics seem a little complicated, but they might quickly become simpler with practice. They at least struck me as interesting enough that I would be willing to make the effort to get the hang of them. Most importantly, the mechanics support the mood of a clunky machine jolting gracelessly to life.

      I can’t help but wonder if this game wouldn’t work better without Shakespeare. I’m a big fan of the Bard, but his work appeals to a different part of my brain than the rest of this game does.

    • Bryan Hansel

      What I really like about A clockwork Spiral is that it combines a board game with a role-playing game. I think the extra bit of visualization could help get people into the game. The rules also seem mechanical which is reflected in the playing board. Essentially, the game board helps set up the situation, which is fun.

      My first suggestion: The mechanical nature of the game would benefit from a flow chart. I had a tough time keeping everything straight, and a flow chart would make it so much easier. I also feel like the game would benefit from a different and more defined setting – maybe a gritty steampunk setting instead of the Shakespeare theme that seems tacked on.

      To see how everything works out, I think you need to playtest it. After that tweak any mechanical problems, and get a new more appropriate setting.

    • Paul Edson

      I appreciate the way that the text and the physical elements of this game interact. Physicalizing the processes of the game gives the opportunity for participants to elevate play to ritual. As with most of the games I’ve read from this year’s contest, expanding the text to included some examples of play would help when it comes time to take this to the table – with game play as evocative as this seems to be, examples of the outcomes you intend might really help the players get into the swing of things.

      I don’t think this is particularly Shakespearean. Indeed, the astrological/clockwork elements seem to want a more specific and related setting in order to particularly shine.

      I look forward to seeing where you go with this – there are some ideas here which will stick in my head. (In a good way.)

  • Jonathan Walton

    (20) Tales from the Floodplain: A Rude Mechanicals Adventure
    by Matthew Tyler-Jones

    A hard winter is not yet turned to spring. Cast out of their communities, our exiles discover their inner natures.

    Reviewed by: (19), (17), (14), and (10).

    • Wilhelm

      This was the hardest game to review of my four games. I have read four times in two days and I’m still not quite sure I have gotten everything right.

      The cool stuff
      * I love the setting. I’m getting vibes of Summerland.
      * The clever card mechanic with cards that fit together to to give new meanings.

      I don’t mind the one shot nature of the game, many of my favorite games are one shots. I wonder if the PCs will feel a bit like a side show when the Gypsy girl and her love both are NPCs, actual play will show.

      Consider for revision
      * An actual extended example showing how combat resolution works would be great.

      I don’t think I could run this game as it is now, but I would like to play it if someone else ran it. Or come back and take another look if it is ever revised.

    • Jason Morningstar

      #20 TALES OF THE FLOODPLAIN

      OK, there are some lovely bits here. The arc of the story is interesting and I could see it being fun to explore. I worry that it straddles a weird line between open and sandbox-y and highly structured. For example, as written, there’s nothing to prevent the players from completely ignoring the fictional inputs. If they don’t pick up on a series of interdependent cues, they’ll wander off and miss the meat of the situation. This reminds me of traditional RPG adventures, where there is an expectation that you will follow along.

      There is some forward referencing and the rules, as presented, are a little confusing. I’m not sure they serve what is, at heart, a very compelling and focused situation well. I get the impression that the system is intended to support further adventures and long-term play.

      I’d suggest two approaches to further development – one would be to carefully refine the procedures of play, which are of course a little fuzzy after only a few days of development. The other would be to look carefully at the situation as presented and see if there are ways to either open it up successfully or to codify interactions in a way that constrains player choice in a satisfying and interesting way. I don’t know which would be better!

    • JasonP

      I really like this game. Right from the get-go when I read the introduction I thought to myself, “What a wonderful use of the ingredients.” As far as the theme goes, I’m much less enthused, but whatever we are looking for inventive uses inspired by the theme right? Ok, so we are good to go.

      Now when I read the section about the order of play, I had to stop and reread several times. I was expecting some kind of summary here of the way the cards interact with the fiction and such. I know its complex, but a summary would have help immensely. Instead of looking forward to the rest, I felt like I was wandering about an unknown land. It wasn’t until the end that I could picture play.

      Two things really stood out as I read, things I really liked. First, the way that ammo is used up as cards. To fire a bullet you expend a precious player resource for a precious fictional one. That’s genius there, good stuff. Second, the way that earned complimentary nature cards is handled. They explode in a moment of power and then poof – vanish! Nice.

      The only real thing that bothers me is that the first part of play is almost freeform, and the second part has firm fictional structure. Its like the game is reversed in an uncomfortable way, like having sex before the first date even starts. I wonder if this jarring design is intentional?

    • Todd Zircher

      The author gets points in bravery by breaking from the Shakepearean theme. While I understand the flow of the acts and the author does have a story to tell, if you don’t sit down with the cards, this game feels impenetrable even after reading it several times.

      I’d like to see the rules expanded with examples of play in future.

      TAZ

  • Jonathan Walton

    (21) Daughters of the Terran Revolution by Ed Murphy
    Exiled convicts on a crashed spaceship tell their stories to an artificial intelligence before the life support gives out.

    Reviewed by: (20), (18), (15), and (11).

    • Edward Einhorn

      This has a very interesting concept and structure that has absolutely nothing to do with Shakespeare. It had very little to do with the ingredients, either, except perhaps Exile. I felt this was an existing idea the didn’t quite fit the contest.

      As for the game itself–as I say, I love the idea and the structure of the questions. I’m not sure if ultimately the mechanics are fleshed out.

    • Daniel Wood

      This game has a very interesting, very grabby premise — after my brief initial scan of my games to review, I was the most excited to see how this one would turn out. The idea of convicts left with nothing but the possibility of posterity justifying their actions to each other and to a possibly disinterested, possibly alien AI is very evocative — it reminded me a little of No Exit, except with some inevitable death thrown in for relief.

      The good: I like the use of questions to frame and direct exploration. I like that convicts get passed around, so that authorship is shared; I think you did a great job creating ambiguous/open-ended questions that are nonetheless strongly suggestive. In some ways this manages to feel like a game that has a lot of room in a very tiny space, which in general is a design quality I adore.

      The not-so-good: I wasn’t a fan of the two separate mechanics depending on how many players are involved in a conflict, or the weird addition of Stance to deal with what seems like a fairly unimportant case. Given the extremely simple framework for the roleplaying elements of the game, it felt weird to see these fiddly, exception-based mechanics. They’re still very streamlined compared to most games, obviously, but in the context of this one they kind of gave me pause. As a kind of counterpoint, I felt like maybe if you’re going to introduce a currency and a bidding mechanic, it should have more weight, but maybe I am underestamating how often players are likely to bid/pay to become Foil, etc. Finally, I felt like having everyone answer the same questions one after another for each convict, then have the same scene one after another for each convict, might start to feel a little plodding. The assumption seems to be that each convict’s story/questions will be delivered in isolation.

      I think there’s definitely a lot more that can be done with these elements, particularly the ones I liked (the questions, the AI) and there were things in each that felt strange. For example, I like the way at the beginning the roleplaying scenes are spread out between questions, so that each set of questions basically informs a specific scene (or, put the other way, the scene becomes an opportunity to demonstrate the reality of the answers) — but this falls apart for the last two roleplaying phases, which happen back to back. Both of them also kind of sound like very exposition-heavy, monologue-like scenes, at least based on the description and the way the game has been set up. I don’t see many opportunities for conflict in either scene — which, incidentally, is fine, but with two scenes like that back-to-back it feels like a super-extended epilogue.

      And to be honest, I thought the second to last roleplaying phase — the convicts telling their stories to the AI — was what the whole game was supposed to be about. This is by far the standout issue/opportunity for me: I want to see that premise come through much stronger, in all the parts of the game. Limiting the convict/AI interaction to only a single roleplayed scene was disappointing to me, because that was where the premise/setup was really exciting. I wanted to see that relationship and communication develop throughout the game — in fact at first I just assumed that all of these questions were being asked by the AI, and that all the answers were exactly that: the convict telling the AI about their story. And if that particular scene wasn’t there, I would simply play the game like that — but the presence of that scene creates a lot of cognitive dissonance, because it strips the rest of the questions of their fictional reality. It makes it seem like all the questions are just character generation or something — backstory, rather than follow-through on the fictional situation.

      So really, above any other concerns or suggestions, I think the best way to take this game forward is to focus on making the AI a presence throughout all phases of the game — as a character with her own personality, as a concrete instantiation of the (presumably screwed-up) society that the questions are fleshing out, as a weird alien intelligence that was programmed, after all, for some completely unrelated task. I think bringing the AI-convict relationship to the forefront will really make the question/answer interaction come alive, and become real and immediate in a way that the current game doesn’t necessarily encourage. Because sure, we care about all the background stuff, too, but we also want to know how these people are reacting now, to this accident, to their imminent deaths, etc. If you can figure out a way to more-directly frame the looking-back in terms of the present (and ever-shrinking future) of the characters, I think the game will become a lot stronger — and I think the best way to do that is to bring focus around to the AI/convict and convict/convict interactions in the ‘present’ of the game.

      • Ed Murphy

        Belatedly, thanks to all four of you for the feedback; even the short ones pointed out some things that I should have explained inline (starting with “hey Game Chef dudes, don’t be confused by the lack of stuff about Shakespeare’s plays, this is based on some of his other work instead”).

        This was my first attempt at designing a game system, so the presence of major flaws comes as no surprise; it was kind of “throw in some ideas and let more experienced eyes spot which ones are flawed”. I’m thinking about coming back to it at some point, keeping the concept but ditching most/all of the mechanics. I’ve already got a rough idea for a table of different ways that the meaty part of your story can imprint on the AI, coloring her outlook for the rest of the session (I’ve got some first-hand experience with kids being impressionable, and my wife’s got a ton more if I can dig it up properly).

    • ziastriga

      This game reminds me of Kafka’s Metamorphosis: terribly grim, and the climax occurs right off the bat. That would be brilliant for a Kafka-themed game, but the connection to Shakespeare is less than obvious. Certainly, the element of impending tragedy is apparent, and it offers plenty of opportunity for fleshing out a tragic character, but nothing about it recalls Shakespeare to me.

      This game could be fascinating with the right group of imaginative players. The rules are simple and leave plenty of room for roleplay. I personally like the use of tarot cards. Not my choice for a Shakespeare game, but an interesting concept, nonetheless.

    • Baxil

      Daughters of the Terran Revolution in a nutshell: In its mere four printed pages, there’s a LOT to like. That makes its weak points all the more heartbreaking.

      Complete review at http://tomorrowlands.org/gaming/gc11reviews.html#21 .

  • Jonathan Walton

    (22) The Gentlefae of Cremona by Daniele Di Rubbo
    The PCs are exiled Fae who forswore their Oath. Can they restore their Nature or find a new Path? And what’s the role of Desdemona in this?

    Reviewed by: (21), (19), (16), and (12).

    • JasonP

      Wow, the layout. Nicely done, Nicely done. The fiction of this game is evocative, the imagery compelling. I really got sucked in and want to discover the fate of these exiled fallen fae who have forsworn, well you get the picture.

      The rules strike me as well-crafted, with great attention to detail. In particular, Elements are defined are so well handled it hurts. Awesome. I was confused by the Tarot stuff, since I’ve no experience with it, but after looking up Celtic Cross and seeing the character sheet, things fell into place better. I’m still not clear what the chart is for on page 6 (comparing the nature of suits), but I’ll just ignore that and move on.

      The Quiet before the Tempest is my favorite part of the game, I love the way its fiction fired off by mechanics. Its perfect. The finale is good too, and really ties the world to the numbers on your sheet, giving them meaning.

      The only issue I have is that it looks like the game never ends if the protagonists/leads keep winning conflicts, which means the awesome finale never happens in that case? Bummer, I’d feel like I was missing out on an awesome part of the game.

      • Daniele Di Rubbo

        Thanks for the review! I really appreciate you like my game (my first design). I’m going to clarify – if I can – your doubts.

        The Tarot stuff, in fact, before benefitted from an image near the description of the Aspect Tarots. At last I removed it since I had no rights over it and moreover, as you said, the Protagonist sheet seems clear enough (maybe I should have put a reference to the sheet in the Aspect Tarots’ section).

        The lack of clarity about the Elements/suits ranking is my fault at all. The basic system is: Elements rank after your Main Element (you propose, Playwright decides) according to the table. The Antagonist’s Element is decided by the Playwright. Antagonisms have only one (abstract) Element, since the number of cards it deals is established according to the rhythm of the game. If you and your Antagonist have the same card value as highest card (i.e. a King) then the victory is of the one who has the suit/Element ranking nearer to his Main Element (according to the table).

        Ultimately, the risk you fear, that is the game never reaches its end, in my humble opinion, is warded off by several mechanics. First, the Antagonism is fixed by the Playwright: if you keep winning Conflicts, he should raise it (since Antagonism is only a measure of the game rhythm flowing – as in “Don’t Rest Your Head”). Second, the Cartomancer can raise the Antagonism by 2 calling on Cold Iron: in this way is easier you fail (even if your Fate increases your Elements drop down). Third, if you fail a Conflict, you get Harm; if you get Harm you fail easier (since your Elements drops down). Fourth, if you Call the Wyrld Fate drops automatically (even if you win). Fifth, if you don’t respect an Honour Bound your Fate drops.

        As you see you have several instruments to slow down and to accelerate the Finale. I let the Players free to manage them because one game is different from another, one Protagonist from another, and one Player from another. Everyone can reach the Finale whenever is appropriate, according to his judgment and the one of the Troupe.

        I hope you now understand my intents or at least I clarified some nebulous parts of my game.

    • dmckenna

      I enjoy seeing the few games that borrow the fairy elements from Shakespeare’s work. It’s a nice change from all of the tragedies and romantic comedies.

      I didn’t get stuck anywhere reading through the rules, but I did have to read through twice before I really wrapped my head around everything that is going on. This is a game that would really benefit with a page dedicated to showing the player how it should play out.

      The overall mechanics seem like they should work and I like how you’ve spread responsibility out among several different players for everything that happens. I also can’t help but feel that the game would be more fun if only the Major Arcana cards were used. Of course, that would require reworking your entire game so please don’t consider that a criticism; it’s more an observation that drawing named cards is more fun for me.

      The glossary was a nice touch. It’s not something you see often in any RPGs. I do think it’s a bit odd you would include a glossary and not a table of contents though.

      My only criticism is that I think the game might be a little bit too finicky. This game seems to be intended for one-off play, but it requires a tarot deck, beads, created characters (although not difficult to create) and index cards/scrap paper. That’s a lot of things. To top all that off the rules take a few passes to sink in. I don’t think that’s very conductive for a one-shot style game where players may not have even planned to play the game and have fallen back on it because someone couldn’t make it or as a break from whatever their regular game is. My earlier suggestion of including an example of play could help alleviate that, as could including some of the necessary components in the document to be cut out. My group usually plays indies as a break or as fall back, which is where this is coming from, and I fear that we would likely pass over this game in favour of something lazier.

      This is a solid entry with an interesting system and an engaging theme. I think it is a little rough around the edges, but that’s the nature of Game Chef titles.

      • Daniele Di Rubbo

        First of all, thanks for the review. I’ll try to answer to all your issues.

        It doesn’t surprise me you have to read my game twice before obtaining full (or at least a good) comprehension. All the games I reviewed for this contest required more than a single reading, not to mention the other well crafted and finished role-playing games (of author) I read. The matter is quite simple: every document with a minimum depth requires more than one reading.

        I take note of your suggestion of using only the Major Arcana. In the past I thought of games with only needed Major Arcana or poker cards. In this case I opted for both, because I wanted a system for the sharing of Guides’ authority (and Protagonist creation through the Celtic Cross method) and another system which contemporarily could work with the Conflict resolution (and be linked to the Elements). The use of an entire deck of Tarots seemed to me as the right choice.

        I included a Glossary because it represented a solid help to the understanding of the game (and, indeed, also to its writing!). I didn’t include a table of contents even if it would have required little effort to me (I used the heading management in Word, so the inclusion of a table of contents would have been only a matter of a click) because I thought that for a 12-page draft it would have been exaggerated. Surely I’ll include it if this project will be developed in the future (as I hope).

        When I wrote this game I didn’t intend it for a one-shot play; I’d rather intended it for a 3-4–session play (in the same manner of “My Life with Master”, “Don’t Rest Your Head”, “The Mountain Witch” etc.). I think that for my game a one-shot session will be crippling even in 3 Players.

        About the “high requisites” of my game, taking everything into account the only “strange” thing you need are the 22 Major Arcana (which you can freely download from the link I put in the text note). Everyone has poker cards at home and, if you play role-playing game (and even if not), d6 are ‘habitués’ in your games. The glass beads are nice, but on the Protagonist sheet I made circles, so everyone can note Path scores with pencils. Index cards aren’t a requisite at all (i.e. in Italy index cards are impossible to find…), in fact – as you noted – you can take scrap paper and split it in four.

        Finally, you say the truth arguing that more hints (and examples) to the players would be welcomed. I tried to be clear as I could in the “Players’ Tasks” paragraph. It was a real challenge to me to stay within the 3,000-word limit… Surely, in a future revision, I’ll include them.

        I hope I was able to answer to your perplexities.

    • Ed Murphy

      It looks good. I like the idea of tarot readings as a narrative structure (I used it myself) and it seems well-integrated here.

      Things are freeform enough that I’d have to playtest it with a group to really get a proper feel for it.

    • Paul Edson

      There’s a lot going on here, and I’m certain that, without the opportunity to try playing, I’ve missed some things. That said, there’s a great deal that I like. The setting and situation of the characters is fertile ground for rich storytelling, and the use of Tarot brings color of its own to the table. I particularly appreciate the distribution of responsibility and roles among all the players during each scene – everyone will have different types of actions to perform over the course of the game. Additionally, the explicit set up for the finale in the “Quiet Before the Storm” scene is great.

      This is a complex game, with a lot of moving parts. Each character has at least 15 (19 if you count Paths separately from their related Aspects) separate characteristics, and I feel this might wind up being awfully complicated for many groups. It might be fruitful to evaluate each element of game play separately and be certain that it contributes to the overall experience – although all the ideas are sound there may just be too many ideas.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (23) On This, the Day of My Daughter’s Wedding
    by Michael Bonet & Mitchell Morris

    An RPG based on Shakespearean tragedy with a pregen plot. Players compete over social control of NPCs and a question of royal succession.

    Reviewed by: (22), (20), (17), and (13).

    • Daniele Di Rubbo

      Sorry but, following the link, there is only the character sheet… can you help me?

    • Todd Zircher

      All I see on Google Docs is the character sheet. Are the rules public?

    • Timothy

      I can’t seem to get more than a 1 page pdf of the character sheet?

    • Jonathan Walton

      I’ve emailed the authors about it. Hopefully they’ll get back to us soon.

      • Daniele Di Rubbo

        In my opinion, they simply forgot to share the rules in the GoogleDocs folder. No problem, anyway!

    • Daniele Di Rubbo

      So, no news about this game? Meanwhile I’m proceeding in reviewing the other three games.

    • Todd Zircher

      The rules hit all the marks for theme and ingredients. The rigid act structure gives the game focus and drives the players to their tragic conclusion. Having said that, a corset that is too tight will leave the players gasping for air. I like the elements such as the inner and outer circles as well as the exile mechanic. But, the whole didn’t work for me. The tragic thing for me is that I like the LARP version of the very same game much better.

      • Mitch

        Thanks for the well thought review.

        I also like the Larp rules a little better but it was a hard choice on which to put as the main rules. I thought people would understand the table top rules better.

        Glad you liked it.

      • Mitch

        On the idea of on the whole it didn’t work together, which pieces clashed with each other?

        Any suggestions on how to improve, other than stick with the Larp.

    • Daniele Di Rubbo

      The game really seems to follow the footsteps of Shakespeare’s plays more engaged with courtly intrigues. The ingredients “exile”, “forsworn” and “daughter” are quite well integrated. Only “daughter” receives a minor part, in my humble opinion, being present only in the premise (the wedding).

      The game is competitive and this is reflected by the Character Creation with its Secret Goals, which puts each Player against or on the way of another one. The Spheres of Influence make an effort in this sense, establishing which minor Character is linked to whom and in which way, and making relations between Characters and Players. Traits grant a minimum rank of variety between Main Characters and personal ways of doing actions.

      Conflicts are resolved through the “Stabbing, Death & Exile” rules, which are partly guided by the players and partly by the Playwright, who has the main role of keeping the game going. The game flows in 5 Acts with a rigid structure: each Act has a set of actions the Players can undertake and a starting event which should provide fuel for the entire Act.

      I appreciate the hints and advices for the Players and the Playwright and the “Flows of Scene” table, which helps the comprehension of the game flowing. The part I prefer is the one with the additional material, especially the LARP rules. In my opinion, probably, the game can do its better in the LARP mode.

      I have also some notes of criticism: the game appears very deterministic for my liking, both in the action resolution and in the structure (which is undeniably very repetitive). Moreover it didn’t manage to excite my imaginary: I wasn’t able to figure out how a session of this game could really be like (although it could be my fault as a reader).

      Ultimately, I think this game is playable as it is, even if the LARP modality should be more interesting than the tabletop one. More notes of color could surely aid the imagery this game wants to recall.

    • Timothy Ferguson

      The structure of this game is lovely and intricate. Its competitive elements are excellent, as is the suggestion of deliberate undercutting through dramatic irony.

      I’d like the game to deliberately reward self-destructive behavior in a more formal way. Perhaps I just missed this mechanism.

      I think this is a very polished game. I’m not interested in the LARP modality of it at all, because I simply don’t play them, but the core tabletop game is great. Thank you so much of developing it. I feel I learned something really substantial, in terms of game design from your work.

      • Mitch

        Thanks for the wonderful suggestions.

        On the topic of self destructive behavior i took a look though the rules and your your right, you didn’t miss a reward system.

        The stereotypical tragic behavior shows up in the “what my motivation” section for the player, and the actions section of the GM. That may be something that needs more support.

    • Baxil

      I agree, the LARP is a better game, but there are good features in both.

      Full review at: http://tomorrowlands.org/gaming/gc11reviews.html#23

      • Mitch

        To answer a couple of rules questions than you brought up,
        1. LARP and killing
        The idea was that based on your rank you had plot immunity until the right time from death but not wounding. What stops 2 people from ganging up and killing everyone is social pressure. My experience with larps of this kind where everyone is on more or less equal footing when it comes to killing others is that social convention, and not wanting to get revenged against, are big motivators to keep people in line. What generally happens is that one or two people get killed early, then as the final deadline of the game approaches people start dropping like flies as people really push for there goal. Its a rather tragedyesque situation i think. The plot immunity was designed to compress that behavior into the last section of the game.

        2. LARP and dead players
        Dead players get new characters. However because the death is compressed into the last section, this seems unsatisfying to me. The next revision will include some kind of ghost mechanic.

        3.Secret Goals and Rewards
        I find that secret goals need very little reward structure to them. Humans are pre-built with alot of reward mechanics around secrets and discovery. I find that just the acts are reward enough. I also find that in a larp with secret goals, a lot of the joy from the goal is explaining to the other players after the game is over, what you did and why, based on your secret goal. In the TTRPG where everyone is present for everything, its not necessary. Maybe i should add the postmortem to the Larp rules explicitly.

        Thanks for the wonderful feedback. Points of confusion are the most useful feedback when writing a second draft.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (24) Revenge of the Groundlings by Brian Paul & Danielle Rosvally
    Groundlings Unite! With the playhouses closed by plague, it’s up to you and your haphazard memories to perform Shakespeare for the masses!

    Reviewed by: (23), (21), (18), and (14).

    • Wilhelm

      The cool stuff
      * The element lists for the three genres. Oh, I wish I had had those when I wrote my game.

      Stuff I would consider for revision
      * I know that custom cards were near as much a theme this year as the bard himself. But they would make nice props for the game. And it would make the prep go faster if the players didn’t need to make notes to pass around the table.

      Then there’s some stuff I don’t really know if I like or not. I’d have to see actual play to know for sure.
      * 1 minute monologues could be a bit harsh, or brilliant. I don’t know, perhaps it depends on the players.
      * In the endgame, can I add Ad Lib points to my own pool? I’m also a player, after all. Is the potential Kingmaker-factor of this step intentional?

      • drosvally

        Thanks for the input, man! Glad you enjoyed things!

        Just to be clear — The tables aren’t a resource available anywhere or cliff notes of some kind. I’m a Shakespeare scholar; I generated them myself.

        Just wanted that out there as a point of reference.

        Thanks again!

    • ziastriga

      This is a game that was clearly developed by a Shakespeare fan. The appreciation shows through not just in the quotes and references to specific plays, but in the whole feel of the game. The elements and archetypes are well-thought-out and highly reminiscent of the Bard. Play is structured around scenes and acts, giving it a theatrical feel. The whole game offers much opportunity for fun.

      I was a little overwhelmed by the mechanics. Maybe they’re fine once you get the hang of them, but they seem daunting. The idea of rolling dice equal to your motive level plus your stage presence plus maybe a featured scene bonus, and then adding up the dice from 1 to 3 and throwing out the rest… well, it may well be a good and fair way to choose a winner each scene, but it’s far from intuitive. In fact, though I imagine the game would be great fun to play, it was not so fun to read, just trying to wrap my head around the mechanics. All in all, though, it seems like there’s more than enough potential amusement to make it worth the trouble.

    • Mitch

      I super love the premise Groundlings recreating Shakespear. I also think your rules hit a good dynamic, but I don’t think they fully match your stated premise. What about your rules makes them groundlingy? The premise could have been Shakespeare has been kidnaped, but the show must go on, make it up as your go along together. I would have liked to have seen something groundling about it. Maybe I missed it.
      In general your rules seemed very logical and seemed to encourage the collaborative and upstaging dynamics that you stated as your intent in the introduction. The bonus for collaborative spending at the end was cool. I also liked the idea that the person who risked the most resources on a scene had the best chance of being the star of the scene.
      However I think you really missed a golden opportunity. One of the unattainable goals of RPGs is to encourage good role playing. Lots of RPGs try to do it, but it never lands just right. Maybe you were being conservative, and I can understand that, but your upstaging mechanic could have been instead a best role playing mechanic. The star of the scene and the best role player in the scene are almost the same thing. With you current mechanics, I could totally disregard my motive and desire, but plunk down all my resources and walk away the star.
      What if instead of being able to spend points on yourself, you could only spend them on other people who participated in the scene (maybe everyone spends not just participants) then the roll happens? The most likely reason would be role playing related I suspect. Something extra funny, or tragic would probably get my vote. Although open spending could engender allegiances, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad for the game. I could also imagine a system of secret ballot. You put in ballots equal to the points you spent, but that might take too much time to count. It would happen during intermission step so I guess it wouldn’t matter too much.

    • Ed Murphy

      The general concepts of Motive, Desire, and Stage Presence are all good. The genre elements look good at a glance, and the rotation should keep them fresh.

      As others have noted, the dice mechanics don’t seem to reward or reflect how good your roleplaying is. Maybe have the other players vote on your Stage Presence (like Olympic judges watching a gymnastics routine), and tone down the competitive side some (hamming it up should largely be its own reward, with the final wrap-up speech as a minor bonus).

      Here are several other suggested improvements, most of which should be pretty minor.

      (Text structure)

      Table of contents: Change “Act I, Intermission, Acts II-IV, Act V” to “Acts, Intermissions, Act V”.

      Genre sidebars: The amount of content is good for their purpose, but too large for them to be sidebars. Call them something else and put them at the end.

      (Content)

      Introduction:

      Include a brief definition of “groundlings” (I had to look it up): “You’re groundlings, the rabble who (etc.). Rough, rude, and (etc.).”

      The intro suggests “a specific Shakespeare play with some bits twiddled around”, while the actual gameplay suggests “a bunch of Shakespeare tropes put through a blender”. The latter is fine, but to match it, the intro should note that the groundlings have an /awfully/ loose grasp of canon…

      Tragedy’s Motive scale: “Humanity” is an awfully broad term (though the intent is clear from context). I was going to suggest “Compassion” instead, but you already use that for History.

      (Game mechanics)

      Act I:

      Instead of “He is assumed to have expended” (etc.), just say “The number of dice is (Motive) + (Stage Presence), plus one more die if it’s his featured scene”.

      The “disregard any dice rolls higher than 3″ mechanic seems overly complicated; I’d just use a straight sum of the dice. If there’s a tie, then do all the leaders get a Spotlight Point, or do they roll off until one comes out on top?

      Tell the players to keep track of Spotlight Points after their soliloquies, since they come up again in Intermission. Otherwise, the players have to remember what soliloquies they gave and when.

      Intermission:

      Using a Spotlight Point on someone else – If you raise their Motive, then you’re giving them more dice when one of you tries to steal the other’s scene. Why would a competitive player do this?

      Using a Spotlight Point on yourself – Could be simplified to “by subtracting one from your current Motive (unless it’s at 1), then swapping your Motive to its opposite.” Things like this can also have an exhaustive table of possible outcomes, maybe as part of a quick reference sheet at the end.

      Act V:

      “suffers the failure condition of the genre (…) and does not ‘survive’ to the Finale”, to clarify that ‘survive’ is figurative (except for Tragedy).

      Why is the climax roll lowest-wins, as opposed to the applause rolls earlier which are highest-wins?

      Ad Lib dice can be given to “any player”, not “any other player”. Are you intended to be able to give them to yourself? If so, then why would a competitive player choose not to?

  • Jonathan Walton

    (25) Isabella’s Exile by Hans Chung-Otterson
    A 2-player, GMed game of overcoming obstacles in exile while seeking love, or return.

    Reviewed by: (24), (22), (19), and (15).

    • Daniel Wood

      My basic reaction to this game is very similar to that I had to another of my reviewed games, The Night, The Wilderness, And The Power — I started off engaged and excited by what I felt was a strong, exploratory, character-driven premise, only to run up against a lot of mechanics that seemed vaguely out of joint with my expectations up to that point. (I wrote ‘blindsided by D&D’ next to the Obstacle Tables, which sums up the tenor of my reaction.)

      That said, I do like the premise of this game quite a lot — the anonymous ‘lost city’, the feeling that the exile and the inability of Isabella to find her lover might be existential, rather than practical problems. I don’t know how much of this was just me reading into the text, however, since in the final analysis it seems like Isabella’s troubles are very practical, indeed. I was expecting Invisible Cities, and the game gave me McGuffin Park. (That might sound harsh, but really — all of Isabella’s goals to regain her father’s favour are objects she has to recover? It’s heartbreaking.)

      I don’t want to slam on the random tables too much, though, because I actually think that overall they’re pretty cool, and I think conceptually they’re a great idea even if I’d prefer their content to be more metaphysical. I particularly like how they play up the contrast between the two cities — the lost city is full of randomness, while the scenes in Verona are completely structured & predetermined.

      But that leads inevitably to a lot of questions I had about the mechanics — which I think are probably far more relevant than my aesthetic reactions, above. The main question I have is: why are there two completely different sets of stats for each city? It seems like such a missed opportunity, to have both cities reflect different influences on the same character — I realize that in theory Isabella is the same character in both cities, but giving her two separate stat lines for each really makes it feel like there are two Isabellas, living two parallel (mechanical) lives. The magic rules appear to attempt to bridge the gap, but they feel kind of added-on just for that purpose. I think there is a major mechanical opportunity here to have the same stat lines used in both cities, and to have the feedback from each city do different, interesting things…

      Which brings me to my second, major concern — I don’t really get the feeling that the Verona stats actually matter very much. For one thing, they only affect results of conflict in a series of scenes which are by their nature expository: I have trouble imagining conflict as necessarily central to any of the Verona scenes. They might incidentally have conflict in them, but the conflict is not going to be over the Answer to the question — and the answer is what the scenes are for. And once you assume that losing or winning a conflict in Verona is no big deal either way for Isabella’s player, then those stats only gain meaning in terms of the endgame — which makes it very tempting to ignore whatever their fictional/thematic meaning might otherwise be. It also makes your 3 middle points in Magic essentially ‘free’ to spend, since they impact otherwise unimportant stats.

      As to the endgame, I am mostly confused — it doesn’t actually seem possible to achieve either of the first two results, because the Family nature can never go below 5, and therefore the Lover’s nature can never be higher (it starts at 5 and cannot move.) I assume I either missed something somewhere, or something was dropped due to the time/word constraints.

      I guess this review probably trended to the harsh side, but I actually think this game could be great with a bit more focus (and not necessarily in directions I like, either.) The main outstanding issue for me is the nature of the lost city (which btw I strongly, strongly feel should not be a question that is explicitly answered in a Verona scene, unless it is the penultimate one) — I imagined one thing based on the initial premise, but the random tables seem to deliver something else altogether — and then the premises underlying the mechanics point towards a third direction, or at least a specific sort of adventuresome tone (next to the Items section I just have the word ‘Why?!’) I think using the mechanics of the two cities to further differentiate them is also worth considering — right now they use differently-named stats, but they use them in very similar ways. Better I think to use the same stats but in markedly different ways, to go along with the strong scene-structure differentiation.

      • Hans Chung-Otterson

        Daniel–

        Thanks so much for the detailed review! I’ll keep it brief, here, but I think you’re pretty spot on when it comes to viewing the game’s problems (ALL of them).

        In particular, I wanted to keep the lost city kind of metaphorical, but then I undercut that. I’m still not sure how to do it, but I’ll keep working.

        Also, regarding the stat mechanics in Verona: yeah, they’re a nice idea, but I don’t think they’d actually work when tied to the scene mechanic.

        And there is a way for your lowest Nature in Verona to rise. It’s in the magic section.

        Anyway, again, thank you so much for taking the time, and for respecting me & my game enough to call out the problems. It’s a very helpful review.

        Hans

    • Daniele Di Rubbo

      In my humble opinion, the basic idea of the game is nice. The cooking of the ingredients is quite appropriate: “daughter” is present in the role and figure of Isabella; “exile” is part of the whole structure, including the dichotomy between Verona and the “lost city”; “nature” is originally developed by both Christian vices and Hippocratic humors. The “Shakespeare” theme is guaranteed by the tormented love story and the general structure.
      The design has some tools that seems really to function for the purposes of game: relations among the Natures, Magic, Attempting Again, Rolling Forward, Succeed/Fail Anyway, flashback refreshment (and Isabella/story development) scenes set in Verona. The Ending is interesting for the way the Natures and the dice roll contribute in its making.
      There are, indeed, some points which make my skeptical: I really appreciate the attempt to create a pickup game (without preparation) but the tables have a bit much “D&D-esque” flavour for a Shakespearean game. The Goals are a necessary device, but also are affected by this fantasy background. So, I think the game will be better without these dungeon-like intrusions, maybe stimulating the introduction of players’ ideas not (or not only) rolled on a table.
      Ultimately, the game is playable as is written. It could benefit from a playtest, especially to verify if the Natures’ value modifications really bring to an appropriate ending.

    • JasonP

      Ok, of the games I read, this one is the most pick up and go. I have a special place in my heart for pick up and go games, but I’ll try and remain objective as best I can! First, lets start with the brave choice: two players. Wow, there aren’t enough two player roleplaying games around, so kudos. As I read I often felt that the rules created too much of the fiction, but actually in the end I changed my mind and viewed the rules as a sort of anonymous GM poking its head in through setting and tables.

      The introduction was so vague I felt overwhelmed, until Isabella’s natures were exposed. Once I reached that point reading, I was sold. Her natures in Verona and the Lost City really define the game and say a lot about her overall. The dynamics of her natures are interesting and compelling, but difficult to grasp without examples sometimes (complex stuff at the end). Honestly her magic feels tacked on,and I wonder if the game wouldn’t be better without it.

      Some of the rules stand out in my mind as defining aspects of the game. The ability to succeed anyway after a roll for a price is great and reinforces player vision. The myriad rules for creating fictional cues and setting are terrific, even with the clunky charts.

      Now there is a darkness in the game. Its in her natures and the resolutions at the end, but it was jarring to read this line under the rules for harm: ‘The harm should be traumatic and irrevocable.’ Ouch. For some reason that line changed the tone of the game for me. I know its for an extreme circumstance and a lot of game may never reach that point, but its a game changing line. There was almost a soft glowing fairy-tale feel to the game, and this really conflicted with that in my head. I don’t know what else to say about it, since part of me loves it and part of me hates it. Regardless though, the author succeeded in evoking a feeling!

    • drosvally

      First impression: You’ve made a bold move by creating a one-on-one scenario with a single player and a GM and I’m honestly not sure that it pays off. While the requirement of only two people to run a game will make a game run more flexible, I feel like it also omits one of the most crucial aspects of any RPG: the community with which one plays. Role-playing is a social activity, and this game feels more like the fulfillment of a single fantasy than the creation of a real story.

      As far as the Shakespeare theme goes, I see not even the barest echoes of Bard in your game concept. While you did use a name from the cannon (and a fairly common one at that, Isabella is used in several of the plays most famously Measure for Measure), that seems to be the only tie between this game and the Shakespeareverse. I would have liked to see you be a bit more creative with the cannon; perhaps include other Shakespeare characters as your NPCs, have Isabella need to navigate elements found within Shakespeare, etc. This seems like a half-hearted nod (at best) to the spirit of the competition.

      I find your magic system as well as the nature system intriguing, though perhaps a bit too open-ended. This, again, may best be solved by opening the game up to multiple players. While the GM is always the final lord and master over any domain, a good sanity-check from the crew can work wonders on something as perspective-based as “appropriate magic usage” etc.

      As far as the writing goes, the concept itself isn’t fundamentally flawed, but the implementation seems s bit complex. Perhaps a few examples interspersed would make things clearer for the reader?

  • Jonathan Walton

    (26) The Play’s The Thing by Mark Truman
    Actors attempt to “improve” a Shakespearean play by offering Edits to the Playwright during the rehearsal process.

    Reviewed by: (25), (23), (20), and (16).

    • Paul Edson

      This game really evokes for me what I imagine the process of creating a play might have been like for Elizabethan playwrights. They were generally building upon known source material (“I know this story!”), working with a group of actors that had at least the same clout as the author (“Cut!”), and yet… Not only Shakespeare but his near contemporaries somehow managed to arrive at transcendence often enough that we cannot imagine our culture without them.

      I’ve played quite a bit of Spirit of the Century, so the Fate-inspired “Story Point” mechanics, with their Invokes and Compels, are familiar and comfortable. I would think that a post-contest draft might want to flesh out the details a bit in this area, but certainly anyone that I game with regularly could read the text and have a good sense of how to proceed.

      I really only have two qualms. The first is substantive, but not mechanical. I fear the description of the bidding process when casting the play is unclear. After several readings, I “get it,” but the description needs work. With more space, expanding the section describing casting and providing an example of play would go a long way toward resolving this.

      The second quibble is really neither substantive nor mechanical. Understanding that the lists of Types, Parts, Plots and Places were intended to be indicative and not comprehensive, you should still either expand them in future revisions or provide guidelines for creating “custom” items to suit other stories.

      With a skilled Playwright and an open, active troupe of Actors, this would be a lot of fun. I hope that you continue working on this – I’d love to bring it to some of the people I play with.

      • Mark Truman

        Paul,

        Thank you so much for the review. I’m glad that the game captured for you a bit of the feel of creating a play!

        As for your first concern, I definitely struggled while trying to make the casting process clear. The word limit was a serious restriction, and I think the game could benefit from a good deal of example text. Overall, I was happy with how it came together, but I’m looking forward to expanding on it for clarity.

        In regard to the sample parts, I had a list that was nearly 2,000 words long by itself! I’m looking forward to restoring those sections in my next draft and giving players a wide variety of Parts, Plots, and Places. I think I may still keep the Types to 4, but I haven’t decided yet.

        Again, thank you for the review. It was very encouraging!

    • Hans Chung-Otterson

      Mark: Let me start by saying I think this idea is gold, and you should run with it. I think pitting the Players against the Playwright and then giving their characters the ability to change things sounds really fun, and should produce very spirited play. The game seems like it would do that very well in its current incarnation, too–it’s remarkably solid in how thorough its vision is carried out.

      There are a lot of moving parts and fiddly bits, though, and going forward I think those things need to be explained more clearly. Parts, Plots, Places, Sets, Types, Logos, Pathos, Ethos–it’s a lot to digest, and it’s hard to make sense of when many of those things are only detailed later in lists. Integrating them into the text as examples of the rules in play would be much clearer (I can understand that some of this might be you hitting the word limit; I’m just trying to provide feedback on where to go from here).

      Also, I want to know, as the Playwright, what my motivation for accepting/rejecting edits is. No one wants to play out a wholly predetermined story, right?–So as a Playwright I imagine myself immediately accepting a lot of Edits, which bypasses all the down-and-dirty rules for forcing Edits. I want to be told what I should be doing as a Playwright, and why. Should I be accepting a lot of Edits? Should I really craft a story that I care about and want to push for, such that I make the Actors try to Force the Edit all the time? I can imagine either working well, but I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work in your game.

      And what about scenes? The game gives a clear structure for Acts, but not much for scenes (well, nothing, really). If scenes don’t need to be detailed out, then they don’t, but how are we supposed to transition from scene to scene? Does the Playwright move us through this, and frame scenes?

      Compels: I think using Aspects in this game is a good idea, but I don’t see how compels work, here. The Playwright can compel a character to act in accordance with a Part or Plot, but isn’t that already happening all the time, unless an Edit is made? And if an Edit is made, and “Cut!” is yelled, the Playwright either accepts the Edit, or rejects it, which is in effect a compel. So does the Playwright give the Player a Story point when rejecting an Edit? And if that’s so, does the Player have to spend the two points to reject the compel in order to Force the Edit? Perhaps I’m missing something big here, but you can see how the text is confusing on this issue.

      My last concern is kind of a small one, but I’m not sure the Logos, Pathos, and Ethos categories are needed. They add jargon to the game while obscuring the meaning of what they’re trying to communicate. All they do is limit how many of which kind of Aspect I can tag, right? Maybe all you need is a number next to the Parts, Plots, Places etc. on the character sheet saying how many invokes they’re limited to. Actually, looking at it now, I can’t see at all what Ethos does. Do you gain base dice equal to your Logos/Pathos/Ethos and then get dice from invoking? That would make sense, but the rules don’t say any such thing.

      Anyway! Like I said in the beginning, I think this is a great concept and all the pieces are there, more or less. It just needs some development and some considered play.

    • Mitch

      I really like the concept your going for here. The Idea that your actors wrestling for control of the plot is a very cool premise. The mechanics were clearly written and from one read though I feel i have total understanding of the mechanics. I also like the mechanical support for wholesale rip-off of plots from plays (or any other medium i guess). I also like the distinction between major and minor edits I thought that was well thought out.
      First some nitpicky criticism, I don’t like the names of the stats. I understand that you probably picked them to evoke something about acting, but as a lay person i have no intuitive understanding as to what logos is. So the relationship between logos and plots is alien to me, and hard to remember. In contrast the dnd stats like strength have a real world connection to things like fighting which they are used for. Second it is unclear why the parts and plots you can bring into the scene are limited. It seems to be to be just something to add usefulness to the stats.
      Also i think the definition you used for forsworn is alien to the subject matter. According to the Shakespeare glossary at tufts university http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.03.0068:entry=forswear
      the definition of forsware as used in Shakespear is “to abandon or renounce on oath” Your working definition seems to be “already sworn” or “sworn at a previous point in time”

      However I don’t think your mechanics work to engender the kind of gameplay you describe as your goal.
      I the bidding for characters section, I think there is a lack of an ability for players to form a plan to make a character, act on it, and end up with that character. The way I understand the rules, is on my turn i can claim a character, add something to it (at the cost of a story point), or pass. Lets imagine this plan, i want to play the magician king. So the king comes around to me, i decided to put magician on him, then i have to hope this char will make it all the way around the table again, with the standard 4 player group that might not happen.
      I think the way to modify this to enhance the intention of players (aka the plan making ability) would be to use a Texas hold-em like betting mechanic. Player 1 can add a trait (at no cost of story points) and then can bid a story point price. Play then passes to the next player, if he wants to stay in the bidding, he can match the bid or raise it or fold. After all people still in the betting are at equal bets, someone else gets the chance to add something to the char. And the process repeats. The last person in the bidding keeps the char also the winner would be the only one to expend the story points.
      I realize that suggestion ruins the initial hand out of story points based on the number of additions, but that could be remedied.
      I also think your major/minor edits rules miss the mark as well. You get an initial load of about 5 at the start, and the only other way to get story points is from the playwright compelling you. So the story points are a limited and diminishing resource. If the game is about the struggle over edits, why are you discouraging in with a cost? Rather i think it should be free, or even rewarded with resources. Creativity, on the fly, is tough and in most cases the reward of control of the game world is enough.
      My suggestion would be to turn your edit mechanic around. When an edit is first proposed no cost, make the roll. If that passes, you get your wish (and maybe a story point) if not, then the playwright can approve it anyway, or then the edit suggestion needs to use story points to enforce his will. So maybe a bidding back and forth between the playwright and the edit proposer. If the edit proposer wants to bid more than the playwright he gets his will, if the playwright matches the bid, the play continues as prewritten. The winner pays the looser the story points.
      The outcome of this change is that edits are the life blood of the game, not the thing you need to carefully consider you want to spend your points on. Only after an initial fail do you have to decide about your resources. Also this system has story points moving around the table, not just mostly from actor to playwright. Also both winning and losing an extended bid for control (where story points are involved) has a reward. If you win, you get your way, if you lose you get story points, which means your way somewhere down the line.

      • Mark Truman

        Hey Mitch!

        Thanks for the review. Your comments are really useful.

        I totally get that Logos, Pathos, and Ethos are a little foreign. While I think they are neat, it might be time for me to revisit them and pick easier to connect names to describe the Actor’s skills. They limit the number of Parts and Plots to allow Actors to be specialized in portraying a specific kind of Acting.

        My usage of Forsworn does appear to be a bit off. For some reason, I swear I saw it used as an adjective for “sworn” when I looked it up…

        Your suggestion to bid up a character you want to play is interesting. In my playtest, the mechanism we used made it fun to hand out characters, but your proposed mechanic would add a different element. I’ll definitely have to think about which one hews closer to my goals with the game.

        As for the story points, the Playwright can hand out additional story points any time he or she “likes” an Actor’s work. If the Actor says something funny in a Comedy, or does some dramatic in a Tragedy, he or she gets story points.

        Your suggestion to change the edits mechanism is also a good one. I’ll have to consider it as I go back to the drawing board to finalize the game. I like that in the current system, the Playwright can simply accept an edit (and reward the Actor with story points for good Edits), but perhaps there is a way to reward the loser of the contest with story points that make losing more interesting.

        Thanks again! Great comments.

      • Mitch

        I don’t know if its uncooth to engage in a protracted discussion here so ill be brief.

        On the character creation. Now that you point out “handing out” as the kind of fun for that part i can see where your going. I still think tho that your premise is about wresting for control. So if it were me, i would keep the point of each section consistent on the wrestling.

        On the rewards for loss. If you have ever played Dogs in the Vineyard you will notice that most experience in that game is generated by putting your character in a dangerous situation and getting the stuffing beat out of you.

        When Vincent is asked why this is his response is something like, I want them to get beat and bloody, i want them to go into danger. If you penalize them, they wont do it.

        If you want to take this discussion off line ping me at narmical@gmail.com

    • Baxil

      Meet “The Play’s The Thing,” an RPG so deliciously meta that it needs to come with a commentary track titled “Roleplaying!: The Musical.” Sure, it *says* it’s about “the divine art of the theater” … nod, wink. It’s alright, we won’t tell.

      Full review at: http://tomorrowlands.org/gaming/gc11reviews.html#26

      • Mark Truman

        Baxil,

        Thanks for the review! I’m glad you enjoyed the meta aspects of the game. When I ran a playtest this last week, my players got a real kick out of bouncing back and forth between their Actors and Characters. :)

        As for killing off characters, I suppose I should make it clear that Actors can be recast as new characters if their old characters are killed. No one should ever have to sit at the table without anything to do!

        Thanks again!

  • Jonathan Walton

    (27) Tempest Planet by Pat Gamblin
    The Tempest… in Space! …Sort of. Will you fulfill your ambition or succumb to your fate? A game for 1-6 players.

    Reviewed by: (26), (24), (21), and (17).

      • gryffudd

        Thanks for the constructive criticism. There’s still a number of spots where the system needs work. The dice system and gear cards in particular. A larger section on setting/running the game might help with the vision thing too. That’s where I felt the most pain from the word limit.

        Glad you liked the setting bits. I’m really glad I got to know the Tempest through this competition. Definitely became my favourite of Shakespear’s plays.

    • Todd Zircher

      A smartly done and full bodied game in a small package. Good use of Game Chef ingredients. I like how the nature, gear, reward, and powers cards all neatly integrate into the game mechanics.

      I’m a big fan of opened games and I like how this does not place the players on rails.

      TAZ

    • Ed Murphy

      Nice light system. Again, it’s freeform enough that I’d have to playtest to get a proper feel.

      The one problem that jumped out at me was a couple instances of “maybe this game is X”. I’d change those to something like “this game is X” or “should be X” (where X is something obviously desirable like “fun”), or “can be X if the players do Y”, or “the players should decide whether they want it to be X”.

      • gryffudd

        Thanks for the review! My writing tends to need a lot of work in terms of the tone. When I get back to it, I’ll try to tighten that up. I’d be interested too, in seeing what happens in playtesting. Not entirely certain how well things will work together. Will have to see if I can get my players to try it out.

    • drosvally

      This is an interesting world, a game set up full of possibilities, and a cute nod at Forbidden Planet. I enjoy the creative utilization of Shakespeare’s characters in the main body of the game, as well as in your extra materials (Capulet and Montague guns? Hilarious! Incidentally, you misspelled “Montague”…. Folio spelling would be “Mountague”, though modern editors have almost universally adjusted the spelling to “Montague”. Either of the two are acceptable, though I would recommend going with the modern spelling unless you wanted to invoke a random archaisms that only die-hard scholars would really catch).

      The only thing which I found slightly confusing were the Krel powers. They are a nifty concept and add interesting flavor to the game, but it seems like they would make the game impossible to play since they kill human members of the party and outcast the Ariel user from the remaining Ariel left alive. Is there any way to make them still dangerous to use, but still remain a viable option for emergency rather than completely anathema?

      The nods towards a theatrical tradition were cute, but they felt a bit haphazard. Your inclusion of the phrase “callback” seemed unnecessary unless you really wanted to twine theatrical elements in with the rest of the game. Right now, it feels thrown in.

      On the whole: rather excited about this concept. Good show!

      • gryffudd

        Thanks for the review. About the Montagu spelling, I managed to fit the card names onto the other cards without altering the font size, but I just couldn’t make Montegue fit, so I dropped the last e. I probably should have just made the text smaller on all of them, but I got stuck in the rush of downsizing the word count forgot to fix it. :)

        The Krel powers themselves aren’t supposed to kill the humans, just exposure to the device that grants them. I’d decided on giving the human characters each a major gear item and wanted something of comparable ability for the Ariel characters that humans couldn’t have. The outcast bit was there for a bit of tension over helping people who no longer trust you.

        For callback, yeah, that was just my sense of humour popping in. At one point I thought of another word to use instead, but callback made me chuckle. And now I can’t remember what my other idea was. :)

        Glad you liked it.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (28) Forsooth! by Sam Liberty & Kevin Spak
    Players each control a small cast of characters to improvise a play of Shakespearean scope without a GM or storyteller.

    Reviewed by: (27), (25), (22), and (18).

    • Jonathan Walton

      This is for Pat:

      Well, lots of GM-less cooperative storytelling games this year. I don’t have any experience playing that type of game, do I’m not sure how qualified I am to judge them, but I’ll give it my best shot.

      Forsooth! looks like it would be lots of fun with the right group. I like the way the players create the events, especially the death (and ghost) rules. The look of it was decent, in both layout and the art resources used. The system was fairly simple and straightforward, wouldn’t take long to get the hang of. The applause system for rewarding points (a ‘fanmail’ type system, if I understand correctly) I liked. There wasn’t anything I disliked, really. If the local players were interested in this sort of game, I could certainly see me playing it.

      Pat G.

    • ziastriga

      This game captures the Shakespearian flavor in a variety of ways. It offers a quick method for creating a theme-appropriate character, gives a few simple and entertaining rules, and lets roleplay structure the rest. The elements exile, forsworn, and nature are all central to the game.

      The system has various options in place to keep all players engaged. Each player runs a few characters, so they have options regarding who to introduce to a scene, and anyone can run an NPC or otherwise interfere GM-style if none of their PCs belongs in a given scene. They can even bring back a dead character as a ghost, so no one needs to sit out for long. That’s a clever solution for running scenes without superfluous characters.

      Complaints are minor. It’s possible that playing multiple characters might mean that none of the characters get all the attention they merit. I can imagine myself getting flustered trying to remember, was it my Scheming Rake or my Villainous Puritan who had delivered Lady Ipswitch’s love note into the wrong hands, but then I’m easily flustered, so this might not be a general problem. Also, I’d be inclined to add more natures, since the total cast has the potential for getting pretty sizeable, and repeats are to be avoided.

    • Hans Chung-Otterson

      Wow, good show, guys–this game is incredibly polished for a contest game. The premise works, the Natures & Oaths make characters instantly solid and playable, and the rules for how to play the thing are clear! I’ve had a difficult time of it looking for things to fruitfully criticize. Soliloquies & Asides are cool actions that let the players accomplish important things without rolling dice, or whatever. A little thing that I absolutely love is the rule for calling “LINE!” when you’re stumped for what to say. Sometimes “always-on” GMless games can be exhausting, and it’s nice for the game to tell you it’s OK to ask for help.

      The first critical thing I have is small: you say it’s sometimes strategically appropriate to break your Oath? I don’t see it. I may be missing something. I can definitely see how it can be dramatically appropriate, and it’s nice to have the tic-box next to Forsworn to subtly suggest to the players that it’s always an option, but it doesn’t seem that important to the game whether your character forswears their Oath or not–there’s no incentive or disincentive, except that one of the winners has to be a Forsworn character. I dunno–I think it would still work in play as written; some people will forswear their Oath and some won’t, but it seems like you wanted it to matter more than it feels like it does.

      The only other quibble I have is with ending scenes. Maybe I’m just too afraid of scenes dragging on longer than they should, but I’d like something more concrete here. However, you do provide good tips for that in the “roleplaying tips” section–perhaps “a clock chimes” should be codified as a rule in the same way that “Line!” is?

      Again, great game, guys, and I’d be happy to play it as-is, though I do think the criticisms I have above are worth thinking about. If anything, I encourage you to forge ahead with this. An even more polished, finished version would make me very happy indeed.

      P.S. I don’t get the title. I know what the word means, but still (I’m a bit slow, maybe).

    • Daniele Di Rubbo

      When I first read this game I said “wow!”. You surely reached the scope, men! The ingredients are all ok, and everything is in the right place. You can take the game and play, just as it is.

      Here theatre is not just a metaphor for the game: it enters in play straight on with its mechanisms perfectly integrated. The cast creation in simple, rapid and focused; Fate, Soliloquy, Aside, Applauses and Messages are fitting tools to the agenda of the game. Scenes and conflicts seem to flow fluently; ending scenes comes naturally; death and dead characters make the game interesting and going on whatever happens.

      Ultimately, the supplemental material is well done, useful and integrated with the rest of the game. I really appreciate the theatre-style of the game. Well done, men! Well done!

  • Jonathan Walton

    (29) Miranda’s Gambit by Tim Bryant
    This is a four-player game that simulates the struggle for power among four characters in William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

    Reviewed by: (28), (26), (23), and (19).

    • Sam Liberty and Kevin Spak

      I was surprised when I started reading this game to discover that it is not an RPG, but rather a trick-taking game based on Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest. I have had a hand in designing a trick taking game or two myself, however, and was interested in how this one worked. I enjoyed the descriptions of the four characters that the players will represent, and liked how each character has a different win condition and trade restriction.

      Like other trick taking games, Miranda’s Gambit uses a standard deck of 52 playing cards and players win tricks by playing their cards in turn, hoping to have the highest of the lead suit. Unlike other trick taking games, a trading round follows the trick-taking round, where, depending on which character you are, you attempt to get rid of or acquire cards of a given suit. The idea of a combination trick-taking and trading game intrigues me, and I would be interested to play it. I worry, though, that it is easier to get rid of a suit than acquire it–in fact, in some cases, the game might even end after the trick-taking round with no trades necessary.

      The last aspect of the game I want to discuss is the Quotation aspect. During the trading round, you are allowed to force trades on your opponents if you can quote a line from The Tempest, and they can block you if they can recite the next line. This seems like a great way for a group of actors to practice line memorization for an upcoming play, and could probably be adapted for other shakespeare plays, or any play, honestly. As a gamer and an actor, I would definitely be willing to use the game for just this! It was unclear whether you had to recite a new line every time, or if you could just say the same line over and over again. Regardless, I think few people know The Tempest well enough to play the game as printed, though there are a few sample lines at the end of the doc that you can memorize if you want to play the game as a layman.

      The game is complete and playable as printed, though I would delete the rule about breaking hearts, which is obviously a holdover from the parent trick game, since hearts don’t have the same special significance in this version. I would also add a rule for clubs similar to the Miranda’s Gambit rule for Caliban, since he will have just as much trouble obtaining clubs as she will hearts!

    • Mark Truman

      Miranda’s Gambit is a wonderful take on traditional card game using The Tempest as a “setting document.” In it, the players take on the role of one of four characters from the play, attempting to keep or get rid of won cards to win the game.

      The game is simple and straightforward, but immediately made me want to get a group of players together to give it a shot. I really enjoyed how each role had a different goal, and it made me feel like the game would be different each time that I played it. I also liked the addition of the lines to cancel trades!

      The gameplay itself is clearly explained, and the addition of a summary page at the end is really helpful. I think any group that picked this up would be able to play it and enjoy it immediately. The font is a bit hard to read, but overall the layout is clean and compelling.

      I am, however, a bit uncertain about the winning conditions. It seems to me that it would be much easier to get rid of one suit than to acquire all cards of one suit. Perhaps it would be more fair to make everyone acquire a single suit of cards?

      I think this is a great entry to Game Chef. Thanks for submitting it!

    • JasonP

      This was my hardest review, and its not the fault of the author. I have to fight some personal biases here, in order to provide and fair and just review. So that said the simplicity here is what grabbed me. Its got elegance in its complexity, and that means the complexity is emergent, which is awesome. I really like the play its based upon and the basic setup with the four characters, being played out as a trick-taking card game is a wonderful idea.

      I was a little worried about the lines from the play being required, but the cheatsheet at the end is a nice touch that mitigates that. I am still a little worried that their isn’t enough fiction to make roleplaying evolve from the simple card game rules, but I might be just overthinking here. I’d like to see it played before I really can comment on that, it just strikes me that the game could devolve to something without any roleplay at all, with that element discarded. Actually looking over it again, roleplaying probably isn’t a design priority, which is cool just jarring with so little substance left for me to grab on.

      I think this could be an interesting and cool game, and I’d like to see some actual play on it.

    • Mitch

      Mitch’s Review:

      The idea of mixing trick taking with trading cards is SUPER SUPER interesting. It has a dynamic of strategy in trick playing that does not have to be perfect. Its like playing hearts, everyone is trying to shoot the moon on a different suit, but if you flub, you can trade. Also you got the meaning of forsworn right. I want to reinforce this, your underlying mechanics are great. I am actually going to play this game (with my proposed modifications below)
      First some Nit picky things, I found the font you used hard to read. Because your game has a clear goal, it would be helpful to put an objective statement up front that give a general idea of the win condition. I was a little lost as I read the rules for the first time.
      Unfortunately I don’t understand the point of this game. Specifically the Shakespeare quoting aspect. There is only one non-trivia card game that I played that involved quoting lines. That was Monty python fluxx. One of the aesthetics of that game is silliness, which python quotes provide. Also, winning or loosing that game is rather ancillary to the silliness, so the penalty incurred by not quoting python has no material impact on enjoyment of the game. However your game seems to me to be as serious a competition as hearts / spades on which it is based. Because of the level of competition, the Shakespeare quoting is a really bad addition to your game. Locking players who can’t produce the quotes out of the most interesting mechanic your game has. There is also the implication that the quotes must be from tempest. I would be at a loss, never having seen the tempest. And because of that I would miss out on the most ingesting mechanic in the game the trading of won cards?
      Also the Shakespeare theme seems pasted over top. I could turn this into Neo’s gambit by swapping names and the matrix is not Shakespearian at all.
      To make your game better I would simplify it to a card game that a modification of hearts. Each player gets the ace of a suit. There goal is to collect all or collect none (exactly the same goals you have now) of the correct suit. After the trick, at no cost, you can propose a trade (keep the trade restrictions) and execute it if both parties agree. After the final trick, the first person with the goal wins. That would not be a valid entire to this competition, but is an actually playable, and interesting game.

      Mikes Review:

      As a card game, this seems fun to play. It adds a level to Hearts/Spades that was never a previous consideration in any version I’ve played. As a role-playing game that involves Shakespeare, I think Miranda’s Gambit misses the mark. The actual mechanics of the trading and goal-oriented trick-taking are excellent, but the lines required for trading hurts players who have never read the Tempest, and actually, it seems entirely unnecessary that we speak lines from The Tempest. The lines could be from any other play or movie or whatever.

      Unless I’ve missed something about Game Chef, I can’t in good conscience vote for this game since it doesn’t make the Chef theme important enough and doesn’t fulfill the requirement of being some kind of rpg.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (30) The Faerie Court by Damián Fraustro (Gray Wolf)
    A two-players competitive/cooperative romantic comedy game about love, seduction, sex, dominion, and faeries.

    Reviewed by: (29), (27), (24), and (20).

    • gryffudd

      As mentioned in my Forsooth! review, I’ve never played a gm-less cooperative story game, so forgive me if I misunderstand things.

      The Faerie Court is a neat 2-player game about finding the meaning of True Love. The rules seem well constructed and easy to use. I wonder how long a game would be, though. There’s 32 scenes to play through (8 per act), plus checking roll results, and a final scene to present the results to Titania and Oberon. That could be my lack of experience showing, though. I also found the rules for the ending a bit too loose. What if the two players don’t agree on what constitutes a win? A couple of options are presented, but probably only one is needed (or have ‘highest score’ as an option if neither manages to witness True Love. The game could perhaps use a sheet for tracking how many dice are in each pool too, as you go through the scenes.

      I don’t see anything that breaks the game, though. Interesting idea.

      Pat G.

    • Tim Bryant

      The Faerie Court is a light-hearted, well structured game for two players who wish to explore the nature of love. The premise is that Oberon and Titania send out their two best envoys, Puck and Mab, to observe the interactions of 8 suitors and their Objects of Desire (OoDs), 4 per player. Several useful tips are given along the way on whom to play with (someone you really trust) and how to pitch the tone of the game (rated G to XXX, depending on partner’s comfort and desires). Play proceeds along four Acts, with the fifth Act reserved for Puck and Mab’s final reports to their masters, revealing what lessons they learned about the nature of love. This is a fun game with direct inspiration from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

      In addition to the appealing theme, the game includes several mechanics that help resolve the levels of success of the various suitors with their prospective loves. The first interesting mechanic is that once players decide which approach to love is closest to their own, Oberon’s or Titania’s, they play the opposite side during the game. During actual play, the players take turns assuming the role of a suitor attempting to persuade the desired one to reciprocate. Finally, the suitors and Objects of Desire have one of four Temperaments that determine the values of their four attributes. Players roll dice based on these attributes to score how successful their verbal persuasions were during their respective scenes. The attractive character sheet at the end of the game should make tracking this information easy.

      The game might benefit from more expansion on some important points of the process. What should players do when their own perspectives on love match the same character, or neither? Expansion on the descriptions of the two masters’ views of love might help to include more perspectives with which to identify. It might also help some players to have more tips on how to get “in character,” since there are several different types they will be playing. Similarly, the way in which players agree on the style of play could benefit from a specific list of questions to discuss or other criteria to show how this process might look. I especially wanted more development on the ingenious devices of “lines” and “veils” by which players could move play away from topics or approaches they didn’t want to pursue in play. There are several great ideas like these in the game that deserve more elaboration, maybe their own sections.

      In my opinion, people likely to enjoy this game would be couples or close friends who have a fondness for Shakespeare, light-hearted philosophizing about love, and play-acting how lovers of specific dispositions might act. The game has the potential for hours of fun and discovery.

    • drosvally

      While the basic premise of the game was at first, to me, excessive, I found myself intrigued by play as well as the mechanics of the game. I enjoyed your employment of Mediaeval temperaments as a basis of your game mechanics!

      A few little factual niggling bits: I think you meant to say that “Abandon” related to the “wet” nature over the “hot” nature. Also, you misquote Shakespeare in your section on “the road”. The quote you are looking for is “The course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I i).

      Other larger issues: You act structure is excellent, but may be a bit long. You claim that the run of the game should last for one or two nights, yet call for five acts of eight scenes each. There is no way that all that play is going to get shoved into two sessions. I would recommend shortening the acts to four scenes each (two for each player) and think about extending the sittings. In all likelihood, the hobbyist gamer is going to get one act (possibly two) in a sitting… consider extending your time approximation at the beginning of the game.

      Also, your pitch is interesting, your game is interesting, but the first two pages of the rulebook were off-putting to me. In the end, this game is about manipulation and strategy. Yes, this is couched in seduction, but creating a game that is only about flirting really limits your audience. I would consider re-wording your “hook” to open the game audience out a little more. You’re not proposing a Role-Playing fairy fantasy version of Twilight but rather a really interesting take on the process of using people. Find a way to better couch that and I think that you will have a much wider audience.

    • Baxil

      The Faerie Court is a daring entry — a two-player romantic-comedy game that encourages players to explore questions about love together. It’s an extremely strong RPG with only a few weak points — small but crucial, like the keystones on an arch.

      Full review at: http://tomorrowlands.org/gaming/gc11reviews.html#30 (I got delayed for my final review, so I tried to make up for it with extra feedback length.)

  • Jonathan Walton

    (31) No More Bards by Stephen Bretall
    Characters with their own goals, both tragic and hopeful, defy their exile as things head toward an end that, while likely tragic, has a glimmer of hope.

    Reviewed by: (30), (28), (25), and (21).

    • Sam Liberty and Kevin Spak

      This game takes place in a fanciful world inspired by Shakespeare and the tarot deck. I admit I have always been intrigued by the tarot with its evocative art and symbolism bursting with meaning just waiting to be interpreted, so I was immediately excited to see how the deck was related to Shakespeare in this game. The five player characters, represented by five of the major arcana are interesting in that they have wildly conflicting end goals, which should lead to interesting conflicts during the endgame, and the chance cards offer satisfying twists to the standard five-act chassis laid out in the opening of the document.

      The conflict resolution system is clean as most any I’ve seen, resolved with a simple d6 roll, usually unmodified, but with interesting results tied to every outcome. The personalities and powers of the characters are interesting, and more varied than the typical “immune to charm” “+1 to social interactions” that you see in many RPGs. My favorite is probably the Ensigns “Unless the fell deed is done directly where they can see or hear, no one will ever suspect you of being less than virtuous.”

      I am not quite sure how I would run this game, however. Most of the character goals (besides the end goals) seem very easy to accomplish, leaving the character to see to what the rules call “other business,” with no indication of what that might entail. There is also no guidance to DMs on how to interpret the twists presented by the chance cards. For example, the very first one says that bards and sorcerers interfere with your plans, but it’s not clear how they might do this, and how it’s different than anyone else interfering with your plans. A few examples like “They might turn you into a frog” or whatever it is that they might do, would be useful. Lastly, I am not sure how I would wrap up those juicy conflicts that have been stewing since Act I. If two characters specifically have opposing goals, how do you determine which one wins out? Leaving it to a simple die roll seems a bit anticlimactic, but I see no other way of settling it. A more fleshed out explanation of how to achieve the goals would be very useful. Explain these few loose ends and expand a bit upon the NPCs that you might encounter, and you’ll have yourself a player ready to enjoy the game.

    • Hans Chung-Otterson

      Stephen–I like the concept a whole bunch, and the basic mechanic coupled with the characters’ abilities seems solid and nicely otherkind-y (though I do think you’re missing a “state your intent” step with the dice rolls, since two of the results are stated as “unwanted” and “desired”).

      The characters are strong and well fleshed-out mechanically and conceptually. I definitely think the secrets should be open (among the players), though! That often provides juicy overtones to a game, and if I were playing this game as written I’d ignore your advice that it’s more interesting if the players don’t know all the details of the other characters, unless you gave me more insight on that.

      So yes: characters cool, high-level concept cool. The big hole I see, though, is how to GM this game. I can imagine being my character and saying what I do and reacting to the opposition that the GM puts in front of me, but you don’t at all tell the GM how to run the game. Does the GM interpret the Arcana draws (that would make sense, but the game doesn’t say who does)? Does the GM decide when scenes/acts are over? What is the GM’s job, exactly?

      I think youve got a strong premise, but need to think more carefully about how this game is supposed to be run by the GM. As it is, people will bring whatever GMing techniques they have to the game, and run it like that. And if that’s what you want, that’s fine too! But tell us that.

      Going forward, I also think you need more info written about each chance draw. They’re bare-bones now, which works, but doesn’t give the GM a lot to go on, especially the positive ones (how are those supposed to complicate the characters’ goals?).

      Oh! Lastly, I’d like to see more codified lists for the “comedic actions” and “tragic actions” and their results. Make it super-clear what’s what, and especially what it looks like for each result, as it’s pretty vague now.

      I think that’s it! I can see this game working well with some more sweat put into it.

    • Ed Murphy

      I couldn’t access the file, and (due to my own procrastination) don’t have time to fight the ad-laden file host. Would an alternate reviewer like to step in on this one?

      • Jonathan Walton

        Hey Ed, I just emailed you the file you had trouble with.

        We can’t really replace someone for a single review, since it messes up the “read 4 pick 1″ thing. Hopefully you can at least glance over this one and see if it’s better than the others you read.

    • Shreyas Sampat

      (fill-in reviewer)

      I’d love to see this game cleaned up, clarified, and made into a more-finished product. There is a great deal of potential in it – it is a strong exploration of the “strongly focused single scenario premise” genre that Game Chef fosters so effectively.

      My suggestion to the author: It is strange to divide the Arcane the way that they are divided. Instead, consider (and I acknowledge that this would require a great deal of additional work) writing up each Arcanum as both a character and a chance event. This would permit larger casts of characters, a slightly increased chance pool, and really shake up the initial random character draw, which in my opinion should be compulsory.

      It would help to provide some assistance to the GM for the physical location and appearance of the sets that the characters have to work with. As it’s a five-act play structure, I think going farther with that and addressing the physical necessity of limited sets could be entertaining and rewarding. In general, the player tools for this game seem fine but there are a dearth of GM tools that would make the running of the game more tractable.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (32) Exiles of Will by Michael S. Miller
    Five minor characters from the canon seek to end their exile and find a happy ending.

    Reviewed by: (31), (29), (26), and (22).

    • Stephen

      Exiles of Will:

      This game follows the story of five characters after the events of various Shakespeare plays. It’s laid out in a five act structure leading up to a dramatic ending. The characters are really interesting, and have a lot of stuff that I think players could easily latch onto and roleplay compellingly right off the bat. The system revolves around a set of “Bard Cards” which involve situations or quotations from Shakespeare, and seem like they’d be great at sparking interesting roleplaying for everyone. I also like that the system lays out that characters who aren’t present should play NPCs or villains.

      The main thing I have an issue with is that the system is entirely narrative. While this could go great, I could also see it bringing a game session down in flames- basically, with the only conflict resolution rule being “react accordingly as your character”, the quality of the conflicts is going to be entirely based on how well the players get along. As such, I can see this as being a game that’s a lot more about introspection than external conflict- a bold move for an RPG, but one that I think might be very difficult to pull off in actual play.

      In the end, I think this is a very compelling and well-put together game that suffers from being too dependent on the cooperation of the players. I know that no group I’ve ever been in would be able to play this game without it falling apart rather quickly, but at the same time if you did find the right group for it (perhaps an acting troupe?) then I think it’d be not only a fun time, but perhaps one you’d be genuinely moved by too.

    • Tim Bryant

      Exiles of Will gives five characters “exiled” from Shakespeare’s plays to take center stage and redeem themselves as dramatically worthy of attention and redemption. Jessica (from Merchant of Venice), Fleance (Macbeth), Isabella (Measure for Measure), Horatio (Hamlet), and Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) are convincingly described in the opening pages as exiles of different sorts, from king, country, and other affiliations like life itself. The descriptions of characters are efficiently detailed enough to give a good sense of how each one qualifies as an exile. Each character also has a power, helpful in suggesting how to play the character, and two personal “Bard cards,” which feature their notable lines in their plays. The game also has five locations, which determine who is “on-stage” at any moment, and five villains with which to interact during scenes, in addition to the main characters.

      The object of the game is to collect at least four Bard cards by the end of Act 4. Players do this by incorporating the text of a card, literally or contextually, into their narration of dialogue with other characters. Act 5 is reserved for narration of the characters’ fates, for good or ill. There is even a chance of collecting an additional Bard card in the final act, thus assuring an even happier ending due to a deus ex machina, which is a really nice touch to the drama.

      The idea of minor characters having a second chance at drama is ingenious and well developed through the descriptions of characters, the card mechanic, and the progression of Acts in which players’ characters can take either major or minor roles. My major suggestion for development would be to add some mechanics about how to decide whether or not a player’s performance satisfied the acquisition of a card. There seems to be an assumption of cooperation in the game, which fits the subject matter, but some additional means of arbitration and decision-making would be useful to keep things going. Since the majority of the game is about players interpreting and narrating these characters’ second chances, it would be good to have some reference on how to judge their efforts.

      I think players likely to enjoy playing this game would be anyone who has read the related plays and is interested in creative revisions to their foreclosed endings. Actors and students of literature are obvious audiences, but the level of detail of character descriptions should make the game playable by anyone interested in play-acting a well-defined part through dialogue and cooperative storytelling. The card mechanic especially should make the game feel familiar to a wide range of players.

    • Daniele Di Rubbo

      As I read the game I was really satisfied with it. “Shakespeare” theme is 100% of the game; “exile” ‘idem supra’; “nature” ok (your cards are very beautiful and Shakespearean)… hey?! what about the third ingredient? It could be “daughter” – and in fact there is Isabella, that is, of course, Shylock’s daughter – but it can also be “forsworn”, since each of the five exiled characters has been forsworn (= he/she now is a sort of renegade).

      That’s ok! Don’t misunderstand me: the game is wonderful and I really (mostly to satisfy my curiosity) want to know if, in your intentions, the third ingredient was “daughter”, “forsworn” or “both”.

      Proceeding on, we have five pre-generated characters from the works by Shakespeare. They are well chosen and well written. I especially likes the Exiles and the Bard Cards: it seems you have a very deep knowledge of Shakespeare (quotations are all well chosen and inspiring). The game ends in a very narrative and interpretative way: in fact there is no concept of “conflict” (or anything that resembles it): you collect Bard Cards until Act IV, and in Act V you go towards your finale, and you can even twist the fate you had at the beginning of the last Act.

      Hints: you can explain better the way you can collect cards, who can collect cards, what cards are put in the Stage etc. I had some problems (maybe due to the fact English is not my mother language) to understand that part of the game. Even now I can’t understand how can you use the special characters’ “power” to overrun other rules… I assumed this is an interpretation hint for the Players.

      Ultimately, your game is evocative, well written, Shakespearean 100%; it can be played just now, even if the group should be of a kind who really likes acting.

    • Mark Truman

      First, I loved the fantastic character selection. I immediately wanted to play this game, just to have a chance to play Horatio, Bottom, or Fleance. I especially enjoyed how each of the characters has a set of new motivations that take them from the previous narrative into the game. It felt like a fresh and attractive take on some old friends.

      In addition, the Bard Card (cute!) mechanic is really interesting. It gives the characters a few clear motivations and gives the players a way to “win” at the game that doesn’t involve ruining someone else’s fun. Well done!

      As for problems, I think the game jumps in with too little explanation. I felt like the character introductions were compelling, but I wasn’t sure what I should be taking from them for later. This appeared to be a problem several times throughout the text, as I had to keep referencing back and forth to figure out the game. I think the addition of a few sidebars might be really helpful.

      Also, I wasn’t sure what players were supposed to do during the scenes. It’s really neat that all the different characters have motivations, but who sets what each individual scene is about? And is there a way to resolve conflicts between characters, such as if Rosencrantz wants to kill Horatio?

      Overall, I think it’s an interesting, emotional game. I was moved by the characters’ stories and feel that any scene that was built around these story seeds would bear compelling fruit.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (33) Go Puck Yourself by Orion Canning
    You play a mortal tangled in a web of unrequited love, and a fairy who uses magic powers to toy with the other mortals.

    Reviewed by: (32), (30), (27), and (23).

    • gryffudd

      Go Puck Yourself is a neat game about faeries mucking about in the lives of mortals in order to get everyone hooked up with someone else. Two of the ingredients are easy to see, Exlie and Forsworn. I would assume Nature is their strength and weakness, though I didn’t see anything clearly stated for it.

      I found the idea that other players decide on parts of your character (strength and weakness) to be quite interesting. I like things that tie the other characters or players into your character in some way. I also liked the faerie powers. Several of them reminded me of games they played in the ‘Whose Line Is It?’ shows, using a power to make someone redo or change what they were saying. I imagine that’d be a blast.

      I only had a few problems, all minor. Faeries being seen is bad, and they’re supposed to avoid it at all costs, but everything they do is done offscreen or invisibly anyway. I guess it just seemed stressed a bit much when it won’t come into play. The other thing was deciding who is lead in each scene. It says that the players take turns, but there isn’t an explicit mention of how. And I couldn’t find an obvious mention of the third ingredient (which I assumed was nature, but I could be wrong). Just nit-picks, really. Overall I thought it was a pretty solid game.

    • stalwart1000

      This is a very Shakespearean game. It takes Midsummer Night’s Dream and makes it into a template for play. The interplay of mortal desires and fairy goals seems a solid basis for creative play.
      I like the love cards being obvious to all the players, but not necessarily the characters. This provides a very theatrical aspect to play, where the audience can see what characters want, even when the characters themselves are blind to it.
      Having free choice about who is exiled each turn might be problematic. It seems that you gain fairy points primarily by moving your love card around (which, I gather, can only be done when you play a mortal in the scene). But you only spend them when you play a fairy in the scene. Players might wind up being repeatedly cast as their mortal or fairy character and either amass unspendable points, or be constantly short of them. The social contract might kick in to solve this, as most groups look out for fairness.
      The improv nature of the fairy powers should help keep creative input flowing, and players on their toes.

      Use of ingredients:
      Exile is part of game structure, with each scene requiring a player to be exiled and play their fairy character.
      Nature is setting, “somewhere surrounded by the outdoors.” It is somewhat arbitrary and not woven deeply into the fabric of the game.
      Forsworn is a fairy power. And a fun one that I anticipate would see a fair bit of use.

    • Mitch

      Mitch’s Review:

      I like that your “setting” includes a reason why the characters are all together and all know each other. That’s something that many RPGs overlook.
      “if a mortal takes an action against another mortal, the player of the mortal affected by the action gets to decide the outcome of that action.” This is very simple very obvious yet never a rule I have seen before. I like it.
      I also like the fairy aspect of your game. Its realy super awesome. One of the pernicious problems in RPGs is keeping on active characters engaged and focused on the game. I think the fairy mechanics solve that problem beautifully.
      Nit-picky stuff. I liked the intro with number of players etc. I would add an objective statement about the game. It helps me focus on the mechanics as they are presented if I know what I’m supposed to be doing in the game. This is not the only way to present this information, but you have the same format I use for intros, and I put an objective statement in mine. For example for monopoly it would be Objective: be the only non-bankrupt player. Yours should be “The game ends when every mortal is paired off into a two person relationship, with each mortal in the pair in love with the other.” I was lost to the point of this game until I read that sentence. Its almost at the very end.
      I get that this game is on the free-flowy / rules lite/ diceless end of the spectrum, but I think there needs to be a little more rules to it. The end goal of the game is not supported by any of the other mechanics. Indeed most mechanics are to support the fairies and their quest to the virtues. I was expecting the end goal to reflect that. It seems to me the point of the game is “do the fairies save the humans from there vices”. I was honestly suppressed that the end state dealt with love triangles. The rules made that seem like a cute secondary thing. Additionally, there is nothing in the rules to ensure that the love trends towards pairs.
      Using the love as the end state could stand but you should add something to the end to make the fairies virtue and there path towards it more important. Maybe randomize who the fairies are trying to “reform” and have the virtue be secret. As you pointed out, many things could be the opposite virtue to Gluttony. Then there would be a final epilogue step where the fairies would revile there virtue and explain how they were trying to get there human there. Then everyone can have fun thinking about “did I guess right” and deciding if the fairy did a good job or not.

      Mike’s Review:

      The fairy mechanic is quite interesting since it encourages non-active players to be invested in the action. It even rewards those players with mechanics to use against the main actors. The story about the lovers seems to be ancillary to the question about whether the fairies are successful or not. Having recently read A Midsummer Night’s Dream (taught it to 9th graders), I would suggest to downplay the love story between the mortals. It isn’t that interesting in the real play, but what is more interesting is how Puck’s meddling twists the story in comedic ways.

    • Shreyas Sampat

      (fill-in reviewer)

      The use of the dual character in this game is pretty delightful to me, and the exile mechanic seems pretty stable. The fairy powers are great too, each flavorful and entertainingly Victorian, while permitting the players great leeway in manipulating the action even when their characters are off the stage. All in all the mechanics of this game are charming, streamlined, and seem to be true to their purpose.

      However, the end condition seems strange and tacked-on. I see mentions of it in the play section of the text, but apart from ‘causing the game to stop being played’ there is no clear incentive to end up in a paired relationship, which (although I appreciate it as a champion of romantic diversity) seems to be an odd design choice.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (34) The Wyrd Wood by Angela Craft
    A game of courtly intrigue, set in the courts of Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fae.

    Reviewed by: (33), (31), (28), and (24).

    • Sam Liberty and Kevin Spak

      This is an interesting take on the Midsummer/Faeries setting. Placing the focus on the faeries–with the humans as simple passing obstacles/distractions/etc–feels right, and sounds like fun. You do a good job of justifying the no-violence thing, and making it seem natural. And the compulsion mechanic feels both thematically appropriate and well executed. I like that the game both rewards you for following your compunction (which makes you feel less bad about it happening to you, and probably makes you more likely to go with it, throwing character-appropriate monkey wrenches into the plot) and allows you to opt-out (which ensures that you never have to do something you feel is out of character). Finally, I’m a big fan of the magic backfiring examples you provided, and would like to see that idea expanded on–perhaps a chart of spell screw-up ideas for hurried Bards to refer to is in order.

      While it’s clever to base the central dice mechanic on an Elizabethan game, I don’t think it’s actually enhancing your gameplay. Converting the pairs into non-intuitive bonuses that you then add other bonuses to in an attempt to hit a target number just feels needlessly complicated–how is it fundamentally different from rolling a single dice and adding bonuses to the result? If you want to go forward with this mechanic, I would try to streamline it and integrate it more. Instead of difficulty numbers, for example, why not just express difficulties as “Pair or better,” “Two pair or better” and so on? That would be more intuitive and eliminate the need for the chart. Speaking of which, you could really use some guidelines for bards on where to set difficulties for spells. Reading the spell examples, I read “the bard declares it’s a difficulty of +3″ and I thought, “based on what?” I need a sense of which magics are considered easy for the fae and which difficult.

      If you do decide to expand on this game further, I’d really like to see more details on how the intrigue of the court works, and more direction for players and especially bards on how to craft stories for this world. Is it simply about going on missions at Titania or Oberon’s behest, or should characters have their own agendas? What might Titania and Oberon want, given that your introduction implies they have everything? It’s an intriguing setting, but it doesn’t come with familiar storytelling structures the way, say, sword & sorcery fantasy does. I feel like I wouldn’t know precisely where to start if I were the bard here.

    • Stephen

      The Wyrd Wood:

      This game has an interesting premise, that the players are members of two rival faerie courts embroiled in various contests of trickery and intrigue. The system seems pretty solid, with a good range of skills and abilities to cover a wide range of situations that might come up. Each faerie has a nature, which are very interesting- although based on a common theme of the elements, each has a unique take on it, such as fire igniting emotions or air erasing memories. Similarly, each faerie has a compulsion which sound like they’d make for good roleplaying. There’s also a fairly simple but nicely done magic system added on for good measure.

      I like how it’s pointed out that the faeries are immune to physical harm, since the game is focused on intrigue. I always enjoy when a game works things like that into the fiction rather than leaving it up to the GM. The main issue I have with this game is I’d have no idea how to run it as a GM. The pitch to a group would be easy, and yes, there’s a short section on common antagonists and situations (which is very nicely done), but I just don’t think it’d be enough to carry on a whole game, let alone a series of games.

      However, I think to really give the amount of details about the courts and what in them would spark intrigue would require far more than the allotted 3,000 words, and given the constraint I think a good effort is made towards that. If you had a GM who really had a lot of ideas for a faerie court-style intrigue I think this game could be a great time, but as it stands I feel like it’d really benefit from being written in a more in-depth style.

    • Orion Canning

      First off I think you have a great setting and central ideas. You’ve got the backbone for a solid, fun game.

      My next thought is that dice rolls seem way too hard. + 6 is labeled the average difficulty, but to roll a +6 with a skill at fair, you need to roll four of a kind, which I believe is a 1 in 216 chance, so it almost never happens. The problem is each +1 step higher has an exponentially smaller probability. There’s not a whole lot of randomness; most of your rolls will give you a pair (+1), which means with a skill at the highest level, you’re going to be rolling threes nearly all of the time. It would make more sense to me if having an average level of skill allowed you to do things of average difficulty most of time, or at least with a 50 50 chance.

      I think the dice system needs to be changed a lot to make things playable. Just rolling a D6 would probably work fine. If you want to stick with the knucklebones concept, I recommend keeping nearly the same roll values but having players roll 6 dice and drop two to smooth out the exponential curve. Or keep all 6 and add values for different combinations of pairings (3 and 2, 3 and 3, 4 and 2, and 3 pair) ordered by probability, and very high values for 5 and 6 of a kind. What about bumping up all the skill bonuses by a point or two?

      Could the game be played with 1 or 2 players and a bard?

      Character creation seems fun. After picking a class and a nature and compulsion you’ve already got a very interesting character. I like the way the bard can bribe you to obey your compulsion. I think it might be best to simplify skills a little though as some of them seem to overlap. Politics, oratory, persuasion, and diplomacy for example seem like they would often all work for the same attempt. It might even be best to cut back the skills to Guile, Allure, and Corporal, then give a list of actions one could perform with each skill.

      Why is the spirit score randomly determined? To me it seems like that will just punish some players for being unlucky. Why not just let players spend points to buy it up if they want? I feel the same about willpower.

      Considering the word limitation you did a great job defining setting and players, but I think more needs to be said about playing the game, for example how conflicts are resolved, especially between players, how much narrative power the bard has vs how much players have, and what shape the story should take. How should objectives and goals be decided? Do games always start with the king or queen handing out orders? Does a session end when the orders are completed? Should characters have individual goals as well?

      It fits great with the Shakespeare theme and uses it’s ingredients, though I would like to see the ingredients take a more central role, especially exiled fairies and the split fairy court. What if you had players play exiles and opposites sides of the court to encourage conflict between them?

      All in all it’s a great start, playing as these characters in this setting seems like a lot of fun, but I think the game needs more narrative structure and the mechanics need tweaking (Or maybe a new direction) before it will be playable. It’s actually very similar thematically and mechanically to my game, which I have to give props for. I was tempted to make a game about fairies, and I decided to make it about mortals being toyed with by fairies instead, but I’d love to see the kinks in this worked out and have a go at playing the fairy side of things.

    • drosvally

      This seems like an interesting start to a game, but what you have created here is more of an environment than a true game. The backbone is in place, but there are only the vaguest of hints towards real goals or motivations. I think I would have liked to see some sample modules, or perhaps a bit more set-up for the precise nature of the courtly intrigue as well as some other characters within the courts and their ambitions, rivalries, loyalties, things like that.

      Additionally, I would have liked to see more Shakespeare in this game. You utilize Oberon and Titania as well as quotes from the cannon, but perhaps you could have tied in more bardy stuff with the motivations I mentioned above. You open your game with the famous monologue about the Changeling boy, but there’s also the complications of Hippolyta and Theseus, Philida, Puck, the lovers… many things are mentioned within Midsummer which could (and do!) effect the court of the Fae and they would make great fodder for your courtly games. What you really need to do is go back in, look harder and deeper, and integrate your findings into the game.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (35) A Beautiful Death by Kira Scott (anansigirl)
    A tragic game of intrigue, secrets, and the death of your noble character. It’s only once you lose everything that you achieve a Beautiful Death.

    Reviewed by: (34), (32), (29), and (25).

    • Hans Chung-Otterson

      This premise is way cool, Kira. It’s also interesting that there’s a kind of tactical system of play, deciding whether to write letters or intercept them, activating your families, fortunes, and fame while revealing your secrets, all on the way to your downfall. Like I said: way cool.

      I love character creation. Very juicy, effortlessly creating towering characters teetering on the verge of an epic downfall. Awesome! The Map of Court & how that’s used is especially inspired.

      My problems with the game are how Acts work and play out. I think the structure you’ve got is solid, but trying to understand it through reading is confusing, and takes the effort of re-reading it a few times. I mean, it’s OK to have dense stuff in a game, but this could definitely benefit from some reorganization and especially examples (of course the word count was against your here; I’m merely suggesting how to move forward) of each phase.

      My other two questions are about the Fatal Flaw & the Fame, Fortune, and Family. Let’s start with the Fatal Flaw. They’re very evocative, and help us get a grip on what’s going to cause this character’s downfall. I’m worried, though, that there’s not enough in the game tying the Fatal Flaw to the character or the situation–this is ostensibly what’s causing the character’s downfall & death, right? Just having it be a phrase you choose in character creation and put on the character sheet doesn’t feel like enough.

      As for the Fame, Fortune, and Family–I loved reading about these, especially the fact that the characters will “lose them at the end of the game”. Fantastic! I create external things my character cares about and then I’ll get to see how I sacrifice them! However, it doesn’t seem like these really come into play until the very end. Ostensibly my character is sacrificing these things to overcome their Dilemma, but through most of game play they’re just cards that are activated or not, and if they’re activated then at the end of the game I’ve sacrificed them. You promise one thing in the FFF section, but it doesn’t actually happen during play, we just kind of see it through the character’s final Soliloquy. Unless I’ve missed something?

      Anyway, Kira, I think you’ve got something really solid here, and fun in a devious, dark way. I’d urge you to keep working, and to think about the things I’ve brought up and see if they resonate with you as you look at your game.

      P.S. if you care to respond or ask me for further feedback or anything, please do. You can reach me at hcotterson AT gmail and you know the rest.

    • Tim Bryant

      A Beautiful Death is a fun resource management game where the resources aren’t physical objects like raw materials, but the more elusive qualities of a Shakespearean tragic hero, such as one’s fame, fortune, family, and darkest secrets. The game begins by creating noble characters, each of which has a place in court (helpfully visualized in the included Map of Court) by possessing affiliations with 3 “Sets” of society and, within each set, a description of their role (e.g., in the Tower Prison set, one can be an intellectual, schemer, or wife/husband). The player characters also each possess a fatal flaw and a situational dilemma to be overcome through the action of the first four Acts. The fifth and final Act is reserved for a closing soliloquy in which players deliver descriptions of their “beautiful deaths,” which they have achieved if they were successful in activating their various qualities, including those nasty secrets.

      While the emphasis is on personal character development, competition is present in the ability of other characters to interfere with the activation of a character’s cards. Some characters may be enemies of each other and, for one, intercept secret letters in which a character is trying to enlist the aid of another character. I would like to see more explanation of how enemies can be created (through their alignment of sets at character creation?) or decided upon by the players. Since this is one of the primary ways players can interfere with each other, I’d like to see more on this point. Players who accept each other’s letters help each other activate each other’s cards and thus lead them to a beautiful death.

      I love the playful tone the designer used in writing the game, as it is perfectly appropriate to the mood and style of play. The rules were a quick read because of the writing. I would like to see more descriptions and examples at some points, especially more description of the sets, more description and definition of the fatal flaws and dilemmas, and some examples of the kinds of secrets a player might create. These are all key elements and they make sense as written, but a little bit more would help some players who are less familiar with role-playing. I thought the section on what constitutes a beautiful death was very well done and would consider moving that section, or something like it, to earlier in the rules, since it’s so central to the game.

      This game of intrigue is itself intriguing, with just the right number of character and play options to make room for some interesting decision-making during play. This had a solid Shakespearean feel to it, as well as solid role-playing mechanics. All the parts are there and should appeal to Shakespeare buffs and rpg players equally well.

    • Angela

      A Beautiful Death

      This game definitely feels Shakespearean through-and-through. And not just Shakespearean, but evocative of the tragedies specifically. You definitely have a firm grasp of what made Shakespeare’s tragedies tragic, and do an excellent job of crafting a game that would make a player want to explore these themes.

      Right now I’m not sure the explanation of game play is in the most helpful order. Reading through the anatomy of an act I was totally confused by the letter writing aspect, since that hadn’t been brought up before. It may be more helpful to leave the anatomy of an act until the end. While I know you were working under a word count, if you choose to go forward with this I’d also suggest including example letters and soliloquies

      While I like the idea of character creation, right now it feels a little disconnected at times, and I’m not sure I entirely understand all of it. I think some of this just has to do with semantic choices – by saying each set represents ” your nobility, greatness, and character” I’m trying to match up each descriptor in the set as a nobility, a greatness, and a character. I also don’t see how these choices will have much impact on the final game, while it’s obvious how secrets and fame, fortune and family will come into play.

      I think without a word count restriction this game has a lot of potential, and will be great fun to play. It could be a great introduction to RPGs for actors, and those role players who are more into characters and story-telling than dice rolling will find a lot to embrace as well.

    • stalwart1000

      This is a very ambitious idea. The game heartily embraces the tragedy of Shakespeare and celebrates it.
      The game pieces are well laid out. The map is an excellent, evocative piece of art. Not only does it provide spur to the imagination, but gives the game a “boxed in” sense that is pervasive in tragedy, like there is nowhere to go. Also tying character creation to the map and its assigned social roles grounds the characters, both figuratively and literally.
      Plus, the gameplay is quite complex. There are many moving parts: letters, coins, secret cards, tragedy wheels, FFF cards. It’s a lot to pack into a few thousand words of text.
      The tragedy wheel is not quite fully explained. Does each player have their own coin on the wheel?
      I am also not quite clear on how the whole Intrigue phase works. Because if I know that my enemy has chosen to intercept a letter this round before I write a letter, I might choose to intercept instead of send. Also, since it seems that you intend players to actually physically write a letter, what do the intercepting players do during that time? Would it be better if everyone wrote something on a piece of paper at the same time, and players who chose to intercept could write “I intercept Goneril’s letter” and reveal it once everyone is done.
      Also, everyone could choose to intercept, and then what? If intercepting is a limited resource, that might not happen.
      However, all the pieces serve to push the players in the right direction: toward paranoia and beautiful death.

    • kirascott

      Hey everyone who reviewed my game:

      Thanks so much for the feedback! I really appreciate the time you took to make some good observations. Thanks for liking my premise and giving me some useful critique.

      Kira

  • Jonathan Walton

    (36) Shakesplatter 16k: Dire Adventure into the Spearemageddon
    by Dev Purkayastha

    The Director portrays scenes from Shakespeare. The players pick classes and cool powers. Explosions. Death.

    NOTE: [NOT ELIGIBLE FOR RECOMMENDATION] by personal request

    Reviewed by: (35), (33), (30), and (26).

    • Orion Canning

      From the title alone I can tell this game is going to be ridiculous and satirical. It’s a really funny take on making a Shakespeare roleplaying game, with player characters intruding on Shakespeare’s plays and proceeding to proverbially fuck shit up in a traditional hack and slash dungeon crawl fashion. If that’s the idea, I get it, and I think it’s great. I love the characters too, the mental image of Nostradamus walking in to the middle of Taming of the shrew with a giant scythe is so wonderfully over the top.

      Does it fit the theme? It’s definitely Shakespeare based, albeit not entirely in the true spirit of Shakespeare, but that’s fine with me. The ingredients Daughter, Exile, and Foreswear are tied in through the PC’s quests, which felt like shoehorning at first glance, but after some thought I realized that they would be driving the direction of the game. Foreswearing romantic entanglements is probably the flimsiest one, leaving the player of Merlin to set up romances just to knock them down. But maybe it could lead to something good, heartbreak, tragedy, and bloodshed even.

      Is it playable? I think so. I want to play it. I’m not sure how I feel about all actions taking place in strict initiative order; I’m worried it would restrict roleplaying and make dialogue choppy. But it is amusing because it gives the impression that combat begins as soon as the PCs enter, making it clear they are here to kick some ass.

      The dice mechanics are simple and will work fine. I can’t tell how well the guest characters are balanced, and my guess is they probably aren’t, but they all seem fun to play so it probably doesn’t matter. I think each guest needs another power though, in case they complete both of their quests. Many of the powers depend on well defined areas of light and shadow, which might be a sticky point.

      Will the story make any sense? I’m not sure. I’d be tempted to run into the room screaming and start shooting every character in sight just because it seems fittingly anachronistic, but it’s probably not how the game should be played. Guests definitely need to be motivated by their quests. I’m also wondering if every scene would begin with the cast turning towards the guest and asking, “Who the hell are you? Get out of here!” What if the game ended when a guest completed both of their quests, leaving them the protagonist or winner? I guess you wouldn’t need any more powers then, and it would drive the game towards a definite conclusion.

      I look forward to trying this out.

    • kirascott

      This game is completely absurd and I would totally play it. So would my friends who love to hate indie-games. With the inclusion of miniatures, classes, and random dice events, you’ve managed to make it accessible to all types of gamers. While simultaneously poking fun at 40k, and games like it, you still make it sound like a fun mini based game!

      It would be difficult to match your incredible wit while reviewing this game. I love how you totally unabashedly throw together like, every genre possible, and even managed to (maybe?) match it up to the type of player who would go after that character. You offer fun stereotypical character options (which is all I can imagine the different “classes” are geared toward: the vampire player, the hardcore dnd player, the victorian enthusiast… I see what you did there. Intentional?) In either case, I think it’s hilarious.

      Love how you just went totally gonzo with your premise. I think it successfully includes the feel of a Shakespeare play too! You know what your audience wants, on a meta-level, and you’re giving them blood, dice rolls, and miniatures, promising laughs over beers and ridiculous character quotes. Make this a real game please because it’s really fun.

      Want to bounce some more ideas off me or get some more critique? Send an email to anansi at gmail, or catch me on Storygames as anansigirl.

    • Mark Truman

      Honestly, I’m not sure why this is ineligible. It’s loud, brash, rude, funny, and awesome…just like anything by the Bard. Sure, it’s a little strange and violent for no apparent reason, but so was Titus!

      I especially enjoy how it manages to be a Shakespeare game and a satire of miniature based games at the same time. You’ve asked the players to use every die, the grid map, and miniatures to tell the greatest stories ever told…with vampires!

      To be fair, there’s not a ton of depth here. I’m not sure if this would be good for more than a single session, but I do know that I’m going to try it out with my usual gaming group because it seems really fun.

    • Shreyas Sampat

      (fill-in reviewer)

      I want to see this in action to understand how it plays out; it seems unclear to me what may motivate the Guests to enter any given scene, particularly since some plays may offer no acceptable subjects for their various Quests. This would be something that a little bit of playtesting would bear out, however.

      I’m very interested in the premise of starting from a pre-written trajectory and then requiring the player characters to cause the game to deviate from that trajectory. It is a striking and unusual technique, and I’d love to see it explored further.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (37) Fates by Matthew Sullivan-Barrett & Gareth Cromie
    3 players create a 3 Act play following the paths leading from a single youthful Choice. In the end one path is chosen and one is forsworn.

    Reviewed by: (36), (34), (31), and (27).

    • gryffudd

      And now my actual review for Fates. Sorry about the mix-up!

      Fates is about taking a character down two roads in life, with two friends, and choosing which one you think would come out best. It’s a cooperative storytelling game, so It’s a bit out of my realm of experience. The rules look solid, though. The three ingredients (Exile, Forsake, and Nature) are all clearly tied in. I know s few people used Daughter in their games, but it looks to me like it was by far the least-used term this year.

      Hm, I’m not really sure what else to say. It feels very rules light to me, even for a game built within 3,000 words. That’s not a bad thing, it just puts it very much outside my gaming experience. I wish I could give more input. I do very much like the core idea.

      Pat G.

    • Stephen

      Fates:

      An interesting premise revolving around following a lead character through two different paths, then he must choose which way he wants his life to go. There’s plentiful examples (which was nice to include, especially with the limited word count) and an interesting setting as well as allowing for making your own setting, another nice include. The setting and character creation seems thorough and looks like it’d make for some interesting happenings.

      Personally, I’m not a fan of games whose only conflict resolution mechanics are narrative, but I give this game props for including a bit about “yes, but…” and reminding people not to abuse veto powers. Otherwise, I find this game pretty solid and it looks like it’d be both interesting to play and would generate an intriguing story.

    • Angela

      Fates is an intimate game about how our friendships affect our lives, and this intimacy comes out even in the writing. This feels less like I’m reading a rule book, and more like a friend is explaining the game to me at the table as we’re getting ready to play, with the numerous examples and instructions to think about our own lives for inspiration. This makes the game very clear and easy to understand even on the first read through.

      The current format of the game, though, works a little bit against this ease of reading. Immediately after the introduction we get to the explanation of game play for Act I, which is then followed by game set up. I think the introduction could be used to give us a brief idea of game play, then give us the set up instructions, and keep the game play instructions of Acts I, II and III all together.

    • Matthew Sullivan-Barrett

      Hey, Chefs, many thanks for taking the time to read and review Fates!

      I would love to talk more about your feedback. Please do feel free to write: my yahoo dot com address is ‘jjspackle’.

      I could also provide feedback for your games, if you are interested.

      Good show, Chefs!

  • Jonathan Walton

    (38) Stratford-On-Avon: A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Travis Lindquist
    Survival horror in the land of the fae, where Ophelia has taken Titania captive and exiled Oberon.

    Reviewed by: (37), (35), (32), and (28).

    • Sam Liberty and Kevin Spak

      I’m absolutely in love with the setting here. The “every room has three walls” thing just made me giggle with delight. I love that this is a setting where elements from every Shakespeare play could show up in a way that feels plausible.

      I was however quite confused when I hit the mechanics section. “A wager includes both a desire and a cost as per the intensity reference,” the rules declare, but this isn’t explained at all until the chart at the end of the document–and there only sketchily.

      I’m not entirely sure the liar’s dice system makes sense here anyway. The basic scenario puts all the PCs on the same team, so why would I want to wager against my teammates? And when is this mini-game triggered exactly? It seems rather long and abstract for a generic action-resolution system. Is this the equivalent of a “fight scene”? Are we literally playing dice or is it some kind of abstraction? It’s possible the system would work, I just don’t have enough info here to know how to use it.

      Finally, unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think the Resources and Knowledge scores referred to in character creation are ever actually explained.

      All in all a cool offering though. The world is well fleshed out, and sounds like it’d be a blast to play in.

      • Travis Lindquist

        Not sure if this is allowed, but…without getting too far into the meat of your comments, Knowledge is explained immediately after introduction (albeit it shakily, whoops!) and Resources are explained in Mechanics.Complications.Resources. (Page 6)

        Thanks for the review!

    • stalwart1000

      Interesting setting. I like the “three walls” concept with every room being a theater.
      The premise is framed reminds me of an old D&D module. It simply tosses the PCs into the adventure through the actions of an NPC and adds what amounts to “boxed text” to set them on their way.
      Mechanics are a bit convoluted. Liar’s dice playing is divorced from what happens to the fiction. The impact of all the exceptions, oaths, and intensity and how that interacts with being forsworn is not well explained. I’m not sure I would know how to play from the text supplied.
      The game seems to imply that players will be forced to perform continuously in roles in plays, with the whole “three walls” concept, and Tisiphone casting her enemies as villains. But the GM section doesn’t really delve into that at all. I would not know what to do with this game. Is it supposed to play out like falling from a scene in one play to a scene in another (so scene one is something from Oedipus Rex and scene two is from Guys and Dolls)? Or is it supposed to follow the PCs doing whatever they want, and those actions are called “the play” that the fae are watching?
      Use of ingredients:
      Exile: Woven into the setting, with both Oberon and Titania as exiled
      Daughter: This is a central setting aspect, with Hamlet and Ophelia’s daughter as central antagonist. Not sure why she’s a faerie, though. Has she been there so long that she has taken on fae aspects?
      Forsworn: This is central to the game mechanics, and will come up in play regularly.

    • Matthew SB & Gareth C(#37)

      There were a number of qualities I really enjoyed from this game. For starters, the players portraying mortals who must fit in amongst the alien Fey is a good frame for adventure and surreal drama. Combined with the conceit that the Fortress of the Fae essentially stages scenes from plays all the time, and the characters must play along if they don’t wish to be exposed as outsiders(and they don’t), it should make it easy for the GM to direct play and introduce an unbalancing sequence of disjointed narratives. Plenty of smaller details were quite juicy as well: An audience always visibly watching the scenes from the exposed “fourth wall”. The direct relationship between Knowledge and years in college, with the corresponding inverse relationship to Resources. The maladjusted resurgence of Fey power, which seems begging for player characters help guiding it in more fruitful directions. All good stuff. Also the ingredients (Daughter, Exile and Forsworn) and theme are well integrated into the whole.

      The game does suffer for want of editing and more explanation. Important elements are inadequately explained (conflict intensity, wagers, wild dice), or used in the text well before being described (Resources, being Forsworn). Clear GM guidance on running the game would be beneficial as well. All this is not surprising given the time and word count constraints in place in the competition, and I’m sure would get ironed out with additional work and effort. I’m not too worried about that.

      Some ideas and procedures that might need more design work:

      -The story frame using Oberon to enlist the characters is OK for a contest game, but not very engaging. Survival and escape remain as character motivations, but those are not very interesting drivers for play either. What I’d really like to see is more space for characters to develop their own goals and things to accomplish in the Fae. The background presented has a lot of potential, and I’d like to see that developed with more options for player character investment.

      -More guidance to the players in character creation, and things built in to character creation that tie the characters to interesting bits of the game, or that serve as flags for what bits they are interested in. As for what is there already, Country of Origin(1/3 of what defines a character at creation) was pretty flat – maybe replace it with something punchier.

      -Finally, and this is a big one, the conflict system looks problematic. The parameters for setting up wagers (stakes) are incompletely explained and a bit loose, but my biggest concern is that the Liar’s Dice subsystem feels disconnected from the rest of play at the table. Specifically, I fear that every time a conflict is kicked off, the whole fictional flow grinds to a halt to play this mini-game. I don’t have a good feel for how long a Liar’s Dice game takes, but it seems like too long a process to be pulled away from the fiction to decide who wins the wager. Especially since it has a lot of fiddly bits and involvement, which is barely affected by the fiction or conflict intensity, and which doesn’t in turn feed back strongly into the fiction either, other than deciding the winner. I’d suggest looking for ways to keep each player’s actions in the mini-game feeding back into the fiction, and likewise ways for the fiction to stay meaningful in the mini-game.

      All said, I think there is real potential in this game, and would be interested to see what it is capable of with more work, polish and playtesting.

    • kirascott

      Hey Travis,

      I posted my feedback on the FORGE cause it got too wordy. Here’s the link:

      http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=31784.msg287530#msg287530

  • Jonathan Walton

    (39) You and Me by David A Hill Jr
    You are too good for your betrothed. Change them. They deserve it.

    Reviewed by: (38), (36), (33), and (29).

    • Travis Lindquist

      David,

      An interesting take on the theme! I liked the character creation overall, especially since I have a weakness for anything zodiac related! Great use of the signs!

      Game-play seemed somewhat interesting, although I’m curious as to the strategies that would emerge with the chip economy. However, it is well laid out, and relatively easy to read.

      I do have some concerns about this game. First, it seems more like a board game than a role playing game. While I think some board game elements are great, I feel like this one has a few too many to really feel like a role playing game. Second, the character creation using randomly drawn chips seems to leave a player vulnerable to a ‘bad’ character draw which would put them at a disadvantage depending on their strategy choice.

      I think you’ve got some great ideas here. For moving forward, I think you should consider giving the players more freedom. Right now, the game is relatively scripted, which contributes to the board game feel. Giving the players a bit more room to maneuver should help focus the game on the characters and less on the game play.

    • Tim Bryant

      You and Me is a highly interactive game for two-players who spend the first part of play creating their characters by choosing traits via dialogue, then attempting to change those traits in order to make their partners, or themselves, more like the other. The names of the game and its opening text capture the wry sense of humor behind the premise that the partnered characters possess equal convictions that they are changing the other for their own good. This feels like a very fun game from the outset.

      Play progresses through exchanges of dialogue in which players invoke one of their own or their partner’s traits (such as Adventurous or Clingy) and describe what they do based on those traits. Each player also possesses chips or tokens that they can invest in their actions, or spend to resist the actions of their partners. The goal is to acquire as many tokens as possible in order to become the “winner” in the relationship, which is presented in good humor as really a matter of manipulation. The instructions on creating characters at the beginning of the game seems a bit clearer to me than those for declaring trait-based actions and spending chips.

      The latter sections on declaring actions and spending chips were ones that I thought would benefit most from more development. Since there are a limited number of chips, it would be useful to see what the relative balance was between chance draw of chips and strategy. I think more examples might be a good way of drawing out these ideas.

      I imagine this game would be enjoyed by friends of all ages. The premise is well structured, humorously presented, and very familiar. The selection of “positive” and “negative” traits might make this game especially appealing to couples young adults beginning to date. In any case, the game has a nice tone and a fun process of negotiating personal borders.

    • Orion Canning

      This game is a wonderful social commentary, right off the bat. Two people in a relationship, trying to manipulate, control, and change each other. That was compelling enough to make me want to play on it’s own. The rules of play are simple and straightforward, and have a good balance between mechanics, player choice, and story.

      While not as explicitly Shakespearean as some games, it certainly fits the theme, and the ingredients are clear and put to good use, integral to the mechanics as well as the meaning of the game as a social commentary. Having to foreswear to hide your true nature so you can keep it and facing exile from the community to escape your abusive relationship or becoming a victim are both intensely dramatic choices from a story and character perspective, but are simple mandates in the rules. Just pick one. No big deal, right?

      It seems very playable to me, the only rule I question is why a coin is flipped after a successful block. Why doesn’t the block just stand? I’m guessing this is used to speed up the game and keep it from becoming an endless stalemate. The only thing that was unclear to me was “Opposing-colored counters require an even number of counters to block.” I wasn’t sure if it meant even as opposed to odd or meaning the same amount. I’d also like to see more actual scenes played out based on the outcome of actions, to give a little more room for plot and character development, even though they are both obviously meant to be very constrained.

      I love the possible endings for the game, and the fact that no one wins. So sad, so harsh, but so true. Definitely a game I’ll be trying out.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (40) Drama on the Lawn by Tim Rodriguez
    A jeepform game in three acts about a Shakespeare on the Lawn acting troupe.

    Reviewed by: (39), (37), (34), and (30).

    • David A Hill Jr

      Drama On The Lawn

      This is a fascinating game, one I wish I had a group I could play with. It challenges my concept of what a “LARP” should be. In short, it’s a sort of game within a game, where you’re playing actors that are playing iconic Shakespearean roles. The format has roughly dictated scenes between the actors, where the players fill in all the dialogue and gaps.

      The strength of the game really comes from fostering and exploring interesting interactions between the actors. They’re put into various scenes, with barebones prompts, and expected to flow through them with the strengths of their experiences.

      Now, when I look at a game, I usually look to what the game brings to the table. This format offers no formal game mechanics, just method and dictated structure. It’s less a game in the proper sense, more a guidebook for improvisation. In fact, more than half the text is dedicated to explaining the format. While I understand the format, I don’t see much of a game in it. It’s more like the improv exercises I played in college. I think it could benefit a bit from some guidance, or at least something that makes the game different in different playthroughs that isn’t solely the responsibility of the players. In fact, I pitched the game to a number of my regular players, and they all asked me, “so where’s the game in this”? That could use a little more clarity, and possibly heavier development.

      I can’t see strong use of the ingredients without strong interpretation to go with them. I would argue that they’re hidden within, but don’t take a front seat role themselves.

      Drama On The Lawn fits its format well. It’s a strong skeleton, and I could see it fostering engagement. I think it could benefit from more traditional game theory; not excessively, but enough to make it appeal as a game, as opposed to just an acting exercise. I would certainly give it a try, if I had a group that would all be interested in such a thing.

    • Matthew SB & Gareth C(#37)

      My initial reaction to this game was one of pleasure and excitement. I’ve been interested in the jeepform movement and its outputs for a while now, but have not had many experiences with it. So I like that this game covers a handful of relevant concepts and techniques, and presents a structured framework for trying them out. The text is very brief and to the point, but provides links at the end for readers curious in general about jeepform and close to home play.

      To play the game as-is, however, will require a bit of interpretation as some procedures and expectations are not explained clearly, nor are their applications always obvious. Since the game is very short, I can identify a few such areas that seem to need more explanation or guidance. These may seem a bit nit-picky – I think I would be able to enjoy playing the game as is, but I don’t know if I would be playing it as intended or just as a somewhat structured improv game.

      a) There is mention in the introduction of preparatory exercises to get everyone familiar with the mood and mindset, but I have no idea what those exercises might be. Which is unfortunate, because the idea of preceding play with activities or exercises to prepare for play is one I like and have used myself. I would recommend giving more concrete examples or guidance on this matter.

      b) The Bird in Ear and Monologue techniques are defined, and usable, but there is no guidance for how and when to best use them. Perhaps this could be highlighted in the pre-game exercises?

      c) The game intro states that the game is for 5 players, and there are 5 characters to play, but out of the blue in the scene length paragraph in “A Game in Three Acts” there is mention of the GM calling a close to the scene. The rest of the game seems to be pointing to a GMless structured freeform game, and there is no other reference to a GM or what they would be doing in the game. I suspect this bit of text referencing a GM probably does not belong, but it is quite jarring and a bit confusing. If I were playing the game from this text, I would probably just ignore it.

      d) There is reference in bolded text at the end of the “A Game in Three Acts” that mentions the dialog and outcome of a scene will be in part determined by “the audience’s meta-techniques”. This confused me a bit: There is no other reference to an actual audience, an audience role for players, nor are any techniques flagged as audience techniques. Ignoring this phrase leaves what appears to be a functional improv game, but I can’t help but feel the author has something interesting intended here that would be worth clarifying.

      To reiterate, these issues do *not* seem to make the game unplayable, but they do leave me with the impression that there is more intended than is communicated. And since I like the game and am intrigued by the dangling bits that seem to want more explanation, I would definitely suggest filling those bits out a bit more.

      As a final note, the ingredients seem to be unused, other than a reference to the character Rosalind as an exile.

    • angelacraftngela

      Drama on the Lawn
      I’ve never heard of jeepform before, but it sounds absolutely fascinating! I like the concise description of the game format here – it introduces me to something entirely new but I’m pretty sure I grasp the basic concept. Very important when working in a non-standard format.

      I feel like there are seedlings of good ideas here, but suffer from lack of explanation. I see no guidance for the GM’s role, other than to close the scene if the actors haven’t come to a conclusion on their own. The game techniques like Bird-in-the-ear sound interesting, but there’s no real guidelines for when they should be used. I like the idea of preparatory exercises, and they seem like they must be built into the presumed running time, since even if every scene were 10 minutes the game wouldn’t reach 2 hours. However, there’s no guidance for what these exercises might entail. I’m also unclear on when the players would be taking up the role of the actor, and when they are the actor playing a character. When LYDIA/BEATRICE and ELLY/ROSALIND enter gossiping, is it Lydia and Elly or Beatrice and Rosalind? Or is that something that could change depending on how the rest of the story is going?

      I think the game could possibly be stronger if there were more scenes that perhaps served as suggestions, rather than the same scenes in the same order every time. I’m thinking back to improv games I’ve played, and maybe there should be a collection of suggested scenes for Act I, another collection for Act II, and another for Act III, and the GM can draw them out of a hat and direct the players into what would become an entirely different story every time.

      I also feel it should be noted that I’m not seeing where the ingredients come into play, other than noting that Rosalind is an exile.

      I love the idea of combining characters from different plays, and even different genres, into one game, and this game format is definitely intriguing and definitely works for a Shakespearean game. With more explanation, especially for those of us who’ve never encountered jeepform before, I think it would be on its way to be playable even by total newbies.

    • Shreyas Sampat

      (fill-in reviewer)

      For this game to be a satisfactory text, it should do more than treat with the basic concepts of jeepform and lay out a dramatis personae. There is nothing here of that kind. It serves as an introductory pamphlet for jeepform dogma but gives no guidance or assistance for play in that style nor in the scenario it offers.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (41) Globe Records by Mike Olson
    Several shakespearean characters transplanted to an early-’90s-style prime-time soap opera set at a recording label in Los Angeles.

    Reviewed by: (40), (38), (35), and (31).

    • Travis Lindquist

      Mike,

      I’m digging this game! Very nice use of a GM-less system! The Storyline Events worksheet is brilliant. The character sheets look beautiful. You have a talent for formatting! I could go on about the positives, but as I’ve found that not helpful to me, I’ll restrain myself. But see the first sentence again if you want some more ego boost. ;)

      The one thing I could see needing improvement is the nature suit system. I like it, don’t get me wrong, and think it’s a good way to add a trump value into the game. However, I didn’t see any similarities between people with the same trump suit. I’m not sure there IS a similarity, but if you can find one, I think it will make the whole thing tied up that much nicer.

      From here…Well, I like this game more or less as it stands, with some tweaking, but not a lot is needed. I think if you want to take it into a larger format, more of a book less of a PDF/Lady Blackbird-esque game, I’d suggest adding additional characters, additional story event choices, or something along those lines.

      Travis

    • Stephen

      Globe Records:

      The concept of Shakespearean characters in a 90s sitcom setting is immediately hilarious and interesting to me. The game backs this up with some really solid card-based mechanics and some very interesting characters that are refreshing twists on classic Shakespearean characters. In addition to the card-based resolution mechanics, the game also has some really cool card-based system generation mechanics that seem like they’d present some interesting and easy to play (in that universally appealing sitcom way) situations.

      Overall the game looks pretty fun and fairly solid, although I think the whole structure of a TV-episode styled game might be difficult to immediately grasp for some players (although using TV as a starting point should mean that people pick up quickly enough). Overall, if I wanted to playa dramatic sitcom style game, this would be my go-to choice!

    • kirascott

      Globe Records is a really fun premise. I instantly get the setting and the characters and see the nods to Empire Records and High Fidelity. At first I was like, that’s an odd shoehorning of two genres, this is going to be weird and I’m not sure if I’ll like it. But you totally convinced me! The fact that you could tie this crazy specific 90’s genre with Shakespeare is awesome! I think it really works. Love it.

      I like how complex your elements are. You aren’t afraid to dive in with a whole lots of stuff on the character sheet and a lot of characters that have intertwined relationships with each other. Yet despite these complexities, you manage to communicate them really elegantly. Your writing skills succinctly express how things are supposed to work, and it’s easy to read your text. It flows really nicely.

      I like the mechanics too. They seem like they would work and are totally playable. They’re really dynamic too, and I like how you’ve detailed the different aspects of the characters and made them all mechanically relevant to the game. I think my favorite part is the scenario builder. Really clever.

      It seems like the characters are pregenned, but that you still need to assign qualities to them. I’m not sure this works, because it’s like the character’s are mostly done, and the choices of relationship number assigning and vows and modes and supporting cast seem kind of… arbitrary? I don’t really see a necessity in giving players freedom here. I’m not sure what this is missing, but I think you could use some more focus here.

      I like how the card mechanics work, but I also feel like it’s too unrelated. Why are you using playing cards in this set up and not, say, hand designed mix tape cards that you can fiddle with more?

      I also feel like the episodic nature of gameplay implies that you’re supposed to play over multiple sessions, but I’m not sure I would want to play one of these characters for that long. I would want something uniquely my own. But maybe that’s just my taste, and not an actual problem in the game. And this feeling is kind of in conflict with the fact that I like how your mechanics encourage conflict and character development in a really interesting way.

      Anyway! Solid game structure, nice use of the ingredients, unique and cool idea. I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not due to 90’s ness, but after reading I think it’s really great! I would play this with my group and I think they would enjoy it a lot.

      Want to bounce some more ideas off me or get some more critique? Send an email to anansi at gmail, or catch me on Storygames as anansigirl.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (42) A Midsummer Night’s Scheme
    by Nat Barmore (woodelf) w/ Caitlin Doran

    Exiled faeries compete to prank mortals they care for, in order to regain favor at the Summer Court.

    Reviewed by: (41), (39), (36), and (32).

    • David A Hill Jr

      Midsummer Night’s Scheme

      MNS is a game about fairies, per the namesake Midsummer Night’s Dream. In particular, their attachments to the human world. The fairies attempt to prove that they aren’t tied to the mortal realm, to protect themselves from EXILE. The first stage in the game involves defining your fairy’s relationship with a human, in one of many possible ways. NATURE determines how connected your fairy is to the mortal world. FORSWORN references an oath to the other fairies about a coming accomplishment.

      The game mechanics revolve around “pranks” the fairies play. These are governed by a handful of neat, very classic fairy talents like charming and casting illusions. Essentially, you roll a pool of dice, and add them up, then compare them to a variable target number based on Titania and Oberon’s statistics, and the nature of the prank. By penalizing your roll by “forswearing”, you can reduce your Nature and thus prove your detachment from the mortal realm. The game resolves with a point system, that scores your ability to impress the leadership and break away from humanity.

      It’s a clever game. The mechanics do well to represent what they’re trying to accomplish. They communicate a message. The presentation is clean, well-worded, and congruent with its goals. Any real nitpicking I’d give the game would relate to depth, which is rough with Game Chef’s restrictions. The game is perfectly playable as-is. I think it’s in a state where it could be playtested and tweaked into a more robust, full release. The ingredients were well-used, although there’s an argument about the use of the word “forsworn” and its actual definition, I don’t think that distracts in any way from the clean design.

    • stalwart1000

      This game was a fun read. Nicely laid out, too. The font for the headers tread very close to “so decorative it can’t be read” but didn’t quite go over the line. Which is very fitting for faerie.
      The setting setup is nice. Not too much, giving the play group a lot of input, but the note about pre-industrial settings sets some nice guidelines to keep the game’s color in line.
      There are some nice touches throughout, I liked the note about handicapping for younger players, correlating scene length with number of pranks, and scaling the endgame total to the time of play. This feels like a solid instruction for how to play, not just a working draft. I am confident I could run this game as written.
      I like that we create the mortal the faerie loves before we create the faerie. The faerie powers provide excellent color. Figuring out what the sovereigns’ want gives a nice strategic angle.
      Use of elements:
      Exile is central to premise. It’s why we’re having this competition at all.
      Forsworn is excellently woven into the game mechanics. Not only does is supply a creative constraint within the fiction, but also a nicely evocative mechanical impact.
      Nature is at the center of the faeries’ character. Both mechanically and fictionally, they are on the verge of being cast out from the realm of the supernatural into the natural world.

    • devp

      Everyone enjoys some fae shenenagans, and this game is about conflict on the border between faerie mischief and connections to the mortal world. It seems that there’s a potentially flexible tone in terms of content: you mention gameplay suggestions for family play, but this could also be good for setting up some serious drama alongside the pranks. The scenes have a clear focus: pranking the mortals, and thus racking up enough points to avoid exile (or, possibly, to determine the nature of your exile). It’s a solidly formed game.

      The resolution system is at its heart a die pool relating to the only stats that matter, being the faerie abilities; most die rolls are made against the Oberon & Titania, rather than against a difficulty per se. Does the dice roll necessarily map to the outcome of the glamour or effectiveness of the prank? It’s unclear, and it may be up to the SG (as you say that a prank may be unresolved over several scenes due to narrative logic), but that can be fine: it’s interesting if in fact task success is guaranteed, and the important thing is how it relates towards progress to the end outcome (being: impressing the sovereigns). (Minor quibble: I think the elemental stats aren’t very clear here; as it turns out, Cruel, Satirical, Witty & Deceitful are perfectly clear descriptors for the sovereigns, so these may be more appropriate.)

      I would worry that which abilities to use would become a matter of using your strongest ability (relative to that of the Sovereigns). The Forsworn mechanic is interesting in this context; aside from narrative logic of creating your own challenges, it gives one a reason make some of their rolls slightly less effective in order to gamble for greater points. (I think it makes sense to be Forsworn, in some fashion, in most every scene.)

      Still, it would be good to make sure faeries have some reason to use their less powerful abilities. It would be better still to make the pranks, narration and fictional elements have implications in other ways. For example: how does the prank I narrated affect my die roll? (i.e. avoid a “parlor narration” situation) Can we recognize certain pranks as being more truly Cruel, Satirical, Witty or Deceitful? (Perhaps some reward dice mechanic from the SG could work here.) How will the consequences of one prank affect others? A challenge in revisions of your game would be to make sure the fiction of the game impacts the mechanics (so that the dice rolls and points do not become to abstracted from what’s happening).

      Finally: in an expanded text, it woudl be nice to see more examples of scene constraints would help (one-prank rule, when to roll, when a SG should cut a scene, etc). Leaving them out in the GC version makes much sense, but I’m all for giving clear player instructions about how to create the vision of play you have.

      I like this game, and I think the gameplay will encourage a competitive display of pranks, both cruel and witty.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (43) Anastasia: Legacy of Romanovs (+sheet, +components)
    by Filippo Porcelli

    The last years of the Romanovs.

    Reviewed by: (42), (40), (37), and (33).

    • Dice, Food, Lodging

      Anastasia – Legacy of Romanovs makes for an interesting read that I think well suits a Shakespearean tragedy, and the use of one player who runs the main character properly sets up the core of a tragedic play. Anastasia herself fits the “Daughter” element, the “Natures” of each character are central to the resolution mechanic and “Exile” is one of the two possible outcomes for Anastasia at the end of the game.

      I had a fair amount of difficulty with this game. Reading through the game didn’t give me a sense of who else was present in the timeframe, and until I looked at the supplemental material, I wasn’t really sure what was going on. More detailed examples of play would have been very helpful to me in understanding the interactions between characters and what those are all about. I’m uncertain about how the game mechanics are supposed to support the outcome of the story – they came off as kind of arbitrary to me.

      The main thing I would recommend to improve the game is to clarify the game mechanics; that is my most prominent confusion. It would also be very helpful to clean up the language. I am assuming that this was primarily written in another language than english – and while I intentionally did not touch on this topic for purposes of the gamechef review, a language rework would definitely contribute positively to future consideration of this game. Finally, I would like to see the supplemental material included in the primary game PDF, it helped me visualize the game better when I finally looked through the few extra pages.

    • Orion Canning

      I had trouble reading this one, numerous grammar errors made the rules difficult to read and understand. See if you can find someone to help you edit this. The same goes for formatting. The paragraphs are broken up with seemingly random gaps between words, making it confusing to read and difficult to tell where paragraphs begin and end. I also suggest making the titles of different sections stand out better from the rest of the text.

      The character sheet based on emotions is really well done, and the derivative emotions are well thought out. I also really like the idea of defining your character with a short poem.
      I didn’t fully understand secondary characters are made and chosen. How many should there be, or do you use all of them? It says everyone shares these characters, but also that they are dealt out randomly, and sometimes it says a character is played by the person who holds the character’s card. I think this means they are dealt out and each player plays the characters they get dealt.

      My understanding of the rules is that the first scene is about Anastasia, framed by Anastasia and the other players. The second scene focuses on Rasputin and is framed by Anastasia. The third scene focuses on and is framed by everyone but Anastasia. The framer decides on a conflict for the scene and who is in the scene, then everyone picks an emotion based on what their character feels about the conflict. They should roleplay a scene at this point as well and I think there needs to be further guidelines and explanation for that, since that’s really the meat of the game. I think it would help to have more guidelines on how each character should be roleplayed as well.

      The players draw cards equal to their emotion score, and can discard all their cards and draw one less or discard one and draw another, but they can only do each once per scene. Then the player with the highest score resolves the scene. After each scene a card is drawn by Anastasia and if more black cards are drawn by the end Anastasia dies at the end, if more red are drawn she flees Russia. I feel like there should also be rules for players to tell the end of the story based on this.

      The story is in the style of Shakespearean tragedy and the ingredients Nature, Daughter, and Exile are used well. The character sheets are well made and look great. Once this game receives a better translation into English and some more focus on roleplaying scenes I think it will be a lot of fun.

    • Matthew SB & Gareth C(#37)

      This game focuses on Princess Anastasia and the last years of the Russian Romanov dynasty and has a lot of strong features. First, the fall of the Romanov’s and rise of the Bolsheviks is a tragic tale of Shakespearean dimensions comparable to King Lear and provides an excellent roleplaying setting. The author does a very good job of making a game set around a preordained plot arc interesting, focusing play on the emotional lives of the character’s involved. The 5 Act structure keeps the historical plotline rolling along, gives an interesting environment to improvise from and helps emphasize the play-like atmosphere of the game. I thought that focusing play on Anastasia and Rasputin was a smart choice, we clearly have a sympathetic protagonist and a strong antagonist for the story. The ingredients Exile and Daughter are well represented.

      Mechanistically, I like the simple card mechanic for resolving conflicts. How to set up interesting conflicts is well described in the text as is the manner in which each player gets to frame scenes. The idea of primary and secondary (dependent) emotional stats was interesting and I liked that, compared to Anastasia, secondary characters are represented by a compact simplified set of emotions. In fact I think that Anastasia could be better represented by a smaller emotional set too, I think the current setup involves unnecessarily fine gradations of emotion. I did enjoy the idea of definition Anastasia’s character via poetry, although this is really just to provide inspiration for the assignment of primary and secondary emotional stats. Driving the game towards either Anastasia’s death or exile at the conclusion is gripping but the mechanic for deciding this outcome is made less interesting by being determined at random. It would be more exciting if this were tied more fully into play. More emphasis on how to bring the Bolsheviks in to the story would also be good.

      Some issues, such as how to decide what secondary characters will be appearing in the play, are not addressed in the text but are apparent from the supporting material- more clarity about these issues in the text would be helpful. Similarly, the way the term “bard” is introduced suggests a GM, when in fact it refers to the player with framing responsibility for the current scene. This could be made clearer. I assume that English is not the author’s first language and this made the text rather hard to follow in places, some copy editing would be very helpful.

      All in all a very strong game, tightly focused on a dramatic setting and tragic storyline!

    • Filippo Porcelli

      thanks for the feedback …
      A premise: cause of thousands of commitments (college, work and other) I created the entire game in 6 hours, from 1:00 AM to 7:00 AM of 25th of July.
      This has affected the quality, especially with regard to exile and death mechanic … about the translation, I wrote the game in Italian and ended at 7:00 AM
      I began to work at 8:30 AM and I needed to sleep. Besides, I was awake for 24 hours and I was very tired.
      Thank you for your patience, anyone who has read my game..
      Bye and Good Luck ;)

    • woodelf

      I’m gonna do this backwards from Jonathan’s suggestion, and start with the negative, to get it out of the way: This game needs a major editing pass. I’m guessing that English isn’t your first language, and it unfortunately shows in this case. In several places, the poor (mechanical?) translation means that I’m not entirely sure I’d be playing the same game you wrote if I played it–i find myself filling in a lot of gaps. And the game is well enough written that I suspect most of those aren’t actually gaps, they’re just an artifact of the translation. And there are a couple places where I think the translation dropped a negative, or something, because an example seems to be exactly the opposite of a rule. If you want to make this available in English, I strongly recommend finding some help on the English. Now that that’s out of the way, on to the positives, of which there are many.

      I love the asymmetrical roles, with one main character, several secondary and a passel of tertiary characters. Though, like other games I’ve seen like that, as well as games where the GM has to do a lot of work, I also worry that it may be a deterrent to people playing it.

      I think you successfully took the structure of a Shakespearean tragedy and placed it in a very different time and place. I was skeptical at first, but after reading the whole thing, I think it maintains a Shakespearean feel. Nature is well used as the nature of people, and daughter is of course central to the game. The use of Exile as one of the stats, which determines a goal condition, fits really well with the story.

      But I think the best part of this game is the use of the emotions as stats. I love how characters have fewer and fewer emotional states as they become less central–just as in a play less-central characters are less fully realized. It’s one of the best methods I’ve seen for clearly delineating primary and secondary characters, and making them feel that way, while also making secondary characters simpler mechanically.

      In addition to getting a better English translation (if you want those of us who only really speak English to play it), I suspect that some of the vagueness in the redraw mechanics isn’t just because of the language barrier–but it’s hard to be sure. I would focus on the emotional lives of the characters, and the strict scene structure of the game, and give more examples of how the scenes should be framed and play out. i think you’ve got the potential for a very interesting game here.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (44) Genesis Undone: A Tragedy in Five Acts by Jim Ryan
    The First Race, exiled from Paradise, now lives in the First City, where they plot to destroy each other.

    Reviewed by: (43), (41), (38), and (34).

    • Jonathan Walton

      Here’s Ashley”s comments, from the duplicate that used to be at #54.

      Things I like:
      Conflict through dialogue is good, more games need to encourage play through dialogue. The dice mechanic is simple and non-intrusive to the story.

      Things I think need reviewing:
      I think the game needs some more play advice, to try and bring forward the intentions of the design, I sometimes catch glimpses of what I think are the underlying ideas, but they fade out again.

    • Travis Lindquist

      Jim,

      Loving the setting, great idea, interesting choice with the theme. I had an easy time reading the rules, they made sense, and the game looks ready to play. I like the collaborative story-telling focus.

      I think you could improve the First City Creation by fleshing it out a bit more. It works fine as it is, but having a framework could take it from a necessary evil of playing the game to an awesome mini-game as you create characters. I think using your character generation system, modified, would work well.

      Additionally: I don’t think this game really needs the Bard. Going GM-less is always a risk, and not something every player/designer wants to do, but I really see this game as not needing a GM. The duties assigned to the Bard could easily be assigned outwards, to the other Players.

      Where to go from here: I think you’ve got a great core concept that plays with the ingredients and the theme really well to make a compelling game. But I’d seriously consider taking a look at the role of the Bard in the game. If you decide you want to keep the Bard, I feel there should be more for the Bard to do. If you decide to ditch the Bard, make sure that assigning the duties out happens in a logical way (left, right, across, etc). And again, City Creation could use some more direction. I think that will really make the start pop and catch people’s attention.

    • Mike Olson

      My comments are on my blog here.

      This is definitely a different comment than the last one I posted!

    • Filippo Porcelli

      Genesis is a reaally good idea about the flavour: it uses Exile, Nature, Forsworn. The manual is written in a very schematic and it is clear enough, but more examples should be included.
      It would be interesting if there were techniques for the creation of the city, made ​​collectively. The creation of characters and quite traditional in ideas, especially as to its nature.
      It would be better to insert a clear definition of the scene and authorities, the conflict is quite simple, but has great ideas from which to start. The qualities are a good idea and in my opinion should be deepened by further use during the conflict. For example you could have a special use of qualities depending on the role and nature.
      Finally, we present the structure of the game in 5 acts.
      The game is a good starting point from which to start, but should go further into certain mechanical, especially with regard to quality, which could be the focus of the game

    • Angela

      Genesis Undone

      Genesis Undone is already looking like a very strong game. The theme and ingredients are very clear and used intuitively – not forced in at all. The character creation and five act structure is clearly explained and opens up many opportunities for inter-player conflict.

      Right now the biggest hurdle for me is I’m not quite sure what kind of stories should be told through this game. Is it strictly a game of the PCs trying to take each other down? Or should there be a larger adventure plot, with merely the possibility that the PCs may not like each other? The presence of the Bard makes me think a larger adventure story is intended, but without any directions for the Bard at the moment, it almost seems like this should be a GM-less game with the plot focusing on the players trying to take each other out.

      I like some elements that are hinted at as options, like the First Race could be any race from humans to cat people to robots, but I think this could be strengthened by giving optional rules if you wish to play a non-human race. Give a few ideas and possible strengths/weaknesses or additional themes to be explored by playing a non-human race, and then encourage players to use those ideas to also create their own possibilities for advanced players (continue to encourage the use of humans as the default at first).

  • Jonathan Walton

    (45) Forsworn! by Megan Pedersen & Todd Nicholas
    The King is told 3 outlandish stories about the same fateful day, each spun with sincerity and stained with doubts. Which tale rings true?

    Reviewed by: (44), (42), (39), and (35).

    • Jim Ryan

      Forsworn! is a very interesting GM-less story game. The fact that character creation involves writing a sonnet is something I find very amusing and looks like a lot of fun. I also found the idea of incorporating PoV storytelling, with the players acting out three different versions of their characters, very intriguing. The mechanics are fairly simple and usable as-is.

      Sadly, though I love the sonnet idea, I also wonder if it may set the bar a little high for entry to the game. The game DOES address this, stating that you can just write a series of statements about the character instead of an actual sonnet, but the fact that there are so many of them in a row may put some folks off. It might be cool if there were some more sample phrases added, or maybe some pre-generated sonnets (or individual lines) to choose from. Either way, though, this game is a stellar entry.

    • David A Hill Jr

      Forsworn!

      Forsworn is a drama in five acts, where the first is provided by the writers, then following acts see development from the players. Characters are chosen from a limited cast, then fleshed out with a sonnet. While I think this is a great idea, I’d worry it’d intimidate some players and thus affect their initial investment into the game. The gameplay involves four tellings of a story, where everyone plays their parts as dictated by the storyteller for that act.

      I’ve always wanted to play a game in the classic Rashomon style, telling multiple versions of the same story. I think this game facilitates that very well. I’m also rather fond of the heckling mechanic, wherein the spectator roles get to bolster the opponents of the characters they don’t like. It’s unfortunate there’s a minimum number of players for that mechanic to come into play. I’d like to see it used with fewer. While the game is GM-less, the King serves a bit of an antagonistic role in the game, and takes some of the traditional GM roles. I wouldn’t call it GM-less as much as nonstandard GM.

      The ingredients are well-used, from the characters, to the very name of the game. I think the players could benefit from hearing Act One before they make their sonnets, as Act One would influence what their sonnets reflect. All in all, I found the game rather engaging to read, and I could see playing it if I had a very specific group. It’s clever. It understands what it wants to accomplish, and it facilitates that well. I think its narrow focus limits its playability, but I don’t think that’s inherently a bad thing. Good work.

    • kirascott

      I think it was about halfway through reading Forsworn! that I knew I wanted to sit down and play it. Like, as soon as possible. It is very well written, in an evocative and playful tone that gives readers the feel for the game immediately. In addition to the colorful prose, it really easily communicates how the game is to be played to newcomers and seasoned roleplayers alike, giving it the advantage of being accessible. It reminds me of games like Baron Von Munchausen and Fiasco.

      This game seems completely playable! In fact, it was difficult to come up with critique. I think it makes good use of all the ingredients (one even in the title) and captures the spirit of storytelling in much the same manner that the Bard himself does. It seemed to be coming from an academic’s perspective, especially with the neccessitation of writing a sonnet at the beginning of gameplay. While I think this might be the only part people go “huh?” at, or feel intimidated by, I think it’s a really important part of the game mechanics that shouldn’t be left out because it might turn some people away. Contrarily, I think it’s what makes the game unique.

      All of the mechanics seem well thought out and their functionality thoroughly examined. Maybe one thing I would do is, with more space on the page and less of a 3000 word limit, go through those rules instruction paragraphs and break them out into short and concise instructions. Then players can reference it really easily.

      Other than that, I think this is a lovely game! It functions well, captures the spirit of the contest, nicely fits in all the ingredients, and I think its definitely playable. I’d like to play it.

      Want to bounce some more ideas off me or get some more critique? Send an email to anansi at gmail, or catch me on Storygames as anansigirl.

    • woodelf

      The thing that most leapt out at me about this game is the highly asymmetrical roles of the various players. I don’t know how I’d feel playing a pennystinker in practice, but I like the roles conceptually. And I like that you had the nerve and/or creativity to break out of the usual molds for distribution of authorial power in RPGs.

      Creating characters as sonnets is interesting–could be difficult, but that might just be my perfectionism talking, since creating a sonnet that fulfills the requirements of the rules isn’t actually that hard. One thought that comes to mind is this game wouldn’t work very well over skype or the like. Not that any claim was made that it would–I was just reminded of our Full Light, Full Steam game, where we ran into the problem of trying to keep track of other people’s traits, much like the usage of the 3rd quatrain in this game.

      I’m not sure I understood how the rolling off goes. I think what’s going on is that you’re using the dice both as tokens and as dice. If so, great–it’s one less thing you need to have at the table.

      I’m not sure I understand Act V properly. The roll offs at that point result in people losing dice–do they essentially go back into the pool, just as they were taken out of the pool during Acts II-IV? Or do they go to the winning player? The other part that wasn’t completely clear was the use of the sonnet lines by the King. Are they each used once only? Only once per Act? Clarify this, and I think you’ve got a very solid game.

      But those are just minor points that need clarifying. My only real concern with the play of the game is everyone agreeing on the boundary between an event and an interpretation. In practice, it probably isn’t much of a problem–but it is a concern I have. I’d love to give this a try, and see how it actually goes.

      As for game chef: It feels very play-like, but makes me think more of Chaucer or someone else than Shakespeare. Which is probably just me splitting hairs. The uses of Daughter and Forsworn are clear, and good. But there isn’t an obvious use of either Exile or Nature–the closest I can get is thinking of Nature as “the nature of perception” or somesuch.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (46) Shakespeare’s Daughters by Nolan Callender
    Shakespeare’s daughters descend into the world of their father’s plays and must learn about themselves before they can return to their normal lives.

    Reviewed by: (45), (43), (40), and (36).

  • Jonathan Walton

    (47) The Lost Years by Matthew Nielsen
    A Game of Shakespeare and time travel. Characters cast out of the Bard’s plays must choose between their mission and their personal desires.

    Reviewed by: (46), (44), (41), and (37).

    • Nolan Callender

      The game has a good and solid premise. It presents an interesting set up that I would be intrigued to see as a TV show, comic or book series. The idea of using Shakespeare’s three “genres” as character traits is a nice stroke that gives the game a lot of its character.

      The only real problem I see is one of tone. How does this game feel? The fairies from the future and the Warden of Ages invokes for me either YA fiction or sci-fi original series, neither of which is a bad thing, but seeing as other elements (the possibly contradictory and diverse cast of characters, the fantastic premise, etc…) make me think of a more surreal or absurdest sort of fiction, I’d think a lot of pre-discussion would be necessary for any given group to make this game work.

      As far as theme and ingredients goes, its definitely about Shakespeare, but the type of fiction isn’t really “Shakespearean.” Ingredients, I don’t really see any. Exile, maybe, in that your sort of out of your natural element (as a character in the game), forsworn, daughter and nature, though, seem to be completely missing. Maybe its just me.

      With some more text detailing what the game is supposed to invoke, or maybe just the addition of some fiction or art, I could see this being a good little pick up game. I’d personally like to see the goal mechanics a little more mechanized, if that makes sense, but that’s just a matter of tastes.

    • Jim Ryan

      This game has a very cool concept. I like the idea of faerie-aided time travel and pulling characters in from alternate realities to save Shakespeare. I also very much like the way identities are dealt with and the fact that there’s a lot of room for interpretation of Shakespeare’s characters. Overall, a very interesting premise.

      What it could benefit from looking forward is a bit more structure. I’d be keen to see this game with some examples to help support the mechanics. I’d also recommend adding a more specific step-by-step structure to the creation of the game scenarios. A few brief examples of potential villains are provided along with quick suggestions for what Shakespeare could be doing for those seven years, but it’d be cool to see a more specific process for how to arrive at those things. I like that this game encourages open discussion of what kind of play experience the players want and I think with a bit of tweaking it could be really fabulous.

    • Mike Olson

      My comments are on my blog here.

      This is yet again a different comment from those I’ve previously posted!

    • Matthew SB & Gareth C(#37)

      I enjoyed reading this very much – full of really fun ideas! How not to love the premise of having characters from Shakespeare’s plays act as his bodyguards against criminal fairies from the far future, hell bent on changing history? The central idea, of the character’s having to choose between their mission and their original storyline is also very juicy. Many of the small touches are also lovely such as the destroy-after-reading instructions on the letter, and the suggestion that truly cunning villains will attempt to trap characters using those characters’ original story arcs. Its also very nice to see a game that directly interests itself in Shakespeare’s life and his creative processes by focusing on his “lost years” before he started writing and in which he could be doing anything, I like the pirate suggestion myself! Mechanistically, using the concepts of tragedy, comedy and history to describe the characters further ties into the Shakespearean theme. The use of the ingredients Exile and Nature is also strong.

      I general, I think the mechanics of the game seem sound, and generally well described. I just have just a few minor concerns with regard to those mechanics and how they are presented. To me, the description of gaining and using points in a style is a little hard to follow. I am also a bit concerned that the historical “power” seems rather weak compared to the other two, but perhaps some expanding on how this might work would clarify things, I certainly thought the explanation of how a destructive attack could be wrapped in an apparently benign guise was well handled in the text. The example using Romeo and Juliet to show how to capture characters via the 3 statistics was a good idea, but I think Romeo and Juliet would be better captured by low Comedy scores rather than high Tragedy as suggested, after all they don’t set out to cause havoc its just all their well meant plans went awry! Additionally, I think the idea of using “alternate version” or entirely new “Shakespeare” characters is a mistake. A major strength of the author’s approach is focusing on the real Shakespeare and using characters with which we are all familiar in an out-of context-setting. Prospero attempting to protect Shakespeare from meme-delivering mimes on the mean streets of London is entertaining. Prospero’s wife Traci doing the same thing, not so much.

      One area in which I think the game could definitely be expanded upon is in the advice to GMs. I felt that more focus on how to set up plots for the characters to foil (or fail to foil, if they follow their Natures) and how to bring the game to a conclusion would have been very helpful. As the fairies are difficult to detect and are often pursuing subtle agendas the players could easily end up feeling very undirected at the beginning of the game. Perhaps the (wonderful!) idea that time changing events can only occur when someone is writing something down could be further emphasised here. It would also be helpful to clarify how the game might conclude, if the characters pursue their own original storylines then Shakespeare’s timeline will change and they will cease to exist, but if they save Shakespeare how can the game be brought to a satisfying conclusion?

      A couple of final, very minor points. The letter that begins the game rules uses rather a lot of words out of the total, in addition not all of Shakespeare’s characters would be able to read! Some more explanation of what causes the “anomalies” and why they are “unstable” if timeline changes occur would also be good. If the author can convince me about time travelling fairies then explaining these “anomalies” should be a doddle!

  • Jonathan Walton

    (48) Redemption: One Night in Pursuit by Mark Snyder
    An RPG system set during the Renaissance. Players take the role of previously scorned families vying for a one-night shot for redemption!

    Reviewed by: (47), (45), (42), and (38).

    • Travis Lindquist

      Mark,

      Any way we can get a PDF of this file? I currently have no RAR stuff on my system as I’m running a really lightweight netbook. I’ll get it if you can’t, but I would really prefer a PDF.

    • Todd Nicholas

      Short Version: Redemption has several cool ideas (we really like the dark past card for each player), but unless we’re missing something, it seems very incomplete. Since it’s lacking thorough explanations for how the mechanics work (what’s the d10 do, for example) we give several, hopefully constructive, suggestions for how to get the game up and running.

      Long Version: http://chicagoindiegaming.wikispaces.com/reviewofredemption

    • Matthew Nielsen

      Mark,
      I think you have a solid premise here, individuals exiled and forsaken by the cause they once served, given a chance to return to their former life. The catch, that only one can return, does is an interesting way to set up a lot of inter-party drama. Mechanically, the basic roll+resource seems functional as best I can understand it, and the given set of items on cards is an interesting, although it is unclear how these items are obtained (choice? random?).

      As far as the ingredients and themes, exile is explicit and forsaken is pretty clear. Outside a single card, I see no mention of nature. As for Shakespeare, if it wasn’t for your explanation in the outro, I’d probably have largely missed it, and it still doesn’t seem super-strong to me, but there are a lot of ways to do Shakespeare, so I don’t see that as a problem.

      The main issue I had with your game was that quite a few things need more details to convey both how the game plays and the style of game. How are modifier cards acquired? Are more chips earned through encounters? How do characters go about earning their lords blessing to return? The cards description seem to give your game a comedic bent, which you mention in your outro, but you might emphasize this elsewhere in your game. Fortunately, these seem to be mostly issues of clarity, and thus fixing them shouldn’t require any major overhauls. With a little more writing, you could have a game I’d be happy to check out.

      Cheers,
      Matthew

    • woodelf

      Were there actual cards, with art, and I just missed them when i downloaded the game? Or were they a victim of the deadline (as is so often the case)?

      Mechanically, I’m a little uncertain about the balance between chips, stats, cards, and dice. Specifically, it seems like the die is only there because there has to be a random element. With a 10-pt die range, it seems like the variability will be overshadowed by everything else: cards range from 2 to 9 with the possibility of doubling both cards and stats, and you have 100 chips to spend. If you figure an encounter takes half an hour, a person is in 2/3rds of the encounters, and your evening is 4-5hrs of play, that means that you’ve got about 6-7 encounters to worry about, so it’s likely that the total result on each side in an encounter will be around 20+ before you add the die in. It’s not that the die won’t ever make a difference, just that it feels a little out of place in the game. I’d recommend simply dropping it, and make the spending of chips a secret act, to be revealed at the moment of truth, in order to give some uncertainty to results.

      Other than that, it seems like a fun game–a bit more beer&pretzels (or, in Shakespearean terms, more bawdy), but fun nonetheless. The background is a little unclear to me. Or, rather, the “Setting Descriptor” section is a bit unclear–is the dark chaotic age the time of the crusades, or the time of exiling Templars and men of god? And are the PCs the religious folks, or the anti-religious folks? Or doesn’t it really matter? Maybe this really *is* a beer&pretzels game, and the background is unimportant. Except, for me at least, it’s still important. I want to understand my character’s motivations and goals, even if they’re just “beat the other guy to the goal”. In particular, I don’t think you ever come right out and say “only one family can get their land and title back, determined by the family champion that [bests the others/makes it first to the castle/grabs the mcguffin]”.

      So that’s the game on its own: looks like a fun beer&pretzels game, semi-competitive, I think you basically succeeded in your goal, with the minor caveat I’ve already mentioned that maybe the dice are superfluous.

      As for the game chef rules: I’m not sold. I applaud your attempt to think outside the box and do a game unlike anything else in the contest. I haven’t read them all, but I suspect you succeeded. Unfortunately, for my taste, you got *too* far away from the theme–it just doesn’t feel like it has anything particularly to do with Shakespeare. That said, you used Exile strongly and Forsworn pretty strongly, though Nature felt a little cursory. Which is fine–I don’t expect all ingredientes to be used equally, and it was made very clear that cursory usage is sufficient. So I wouldn’t hold that against the game if “Shakespeare” came through somehow, but I guess I’m just not feeling it.

      In summary: fun light-hearted game, but not “Shakespeare” to me.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (49) Prospero Station by Paul Beakley
    Misunderstandings and mayhem as exiles compete for their freedom before a live audience.

    Reviewed by: (48), (46), (43), and (39).

    • Nolan Callender

      The second of the games I’m set to review also uses a sci-fi theme, though this one more overtly. I like the fact that there’s an overview of play, it sets me up for whats to come. Discoveries are sexy and look like they’ll generate a lot of neat player interaction from the get go, with out a lot of pre-discussion.

      I got caught up in the sheer amount lexicon pretty early on in my reading, starting on the second page. Despite this the game rules actually look solidly written, but remind me of the rules to a CCG or complex board game where you’d need to do them before you could figure out how to do them well. Still, everything’s pretty step by step. The order the rules are presented in for resolving challenges seems a little out of sequence. Playing around with when information is presented might make things clearer.

      The episode structure might or might not work. I just can’t tell if its too forced, even though the requirements of each episode are fairly thin.

      As to theme and ingredients: Theme is even weaker here then in Lost Years, besides the name of the station nothing about this game makes me think “Shakespeare.” Honestly, I might be missing something though, seeing as my knowledge of Shakespeare is pretty shallow, and where I do know about him it is his biography and the biography of his work, and not the work itself, that I’m most familiar with. Ingredients are handled better: exile is obvious and central to the game, nature is the name of mechanic and refers to human nature, and vows sort of work with forswear, although they’re not quite the same thing (you can’t actually forswear anything with your vows).

      As for the next step in development? If it retains it current format, where the rules are set up to be used in play and not necessarily understood fully from just reading the text, then I think fiction or examples of play need to be added in order to give readers something to hold in their minds when approaching the game.As for the mechanics, they may hit their goals. I personally am turned off by the idea of performing for an audience of fellow players, but the results don’t seem to dependent on getting a consensus, so maybe it wouldn’t be a problem. Advice on avoiding stage-fright and getting players not to turtle or shut down others might be necessary for some groups.

      • Paul Beakley

        Thanks for the feedback, Nolan! Re. the Shakespeareness of the submission: I feel you on that — if you’re not into the plays it might not make a lot of sense. Just as an aside, The Tempest was Bill’s last (probably) play, and it breaks the fourth wall in all kinds of weird ways. One of those ways was that Prospero could only escape exile if he earned the applause of the audience — the actual in-the-Globe-Theatre audience. It’s what his final speech is about! But 10 days and 3k words meant I’d just have to come back around to explaining that later. :-)

        Thanks again!

    • David A Hill Jr

      Prospero Station

      Prospero is a pecular science fiction game about revelation, the truth, and discovery. Characters are each exiles from traditional society, exiled because of broken vows. Vows in this setting are integral to society. The setting conceits are very neat. I think they take the Shakespeare theme and run in a clear and interesting direction I wasn’t expecting.

      My biggest complaint comes from the heavy and rapid use of capitalized game terminology. It makes it difficult to read. I had to go over the text a handful of times, and I’m still not convinced I really get the way the game works outside of a general, fundamental grasp. In later drafts, there should be consideration given to examples and clarity. The mechanics are geared toward influencing interaction, and it appears they would foster the right kinds of interactions. I think the system given is a solid foundation, but could use some fleshing out. This is not a bad thing. Game Chef isn’t really about final drafts.

      The ingredients all see solid, important roles in the design, either in setting or mechanics. It’s a very strong first draft, and I want to see more. Of all the entries I’ve read, I think Prospero Station is the one most hindered by the size and time limitations of Game Chef. Curiously, it’s also the one that piqued my interest most. If I were going to develop it into a more robust game, I would probably remove the more obvious Shakespearean trappings. While they don’t hurt the entry (quite the opposite), I think Prospero Station has really strong legs it can stand on independently, and should.

      • Paul Beakley

        Thank you for the feedback David! I do hope to get something pulled together that looks nice, makes sense and plays well — and none of those things I think are gonna happen under 3k words. Sure appreciate the feedback.

        p.

    • Mark Snyder

      I’m not one to do much for reviews, but here I go.

      I love the setting. The setting was what really sold me the most on this game system. However there is a slight issue in that the first thing I thought when reading parts of it was ‘How could I change that to make it easier’? The idea of secrets/discoveres is good, but a bit obtuse and difficult to understand without a few readings. Overall it was a good game, albeit difficult to wrap your mind around.

    • Filippo Porcelli

      Prospero Station focuses on the vows, in science fiction society, that must be respected. For those who do not succeed there is Prosperous station, a machine audience.
      Here the characters are revealed by the discoveries and secrets. The descriptors of the characters are very well made and the conflict is really classy impacting the game according to a fiction -> mechanical -> fiction.
      Lacks a discussion of what a scene and a description of how to get a scene, things are not to be taken for granted.
      The manual lacks exhaustive examples, that would make it more understandable language is right now for a more specific and detailed with a glossary.
      The game has a good chance to improve.
      The ingredients were hit but the theme of Shakespeare I see poorly represented, except for some features of the structure.

      • Paul Beakley

        Thanks for reading and responding, Filippo. Sorry the lack of examples and sufficient explanation got in the way of your reading, but do hope to rectify that with a longer/better draft. Thanks again!

        p.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (50) Tempest in a Tea Cup by Shari Corey & Willow Palecek
    A cooperative game exploring the life of Miranda, exiled daughter of the sorcerer Prospero, and the nature spirits that are her friends and teachers.

    Reviewed by: (49), (47), (44), and (40).

    • Paul Beakley

      First off, I enjoyed the reframing of the Tempest situation from Miranda’s POV. That was nice.
      The reverse-GM setup (everyone is a GM, single player is the character) is always fun to see played out.
      Maybe include a list of suitable nature spirits? Tighter connection between the nature’s domain and the sort of lesson it can teach. Also, safe to assume players understand what doting fathers want to teach their daughters?
      I like the two-lesson structure, seems like it gives the spirit player some customization/personalization. Any options for teaching not-nice lessons? Is there any useful tension in, say, having the falcon spirit teach both how to be perceptive (for Daddy) and how to fly away from problems?
      Should probably list the cardinal Virtues somewhere.
      Need some more guidance on what sorts of skill/lesson Prospero may have taught her before play. (I tend to skip example text, so that’s probably just my own quirk.)
      “Frame a scene” is very, very loose. I’m not sure how to proceed. What goes into a “good” scene? (I appreciate you probably don’t know at this very early stage!) Is this something you can bake into the rules, or at least provide more guidance text?
      Do we safely assume that all spirits provide help when asked? Do the spirits ever haggle? I’ll help if you do X? I guess I’m thinking a little more on the Caliban side than the Ariel side at this point.
      On that note, would it be useful/interesting to designate a “monster” role, perhaps as a variant? Super-helpful but you really don’t want to have to ask him?
      There doesn’t seem to be much “game” to the game beyond everyone agreeing on what the spirit is going to teach and that Miranda has been taught. I’m not feeling like there’s much uncertainty or tension being introduced into the process beyond working out a plausible matchup. Should spirit players perhaps be guided to frame scenes in a way that cannot be obviously and immediately “solved” by Miranda’s current setup?
      Also it looks like maybe there’s some space between what the spirit intends to teach and what Miranda’s player believes she was taught. What if the spirit secretly decides on a lesson, and then frames the scene up without telling Miranda what is being taught? Then, when Miranda’s player decides what she’s learned, the spirit can decide the lesson isn’t over if what was learned isn’t very close to what was taught? Again just a variant idea.
      Last thought: I’d like to see maybe a sentence or two on how one goes about using one’s Virtue. Also, is there some way to keep Miranda from falling back on some easy virtue, like say “Bravery” or something? Seems like it would lead to stale play.

      • Paul Beakley

        Urgh, many apologies for not putting spaces between grafs. I c/p from Word and that’s how it came out. I can email the file to you if this is too hard to read!

        p.

      • sailorkitsune

        Paul, Thank you very much for your insightful feedback. No, I didn’t have any particular problem reading even with no space between the paragraphs. (And I am familiar with those cut/paste problems you mentioned). You have hit a number of the intentions I had with this, that we didn’t specifically mention. No, Miranda is NOT supposed to know what lesson you are trying to teach her, so no, she might not get it the first go around. Or she might learn it from a different scene!. I like the idea of spirits potentially haggling for their help. (especially as it will further their causes later!). You also have spotlighted some weaknesses in layout and explanation. Thanks again!

        Shari

    • Jim Ryan

      This is an excellent game. I like the collaborative storytelling aspect quite a bit. Plus, it’s a cool idea for people to play as nature spirits – I think that will attract quite a few people to the game. I also like the diceless aspect. As it happens, the Tempest is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, so that didn’t hurt either. It provided all the fodder necessary to put together a very neat and eloquent game using the Game Chef ingredients provided.

      The only real problem I had was that there’s a map referred to several times which the game states is included, but that I couldn’t find anywhere – unless I missed it, I’m presuming that element is still to come. I also think further drafts of the game could do with some more advice about how to handle other situations that might crop up – maybe rules for how difficult challenges should be or what to do if the possibility of death or injury comes up.

      All in all, this was a stellar entry!

      • sailorkitsune

        Jim,

        Thank you very much! While Willow is a veteran at game design and Game Chef, This is my very first entry, and the premise is largely mine. As such I really appreciate all of the feedback, and the praise. You are right, the map is missing, as are (currently) the character sheets. I had grand intentions, but ran up against the deadline, plus I was having some link/posting issues, stemming mostly from my not having done this before, I think. Would there be any value to putting in several very different island maps?

        Thanks again

        Shari

    • Matthew Nielsen

      Shari and Willow,

      If I had to describe your game in two words, it would be neat and simple (both in good ways). Neat in that everything is presented clearly and nothing feels out of place (and it’s a pretty nifty idea). Simple in that neither the concept nor the mechanics are incredibly involved, and that feels very appropriate for this game of a young girl growing up (which I definitely like as a game concept). As far as ingredients and themes, they are all clearly there so I don’t have much to say.

      The (sort of) reversal of GM and player roles is pretty cool, but unfortunately it seems to lead to the one major place where this game felt lacking, character interaction. A spirit puts Miranda into the situation of each lesson, but after that it is mostly her versus nature in whatever relevant scene, with other characters only coming in if she asks for help. Even then, I get the impression that they mostly just help her. I would like to see more character interactions in the game, either through suggestions in the rules or perhaps a single added mechanic. Giving more detail to relationships among the spirits could help (are they rivals, best friends, etc.). Further, having some sort of cost for a spirit to help Miranda in another’s lesson might accomplish this. Also, how difficult to make a given lesson also seems slightly unclear, so advice in that regard would be nice too.

      I guess the one nagging question this game left me with, which I would love to see answered in the future, is where is Miranda’s father? He’s important to his daughter (and vice versa), so it really seems to me like he should have some role in the game. As a final minor note, you have the tea party motif in the introduction which I’d love to see incorporated into the actual game. Regardless, with a little more character interaction, I think this game will be nice, simple fun.

      Cheers,
      Matthew

      • sailorkitsune

        Thanks Matthew!
        That was both insightful and helpful! Working on developing the relationships between the nature spirits is a good idea, and one I am likely to develop further. As for Miranda’s father–We were kicking around a couple of ideas for that, but haven’t really found a way to make it work, yet. (one idea was as a player character). I agree with you that he is important, so I will keep your suggestion in mind.

        Thanks again!

        Shari

  • Jonathan Walton

    (51) An Improbable Fiction (+cards)
    by Ashley Griffiths, John Keyworth, & Barbara Croker

    Create a Shakespearen Drama through dialogue, with characters based upon Sonnets.

    Reviewed by: (50), (48), (45), and (41).

    • Todd Nicholas

      Short Version: Megan and I thought this had a cool mechanic, liked the cards, and thought it seemed like a lot of fun. However, without some kind of introduction to explain the theme of the game, what the mechanics are representing, etc., we were really confused as to what we were supposed to be doing with this game. That’s an easy fix, though, so this looks like a game to watch as it evolves.

      Long Version: http://chicagoindiegaming.wikispaces.com/reviewofanimprobablefiction

    • Mike Olson

      My comments are on my blog here.

      This, the last of my four comments, none of which WordPress can tolerate if they’re identical, is different from the others!

    • Mark Snyder

      I’m not a huge reviewer, but I did what I can here;

      I liked the mechanics of the black and white card decks, and the 5 acts thing was always a hit for me. But character creation seemed a bit difficult (for me at least) to understand. I can dig this game, but I don’t think it’d be one to send out to my friends. Maybe given more time though? Very well designed cards though.

    • Ashley

      Thanks for the reviews the feedback is really helpful, I knew there was a lot of play advice and general explanation of the game missing, because I was literal finalising the draft from a discussion document whilst at work to make the deadline.

      We definitely want to carry on working on the game, as we think there are some interesting ideas to explore around play through dialogue, and a newer draft will be appearing on the damwain blog in the next day or two, if people are interested to look. (I wanted to leave it until after reviewing so that it doesn’t sway reviews)

    • sailorkitsune

      Shari: My first thought when I read this game was “a role play game for English Majors!” I happen to like poetry, but am less familiar than I should be with Shakespeare’s sonnets, so I had trouble at first with the sonnet as character sheet idea. I must say it grew on me rather quickly with a small bit of research. I also like the idea of the black and white cards setting the tone and themes of the game. I found the mechanics a little hard to grasp, even after several read-throughs. The actual crunchy mechanics bits are not my thing, so I will leave my partner to critique them for you. Overall, I think there are many good pieces here. The system needs some simplification, some organization and a little more explanation.

      Willow:
      I could probably never play this game; about three words into a sonnet, my eyes glaze over. But there’s certainly some interesting ideas here.

      Sonnet as character sheet has some merit; but you’ve got to be playing with people who understand the sonnets, meaning this game is going to have a pretty high barrier to entry. The possible uses for your sonnet ties in well to the rules.
      Mechanically, the cards serve as Oracles, and spot on Shakespearean entries (identical daughters is my favorite), and have a couple of different purposes, which is nice.

      The rules organization is poor. I’m certain the author had a clear concept of how the game plays, but its unclear just how things should work. For example, the deck is made of four cards. Acts II and IV say that they involve card pull one and two, but later one the text says each act involves a card pull, but there’s five acts. The most consistent interpretation I can find is that you draw four cards in acts I-IV (or maybe II-V?) and it matters more in II and IV.
      If I’m to understand the card acts section correctly, the card draw creates a new plot element, not necessarily a statement of truth, this is something to be explored throughout the act.
      (As an aside, this could possibly be too many new plot elements per act, resulting in a gonzo Shakespeare bonanza. Unless that’s what you want.)

      The resolution is extremely deterministic. So much that the fiction only weakly inputs into the mechanics (though using your sonnet and at the end of an act); a straight token comparison resolves any real conflict, and the results of that can be determined ahead of time. A less certain resolution mechanic (Mist Robed Gate’s Wirework springs immediately to mind) would encourage more balanced conflicts; right now a player ahead on tokens should demand conflicts whenever possible.

      I don’t think the resolution rules stated quite match Shakespearean plays, they’re fine for a comedy but not quite for a tragedy: if the play ends in Iniquity, everyone should have a bad ending, even (or especially) those with mass Iniquity. No one ends up well in Shakespeare’s tragedies. This is a major change, but there’s wiggle room here.

      All in all, there’s an interesting core of something here, but my gut reaction is there’s just slightly too much going on (or slightly too little): interpreting sonnets, speaking only in soliloquy (which is a great technique that should be explored more), and gaming for colored tokens. If anything, I’d refine the token economy to be less gamey and more descriptive of the action, with more token rewards within the scope of each scene.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (52) A Serpent’s Tooth by Ross Cowman
    A King in the twilight of his life loses his kingdom (and GM Authority). A game for people who always wanted to do in the dungeon master.

    Reviewed by: (51), (49), (46), and (42).

    • Ashley

      Things I liked:
      The read-out the rules approach is pretty well used, and I like the idea of a GM gradually discarding his authority through out play. The supporting props for the regalia and character banners are really well done and thought out.

      Things I think need reviewing:
      I think the map has potential to be used more within play, not sure how, but it feels like an underused part of the game. A few of the ideas seem under explained, and I am not entirely sure how they fit into the game for example the Private natures, and revealing/forswearing them.

    • Nolan Callender

      Some really cool ideas here: tying the game master’s authority to the power of a character in the game, using the game text as something to read aloud to the players, using a simple set of ritual phrases to resolve what happens in the game. Nice props that help the players remember and implement the rules. Good good good.

      As for the bad: The text could be more clear in a number of places, especially when dealing with how authority passes from the GM/king to the other players. There is no real force impelling that to ever happen, or, that if it happens, making sure anyone else obtains that authority. If the King loses his army and no longer has the Sword, who gets to say how a scene ends? Where does that authority go?

      Also, not sure if this criticism is entirely relevant, but I thought the layout was ugly and hard to read. Some of the font choices are good and the use of a symbol to denote side text is a good idea, but the spacing and alignment of the text is messy.

      As to theme and ingredients: The only ingredient I see is nature. Exile’s in there a little bit, in that the king is losing his power in a way that might be like being exiled, but its not explicit at all. No forsworn and daughter is only one possibility no more stressed than son. Theme is totally lacking. A king losing his power is not specifically Shakespeare enough to make me think of Shakespeare in and of itself, if I didn’t know that contest was about Shakespeare, I could not have guessed it from this game.

    • Paul Beakley

      So, another beautifully produced set of materials in an absurdly short amount of time. You guys have a lot of time/juice on your hands. The little standup cards are nice, as are the character sheets. Nice production all around. There are also some fun mechanics within the game, specifically the formal passing of various narrative authorities out of the hands of a GM-ish character and over to the various other players. The setup also looks like it produces some fine narrative grist to get the ball rolling.

      The Nature sets seem too obviously opposed. Could you decouple the sets so you could be both “Traitorous” and, say, “Wise”? Or Honest and Hateful? I like that no two players can have the same matchup, so that’d be worth keeping. I also like that you can decide which is public and which is private.

      The relationships-via-cards procedure is unclear to me. Are you playing only face cards? Are the positions around the king named Queen/Jack/Ace just symbolically? I’m not totally sure how to proceed here.

      The Survey step is nice. I can see the map being interesting here. I also like that something connects each location, and something separates each location. Although at this early stage I have no idea why any of that matters. The “map” component seems underdeveloped. Can you integrate the map, perhaps, with the Castle regalia card?

      This game feels very at-arms-length and authorial to me. Is it really necessary to have a formalized “veils” discussion/mechanic/procedure? It may be that bringing it up formally highlights that that sort of play is expected and should be driven toward, but honestly at no point in the game does it seem like that sort of subject matter is going to come up – it’s not Sorcerer territory. This feels unnecessary and distracting.

      Actually all of Part 4 feels like a mashup of AW and Official Story Games Best Practices. A lot of lecturing for a very short game. While I liked the early first-person rules presentation, parts 4 feels like the author is requiring the King player lecture the rest of the players. Not loving that.

      The omen-aftermath pace makes sense. Who decides if some fact of the game counts as an Omen, thus qualifying for an Aftermath Provocation? Does everyone have the same authority to use the various ritual phrases?

      Regalia is interesting, and I like that seizing a card off the King is part of the Provoke procedure. I wish it were a little tighter or more uncertain than just passing ritual phrases back and forth. I’m not getting that there’s any meaningful tension. I do like that you turn your card around to show your Private Nature, that’s neat – however, the Character Banner has a “public nature” line on both sides of the card. Probably should patch that up.

      So it reads like Regalia is a timing mechanism, yeah? When the King character has lost all three, the game’s over? Can the King ever try to seize them back? Can other characters trade/steal them amongst themselves? I like that the Regalia each have a formal game purpose, although they’re mentioned only on their cards and not in the text.

      Act 2: It seems that, as the King loses his Regalia, he loses his ability to frame scenes. However, it looks like the game text expects the King to continue framing scenes. Can a player other than the King set up a scene? Or does the King always do that, but without any authority to declare location (castle) or cast (crown)?

      I’m not really sure what actually happens in Act 3. Play until you’re done playing? As written, this feels anticlimactic. The text in Act 1 set up a promise: We find out what happens now that the roles are reversed and the king is stripped of all regalia. Awesome! I’m expecting the King is going to get his comeuppance, but there’s no setup or drive for the King to act badly – or exceptionally well!—and therefore justify his tragic ending. I think more scene-setting guidance that leads one to make the King either more sympathetic or more reviled during the Act 2 scenes would lead to a bigger payoff in the end.

      Bottom line: I think there’s a lot of really interesting procedural stuff happening in AST, but it’s all freighted with what reads to me like the author’s desire to make nods to every successful indie-style storygame ever published. Take out all those nods and the game I think will dramatically improve.

      I would like to see more guidance on what goes into a scene, and what exactly the Regalia do to the holder’s authority. Personally I feel like this is the killer app of the whole design, so I’d like to see it built out in more detail.

    • woodelf

      I love the very explicit teaching style of the game. For the most part, it makes the game very clear, and leaves me with very few questions. I wonder about the explicit introduction of the loss of the GM’s authorial control. First reaction is that it makes the game too self-conscious, and might make the players focus more on it than I’d like. It might be better as a natural outcome of the rules–something that the players recognize in hindsight, rather than a goal. Making the rest of the rules and goals explicit, in contrast, I think is an excellent idea.

      The overall feel is absolutely awesome, and totally makes me want to play the game. I love the incorporation of the GM’s and King’s roles, mirroring them.

      The only thing that I’m not sure I understood is the transfer of authorial power. The intro says that the king loses authorial control, but I don’t see anything that clarifies how that happens. Is it just by the loss of the regalia? Or is it just the reference to the fact that as people introduce places and characters, they gain authority over them?

      The character creation is perfect. Use of the cards is a good choice, and I particularly like that one player prompts another for a relationship, rather than just inventing them on their own. It makes it easier than inventing a relationship whole-cloth (especially the first couple in a game), and allows others to shape your character to their liking a little bit, thus increasing the cohesiveness of the game. Good breakdown of relationship categories, and the fact that all relationships are positive is also a great place to start–adds some cooperative to what could potentially degenerate into an unfun cutthroat game (as distinct from a fun cutthroat game).

      It needs a little bit of cleanup and editing, but mostly not major: Preparation mentions setting up the cards, but things you need doesn’t mention cards.

      The few remaining questions: The details of Provoking could use a little more explanation. I *think* I understand it, but maybe a little more explanation of how the actual interplay works would be useful. If someone states a conclusion prematurely, whose obligation is it to roll the story back? The person who made the statement, or the person who was provoked (and thus responds in some fashion)?

      Game chef: feels very Shakespearean to me, in that it forces a tale much like several of the histories and tragedies, and the act structure is well used. Defining the acts retroactively based on the story, rather than trying to fit the game/story into the structure, is a clever choice. As for ingredients: I like the use of Nature as “the nature of a person” rather than “plants & animals”, and you tied Forsworn to that well, mechanically. I would’ve liked to see Exile play a little more of a role, but it seems to live up to the requirements, so no negatives from me on that point.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (53) Foresaken by David Miessler-Kubanek (dmkdesigns)
    A game about Exiles who seek reconciliation for broken promises in order to change their legacy at home.

    Reviewed by: (52), (50), (47), and (43).

    • Ross Cowman

      Forsaken – a review

      Forsaken is total pleasure to read. Lovely layout, that really facilitated my comprehension of the game. There is a lot of juicy stuff here, I’ll start with the center piece of Forsaken, the card mechanics. In Forsaken we use the cards for a couple of things, first the cards tell us what kinds of promises our naughty, naughty, exiles have broken. (I really like that a lot)
      Then in the game they are used as currency you can spend to win conflicts and to do some behind the scenes trickery when your character is off screen. Cool, right? I though this would be extra cool if it took place in the old west. Then lo and behold, the example setting included at the end was for the old west! You’re a clever man Mr. Miessler-Kubanek. I would love it if this game just went straight for the old west feel, I think it would totally rock. Personally I’m a sucker for theme, you can get me to play a BYOT(theme) style game, but deep down inside I really just want someone to tell me I’m a zombie sheriff in the old west.
      Ok, so there are two kinds of challenges, one with the scene and one with another player. In both cases you get to see both cards you are up against before you choose to lay down your own. Man, it would be great if you only got to see one card. So one face up, one face down. Firstly it goes perfect with the old west (ahem!) theme. Secondly, think of the psycho mind games you could play on someone in a duel by choosing which card you reveal. It also keeps it from being straight resource management, and gives the mechanics a sense of danger.
      On to Promises… reconciling promises is carrot that drives the character’s onward. Cool, I’m in. I think you should dial back the randomness on getting promises at the beginning. Instead of randomly drawing cards, you could do something like lay out 3 cards, then when its your turn you take a card and replace it from the deck. Give the players a shot at grabbing something they’re really fired up about playing.
      On layout… I already said I loved it earlier. I’d help the reading of the game if Techniques of Play came before Sequence of Play, since the latter uses concepts introduced in the former.
      On character sheets, playing aids…
      There are enough moves, and special cases for different combos of cards that I’m going to need a concise summary on a character sheet. You can use card symbols and show what the different cards do.
      I’ll say it once more. Go west young man… I think you could do something amazing with resources, like what if I lay down a pair or a full house and that lets my sheriff zombie do something crazy, like regain his humanity. Maybe the best poker hand wins instead of adding up the card numbers.
      Over all though, I’m interested in where this game is going, I think you’ve hit on something really cool here. Right on!
      xo ross

      • Ross Cowman

        “I’d help the reading of the game if Techniques of Play came before Sequence of Play, since the latter uses concepts introduced in the former.”
        other way around, the former uses concepts introduced in the latter…blah blah…

      • dmkdesigns

        Hi Ross!

        I want to thank you for reviewing Forsaken. Glad to have been able to cross Shakespeare with the Old West too.

        For me, I went with cards instead of dice because I wanted to try something different and something with a more tactile and visual representation. And the thought of using a tarot deck instead of a typical playing deck is still more thematic, though less common, to me.

        I’m glad to read that you liked the Promise Nature part. That was the most fun for me to work on as the motivation + game builder mechanic. In the notes section below the Promises Nature/Theme chart I mention how players could determine which Promises, but there could be any number of means to accomplish this to better engage the group, including trading, or just picking one from or off of the list provided. I have the list there as a starting point and to provide tone, etc. If your group wants something more accidental or more brutal, then go for it.

        Should this ever become a “published” game I wouldn’t mind having examples of play and a handful of play-sets included to help skin out the game more since it is largely setting-generic. Otherwise, I can see Techniques or other features of the game being developed for an actual game setting or genre appropriate to the game.

        I think this game answers a question I have, being, is there a game out there where I could play a character like Hamlet with supporting rules within a few hours time? For me, Forsaken can do that.

        While I’ve never been a fan of the zombie + anything, I could see something like that take place using the Forsaken rules, though I don’t yet have specific supernatural rules and don’t know that it’s required either.

        The one card shown and the other card blind is an intriguing option. I could definitely see this in a kind of showdown, like in the Old West or with feudal samurais.

        Great suggestion on rearranging the Techniques of Play before the Sequence of Play! I hope to see what other feedback may come of this and then return to the game after some distance to see what next to do with it.

        Thanks for the kudos on the layout. I went with something simple given the timeframe. The cover of the game is actually based off of something I came across when I was researching how Shakespearian plays work. Found it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Third_folio.JPG.

        Regarding the sheets, aids, and more… I was considering creating icons for the game, but ran out of time. I think that the game needs much more testing than just myself and my lovely wife for a few hours. And of course spiffy character sheets/play aids, and pretty custom-made cards for the appropriate setting. :-)

        The idea of winning with poker hands or otherwise is interesting. One rule that we did not get to test yet was the Soliloquy Technique, though looking back on the playtesting there were a couple scenes that could have qualified for it, but we were both caught up in role-playing out our character’s schemes. My wife won over the Indians with plans to restore the native landscape surrounding the broken spring, and I won over the Sheriff with the new and improved jail prototype.

        Thanks again!
        -David-

    • Filippo Porcelli

      Forsaken, which has a very clear text and a simple but effective layout, is a game that focuses on an intimate vision of exile.
      Chapter 2 explains the premise of the game, describing the characters into who they are and what they will face. The next chapter presents the promises and their method of creation, which is pleasant but that makes it less random.
      As for the scenes differ from Act to Act, each of which has a value of Challenge / Duel different.
      After the manual shows what are the Chorus (which I would be working more instead of the author), and the Duel Challenge followed by the two tables Soliloquies and Aces and Faces that is too random, especially for the rule “Twisted Hand of Fate,” while the second is well structured.
      The next step are the resources and how to use them, also shows the case zero resources specifying the effects in the game.
      Finally, presents an example of setting.
      The game is very well done, the notes make clear the text, although some examples along the manual would make it easier to read. The ingredients are centered and are also reflected in the mechanics of the game.
      I can not wait to try it

      • dmkdesigns

        Filippo,

        Thank you for reviewing Forsaken.

        I was curious to know if you could elaborate on this part of your review, “After the manual shows what are the Chorus (which I would be working more instead of the author)”?

        I agree that the game needs more examples of how play is intended. More playtesting is a must for this game to reach the next level of development.

        I hope to hear from you further after you’ve had an opportunity to try playing the game.

        Best,
        -David-

    • Matthew Nielsen

      David,

      My favorite part of this game was your playing card-driven random scenario generator, and I also liked how you used them to create both a chance and resource driven resolution mechanic. I also appreciate the clear focus on a consistent theme (character’s attempts to reconcile their past) combined with a wide breadth of potential setting.

      Regarding ingredients/theme, exile’s incorporation is clear, and, as for forsaken, it’s in the title, but nature seems quite weak. As far as how Shakesperean it is, that can be hard to judge. I can feel a little Shakespeare within it, but to me it ultimately feels like more generic drama which Shakespeare could fit into, but need not (this doesn’t detract from it as an overall game at all).

      The biggest problem I encountered in reviewing this game is that one mechanic is never clearly explained, the number of points in a promise. It seems like this is important to characters success but apart from explaining how you get them it is never explained what they are for (presumably successful reconciliation with the victims) or how many you need. I would also like to see a good explanation of how to connect playing resources to roleplaying out a challenge, deeper than just those determining the result (perhaps say what each card represents you doing to overcome the challenge or something similar). Redemption in general is a theme I really like, so with cleaned up explanations of some of the rules, I think I’d quite enjoy this game.

      Cheers,
      Matthew

      • dmkdesigns

        Matthew,

        Thank you for reviewing Forsaken.

        Your favorite part was also my favorite part of the game, aside from making a quasi-RPG with redemption possibilities, or at least clear goals for Players to pursue in a game.

        I agree that the setting for me is less a specific place, but more the themes I remember from reading Shakespeare’s plays when in university as an English major. It also reminds me of the various Shakespeare plays that had alternate settings in the performed plays, like in Brooklyn or on another planet. For me, it was more about being able to play characters like Hamlet with the same drama with the same kinds of pushes and pulls from motivations, no matter the actual “place.”

        And in the name of word count I did have to gut the more detailed use of Nature in the game. I had Nature govern the card suits as well. So if you had a Hearts/Love card, you had a bonus for talking, etc. However, in the quick playtesting we ran through that seemed much more difficult and restrictive in practice, but more testing is required.

        This is a huge oversight — thank you for mentioning it. It’s the number on the card +10. This total may or may not be too high, as it seemed when say someone draws a number of Face cards (each is 11 +10 = 21). So for example, my wife made Jane Smith from her draw that was very difficult to complete because of the sheer total number involved for each Promise. However, my wife had loads of fun trying to complete her very large Promises. I actually remember now that there was going to be a section on this very thing, but our debate about changing the total value to say +5 instead of the +10 never made it to the game text in any form.

        And yes, you play the cards during the scene metaphorically (again the Nature stuff I cut might have helped to explain this). So if you have a 10 of Honor it would be assumed that you are using a weapon (a powerful or effective one at that, perhaps defending someone from the wraith of a despot) to influence things along with role-playing, like some games with dice.

        And using the RPing + cards (the number on the cards must equal the Promise value) the Scene through a Conflict or Duel, you effectively buy/win through a Promise.

        Best,
        -David-

    • sailorkitsune

      Forsaken–

      Shari: I really liked the general premise of this game, playing exiles trying to return home. I also really liked both iterations of the card mechanic. It lends itself well, I think, to setting tone and direction for the various scenes. However, I think that 5 plus acts might get very long, especially with larger groups of players.

      Willow:Three promises per character seems like a lot at first, especially since there’s going to be overlap between the suits. That might be a bit much. The promises themselves are absolutely spot on, though it took some mental wrangling to get to this part.

      This game needs a lot of polish. To illustrate, a few questions I could not find answers to:
      Just how many points are needed to reconcile a promise?
      Does each character really gain a card each scene? In one place the rules say you get a card for each scene you start or join, and another says you gain a card each scene you are absent in.
      What does it mean to claim a resource during a challenge or duel? Get points for it? Put it in your hand?
      What happens if the deck runs out before Act V? A lot of cards are being drawn- in Act I alone, each player draws 3 cards at the start, a card each scene, and flips a card per conflict. With 3 players, 3 scenes, and 3 conflicts (the bare minimum, right?), that’s thirty nine cards, just in the first Act. You are going to run out of cards, and you’re going to do it early in Act II.

      There’s an opportunity here for a really nice game, but it suffers from being crammed. Terms are used before they are introduced and defined, and one has to jump back and forth to actually understand the rules. The game really needs to take its time explaining things and have a step-by-step example of play.

      Finally, I can’t help but wonder if this is actually a roleplaying game. The mechanics strongly inform the narrative, but does the narrative feedback into the mechanics? The closest I can come up with is the Help mechanics, where other players might give resources for purely roleplaying reasons (since there’s no ‘win condition’ to give them an incentive not to). The bonus reward for Soliloquies is mentioned as well, but not how many or how or by what standards. I’d like to see this expanded upon: more clear opportunities, or requirements, for the players to reward each other with resources.

      • dmkdesigns

        Shari and Willow,

        Thank you for reviewing Forsaken.

        I’m glad to hear that you both enjoyed aspects of the game.

        Here are some answers to your questions:

        Currently, the value of the Promises is equal to the value on the card (1 to 11) + 10. However, this seemed very difficult to accomplish for anyone who got more than one Face card Promise (each of which would be 21). And I agree that the three Promises may also be excessive, however, it gave us a few options to pursue rather than forced to go after one single goal. So you would need to spend one or more Resources to equal or exceed the initial Promise value, from 11 to 21.

        Currently, the option for gaining cards is very generous and I would like to playtest this out more to see where it can be more streamlined given the use of cards and role-playing options.

        If you win a Challenge or Duel, you get to count the Resources (cards) put before you by the Caretaker (or opposing Player) towards your Promise. The Resources you spend yourself on winning do not count towards this effort and are discarded (most of the time).

        Claiming a Resource, means drawing a card from the deck as cards are called Resources in Forsaken. This is to keep rewarding Players for participating, even if is minimal. The points are from winning in a Challenge or Duel, towards the Promise. Put in your hand is simply adding the Resources to your hand for use (up to your hand limit).

        Great question about the deck running out… At any time when this happens you simply reshuffle the Resources not in Player’s hands and start over again with a refreshed deck.

        Thanks for the encouragement with the game. One of the things I’ve wanted to add to the game are specific examples of how it is intended to play out during Scenes in particular. And moving a few things around to address the rules continuity is a great suggestion.

        This game already changed a lot in the one-week of development from a very Player vs. Player to a more collaborative and less-card-intensive game and I like this new direction. I would really like there to be more options for Player participation/rewards as well. And to have more options for narrative influence within the game structure sounds like a win as well.

        Please let me know if you have any additional questions, comments, or suggestions.

        Best,
        -David-

  • Jonathan Walton

    (54) Shakespeare’s Not Boring! (+demands) by David Berg
    As characters in your favorite Shakespeare play, try to sway a hater to sharing your love for the bard’s work.

    Reviewed by: (53), (51), (48), and (44).

    • dmkdesigns

      Shakespeare’s Not Boring!
      by David Berg
      (54)

      I like that the game had fun with itself.
      The game read like it could be modified into a LARP or a party game like charades, where you take turns trying to outdo the other players or challenging their performances or interpretations. You could substitute cards with scenes from the various Shakespeare plays with famous lines and character notes. “I have to play Iago convincing Othello to do what?!?” But that would take some work to research and time to compile — though there might be Graduate Students in Shakespeare you could talk to about helping.
      The way that it is currently written, requires access to text material, which may or may not be a hindrance to play. Also, as written, it seems best suited for use in classes or clubs, etc. where Shakespeare is being taught or performed. Perhaps the game could be used as a challenge or a way to leverage in more serious investigation of the text and the language involved?
      Though I think I understand the intent, I am still confused with the need to role-play the suggested personae for Haters. Should the Fans also have personae to use, or should the use of personae be dropped?
      I’m not sure where the ingredients fit into the game. I could argue that the Hater is an Exile, or by default Forsworn to not like Shakespeare, but I don’t see those, or Nature or Daughter within the text implied strongly.
      The means to determine victory in this game seem very arbitrary or subjective and I can see obstinate players trying to game the system to the point where people get too frustrated to continue playing as I think the rules intend.
      If this game is going to be published, I think you should include examples of play to help clarify how the gameplay flows for newbies.
      I think that with more playtesting and bit more structure that this game could be fun with the right audience for a couple hours.

    • Jim Ryan

      This looks like a VERY fun game. I like the idea that the Hater takes on an identity and has to be convinced. The choices presented with the Demands sheet makes it look like this game should be pretty simple to play.

      The only concerns I have are really just nitpicky things. There are a few clarity issues with the text, but that’s easily fixable. Reading through a whole five-act play may be a bit daunting so it might be good if there were more ways to skip around a bit or do it in sections. I also worry a little bit about how it would play out with more than three people if you still only have one Hater – maybe put in a mechanic to allow multiple Haters if the group is bigger. But, like I said, these are all pretty small issues – overall, this game is pretty cool. :)

    • Mark Snyder

      I’m not someone who reviews often, but here I go!

      I think the mechanic of ‘deciding what the demand is’ is a little undercooked. I feel like it could have been done better if given more time, but that’s not what this is about. I like the game and it has good qualities. The idea is good, just needs time to bake, and possibly could evolve into it’s own.

    • Ashley

      Things I Liked:
      The theme of the game. I have a personal pet peeve over the poor way Shakespeare is taught over here in the UK, and I am a big proponent of getting people to approach Shakespeare from a different direction. So this is an interesting take on the idea.

      Things I think need reviewing:
      The game is a bit schizophrenic in places, it swings from pure freeform, to arbitrary role definition. I think picking out a thread and running with it would really help bring this game home.

      • David Berg

        Can you tell me more about how you see the varying degrees of freeform being problematic in play? I bet you have a good point there; I just can’t tell what it is!

        Perhaps an example of what you mean by “pick a thread” would clue me in to what you’re seeing.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (55) All the World by Mark Nau
    A structured story-game for three players, inspired by the form and content of Shakespeare’s plays. Will you live a tragedy or a comedy?

    Reviewed by: (54), (52), (49), and (45).

    • Ross Cowman

      All The World – review
      Character Creation
      All the World is like a toy box stuffed with a ton of great seed material for generating interesting characters and dramatic situations. The game features an intriguing relationship structure. We each create a main character, whom we frame scenes around, and a supporting character, who plays in each of the other player’s scenes, but never our own. Cool, I can see that playing out really well in a 3 player game.

      Right now there are a ton of random elements to character generation, I’d love to see that dialed way back. Take for example character selection. The game comes with over a dozen beautifully laid out and thought out characters playbooks to pick from. The rules call for us to pick 4 at random, then each choose one. I say, you went to all that hard work, you might as well lay them all out, and let the players pick the one they want. I would also redesign the character sheets in mind, so you can fold them in half with a portrait and brief description (or sonnet) facing out. Nothing makes me excited to play a game then a table full of interesting characters playbooks to choose from.

      I feel the same way about the dice rolling on tables. I’d love to see either my options laid out in a deck of cards, or a Fiasco style pile of rolled dice in the center to pick from. By putting it all out there at once, the players will have an easier time making a story setup they are really excited about. I also think this might shave some steps off of the character generation process, either you just lay out the cards, and we take turns piciing them (or do it all at once) or you roll a big pile o’ dice and we take turns matching them to tables (ala Fiasco)

      The game’s mechanics do a great job of making sure that each scene is about that main character’s drives and relationships. I like placing the tokens on specific drives or traits and I also like having the three challenge’s to the character’s traits also serve as a timer for the scene. Again, totally solid. I think it is a great idea to give players some way to move the scene along, and signal that it is coming to its close.

      I thought to myself after reading the game, ‘you know what self? It would be rad if the tokens were just replaced with dice.’ You end up rolling them at the end anyway. I am a sucker for simplicity. I want the fiddly bits on the table to be totally necessary, and as obvious in their functionality as possible.

      I want to talk a bit about challenging token placement, because I think it is at the heart of the game. Right now when we disagree, we roll some dice and the dice tell us who gets to narrate our success.The problem is that what I say doesn’t effect this outcome. I know it kind of matters, if I shoehorn in my nature or some other power I’ll get an extra die, but it doesn’t reeeeealy matter. What matters is my die roll.

      So what to do about that? Well, honestly I think you’ve already got a great system, I would just ditch the die roll. I give you the die, then either you accept it and tell me what happens, or you move it to another pool and I tell YOU what happens. Cool right?

      Every die roll takes us out of the story, even if it is just for a second, dice are cool but I think this game would be stronger with out them in the conflict resolution.

      Ok one last thing. Act IV introduces some cool mechanics that tell us what we can do with all those tokens (or if I had my way dice) you’ve been accumulating in pools. I would consider letting people do that the whole game. That way, we all know that come act 5 the hammer is going to fall. Now there is this really great decision we are faced with every scene, should I try and resolve my Drive now? Should I angle for more dice? Woah! My relationship w/ Doghead is really piling up, I’d better do something about that. Thank kind of stuff.
      Oh, and you might as well make Act IV the epilogue, and have the player just tell us what happens during the scene. It sounds like all the other mechanics of the game get switched off at this point any way. It could be suiting.
      Over all, cool beans. I want more.
      xo ross

      • David Berg

        “I would just ditch the die roll. I give you the die, then either you accept it and tell me what happens, or you move it to another pool and I tell YOU what happens.”

        I like this a lot as a solution to the issues mentioned in my review.

    • Todd Nicholas

      Short version: Megan and I really liked this game. We have a few minor suggestions, but overall were really impressed with the mechanic and and the presentation.

      Long version: http://chicagoindiegaming.wikispaces.com/reviewofalltheworld

    • Paul Beakley

      Man…solid work. Amazing this came out of just 10 days. Color me jealous.

      Personal quirk: Did not love all the codicils in the intro. Read like it came straight out of the Indie Story Game Style Book ™. I would greatly prefer to see more expectation-setting in this part, rather than all the “play nice” stuff.

      Can the game be played/understood by someone who doesn’t really know Shakespeare that well? It’s not clear to me that it will naturally generate Shakespearan-style conflicts and tragedies without everyone being on board with how the Bard worked his stories. I think this fits into my desire to see more expectation-setting early on: Even something as simple as “The Main Characters will most likely have a tragic ending.”

      Having a core Drive vs Drive conflict looks like it works well. I like how Drives are procedurally linked between characters. Very nice.

      Chorus: “Appropriate name” jumped out at me because prior to even the Trigger Event, it’s not at all clear to me how to judge appropriateness. Maybe there should be a step where everyone agrees to, or rolls on a table for, a milieu? “Renaissance Italy” or “Imperial Rome” or “A fantastical island” or whatever. That might also help frame up that relationship component, as well as what the trigger event entails in context with the setting.

      At the top of “Act 1,” I felt fuzzy about how scenes fit into an Act. It might be worth defining early on what a “scene” is – specifically, what ends a “scene?” When everyone’s gone? I dunno…this whole section works fine, it just needs a rewrite.

      Token placement economy looks like it works fine, but when it’s first introduced I have no idea what the point of the tokens are. Is it a timing thing? It needs to be discussed, or at least mentioned, in the very first “Token Placement” graf.

      Reading through the end of Act I, it still reads like the tokens are nothing more than timing, i.e. the scene can’t end until everyone has 3x tokens. So where is the importance of the contest? Just in fighting for who gets to narrate? If that’s the case, it’s worth explicating.

      The winner of a contested token roll gets to narrate the fiction around placing a token but this feels a little vague – does the player narrate what the Main Character felt or thought or said?

      Traits: The box on page 7 is the first time I recall seeing “Traits” mentioned. How is this used? EDIT: Okay, I see they’re under Support Role. The box feels out of step, but I do like how they’re set up on the character sheets.

      Ah, here we go…Act 4 we finally learn about the tokens. Scene order, that’s interesting. No idea how that plays out. The Climax Scene choice is interesting as well, and I do like that death is on the line under “Decisive commitment.” Also appreciate that avoiding tragedy is an option as well.

      Act 5 resolution looks like it works pretty well. Note that you use “coin” here and there for “token.” “Tragedy from Drive” feels like double jeopardy if you’ve gone with “decisive commitment” in Act 4. How does the foregone conclusion of an Act 4 tragedy fit into Act 5 tragedies? Does it even matter?

      Okay so it looks like Tokens are To Be Avoided, but that may just be my character-advocate instincts talking. I suppose the scene order mechanic in Act 4 is arguably beneficial. I think I’d like to see more tension in the token economy. Since more tokens = greater chance for tragedy, and one would assume one does not seek tragedy for one’s Main Character, it seems like a conflict of interest to play toward tragedy in the early Acts. Maybe explore this a bit in your intro? Talk a bit about aiming for tragedy (pretty much purely authorial, unless one assumes the Main Character is seeking his own tragic outcome) versus reconciliation (also authorial, but more easily reconciled with character advocacy).

      The character sheets are beautiful. Really nice work.

    • David Berg

      I dug the intro presentation of concept and activity — make your own Shakespeare play, suspense over tragic/comic outcomes, compete for characters’ fates.

      Main characters, supports, and relationships are handled elegantly. The roll-on tables get us appropriate, usable stuff quickly. This would be one of the fastest-to-actual-play one-shot ground-up story games around. Less making stuff up beforehand may disappoint some, but that’s more time to play! Likewise with “choose 3 from 4″ rather than “choose 3 from 13″. More unplayed characters also equals more replay value.

      (I do have a layout suggestion: if that “supporting” box on the sheet is meant for the supporting character I control, who has nothing to do with my main character, then separate them more. Front & back of a sheet, or above/below a fold, or at least two sets of borders on a page.)

      Unfortunately, the game doesn’t produce comedic outcomes. It only tells us tragedy or no tragedy. Not the end of the world, but a bit different from the pitch.

      Vying for control over the characters’ fates seems to be purely a matter of taste and luck. If we really care about our main character’s fate, another player saying, “Nah, I think the token should go here instead, just cuz I’d like that,” seems like griefing. It doesn’t HAVE to, but I don’t think your text provides the proper context for a story-control contest. Specifically, WHY would I want your character to go one way instead of another?

      There are plenty of valid answers to that. My opinion is simply that your specific answer will define what play is about. And the current text doesn’t do that for me.

      As is, play looks like it COULD be about envisioning an arc for your character and then proceeding to see if the luck of the dice and the whims of the other players will allow you to get it.

      Which sounds unappealing to me, so I’d go for the other implied option — don’t invest in my character’s fate, invest instead in drama, spectacle, and Shakespearean-ness by treating every character in the game as an opportunity for that. In that context, the contests resolve different players’ views of what’s dramatic and interesting and Shakespearean. Which is cool as long as it’s frequent that multiple players have conflicting good ideas; otherwise the mechanic won’t get used.

      The mechanic doesn’t beg for use, honestly, being based on luck and reinforcing little beyond consistency. If the tokens were an actual currency that you had to strategize when to spend, that might add more game incentives.

      Also, if nudging your character in a certain direction tangibly impacted my character. Maybe if the main characters had stakes in each other winding up in certain places, and each time they get closer, we get tokens. That’d turn the “fight for your arc” game into more of a proper game.

      I love that this is primarily storytelling, and I love that you’ve provided content to get people playing and pointed in the right (Shakespearean) direction. I just think a few more designed incentives would help players form clearer reasons for each contribution. I think such clarity can help mutual appreciation and avoid flat “I just like my idea better than yours, period” or “whatever you say” interactions.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (56) Lords of Titania by Hamish Cameron (@peregrinekiwi)
    Oath-breaking, betrayal & murder as a ruling family drifting through space are torn apart in a struggle for power driven by their own flaws.

    Reviewed by: (55), (53), (50), and (46).

    • Nolan Callender

      Another sci-fi game, interesting. I like that the game’s tone is clear and unabashed: tragedy about family. Got it. Its clearly stressed at the beginning of the text. Actually, all of the rules text is nice and clear.

      Character creation is cool, the Components in particular are really neat. The only problem I have with character creation is the use of “forsworn” to mean broken in regards to an oath. Its not quite what the word means, but the spirit is close enough, I guess.

      The play process is pretty clear, but a little wishy-washy. The characters aren’t inherently in conflict and the setting is kind of non-specific. I found myself wondering what I was suppose to do in these scenes. What are my motives, until (or unless) someone dies (at which point they start playing the returned Exile), the character’s have no real goals to pursue, at least no goals built into the game.

      Another point: I feel the exile should be established in some way before play begins. Having the exile introduced in the Act structure with no real explanation of where he’s suppose to fit into the game was a bit jarring. It seems like it would take a lot of creative flexibility to make that work.

      In summary: I think this game has a solid premise and is pretty well written, but that there’s not quite enough built into either the setting or character creation to know what to do while we play. The strong tone/theme of the game would definitely help with this, but I feel like more direction would be necessary to keep the scenes from being weak.

      Premise and Theme are well addressed, it does seem Shakespearean, and Nature and Exile are clear and important to the game. Forsworn is, to my understanding, a little misused, but its definitely there.

    • marknau

      Lords of Titania:

      I’m immediately drawn to the set-up. Closed-room pit of vipers. And in my head, at least, a touch of Amber. Awesome, bring it. Everyone is related, everyone is in control of a vital system. A ripe setting for blood intrigue.

      And once I start reading the rules, I am excited by the Trust mechanic. Having trust with someone means they can give you a lot of mechanical strength when they help you. But it also makes them vulnerable to you.

      I also love someone dying and then replaced by the Exile, showing up from outside as the hand of justice. That works well narratively as well as logistically at the table. My character died, but now I get to be the one who cleans house.

      Narratively, I would like more supporting skeleton at the start of the game. Maybe a few oracular elements, more lists to distribute, a bit more guidance in getting things started. In particular, having some event that sets things into motion would be good. What is my Lord reacting to in the first Act scene? Why is today the day that starts our death spiral?

      The mechanical core idea of fighting over the things that give us power over each other, and manipulating each other’s trust is gold. The mechanics will take quite a bit of playtesting to make sure that mechanical effects the players fight over can swing around at the right pace and in a way that seems “fair.”

      I was unclear about a number of specific procedures in the rules, an artifact of a compressed timeline for a competition. But I had more fundamental confusion over the Oath concept. It is certainly mechanically desirable and interesting as a way to manipulate Trust. But I don’t know what it relates to in the fiction. I didn’t just suddenly remember that I had broken that oath that one time in the past. And, as I read it, it is not an event that just happened in the fiction. So it leaves me with a floaty sense of disconnection.

      If Hamish continues to work on some iteration of this game, I would certainly be interested in playtesting it with my group. So overall, a quite successful stab, I say.

      • marknau

        Yikes. I just started typing and didn’t realize how long it was gonna be. Jonathan, I’ve since posted this to my G+ and included the author of the game, so the wall of text above can be wiped away. Sorry ’bout that.

      • Jonathan Walton

        You’re fine, Mark. Your wall of text isn’t any more monolithic than other folks’.

    • dmkdesigns

      Lords of Titania
      by Hamish Cameron
      (56)

      I really like the intent of the game, most especially the setup in the prologue sonnet — very nicely done. The game fulfills the required ingredients on a number of levels using trust to that end, and works to support the themes mechanically through a structured system of play from setup to end, and yes, there are endgame components. There are a good number of examples to get you up and running and a great listing of the outcomes and conflict resolution and suggestions on how to narrate portions of the game. I like that the game makes you write out the oath and how it is broken and the relationship rules are a nice way to interrelate all of the characters in the game with trust.

      The game begins with rules that invite trouble and the mechanics support that. However, for some, the actual play structure through the acts seems less flexible than the original creation of the world and characters. In this game, because of the endgame components there is a final showdown and only one survives (not necessarily through direct confrontation). The game relies on murder as a mechanical/narrative necessity for it to continue with making new character classes (Exile and Hero) and conclude with the showdown between the Exile and Hero. The Hero class seems unearned in my opinion, but perhaps during play that would seem different. And, I’m not sure how players would respond to being cast as non-Exile or non-Hero in the game. Would the other Lords be able to murder the Exile and/or Hero and take their place, or would that break the game? Is Exile the role to go after or are you sidelined for most of the game as believed “dead”?

      I’m not sure if a conflict can begin if two Lords are arguing, or if the conflict needs to go to something more tangible, like fist-fighting or simply cutting off power to a habitation pod?

      I think that overall the mechanics of the game have a great start, though they are a bit too complicated to me in relation to how the game starts out.

      Most of all, I really want to see more of the setting in the game. I realize that this may fall into the Denouement section, where the players decide how much sci-fi and what to include. However, my expectation for something more visceral and pervasive within the game started with the sonnet and I feel cheated by not seeing more of it in the game. This could be due to the word limit for the contest. Except that there are bloody conflicts which involve habitation pod Components, I don’t feel or think of the game as written as being in the world or setting of Titania. I hope that if the game continues, the setting gets expanded and becomes more integrated or important for the game.

    • sailorkitsune

      Lords of Titania-

      Willow:

      I quite like this game, there’s a lot of promise here for sci-fi blood-opera. There’s a couple of elements that stick out as being a touch out of place, but overall, the game knows what it’s doing.

      I can see the setting of the ship perfectly, and a strong setting does a lot to flavor the mechanics and allow me to imagine using them. One quibble; I’m not sure if the stakes we’re playing for are the entire ship (which seems more epic), or just a tiny pod in it, one of hundreds (which makes the conflict essentially meaningless, which if intentional, is greatly ironic, but should be highlighted somehow.)

      Mechanically, I’m curious as to how many dice the exile will have. It seems likely to not be much; this is something that’s going to need tweaking. (To make sure I understand it, if both players roll the exact same number of dice, and both get the same high result, that results in dice being exiled? Seems a little rare.)

      Do I also understand it that Murder has to happen for Act II to ever finish? That could happen as early as the first scene, or drag on. I’d want an additional pacing mechanism to inform it.

      Sympathy dice, trust, and a player’s choice of conflicts are all good means for the narrative to impact the mechanics; I’d add requirements to a player to add to their trust totals, which would also result in escalating (and more exciting) dice pools.

      I think the use of the term Hero is a little problematic; there’s not necessarily anything heroic about the Hero, just that they oppose the Exile. Does this mean the Exile is the villain? My reading would reverse it, making the Exile the hero and the Hero the villain- after all, Hamlet is the iconic exile, and he returns to get revenge on Claudius- surely Claudius is not the Hero of the piece.

      Also, there’s a victory condition buried in there, encouraging players to attempt to gain all the Components. This isn’t really fitting, unless the game really is supposed to be a last man standing slugfest- but this could mean that neither the Exile or Hero wins, which doesn’t make sense.

      My advice, ditch the victory mechanic and focus on the story now mechanics, and really make the game put the screws to people to explore their flaws and sweat over which lords they can trust, and then have the exile show up and burn everything down.

      Shari: I also like the evocative feel of the setting. I did have trouble with the exile/hero mechanic, especially determining which side is supposed to win… or maybe everyone loses? The rules seem to be spelled out pretty well, a few more examples might help those of us who are occasionally clueless.

      • Anarchangel

        Thanks all! Lots of good advice. Clearly, my next version of the rules needs to include a section on “The Tragic Hero” and highlight the need for the characters to appear sympathetic rather than just power hungry bastards. Re-framing Hamlet to my structure, Claudius and Hamlet (and possibly Polonius and Ophelia) are Lords, Hamlet is the most sympathetic and becomes the Hero and Laertes is the the Exile.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (57) The Fairy’s Hart by Mark Majcher
    A supernatural romance for two. Oberon’s daughter has fallen in love with a mortal man seen in the forest and must win his love without using her magics.

    Reviewed by: (56), (54), (51), and (47).

    • Ashley

      Things I liked:
      I can’t explain how much I love that the rules are written as sonnets, and the layout is good and easy to read.

      Things I think need reviewing:
      I am not entirely sure what a large part of the card mechanic brings to the table, its use for complications is interesting, but I think the game would work well without the rest.

    • Anarchangel

      Hi Mark, I reviewed your game on my blog. Sorry my review is so short!

    • Matthew Nielsen

      Marc,

      Wow! I am thoroughly impressed by your game, especially given just a week. The stellar presentation initially catches the eye (rules… in sonnets!?! Very impressive.), but I love the game beneath it too. It has a great premise (a fairy must win a mortal’s heart… without magic), and the light card mechanics underlying it seem quite appropriate, providing the right amount of structure and guidance but also some choice, particularly for the mortal. All the ingredients are clearly incorporated and by using Oberon Shakespeare fits in fairly well (the sonnets help too).

      I guess if I had to find something that could be improved about the game, I’d say I’m not quite sure about the hour limit. I can see setting that as a guide or option if the game runs long, but I guess I wouldn’t expect myself to want to stop at that point if it was going well.

      I’ve always thought there needed to be more two-player RPG’s and this game fits the bill quite nicely. Now if only I could ensnare some passing mortal into playing it with me…

      Cheers,
      Matthew

    • David Berg

      Crap. I am not smart enough to track the incentives here. I can’t tell if it’s just pushing cards around and deciding if you like each other based on roleplay, or if there’s a big luck of the draw component, or if you can strategize your card-playing toward some particular outcome.

      I also can’t tell if the Man is supposed to want to resist. Running off with a magic chick he’s decided he DOES like seems like a win. If giving in and resisting are both fine, what’s his player’s rationale for play? Just to make things tough on the Fairy?

      There was a slight issue with the text where I was unsure what scales were being discussed because of the order in which instructions were presented. “Do A 6 times. Now do B. Now that you’ve done A and B 6 times-” What? I was able to put it all together after I’d finished reading the whole thing, though.

      I kinda skimmed the poetic parts, focusing mostly on the plain-speak instructions. I don’t think the poetic parts add much to the game, but they add a ton to the game book. Very cool.

      I like the premise, I like the focus, I like the specter of Oberon, and I love the symbolism of the outcomes based on face-card pairing. If I’m spending my jack now instead of later so I can get you in trouble with Oberon and avoid being your thrall, I might be sold. I just can’t tell if that’s the case. Since I’m not the only one who’d hesitate to play without knowing that, you might want to spell it out a bit.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (58) Men of Stones by Andy Hauge
    Story-based Shakespearean tragedy in five Acts of character-fueled roleplaying. By Act V, bodies litter the stage.

    Reviewed by: (57), (55), (52), and (48).

    • marknau

      #58: “Men of Stone”

      I’ve posted a long review to the author on G+.

    • Ross Cowman

      Men of Stones – review

      Where most games start with character generation, men of stones features a staged approach, that is really cool. Basically, every other scene, we roll some dice, and the mechanics process those results into a new relationship or desire from a table. I love the staged approach, I think its cool to find out more about our characters as the game progresses, I think this is a design space more people should explore.

      It took me a few read throughs to figure out how this worked though the information is totally all there, I would attribute it to the structure of the rules. Right now on page one, there is a list of terms. Super crucial to the game. I would love to see the next rewrite focus on giving me the information I need, in the order I need it. Take these definitions, and intersperse them through out the text. People learn best in bite sized pieces.

      Another example of this is the tables in the back, I would move them up to the front, where we need to reference them.

      Ok, I’m going to talk about trait and caution points next. The game uses trait points, as a reward system for using their traits. Then later in Act IV, you get to spend your trait points to make stuff happen in the story.
      I want the mechanics to feel tightly bound to the fiction of the game. So lets say earlier, my character really plays up their relationship with their father, earning tons of trait points. Now I get to establish some consequences, do something big in the story, maybe someone dies. Cool, but what does that have to do with my father? I can make that have something to do with my father, but I don’t really have to. That is, the game will keep chugging along fine without me.
      The game has V acts, with rules changes and / or new mechanics introduced in every act. I feel like the game would be stronger and clearer with a unified set of rules for each act. Then instead of using rules additions to create Conflict , Pivot, Falling, Action, and Epilogue scenes. Design the rules so that these things happen of their own accord. Perhaps triggered by the accumulation of currency (trait points in this case), or the accumulation of Desires or Relationships.

      I would also suggest making good use of character sheets or other aids, to put the structure of the game in front of the players.

      Overall though, a lot of food for thought here, I’m excited to see where it goes, keep up the good work!
      xo ross

      • Andy Hauge

        Thanks for the review! I’m definitely to blame for the rules structure, particularly in the area of procrastination. I was basically writing out the draft and simultaneously figuring out the rules in my head and on paper, so having all the terms there was a result of my trying to sort everything out. I also look forward to working on the game with a little more leeway, space-wise…I feel that a lot of explanation could be leveraged very well.

        The idea of tying Trait Points into Relationships and Desires is really, really good. Actually, I have some ideas on that. Yeah…some ideas that can lend a lot of structure to the game, actually, and make character deaths more likely, as well as tragic consequences tied to the game. Gives me some ideas on Act IV, too.

        I still want to differentiate some stuff in the different acts, but you’re right, there’s some very artificial rules in there, the Pivot especially.

        All told, I think that a revised edition will be very, very improved, now that I’ve had a chance to see the rules. I’m not sure when I’ll cycle back to this game, but when I have a testable, better-organized edition, would you like to know about it? I’m definitely on the lookout for people to test it.

        https://plus.google.com/102653333914811527237

    • Mark Snyder

      I’m not someone who reviews often, but here I go!

      I really enjoyed the emphasis on RP with this game, and the way it’s broken into ‘acts’ is really a revolutionary (to me) way to do things. And the bittersweet endings are always a win for me. The game is fun sounding, and if I had a group, I’d definetly put it on the table as something we should give a shot.

    • Marc Majcher

      Okay, there’s a lot of stuff going on here. First, I like that the game is attempting the ambitious task of creating a five-act Shakespearean tragedy in the course of play. It looks like characters are revealed and developed over time, which should allow players to jump right in and get to the meat of the action. It also looks like an intricate system that could lead players to some interesting places, given a bit of figuring out. And this is where it really falls apart for me. The glossary up front, I’m not sure where all of these terms come into play, and the text itself is very confusing to read. I’ve read through this a couple of times, trying to tease bits out with the help of another person, and I’d have a really hard time trying to explain how things worked without breaking it all down, re-organizing, and re-writing a lot of the explanatory text. It’s a little discouraging, because it really feels like there’s a good game buried in there, but it would take a lot of effort to dig it out. That said, I encourage you to do so! I’d be very interested in seeing what I’m missing in there…

  • Jonathan Walton

    (59) Blood. Lines. by Keyl Sunders
    The Creation of a true master rises against its Creator. You don’t necessarily take sides but, as the audience, you make things happen.

    Reviewed by: (58), (56), (53), and (49).

    • Andy Hauge

      This game, first and foremost, presents a fascinating premise. It follows the descent of a Genius into madness, as his written work literally comes alive in rebellion against him, threatening to destroy his psyche. It’s a surreal, dark take on the Shakespeare theme, which makes for a truly original twist. As regards the ingredients, the game very clearly and strongly leverages all three.

      The author has also painted a very strong picture of the game concept that should be played with Blood.Lines, and particularly stretches the bounds of roleplaying games in a satisfying way. The incorporation of Shakesperean sonnets is a very clever touch, and it’s well-suited to the game, rather than just being an arbitrary and hip “indie” choice. It actually makes a lot of sense to use sonnets, because they provide a lot of area for subjective interpretation.

      Unfortunately, there’s a lot of vagueness in this game. Its poetic quality sometimes overshadows its playability, and although I follow the concepts, it’s sometimes a bit hard to see how they would translate into actual play. For instance, I can’t understand exactly what the flow of the narrative in each Quatrain is supposed to be. What does it mean when the last Followspot is allowed to contradict the Scoop in Quatrain 1? I’m sure that a longer game, with more space devoted to explanation, could easily fix this. The game also presumes much from the players, leaving very few elements of the story in the hands of game mechanics.

      The game definitely needs some further explanation, but there’s some very masterful seeds planted. The design subtly evokes the theme of Shakespeare, which is something I really like. With a couple additions, it could be a very strong game.

    • dmkdesigns

      Blood.Lines.
      by Keyl Sunders
      (59)

      The introduction to the game was very intriguing. It is both very metaphysical and interpersonal, which are great for dramatic setups.

      I liked the way the game used the sonnet form to structure the game, with the creation and play of the game between and within the lines — it is very compelling. I like how the fabric of the creator and the creation are woven together by the Players. It is a very simple format. Some Players might experience difficulties coming up with suggestions without more examples.

      This games seems very focused on its intent, which has a broad capability with a narrow rule scope and I think that works here. However, I may have missed the importance or relevance of the creation (masterpiece) to the creator within the context of the game. It seems too important given the rest of the game.

      The ingredients seem to be included well enough: Nature, Exile, and Forsworn.

      I was confused by the section on the Quatrain 1 page that talked about how “Noone can change things, already declared — but Followspot may change and interpret the future the way he like.”

      I like the paragraph following that with how the lines build traits/aspects for the creator.

      A few things that gave me pause were that: The conflict system seems too arbitrary in nature, the terms that change meaning/use depending on which Quatrain the game is in, and the scoring doesn’t completely make sense to me — though I understand the intentions of the scoring.

      I would strongly urge you to take what you have and work to revise and edit it further. Overall, I think that the game has great potential to develop into something like Penny for My Thoughts, but with a richer and more rewarding sense of traversing the psyche and obsession or madness. This is a game with great dangerous beauty.

    • Paul Beakley

      The premise takes some digging to find but it’s pretty interesting, maybe even Inception-esque. The group creates both a fictitious Creator as well as the general shape and contents of his final masterpiece, his Creation. Through play, the players reveal certain facts about the Creation that turn out to be reflections of the Creator, and the line between the Creator’s inner and outer lives, and how they influence the Creation, becomes blurred. The ending sequence has a deeply surreal quality, where players seem to discover that events in the masterpiece were actual events from the Creator’s life, or that events in the Creator’s life have been changed by his own Creation.

      Setting up the “Creator” is interesting, as is the fact you don’t name him. Would a slightly more specific list of required facts be useful? The only thing we really “need” to know is when/where the Creator lives.

      Setting up the “Creation” seems fine. I like that you recommend that it be loose.
      I appreciate that English isn’t your native language – and holy cow, you’ve got a LOT more English than I have Russian! – but I had no idea what to make of “Scoop” and “Followspot” as roles in the game.

      I have no idea what happens in the game as of Quatrain 1. Are you literally writing lines? Does the line need to be in a meter? Calling it a “quatrain” strongly implies that you’re building a poem, but it seems like that’s not strictly necessary.
      I’m not sure how you decide what the “trait” is. Feels very vague. You might be able to reframe your directions here, and require (for example) that each line you write introduce a new fact about the hero or something.

      Quatrain 2: You might need to clarify that when you’re talking about “a real person’s problems in the real world,” you’re still talking about the Creator character. I mention this only because there are a few games out there that ask the players themselves to dig around inside their personal experiences, but this game does not seem to be one of those.

      I sorta-kinda understand what happens during the second phase here, but it still feels really vague. The example helped. I do like that the “Traits” that everyone agreed to inside the Creation make their appearance in the Creator’s life. That has a nice ring of truth to it.

      Okay so Quatrain 3 sounds like everyone now describes something within the Creator’s imagination but not part of the Creation. Is that right? Using the sonnet book sounds interesting but have you actually tried this yet? I’d like to see an example. I’m not sure what you do with the sonnet line/sentence you read. Do you decide if a Trait from Quatrain 1 is real or imagined, based on the sonnet? No idea how this works.

      Couplet: I’m not totally sure what I just read. This sounds awful but please read this in the spirit I intend: I really don’t know what to take away from this. It’s super-interesting, that’s for sure.

      I feel like we need more chances to come back and touch on the Creator, other than the setup step – maybe you play this longer than just two quatrains/acts? Here’s the Creator’s life, here’s his work, here’s the workings of his mind and how the work influences it, and now here’s the Creator again. And then the work changes/grows based on how the Creator changed (based on how the Creation changed him), and so on. That might be interesting. As it stands, I find it very hard to anchor what’s happening amongst the players at the table, what form the fiction(s) they’re creating are supposed to take.

    • Anarchangel

      Hi Keyl, I reviewed your game on my blog.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (60) The Great Bard by Michael Wenman
    A game devised by the King’s Men to develop plays while their “Great Bard” sleeps in a drunken stupor in the corner.

    NOTE: [NOT ELIGIBLE FOR RECOMMENDATION]

    Reviewed by: (59), (57), (54), and (50).

    • Michael Wenman

      I’m wondering if people aren’t reviewing this game simply because of it’s size (3500 words + play aids), or because I declared it ineligible to go forward.

    • sailorkitsune

      The Great Bard:

      Shari: I first off want to say that both Willow and I really liked this game and its premise. Both of us actually wished that it was eligible for consideration.

      For my part- I like both the card mechanic and the premise of working with minor characters interacting with the hero. I happen to think that secondary characters are far to frequently overlooked in literature and fiction with regards to their overall importance, and this game addresses that, I think.

      I personally had a little trouble reading the layout (darn bifocals!) which made this review more of a challenge for me personally. However, as I was reading it, I really wanted to play it–one of the hallmarks of a good game concept.

      Willow:I love the play within a play structure; playing players who play a game. The rules at first seem complex, but upon further reading are well written and structured; the card play sets up a scene, the cards do several things during a scene, and then getting closest to 31 gets narration rights. This flow of play is straightforward, and allows the cards to handle multiple components, which is great.

      (I gather that cards are discarded when they are used, correct? Otherwise, this could get very silly. On the other hand, there’s no real mechanical incentive not to keep drawing cards during the offstage portion.)

      The portion on Distinctions seems to be sadly missing. Unless Distinctions are the same as Relationships.

      Even the side mechanics, which don’t get much of a mention, like the protagonist’s mood, are rather compelling, and fit well into the piece.

      A question about archtypes: are they randomly dealt, or what? I’m also a little unclear if there’s supposed to be a difference between the +X token endgame archetypes and the X token endgame archetypes.

      Tokens/coins are interesting, and I’d need to see the economy in action to see if it works. I’d like there to be more universal onstage usages, for things other than offstage play, buying actor status (which is where I’d expect most of the coins to go- that can get expensive!) and special abilities.

      Excellent framework for a game, excellent production values, and excellent framing device. Sadly, there’s a few missing pieces, but there’s definitely the start of something great here.

    • David Berg

      The premise is hilarious and brilliant. The presentation is pretty and atmospheric. There is a ton of depth here; the tables and archetype cards give a lot for the players to work with. This strikes me as the sort of system that many players enjoy learning and mastering over the course of play.

      Unfortunately, this document completely buries the lead. I do not know what my objectives as a player would be. I do not know how each cool procedure impacts what I’m playing for.

      The intro gets me thinking that maybe my character’s goal is to make the most Shakespeare-like play he can, so the bard earns more money that I can spend on drink when he passes out or something. But gameplay doesn’t seem to be about that at all; judgment of the story seems to occur only in the sense of any RPG where the players might say, “That game made for a cool story,” afterward. That’s not necessarily a criticism, but the disconnect with the intro is a point of confusion for me.

      Rooting the rules explanations in in-fiction sensibilities is a time-honored RPG book tradition, but I personally find it hard to read and understand. (The text treatment doesn’t help.) Procedural bullet points would be a nice accompaniment for people like me.

      If the goal of this game is to give players who want to tell Shakespearean tales some tools and structure to help them do that, then I think it is at the very least a worthy and ambitious step toward that. Some super-creative types might find parts of it unnecessary, but folks who prefer prompts will find a lot of fertile stuff here. I have no idea if it all works yet, but I hope you hammer at it until it does, Michael!

      If the goal of the game is something else, I’d like to know what that is.

      Some unclear games eventually become clear if they’re short, easy to skim up and down, and call out the most important bits. This game has none of those. I apologize for not forming a clearer sense of the game before posting; all I can say is that I spent longer trying than on any of the other games I reviewed.

      • Michael Wenman

        Thanks David, your 100% right on the direction this game is supposed to be heading.

        The denouement section was meant to be about how well the Great Bard remembers the script improvised by the King’s Men. That would have given the quantifiable results at the end of a session that you seem to indicate the game is lacking.

        My biggest issue here was getting to the end of the time period and simply running out of steam/ideas…or more accurately, not knowing which of my many ideas would fit into the existing framework more elegantly. Surpassing the word count (by a decent margin) before fully fleshing out what I wanted to didn’t help.

        This is certainly another of those game contest entries where I’d love to work on it further to refine the details and make the game something special.

    • dconstructions

      Dave has the right of it – players might want to win, but what does my character want? I guess I kind of want to get stronger relationships, but beyond my archetype, I don’t know much about who I am – and indeed, the rules for Distinctions seem to be missing, as do others. ANd I must agree with sailorkitsune, the font was tiny and hurt my eyes.

      I love the premise though, and the way all of that was described was hilarious and very engaging. I like the idea of keeping it as a very formal game, and using 31, and I really like the concept of having nobody play the central protagonist. I’m not totally sure where you’re going with it, but it was looking great.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (61) As I Am Woman by Joel P. Shempert
    A Shakespearean woman takes gender subversion to extremes. Play out the repercussions across five acts!

    Reviewed by: (60), (58), (55), and (51).

    • Ashley

      I am finding it very difficult to express a review that I think is helpful for this game. I really like it, but I don’t know why, the theme is interesting to me, but the mechanics don’t really do anything at all for me. I will take some more time to think about it, and hopefully come up with some useful feedback. Sorry.

      • Joel

        No worries–feedback is hard! I found Jonathan’s template useful–a paragraph of what you like, a paragraph of what you struggled with, and a paragraph of how the game could move forward.

        Take your time. When your thoughts come to you, I’ll be here. :)

        And thanks for reading!

      • Ashley

        Things I liked:
        Shakespearean gender identity issues, massive tick for me. I like the ideas of the other players playing spheres of influence in the leads life.

        Things I am not sure about:
        I can’t really say needs reviewing like I have with my others, I think mechanically the system is tight, but I just don’t feel it. So as a dispassionate statement on the game, its an excellent game. I just wish I loved it more.

    • Andy Hauge

      It goes without saying that any collection of Shakespeare-inspired games would have one that showcases the feminist aspects of his works. Rather than making it a tacked-on theme, though, this game fully delves into a fleshed-out exploration of this theme in a Shakesperean story. It also has very nicely subtle twists on the key ingredients, and manages not to heavily focus on Daughter, which would have been the most obvious choice of key ingredient. Instead, it makes the other three into the forces which drive the game.

      What I love most about “As I Am Woman” is the balance it strikes between fleshing out a well-crafted storytelling engine and giving the players free reign to roleplay. It’s a game where the actions you take are tactical in nature, but also rich in character development. It also makes sure to provide a game where conflict is inevitable and strong, pitting the Heroine’s own stubborn rebellion against her heart’s desire in some instances. The idea of a final Act where the Heroine has to choose to give up her rebellion or her dreams, if she doesn’t play well enough, is sheerly brilliant, character-wise.

      What I find most lacking in this game, something which I hold the required wordcount responsible for, is the content aside from the core engine. The author does give some good examples, derived specifically from Shakespeare’s works, but that also presumes some pre-existing familiarity with the culture and the plays themselves. I’d love to see some sample Spheres and Strictures, along with ideas for stories. It would be really cool to see a Setting or two, particularly one discussing how Elizabethan cultural expectations were overlaid on fantastical settings.

      All the same, I would have a great amount of fun playing this game, I think. I also think that it can be easily adapted to a lot of different themees, not just the feminist theme. The struggle of a Rebellion, while still trying to hold onto a Hope, is one that resonates with a great many protagonists, from rebellious youth to pure heroes in a world of corruption. The engine is elegant, and everything here just plain clicks.

    • marknau

      I have sent a rather lengthy review to the author via G+

  • Jonathan Walton

    (62) Succession by Cedric Plante
    A game about succession of power and ruling families being torn apart.

    Reviewed by: (61), (59), (56), and (52).

    • Cedric Plante

      Hi all, after reading a few other games I realize how much my game draft is far away from being playable. I just want to thank in advance my reviewers for taking the time to read my game text attempt even if it really not as polished and accomplished as many of the other submission. I think I should invalid my eligibility to the contest, but considering my game text I think it not necessary. ;) That said participating was very formative for me and it was important for me not to bail out even if I was finding it very intimidating to submit my text for public review. :)

      • Jonathan Walton

        Cedric: The three main goals of Game Chef (in my mind) are 1) writing a prototype of a game, 2) learning a thing or two, and 3) building connections with other designers. So, if you feel like you’ve learned something, that’s great! There’s no need to be ashamed or embarassed about what you produced.

        I gave Jason Morningstar a pretty critical review of The Shab-al-Hiri Roach when I was a judge for Game Chef 2005, and now Jason’s been nominated for the Diana Jones Award twice! Everybody has to start somewhere. Maybe this is how it starts for you.

    • Ross Cowman

      Succession – a review

      Let me just start off by saying the setup for this game is SOLID GOLD. I mean please, in steps 2-5 we create a wise ruler, get to make up an artifact, servant, and pact, that are their sources of power, then comes step 6 where we BUMP THE GEEZER OFF, and put a some asshole on the throne. YES! I hate him already.

      Then we use that seed material we generated to figure out whats up this this new dude and the three daughters of the dead king. totally awesome.

      The rest of this review is going to focus on mechanics, which is where this game needs further development. I love the idea of the characters getting better at what they do, and also the idea of them taking risks to use corrupted powers. Some powers get weaker, becoming less effective as the game progresses. The current mechanics put a lot burden on the players to always be figuring out what kind of dice to roll, and how to analyze the result. The setup is totally dynamite, and I would love to see some lighter mechanics that really support the wonderful tone. Mainly I just don’t want to fiddle around with dice and have them tell me what happens. I want to find out what happens in the story, because of the rad stuff my friends come up with. If dice could roll them selves, these mechanics wouldn’t really need me. Vincent Baker has some great stuff to say about this in his clouds and boxes essay over at lumpley.com.
      Another way you could go about this, would be to riff off of the whole birth order thing you set up in the character creation. Maybe at the start of the game each daughter is best, second best, and third best at each of the virtues and vices, you could use sizes of dice to rep this. When you do something roll the applicable virtue, 4 or above or whatever (have it be the same for all dice), and you do it and tell us how, if you miss, the usurper does something.
      The powers give you extra dice to roll but if you fail any way, something bad happens based on how it is corrupted. Now the die roll is in the middle between two decisions made by players, instead of making the final decision.

      I also have a couple of thoughts about the Act Scene structure.
      For each act we go around the table taking turns, with three kinds of scenes happening each turn.
      The game has some different mechanics for the what happens in each scenes. The ideas here are all solid, and should just be boiled down into general rules for what you can do in a scene. You set up the scene, and then define how people can interrupt to help or hinder the main character, and some more mechanics for how to solve conflict, if you get rid of some of the structure, the scenes will flow more naturally like a conversation with the rules kicking in when they are needed.

      Overall though, you’re off to a great start. This would be a total blast to play with some stripped down and dirty mechanics.

      xo ross

      • Cedric Plante

        Thanks all reviewers for your comments and observations, this help a lot and it give me new energy to continue to work one my draft. Once I have finished re-writing my game text I will post in the game design section of the storygame forum.

    • Joel

      Hello, Cedric!

      I really like the framework you’ve created here. The fictional situation is tight and appealing, and still capable of infinite variation based on the choices at the beginning of each game, and what players bring to the roles each time. I’m amused by the convention of ranking the players by their actual age, and I love that the youngest daughter is a counterpoint to the oldest. The system of die-ranked traits looks great. Virtue, Vice, Conditions, Deeds, etc. all rated by dice–I love it! And the dice progress up or down as a condition progresses, resolve grows to do a deed, and so forth. Spot on, and I’m excited to play. If the mechanics as WELL as the fiction make me want to play, you’ve got a winner.

      There are some parts of the rules that I found confusing. For instance, “If the acting character is still on course to accomplish what they wanted they play their conflict scene.” It’s unclear to me how you know if the character is NOT on course. Does the Interrupt scene automatically cancel it? Or is there some specific action the Interrupting player must take? Or does the Acting player just decide voluntarily, based on the events of the interrupt, that they’re no longer attempting the conflict?

      There were a couple of other minor issues, like the word “harvest” for adding a die to a roll makes it sound to me like that die is “used up” but I don’t think that’s what you meant, usually. And the requirement for gaining a D20 was a bit vague. In one section it says yo gain it from ‘special moves” but looking over the whole text it looks like you can only get it from being Consumed by a Condition? These are just minor (but important) clarity issues and I totally understand that this is a first draft.

      Don’t worry about roughness. that’s the name of the game with Game Chef! If you do want to take the game farther into a more complete form, then by all means, polish up the language and mechanics. i’d love to see this game continue to develop, and I may even give it a try as is!

      Peace,
      -Joel

    • Anarchangel

      Hi Cedric, I reviewed your game on my blog.

    • Андрей Воскресенский

      Succession by Cedric Plante – Review

      To start with: this may be not a virtue, of a design itself, but Succession is a draft, not, by any means, a finished game, and author realizes it fully. I don’t know, why, but somehow i find that manner very fair and brave :)

      Now, to the draft.
      Game starts around typical fantasy quest – we’ve got an usurper, who had killed righteous ruler and seized the throne. But game moves further and in very nice direction: we are not supposed to take the quest, to overthrow the usurper and bring back the justice. This game resolves around the growth and changes of the Good King’s daughters, who are put in uneasy circumstances. This move I consider perfect and totaly natural.
      We start a game with a setup, where we have to determine some details, that are at the same time crucial to the past and influence future game – and both purposes’ve been done well. Here I mean, that making up PC’s relations (their father and mother), important elements of their life (caste and sources of power) and bone their opposition is wonderfull and subtile way to bring characters into play. Moreover, thoise traits, we are distributing now will form our character’s stats, so mathemetical and narrative descriptions are tied together, which is defibetly a good form.
      Overly, Setup part leads me to a feel of story-games (Lady Blackbird etc.) where we would play fixed story with softly predetermined scenes. In Succession we have a right to expect some scenes, connected to each source of power, toi PC’s Virtues and Vices, and few more obligatory details. However, given Goals for PC’s do not form the order of future events. I’m not sure, if it is good, but I would shape Goals strongly.
      Still, in current shape the game’s NPC’s disposition invoke really strong Shakespearing feeling, so this part of the recipe is accomplished.
      At the other hand, I’ve gotten a feeling of some fantasy fairy-tale, may be an Arthurian legend occuring – which is also good, but requires defining daughter’s diffirences stronger – niw, youngest daughter gets ONLY leftover traits, and nothing to distinquish her advantages and, peraps, some special Fate (if any, surely this regards any daughter)
      What I’ve misunderstood a bit, is order of scenes: each turn every one of 5 crucial characters gets a scene? Then, who narrates what? Those matters appeare little clumsy for me. Nothing really troublesome, since this is just a draft yet, but this place requires further explanations, in my oopinion. Same thing goesw for Moves part. Installing Moves into game is wonderfull and compelling solution, I ask more of that)
      To sum it up: Cedric I’m really impressed with your draft. Succession is very much the type of game I like and would be happy to make myself) Ingredients are used in pretty straightforward manner, but entire body of the game is so solid, that ingredients fit their places very naturaly. Your draft has GREAT potential to became one realy strong game, and I would be happy to watch or help, if needed (and if I’m capable of any help at all).
      Sorry for my clumsy English, good luck with your designs)

  • Jonathan Walton

    (63) Drama Club by Morgan Stinson
    This game is about broken promises, reVENGE, and awkward teenage kisses.

    Reviewed by: (62), (60), (57), and (53).

    • Cedric Plante

      Drama Club,

      I already said it in the submission thread, but I really like the game premise of a bunch of adolescents having to prepare a play and themselves intriguing and passing through a turmoil of feelings. It make me think about the french movie L’Esquive (Games of Love and Chance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Games_of_Love_and_Chance ) This is totally the inspiration I would use to pitch the game to my group and to play it.

      The “before play” section underline that in the fiction we have characters manipulating each other emotionally but that around the table we have players cooperating with each other to weave a story. I appreciated the whole section and the comment on veils is also welcome.

      I like how characters are created by the two questions “why you are here?” and “why you are really here?” It simple but it establish quickly the characters.

      Conflicts in scenes are resolved without dices through consensus, it interesting how it contrast well with the premise of the game and emphasis what was underlined in the “before play” section. I think it good here that nothing in the game econy is at stake, it emphasis that it just a question of choosing what you find fun to roleplay. But still, I wonder if more procedure are needed or not. Kissing scenes work the same way, but they seem more interesting (which is interesting) since they also have a game impact. That said it cool that kissing is a integral and central part of the system. I like this.

      Montage scenes are cool, as a fan of movies from the 80 I can’t be again them. ;)
      But I wonder what is the role of those scenes beside just describing what the character do. I mean nothing is at stake here and also they don’t seem to add or establish anything special in the fiction. My guess is that you use them to underline the relationship between the characters, like you describe your character daydreaming about a other, etc. Maybe this could be underlined in the game text.

      Monologue timers are a colorful idea to give a breather to a player stuck with no idea to frame a scene. But I wonder if the monologues would be simply just distracting for the stuck player. It something to try.

      The game text was agreeable to read, but was sometime hard to follow since it often referenced attribute and concept that were only introduced and presented later. I think that reorganising how the game concepts are presented could be something to consider. I must admit that I still have some difficulty to visualize how the game work and how the scenes flow. I wonder if already knowing how the game Diplomacy play would help there. That said, maybe a simple cheat sheet would do the trick to make everything clearer.

      Oh I really like that the player characters are the only characters participating in scenes and that NPC are only referenced off screen. It seem like a fun constrain that give a good theatrical feel.

      The game use a build-in cast of characters who have some build-in interaction coded in them (like Luke having Peter for rival and Peter having no rival). Those characters are fine and are easy to appropriate and I think I would enjoy playing any of them. But still, note that this is maybe a question of personal preference, but it also feel like the author is setting up our group table for us. Personally I enjoy a lot the setup part of games an I like it when we can appropriate a lot of stuff in a premise. Like maybe it would be fun to be able to create our cast of character and to answer both questions instead of only one. That said I understand that the daughter ingredient influenced things here. Also for a one shot this is quite fine to have a lot of stuff already authored by the game designer and I don’t mind it.

      The extra game material: character sheet for each characters and play extracts are nice to have and welcome. The character sheet are especially useful when reading the game text. (I should have printed one, but my printer dint work).

      The ingredients of Forsworn, Nature, and Daughter are well used. Daughter is present in the social dynamic of the audition.

      Is the game ready to be played? I think I have everything needed to play, but like I said I still don’t really visualize how the game is played so without consulting the game text I don’t think I could be able to apply the game rules or to follow the game flow. But like I said, I think that simply reworking how the game text present it components and explaining some of those components a little bit more and including a cheat sheet is maybe just what is needed to make everything clearer.

      Drama club is a nice game concept and idea, and I would like to try it sometime (with a cheat sheet ;).

    • dmkdesigns

      Drama Club
      by Morgan Stinson
      (63)

      I like how the game incorporates a play (performing Shakespeare’s plays) within a play (the rivalry among the four characters at school) within a play (the game with four Players and little else). It’s like a theatre version of Glee, or if someone crossed the Breakfast Club with Shakespeare.

      The rules and progression of play flows fairly well. The scoring at the end of the game seems a little cumbersome compared to the ease of play, but perhaps after playing it a few times the scoring would become a breeze. I don’t know if you want to expand or add additional rules for performing more play things, such as monologues/soliloquies to earn more points?

      I would strongly recommend putting the PCs in a a single stat block early in the game, listing their special rules/abilities in the game. Then when the examples of how each plays differently it won’t seem so out of nowhere. It makes sense on the character sheets, but having them together might help too at a glance. The character sheets are well organized and with a bit of design tweaking could stand out better.

      I liked that the game explains how to referee veils, natures and goals of the game. The broken promises part was not very strong within the game as written.

      The use of school plays, with the auditions, rehearsals, rumors, and the final performance was a great natural way to lead us through the structure of a play (in acts) and the game itself.

      I like how the game encourages you to revel in the good and bad times before, during, and following the big performance. However, I would suggest including a few more specifics for the positive scoring as it felt flat compared to the tragedy description. And the use of Group Scoring twice on page 9 is a little confusing. I would make the Epilogue part of the game rather than something if you have time. Make the conclusion count for something.

      One of my big questions for this game is, what is the re-playability of it with the four pregenerated characters? Obviously if you have the same four Players you could change roles four times, but you would be doing more or less the same thing within this well-focused game. If this is what you’re after, then I think you’re well on your way to having a publishable game.

    • Marc Majcher

      First off, I’m always encouraged when I start reading a game text and in the very first paragraph, it tells me that if I haven’t read or played the game before, it’s cool, because I can just grab a character sheet, read along, and go from there. It takes so much pressure off my mind, and makes me want to grab people and play immediately. The up-front discussion of “let’s just have a good time”, “let’s focus on telling a fun story”, and the talk about veils and not worrying about being a jerk is refreshing, too. Even before getting to the “what the game is actually about” part, I’m already encouraged that this isn’t going to be a drag.

      And it looks like not only will it not be a drag, but the subject matter is tight, engaging, and clearly spelled out in a few sentences. We know exactly who are going to be in the scenes (only the PCs themselves, nobody else, interesting), and exactly what we’re allowed to do in them. There are four pre-made characters, a well-defined situation, and it’s laid out a fairly clear idea of how we’re going to go about the business of actually playing, and what kinds of scenes are available. Three hours, in and out. Love it. I’m in.

      There are a few bits that are a little confusing on the first read-through – I’m not sure what Rivals are or how they come into play for a little while, and the breakdown of what your available activities are and when you do them and how they interact and what their effects are could probably be cleaned up a bit. The scoring is interesting, too – I’m not sure how explaining what goes into becoming Star of the Show at the end is going to affect play positively or negatively, but it seems that if everyone is focused on just playing their character and not worrying about “winning” too much, it’ll all shake out just fine. Also, it feels like the ingredients “forsworn” and “nature” are a bit glossed over in there, but the game is entertaining enough that I didn’t notice that until writing this just now, so, that’s good enough for me.

      The character sheets tie everything together nicely at the end. I feel like even with a shaky understanding of the rules, I’d be able to jump in and run this right away given everything laid out there. Overall, I’m pretty impressed, and actually a bit excited about wrangling some of my theater-folk friends into giving this game a shot.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (64) We Can’t Find Shakspeare’s Head by Benjamin Branson
    The funeral’s in forty minutes. Everything’s in order, except: you can’t find Shakespeare’s head. Find out who took it, or the queen will take yours.

    Reviewed by: (63), (61), (58), and (54).

    • Joel

      Benjamin, what can I say—this game is hilarious. And looks perfectly functional too! I love the framework for mayhem you’ve created in a few deft strokes! I don’t know how much you owe to “Witness the Murder of Your Father and Be Ashamed, Young Prince”, but this looks like lots of fun. I love the quick-playing aspect, too, especially since it plays into the game premise in a very literal way. As a side note, the Accusation and Excuse cards all crack me up. I’m a big fan of Cheapass Games, and your ridiculous card text reminds me of their sense of humor.

      There wasn’t much to criticize; the rules are short, sweet and to the point. I can’t really tell if your token economy is sound, but it’s pretty common for that to be up in the air for a Game Chef entry. Playtesting will tell, I guess. I did have a slight pause in reading the Setup section, where I thought Actor, Fan and Producer were player, audience and GM roles, and was confused to not see any explanation of this. A second reading cleared it up though.

      This would be a really fun game to dress up in an appealing graphic design. Even as a mere text file it’s incredibly engaging and accessible. Funny artistic presentation would only enhance that further.

      Peace,
      -Joel

    • Andy Hauge

      The premise is a riot, and the theme is clear. The sheer absurdity and chaos of this game makes for a cleverly dark and wacky twist on Shakespeare’s comedic plays, particularly “A Comedy of Errors”, where accusations go flying left and right, and ambitions clash against one another. The introduction of a Prisoner’s Dilemma mechanic is very, very fun, and might cause players to think twice about their actions, even amidst the chaos.

      What I love about this game is the “mutually-assured destruction” factor. The use of a timer to make play flow fast is also clever. The very structure of Accusations and Excuses is also great; I can imagine some of the ridiculousness that can result from some combinations, and there’s pure gold in many of them. “No sane person would see Titus Andronicus that many times!” Furthermore, the idea that one can make up facts left and right, and ask questions about anything…that lends the whole game atmosphere to a great sense of, well, comedy.

      The crucial element of tension, however, is not so clear. Is there any major incentive for players to accuse one another? What would prevent everyone from agreeing to accuse one person, and then give them enough tokens to buy their way out? That would seem to create an “everyone wins” scenario very easily, and that diffuses the tension pretty nicely. It falls on the players, then, to create motivations for their characters not to take that route. I also couldn’t figure out how players were supposed to accumulate enough tokens to possibly buy themselves out of their fate. I noted that players can freely exchange tokens, but what would motivate a player to give tokens to someone else? I think that, with smaller groups of players, it would also become less fun, because there’s far less tokens in play of any type.

      There’s a lot of potential good in this game, especially once those two issues are resolved. I think that, with a clear mechanism for setting characters against one another and a more fleshed-out token economy, this game could become a really well-crafted way to have some great fun roleplaying. Again, the Accusations and Excuses are great.

    • David Berg

      The economy of token types and accusations/excuses will probably demand a lot of attention at the table for the first game. A chart for people to put in the middle of the table would be a godsend. Once the options are understood, I can see the roleplay going in any number of ways.

      “Gang up on one patsy” is kind of an X factor for me. In a large group, it seems the correct strategy; shouldn’t be hard to work together to dictate the outcome of a 5-on-1, right? So how do you pick a patsy? I guess an initial process of playing some accusations and excuses could establish which characters seem more and less likable. That’s pretty much the only presentation of character mandated by the system; you don’t really need to establish personas or roleplay at all… unless roleplaying charmingly is what saves you from being chosen as the patsy. Is “worst roleplayer loses” functional? Hmm.

      The other options (especially n+2 Fame = save self+1; brilliant!) seem more interesting, but pretty impossible given the number of tokens in play and the rate at which they leave play as a necessary part of play proceeding (accusations & excuses). But I could easily be wrong about that.

      Once the mechanics are grasped and people hone in on strategies, I could see a whole lot of discussion and alliances forming. Leaving the table to go whisper in corners, etc. The game doesn’t regulate this at all, and whether any of it is done in-character seems to be a matter of taste. If you do want intra-player diplomatic intrigue, I’d recommend addressing this somehow. Make characters who like/dislike certain other characters, or give players turns to float proposals, or outlaw secrets, or whatever you think is appropriate.

      If you don’t want this sort of social scheming and would rather see people responding primarily to the tokens in play, you might want to regulate who can give who else how many tokens when, so there’s more certain information available to all.

      Shakespeare’s head and the Queen’s justice really could be any crime and any fate. If the engine works, re-skinning is just about writing new excuse and accusation cards for other genres. Very cool!

      I love the kind of politicking and scheming and adjusting strategy to new developments that this game allows. All I want now is a rationale and a means to do that via roleplay.

    • Mathalus

      We can’t find Shakespeare’s Head

      This game had a fun concept and I enjoyed reading it. I like games and one-shots with primarily player driven content and Shakespeare’s Head delivers. Also the math of the game points towards a conspiracy style solution, which would be fun to organize.

      Unfortunately, I think that same math might need to be refined through play testing. The game theory problem that you have set up is made easy by the fact that there is perfect information and (as long as there are two Actors or two Fans) an obvious conclusion. Unlimited communication from the beginning allows players who have “solved” the puzzle to quickly gain buy-in. It can be solved more easily at the beginning of play than near the end and might not even require everyone’s participation. The only way that this becomes a game of any length, is if more than one of the players is unreasonably stubborn. Maybe your friend group doesn’t need an excuse to be stubborn and it wouldn’t create any social fallout if they were, but it might make the game easier for a larger audience if you could provide them some social cover. Perhaps you could add some seed material or character goals to help people be jerks to each other.

      Additionally, the mechanics of this game don’t connect with the fiction in many places. There is no narrative conflict resolution in place, so nothing the characters do has mechanical traction except for scripted excuses and accusations. The way it is currently set up, if there is a socially dominant person in the group who sees the solution, they can explain it to everyone, get their buy-in and then everyone can start moving tokens in silence (except for one person speaking the one accusation to the sacrificial lamb).

      Most importantly, this game has a strong and fun concept. It’s a great alpha draft and I’m certain that the mechanical issues that I described above could be resolved and polished away by examination and play testing. I’d be happy to review it again after another revision.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (65) The Fair Folk & the Wyrd Sisters: A Tragic Comedy of Love & Death
    (+decks) by Daniel Hoffmann w/ Good Idea Games

    Faeries and Witches compete in a diceless battle of wits to create a narrative manipulating star-crossed lovers to a comedic or tragic fate.

    Reviewed by: (64), (62), (59), and (55).

    • Benjamin Branson

      Daniel, you’ve done a great job drawing on the theme here– I love seeing two of Shakespeare’s great supernatural forces pitted head to head. If only Macbeth’d had some faeries to save him!

      I have a couple questions about your play structure: I couldn’t tell the difference between bidding on a character (i.e., playing a character in the play-within-a-game) and Dominating a character (taking over someone else’s?). Can these things happen simultaneously? That is, could the same Witch or Faerie be playing two different characters at once?

      Also, your decks are wonderfully thematic, but I note that many of the plot points seem difficult for outside forces to accomplish, largely because they require such a specific action on the part of the Pawn, e.g., the card “The Pawn confesses a Lesson they have Learned, AND Seeks to resolve the conflict with help.” I think having mini-plot points is a great idea–it’ll keep the story lively and complex–but I’d suggest casting a weather eye over the cards you’ve got to make sure they’re all things that can reasonably be accomplished by outside forces.

      Great job!

      • Sp4m

        Thank you for taking the time to read my game, and giving me your feedback!
        My answers are a little late but may help to clarify:
        Bidding is used to determine which character a player is dominating at the start of an act, but they can at will, leave a character and dominate an “empty” one that’s on stage, or in the wings. Players cannot kick each other out of their bodies.

        The general plot points are intended to be tricky and optional. They offer less rewards, and are designed to require action from the Pawn. Early playtests had plot points that could be completed without Pawn participation (Start a fight, for example), and this was so easy that players threw away all subtlety to get the extra fate points. By requiring the Pawn to be complicit in the action, it requires the teams to keep the story focused on the pawns choices.

    • Cedric Plante

      The Fair Folk and the Wyrd Sisters a Tragic Comedy of Love and Death

      I like the premise of two group of supernatural beings trying to influence the live of a mortal toward a tragic or a happy ending. Player vs Player is always fun, I think it my main buy-in to try the game. (I also like the opposition of tragic manipulation VS comic mischief. :)

      The different roles seem interesting, but the role of the sisters and the fae seem the more interesting and fun to play. It also look like the number of participant really change the feel of the game. (Having someone who play the pawn or not, having a teammate or not to handle and to communicate with.)

      I like how the game use story sets like Fiasco use play sets. Only one is provided with the game, but I guess that it would be easy to provide more and to give tools to create our owns.

      I like how the supernatural cast is defined through forsworn vices & virtues, so they are defined by things they can’t do instead of things they tend to do or are good at. Since they are forbidden to do some stuff, it would be fun for the game provide tools to temp them.

      Domination seem fun, I like how you play a character who play a character, it can lead to a lot of interesting situations, especially when who dominate who move around. So I think it would be great if dominating characters get often exiled from their host to give the chance to let someone else take the role and complicate the situation. Again it could be great to have tools to tempt the other side, so that it could be fun to temp them to play again the nature of a dominated character to get the occasion to jump in their host shoes.

      Maybe it could be interesting if the pawn is the one exiling the dominating character when he suspect something is wrong when he observe them playing again the NPC nature. This seem like a fun function for the pawn.

      Achieving goals to get fate token look fun, I like mechanic reward in games. For the rewards themselves, since getting the occasion to change who dominate a NPC look fun, maybe fate token could be spend to incite this instead of letting player buy-off a fun consequence.

      I understand the role of nature for the supporting cast since it role in domination. But I dint understand what the 3 nature of the lead character do since the lead can’t be dominated and don’t get or loose rewards for playing them or not.

      I wonder if playing the Fate and the Pawn is as much fun as playing the wyrd sisters and the fae since they are excluded from the reward system and from most of the game mechanics.

      The extra material is cool, I appreciated especially the relationship map. I wonder if it would be interesting to have more than one to explore to add to the replayability. It look like something fun to thinker with to create alternate story sets.

      The games text is well presented with extra material including the Dramatic Power Cards and Plot points. The only part were the game text was a little bit confusing was for the Endgame. I think I still have to re-read it. (Also maybe It was not clear if the game use a single unique story set or if it is intended to be replayed with different ones).

      The game text mention that the game is a Tabletop Live Action Role-Playing Game and that the action happens in real time and that the words said by the players are the same words said by the characters. So I get that the game is intended to be played somehow like Puppetland, which is super interesting, but I wonder how it is achieved. How do you avoid mentioning game mechanic lingo, how do you play while being in-character all the time, how it affect game play, etc? This look like a super interesting aspect of the game and I think it would be really interesting if the game text would take this into account from the beginning to the end to explore this more and to provide more guideline on how to play like this.

      Could I play the game with what I have in hand? I think so, more comments would be welcome, especially about the live action aspect of the game, but I think I could handle a session. Would I want to try the game? Yes, but I would be far more interested to play the wyrd sister or the fae instead of playing the Fate or the Pawn. Overall the PvP aspect of the game look fun and the live action aspect intrigue me. :)

      • Sp4m

        Thank you for looking over my game! It really helps to know some places where I can improve the text.

        For those interested in playing the game, I can clarify a few points:
        The Fae and the Wyrd sisters are the true “players” of the game. The role of the Pawn is much more like a co-GM. It’s a complete support role, and the players’ job is to make sure they are interesting and respond appropriately to the tricks of the other players. Fate is a traditional GM role, though the game was designed to give a lot of the GM responsibilities to the “players”

        The 3 natures for the Pawn are intended to be role-playing queues for the player, to make sure the Pawn has some known traits that can be manipulated by the other players. I wonder what I could give the pawn to do… rewarding the player for good role-play with some other dramatic powers or something… Maybe a way to effect the structure, like adding a character to a scene or changing the set.That could really enrich the experience.

        Thank you for your thoughts!

    • marknau

      #65 “Fair folk…”

      I love the idea of tackling an at-the-table LARP. Analyzing what it takes to make an interesting hybrid form like this fun to play in actual practice is very hard from just reading. I wish I had time to playtest this for you to give better feedback.

      There are a lot of good rules in here that seem like they would produce a well-structured game, without feeling stifling for the players. I love the inclusion of things like the “Stealing the Spotlight” rule, and sticking with the nature of dominated characters, but then also explicit ways to break the rules when they players feel they want to spend their precious Fate tokens.

      The way that the Story fits in modularly is quite nice as well. It seems like the procedure for getting player inputs and then dialing into a ripe situation will work well, and produce a different play each time.

      So, the real actors aren’t “owned” by anyone, which is novel. Which obviously has ups and downs. Some will like the novelty. Some may feel dissociated from the meat of the game.

      Also, the act of splitting the players into two sides which have opposing goals is interesting. In a LARP of the type that I would normally run or play in, I would say don’t do this. Making an overt contest can detract from the fun of playing as a character, and being true to the situation. Having such a sharp delineation of “winners” and “losers” invites some game-twiddling that isn’t my cup of tea. But then again, this could be really neat for some.

      I would also usually advise against a straight bilateral split of interest. LARPs are usually richer when no two people are in exact alignment for their overall goals.

      Overall, this is a really imaginative form for a game, and I applaud the authors for what they’ve done here. I’d like to see this form explored more and even PUSHED on more, taken in a direction of its own that is neither RPG nor LARP.

    • Андрей Воскресенский

      (65) The Fair Folk & the Wyrd Sisters: A Tragic Comedy of Love & Death
      by Daniel Hoffmann w/ Good Idea Games

      Now this is almost complete and very classy game, which have some very fascinating ideas at its base.
      First of all, attempt to mix Live Action games with teams and their goals and tabletop roleplaying for long seemed only harmfull, as for me. However, in FF&WS we’ve got not the traditional roleplaying game with the teams, and no vice versa, but two independent parts of one game – and theatrical-style story making as third part. This realy solves some competability issues.
      Also, game shows great use of obligatory elements – idea of forsworn virtues and vices especialy fascinating. I’m not sure, if that idea proves itself well during the play – one thing, that a person cannot accomplish may not have desired impact, I’m afraid.
      Also, Nature of characters (and sticking to it) seems like a very good way to shape the game and make someguidelines to players, I like this part.
      A shame, I’d hardly be able to find players to run this game – it looks like it’s ready to be played and I want to try it realy much.
      For me, it was little hard to understand, how the games deals with binding and controlling, and other rulkes in that chapter, but I think, that’s because of my poor language, realy.
      I’m hardly able to tell, what can be improved here, without playing the game. A lot of work was done, and the result is realy strong and innovative game – perhaps with some flaws still left, but solid and in many casesm unique. Well done, Daniel^ few more tests would finish this interesting project.

  • Jonathan Walton

    (66) The Temptress by Paul Lyons
    A mystery! Court women on the Isle of the sorceress, win the heart of your perfect match, and reveal the disguised sorceress’s identity.

    Reviewed by: (65), (63), (60), and (56).

    • Mathalus

      Paul and John,

      This link doesn’t seem to be working. It says the file is damaged?

    • Anarchangel

      Hi Paul, I reviewed your game on my blog.

    • Mathalus

      The Temptress

      I love the idea of the sorceress. You captured the tone of Shakespeare with that combination of subtle magic and bizarre social situations. I also like that the game is for six players and looks like it would still move quickly. I also like the addition of Rapport as a reward for solid narration.

      However, Rapport also ties in to my main questions about the game: Is the goal to play to win? How hard should you try? If the GM can tilt the balance through Rapport at any time, I’d hate to be in his shoes if there is a competitive player with poor narrative skills at the table, since I’d have punish him all the time (every round without a Rapport handout would quickly become a punishment).

      At first I brushed this off and thought that this would just be the story of a competition, and not a seriously competitive game. But I became less sure of the game’s non-competitive nature as I continued to read, since seems like there can only be one winner, even though there are several daughters. Each player has plenty of options each turn, so motivated individuals will try to develop winning strategies that rub against the social dynamic of the group. For example, I was trying to run a scenario in my head where three players collude to the detriment of two others. I think if this game was competitive that I’d try to form an alliance like that. We’d allow each other to start arguments with us for just one Rapport and also immunize ourselves from the two “leftover” players arguing with us.

      I think you have two conflicting goals in this game: making sure your character wins and collaboratively telling a story. I think it might be necessary to dial down one of those to make the game coherent and fair.

      Instead of removing the Rapport tokens entirely, as Anarchangel suggests, maybe you could try a few other things to make the game less competitive. You could add an opportunity for players to narrate their final failure so they can revel in it a bit. You could also allow players to give each other Rapport tokens (not trade them, just offer them up for cool bits of narration). You could emphasize that this is just the story of a competition in your text.

      You could cleverly work out a way to make this game GM-less. Surely there is a card trick that would allow all the face cards to be carefully sorted and then reshuffled. (Maybe have one player sort them, then turn around and face the wall while a second player changes one stack, then repeat. What you know about each stack could replace your private clues.) That coupled with giving players the ability to reward Rapport tokens would make this game less competitive.

      If competition is your real goal, ignore the above paragraph, take Anarchangel’s advice, and then playtest until the game develops breadth and depth (Google “David Sirlin”).

      • Paul Lyons

        Thanks for your review. I definitely appreciate some confirmation that a competitive game could suffer with a subjective reward mixed into hard rules.

        As a note, I’m pretty sure Hamish (Anarchangel) did not suggest removal of Rapport chips, simply that they should not be handed out for the additional, subjective judgment of the GM, only from reaching your target when taking an action. My immediate solution was a trait system that rewards Rapport for more explicit behaviors and narration instead of narrator-awards. And that followed up with an idea for Rapport costs for those who violate the terms of an argument, which seems more fun.

        The alliance situation you describe is worth noting. I think that simply has to be playtested, and I’ll definitely look out for it; but, in theory, I’m not sure I agree. And, again, theoretically, here’s why: Simply because rounds don’t have a regular end, players that begin each round will differ, easily allowing other players to interrupt such a strategy, especially if they hang onto rapport from a previous round.

        Without spending rapport in the first place, it’s unlikely that you’ll get more than one rapport per action, even by playing two or three cards. And you’ll need that rapport to get a shot at drawing a daughter card. Plus, you’ll need to have some left if you want to spend it between rounds. And while you’re having your little cabal of argu-defending, the other players are actually pursuing their goal, gaining rapport, getting closer to drawing daughter cards. You have to forgo spending rapport between rounds entirely or gain sufficient rapport early in the round and have your collusion mid-round for this to work. And somebody could have cornered you into an argument before you pull it off.

        Plus, how is an argument-buffer all that powerful? Just in general, getting into an argument goes both ways and potentially requires significant expenditure of rapport and cards just to get something that is not guaranteed to help. And if those two outside players are constantly arguing back and forth, they could potentially transfer a lot of information to which the others will not be privy.

        I’m open to the idea that arguments are overpowered or don’t even fit, but, as written, I think they’re very situational. This is a case in which, to me, a heavier GM hand seems a lot better than, say, a restrictive list of argument stakes; because the GM will disallow things like “you’ll help me win” without otherwise encroaching on whatever unique fiction the group has devised. I guess I’m not afraid of GM power for something that isn’t sweeping. The kind of people who abuse it are the kind of people who are not fun to play with even when they cannot abuse it. I have yet to encounter a rule that makes someone a good sport. And I don’t accept that games that require being a good sport have flawed design.

        And that kicks over to the idea that this game would work without a GM at all. As long as there is a GM playing the daughters, why not give him arbitration and dealing duties? I’m interested in an idea that other individuals play as the daughters, but someone who is not competing must role-play the daughters, even without any arbitration/narration duties. Or the daughters must have their own win conditions and so forth.

        Please don’t misunderstand my response as a rejection of your thoughts. I’m glad for them and I’m definitely going to be looking for your concerns as I playtest, because I recognize the possibility of such problems. But I wonder how much of this is personal preference. After all, you outright state that attempting to win and telling a story are necessarily in conflict. I think that just as frequently, the attempt to win will drive you to more interesting action. These men are fighting for their lives, after all, so would you honestly expect them to do anything but their best to succeed?

        I’m down with outright rule flaws, and you’ve pointed out some good potential flaws here; but I don’t see how telling a story about a competition is hindered by replicating the competition in the system. To me, the competition and storytelling behavior are one in the same in this case. And if THAT wasn’t clear by the design, I wonder how I might make that clearer as opposed to shifting rules toward or away from any given preference. Does a fundamental part of the design not point towards that end? Could a conceptual primer paragraph, alone, handle it?

    • Sp4m

      This is a fascinating hybrid competitive card game, and narrative game. I am particularly interested in the competitive element, because this sounds like a very fun game.

      I have a hard time learning card games by rules descriptions alone (kinesthetic learner), so more examples of play would help me understand some of these pretty abstract concepts. Pictures wouldn’t hurt either (once again, that’s because different audiences may need different approaches for teaching).

      That being said, even after reading through the rules in their entirety I do not have a perfect grasp of game play. This is probably a personal issue.

      However, despite my learning challenge, this looks like a lot of fun. Take my suggestions with a grain of salt, but these are some of the thougths I had while I read: I would try to reduce the role of the GM, or if you can, write them out entirely. Get rid of subjective judgement, provide rapport tokens for very specific goals, and allow it to be PREDOMINANTLY a card game, and a loose narrative tool in addition. I think that would best serve to make a replayable social card game.

      Very interesting concept. A creative interpretation of shakespeare’s common themes, touching on his fondness for historic myths, and the danger of the unnatural. I love the idea that one of the players is a dedicated saboteur, as soon as he discovers that his true love is the sorceress.

      • Paul Lyons

        Thanks for your feedback.

        I fully agree that it’s not as clear as I want it to be. That can be said of 90% of the games here just due to the word limit. I couldn’t justify the examples at this stage, and if I had more time, illustrations would have been my method. I really do intend to take some form of this game to a finished work, so, just below playtesting, revising for clarity is at the top of the list.

        Your suggestion of reducing the role of the GM is not the first I’ve encountered, and one of the things on which I’m currently working is a tutorial for GM play, event generation, and a daughter-building workshop. In that case, I’m not exactly reducing the role so much as reducing the burden of the role and making it clear how a GM should go about their job to help ensure something that’s open-yet-fair.

        Ultimately, I don’t want a procedural game. Or, rather, a procedural game would be additional. I totally see the logistical benefits, but I want part of the mystery-solving to come from robust interaction with the daughters and an opportunity for in-character give-and-take dialogue and hijinks instead of just referring to a chart. And I definitely know some people who would much rather play as an impartial cadre of daughters, other npc’s, and initiate other events on the island, as opposed to competing as a suitor. I like the opportunity for multiple roles.

        As for what play is actually like, hell, I don’t know the answer to that precisely. It needs testing for sure. Testing is also when I’ll find out just how imbalanced that lovely saboteur/Tempted condition can be. However, I can explain my intention and how I think play will proceed…

        For the most part, it’s like a one-shot of many traditional rpgs. GM sets the scene or opens with some kind of event, then the players react. The main difference at this point is that all of their actions are authored with the explicit intention of enthralling, impressing, or otherwise building a rapport with the daughters. Say the island is overrun with zombies and the four daughters and a bunch of ensorcelled sailors are defending the estate from indigenous necromancers. Building a rapport with the daughters in such a scenario could involve direct combat with the zombies or some clever diplomatic solution – the action you take is up to you. A basic target success might be some fancy combat moves or a covert mission to forage for food and water. All the way up to a second raising of the stakes and drawing a daughter card, which would be profound – directly saving a daughter’s life, perhaps.

        Just like in most traditional rpg’s, this trade-off of actions and reactions proceeds, chaining events into a story. When a round ends, rapport is spent in a sort of meta way, with clues, refilled hands, and such basically representing the collected insight of the scene and your momentary progress in gaining your perfect match’s favor. This is a perfect time to change scenes. The suitors arrived, kicked zombie ass on the battlefield, the round ends, now the warrior women and men celebrate a reprieve from raids around a campfire with one of the daughters beginning by telling a story. The suitors might respond in kind at first with their own entertaining tales, but they’re interrupted by more zombies! The next round could involve facing a necromancer, himself, or retreating farther into the estate, gradually revealing the daughters’ rooms and other potentially useful information – conversation about childhood keepsakes interspersed with undead mayhem.

        Events proceed in a give-and-take fashion. Retirement of daughters could punctuate events interestingly. And, finally, a suitor’s victory could represent resolution of the story that has played out, narrated by the player or suggested by the GM; or simply the suitor and bride’s escape, with the rest of the story resolving in its own way, according to GM or group narration.

      • Paul Lyons

        As for mechanics underpinning that flow, the specific process of playing and drawing cards is pretty straightforward. You enter every round with 7 cards, play them in order to resolve actions in your favor, get rapport chips, spend those chips on beefing up cards you play in order to get daughter cards. You want daughter cards because they are powerful value-wise, but you also want them to figure out which daughter is which suit.

        Between rounds, you pretty much decide how your round of actions helped you prepare for the next scene and your ultimate goal. That’s what spending rapport is about.

        You continue with this pattern.

        Strategy is a whole ‘nother animal. Keeping track of who drew from what daughter pile, then who played what face card, what cards are in the discard pile vs. what cards are in hands and showing due to Faux Pas chips, and all that crap could come into play for developing hunches or certainties about the daughter piles, what other suitors know, and which suit they are pursuing. Having a hunch about what clues a suitor might have could drive you to confronting him and getting a peek at his clues. But it’s a risk, as you could end up giving something up instead. There’s also a whole other layer of opposing other players and picking spots to argue in order to strain their rapport and/or coax out their best cards, which you could then scoop up between rounds. Them bastards ain’t play nice.

  • Mark Truman

    Hey Hans!

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad that you liked the idea. I’ve playtested it a few times and the game does result in a kind of wild play that everyone enjoyed a lot.

    You’re totally right that the Playwright needs some instructions to create some kind of conflict. I often found myself accepting a lot of Edits that my players proposed right away. However, I’m thinking that establishing some rules for different types of plays (“Everyone dies in a Tragedy”) could give the Playwright something to “enforce.”

    On that note, I was trying to just Acts and no scenes. I figured any game with five acts, and then scenes within those Acts would take too long. Maybe I should just call them scenes…

    As for the compels, I think you’re predicting too much control on behalf of the Playwright. The summary the Playwright offers is only a few sentences; the Actors still get to improv within the general structure. The compels are used to define specific, concrete actions that the Playwright can use to keep things moving even when the Actors are sticking to the plot he or she laid out. For example, a Playwright could compel a Fool to be funny during a Comedy at the precise time to keep the play interesting, while focusing the summary on the duel that happens later in the scene.

    Finally, the Ethos, Pathos, and Logos scores are used as base dice during a roll. I think I need to make that more clear. :)

    Thanks for the feedback!

  • Tim Rodriguez

    Tempest in a Tea Cup is an adorable game of growth and development for Miranda, daughter of exiled Prospero, as she learns a variety of lessons from nature spirits. The gameplay reads through very clearly with plenty of solid examples, and though I had to backtrack in one place, the mechanics were very clear.

    The “game” aspect of Tempest is it’s weakest point. Tempest doesn’t really seem to have a goal save for a procedural narrative exploration. Which I wouldn’t really call an explicit problem, just a little bit weak risk-to-reward ratio for my taste.

    Tempest is an amusing game that solidly uses its ingredients. It has solid shakespearean reference, but lacks form and storytelling structure. Miranda’s lessons-learned amount to procedural goals – but little else. Not quite my style, but I think this might be a great game for beginners or kids. Very solidly done.

    • sailorkitsune

      Tim,
      Thank you very much for your review and feedback! I understand that this type of play may not suit every taste, so I am definitely NOT offended that it isn’t yours! I am glad you think it might be a good game for beginners or younger players, as I think these two groups often are overlooked during game design. We do have to grow next generations’ players from somewhere, after all. I also will keep your comments about “Tea Cup’s” weaknesses in mind. I would like to add a little more crunch to the narrative aspect of the game.

      Thank you again!

      Shari

      • Tim Rodriguez

        Shari,
        I would love to see future revisions. I am actually a big fan of light-weight kid-focused games; I’m a huge fan of Daniel Solis’ Happy Birthday Robot and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. I think Tea Cup is really close to being awesome, and just needs a kick of some sort of crunchy ingredient to make it great. I wasn’t sure that you were going to aim in that direction, reading your draft – but if you are – I’m in!

        -TR

  • Tim Rodriguez

    Shakespeare’s Daughters tells the tale of Wm’s real-life daughters caught up in a Wonderland-type dream; where they must reduce the impact of their own psychological issues (“lessons”) into bad habits and thus escape the dream-state.

    The mechanics are a little awkward; it is implicit but not explicit that the d10s that are rolled for situation resolution are labeled 0-9 as opposed to 1-10, and it may or may not be that multiple lessons are triggered with the Girl die all at once. That piece is unclear.

    The game is heavily focused on the narrative of Susanna and Judith learning their lessons and dealing with their issues, and to that focus – the dice feel a little bit extraneous and can even be harmful as I’m fairly certain that the lack of guidelines for creating each daughter-character’s lessons and the implicit aspects of resolution mechanics as described previously could result in a never-ending game.

    Using the theme of William Shakespeare to showcase a game about his daughters is interesting and definitely a clever use of theme. I’m personally not thrilled with it, but I must acknowledge that it is intriguing. The “daughter” ingredient is more the theme of the game; and the other two used (“exile”, “forsworn”) have become game mechanics with loose narrative devices.

  • Tim Rodriguez

    Wow! Globe Records starts with a solid, fresh, re-imagination of shakespearean characters. The ingredients are fairly central – some might be a little questionable, but there is clearly a strong effort to write the game around the ingredients.

    The plot of the game is left to a deck of cards that provide for very thematic elements to make up a rich series of dramatic “television drama.”

    Man, I dig this game. I really want to play out a session of three-plus episodes and SEE WHAT HAPPENS. The game mechanics are interesting and provide a lot of different options for how your character’s experiences may play out.

    I don’t know what else to say – this hits home for me, and is making me itch to play!

  • dconstructions

    It’s August…what’s the next step? Do I need to fill in a reviewer gap?

    • Paul Lyons

      I read on Story Games that all recommendations are in. Finalists (4/4 and 3/4 recs) and runners up will be announced tonight or tomorrow.

      However, even with all the recommendations in, some people don’t have four reviews. So if anyone is looking for more feedback, I say let it be known.

  • Matthew Tyler-Jones

    Sorry guys – public apology time. I totally failed to do my bit at the review stage. Had a heavy week at work following submission then went away on vacation totally forgetting my reviewing duties.

    Sorry all. Will do better next time.

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