Monday, October 11, 2010

Game Chef 2010 - Just when I thought I was done

I get pulled back in. Apparently I missed a couple, it's what happens when you don't do them in order.

Missed 1. Sojourn the City and the Desert

Missed Though 1: I feel a little bit of an ass so I'm going to do more of a full review. I'm going to talk about four areas. Design, Concept, Execution and Overall Feel as well as give the twitter-ific review.

The Good: It feels like it's been influenced by How We Came to Live Here with the two GMs going on. The one dealing with the city and the other dealing with the People. I like that, it splits responsibility and makes for doubly creative game play. I also like how those two GMs are constantly in conflict and flux.

Missed Thought 2: Seriously? Sorry ladies, I'm using he because I can't be bothered to switch genders each section or paragraph? It's not that hard, really not that hard to go "he" this section and "she" this section. Not doing that is just pure laziness.

Missed Thought 3: Ugh, back to the tribal stuff. The word is rather loaded and I wish people would recognize that more.

Missed Thought 4: Lexicon at the back please. I don't need definitions of terms I don't know yet.

Missed Thoughts 5: Note that 2d6 and 1d12 have different curves and are not really acceptable replacements for each other.

The Bad: It has the same problem that a lot of other games have, which is that it feels like a boardgame with roleplaying mixed into it. Having a maps does that but it's one of the games that does a good job of trying to mitigate that problem, but it's still there. Also, can we please, PLEASE fucking get away from appropriation stories?
The Other: MOAR MAPS! Seriously, I love all the maps and feel that I need to make a game that has a map involved in it somehow.

Would I play it?: Yes, but only with a reskin. Let's not play "poor 'natives' dealing with the onslaught of technology" any more? Kthnksbai!!


The Bigger Review

Concept: I actually really love the base idea of the concept. I love how Sojourn is the city that devours all that comes before it. I love how the players can choose to help or to fight Sojourn all while trying to achieve their secret dark desires which brings them closer to the city. I like how the city has its own goal that is secret to the rest of the players. It has the feel of watching that large boulder rolling down the hill towards you and you have to stand up and hope that you're strong enough to stop it even though you know you can't hope to even move it from its course.

That being said it hits on a giant problem, it's not alone in this problem as many other Game Chef games have fallen into this trap, but it's another "native" story. Quoting on page 39 there is a line that states:

The setting for Sojourn: The City and the Desert is somewhat Native American in style as a default in its description here, but it is easy enough to alter some of the minor characteristics to adapt the game for an entire different form of setting.

My question is, why didn't you do that? That would have made the game more unique and interesting. Instead what we get is the same old retreaded appropriated narrative that leaves me annoyed. The same thing with the Genedered Note at the beginning. Seriously, it's not that hard to switch genders in the text. You can go from paragraph to paragraph, or section to section and it's not that hard to replace the "hes" with the "shes." Those that aren't doing it are really just being lazy.

Design:
Character Creation: Character Creation falls into three categories. The creation of the world, or the map. The Creation of Sojourn and the Creation of the characters.

The map itself is filled with fun line drawing time. That's not me being sarcastic, that's actually awesome as the borders will shift and play depending on where you draw the lines. It's fun, but it kind of scales the wrong way as the more players you have the more "locations" you're going to have which means more stuff for Sojourn to eat and more events for more people. I don't know a way around that without making exceptions, which are horrible to the game's flow, so perhaps it's just something you have to deal with.

The second part of the map creation is well developed as well where you get to add resources to locations and keywords, or tags as they're called in the games. The more resources, the more tags which means more dice for those fighting against Sojourn.

This does being to lead to a problem that the game has which is that it does have a boardgame feel with some roleplaying attached to it. When you start having to worry about resources on a board, then you're going to naturally start veering in that direction.

With the creation of Sojourn's secret goal, this problem comes into full force. Sojourn's goal is basically a collection of resources. It wants to eat enough stuff to "win" the game and that's when you have a board game.

Mechanics:

The Mechanics of the game are pretty straightforward. You have conflict where dice need to be bid and tags can be used to generate successes. What would have been interesting, since you can't bid the same number of dice that have already been bid is that there would be some sort of bonus for bidding less, like taking a risk.

The game mechanics also really pushing both GMs, there is a GM playing Sojourn and a GM playing the People, into initiating conflicts so that they can get the dice that they need to "win" at the end of the game.

Layout:

The Layout is pretty straightforward. There are flavour bits, and the rules explained. I might like to have had it without the point form, they are paragraphs after all but that's not really a big deal. I mean you've got pagination and a table of contents, you win right there!

Over all Feel:

Over all I think that you accomplished what you were trying to do. It's got the opposing forces battle for control, it's got the players stuck in the middle trying to decide which side they're going to help. It's got the potential for some great storytelling stuff, I just think that it gets a little lost on the board game side of Sojourn needing X resources to win the game.

Also, the skin of the game would need to be changed for me in order to play it. It's something I could do myself, but if the game were to continue and be pushed towards a final product it would have to be a change made to the skin of the game itself in order for me to buy it.

Random Arbitrary Number for Quality: Five Desert Wastelands after Sojourn has gone through it.

2 comments:

Brendan the Navigator said...

Thanks for the review! Wow! This is awesome!

Okay, so, I have things that I would say in response/as excuses, so I'm going to try not to say them, because I'm not really sure they're all that valid or important. I did have a few questions I definitely wanted to ask though, if you'd be willing to help me out a bit more?

Also, once I have codified my thoughts about your own game, is there are preferred method for me to send them to you?

Thanks again, really! There's lots of good ideas for me to chew on here.

My questions:
(1) Would you prefer "he" and "she" alternated, or "he or she"? For whatever reason, he or she happens naturally while I'm writing, but reads worse to me.
(2) Was the Lexicon of any use at the front? Should I split it into story and game lexicon, so that the story Lexicon can better help lead into the game fiction? Or is this unnecessary?
(3) Pardon my naivete, but I'm actually not sure I know what an appropriation story is. Can you explain this for me?
(4) Out of the options I listed in that final section of the game, were there any that stood out as preferable skins for the game? I think I listed a Roman style version, and a feudal, medieval version. Are there any other suggestions you might make for a reskin?
(5) Does the fact that Sojourn's goal is left in a relatively vaguely defined form do anything to save the goal in a fictional sense, making it something more than mechanical? In other words, does the goal seem to you to have a function beyond the mechanics, within the fiction?
(6) That was Five Desert Wastelands out of Five, right? RIGHT? That's what I thought.

Thanks again, so much! This was great of you to do!

Jonathan said...

Hey Brendan,

To answer your questions.

(i) If it's short you can just post it here, if not you can email me at jonathan dot lavallee at gmail dot com.

(1) I'd prefer he and she alternated in a consistent manner. That means in an example you can start by using she, and then you won't use he until the next example. You don't need to confuse people, just be inclusive.

(2) The lexicon is better when it comes just after when the words were used. Kind of like a summary at the end of each chapter like a "what did we learn class" kind of way.

(3) [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appropriation]Cultural Appropriation[/url] is the taking the stories of a group of people who are already marginalized by the dominant culture.

(4) The Roman style version is certainly different. Dealing with the fact that Sojourn is devouring the empire sounds rather awesome.

(5) To me the Goal for Sojourn reading the fiction was to devour everything. I think if the city is going to have a goal it should deal with the players rather than the terrain. Again, that screams boardgame to me.

(6) Hee. ^_^

Firestorm Ink's Fan Box