Sunday, October 24, 2010

Game Chef 2010 - Indepth Request - Egregore

Hey Folks,

Baxil was kind enough to review Over The Wall on his website and asked for a review of his game Egregore.

I'd suggest checking it out, not just because I pretty much agreed with everything. What I love about Over The Wall is the setting. It really kinda called to me and about half way through I went, "Shit, I need to have mechanics or something, right?" and it shows that the mechanics are tacked on. If enough people like the setting I may take the time to actually find something that fits.

However, onto

The Bigger Review

In case what you forgot, here was the short review.

The Good: Plenty. The setting is phenomenal, the City one I don't know about the other one that's mentioned. It's got conflict -- internal, intra-mural and interparty -- it's got self revelation, it's working on the idea of redemption. I was drawn in and didn't easily leave.
The Bad: The game does suffer from a lot of "must know how the rules work to get it." The resolution mechanic is pretty easy, but it's all the fiddly bits that make up the game, which sadly are what drive what I find awesome, that requires you to know all the details. You can't really hand wave them away.
The other: More examples please! Not that they're needed, I just want to know what's going on with those two characters you have there.

Would I play it? Yes, but only if you help me blow up the city in the Shadowlands.



Concept: You are mages who have crossed a line. Magic itself is a cause of concern but there are rules that govern it and whatever you did crossed one of the thousands of lines that ends up with you being damned to the city in the Shadowlands, a very personal hell that will reflect back on your character the things that they did wrong.

I do love this concept because it allows everyone to be in the same spot and at the same time be incredibly selfish when it comes to their character.

Design:
Character Creation
I like the summation of the character creation right at the beginning. It helps you get in the right mindset and focus you towards what you're going to do. You start with your description, which includes people who were important to you and the reason why you were damned.

Drives sounds exactly like what they should be, fear, need, sin and guilt. Another interesting feature is that you will have to face your fear regardless of what it is, so if someone tries to be cute they're going to have to deal with it. I like that a lot, it helps stop those people who go, "I have an obscure fear of a small local bat that only happens to live on the edges of the deserts in New Mexico." I hate it when people do that.

The rest of it falls into the standard "You have points, buy some skills and you have some focuses that you get for those specific stats."

I do want to highlight one thing. Your goal isn't something you choose at the beginning of the game. You will decide your goal as you play the game and that's a lovely little element that I think should be implemented in other games. Not that having goals at the beginning isn't a good thing, it is, but it's an idea that makes me tilt my head and wonder what kind of implementation that it could have in other games.

Review Thought: I do really like the flavour text. It's one of the things that really engaged me when I was reading this game.

Mechanics: I think the most disappointing thing that I read is that in the end it boils down to an unmodified d20 roll to determine if you succeed at a goal or not. That kind of feels anti-climactic in a way.

Certain things aren't explained at all. In the Rolling For Success section, for instance, it talks about Manifestations with Power higher than your currently difficulty but it doesn't describe how or why Manifestations have power. Even in the Manifestation section further down in the City Section.

I don't really like the critical feature here too. If you roll a 20 you get what you want and nothing bad happens to you? It kind of goes against the feel of the game where you've got people who are slowly going insane in their own personal hell. I think something bad should happen to them pretty much every time, the only difference is that it should be something less bad the better number they get.

This is where the most work needs to happen, much like most Game Chef games. I'd go over this section and see what isn't fully explained or confusing. It's less confusing the second time through the game, but these are the things I think need some clarification in the rules section:

Looking for Trouble. I don't like the "Almost Non are Mandatory" line because it doesn't encourage interaction. Plus it makes it confusing when you say, "Well the ones that are mandatory are ..." I'd like a little more consistency in regards to what's happening.

Giving Into Sin. Another sidebar with the rundown of what you need to do if you do give into sin. In fact, sidebars for all the extra bits would be nice too.

Supporting Roles: I know what you were trying to do here, by giving people's character's a bonus when you play a supporting role, but unless I can come up with an Effect and a Benefit in the middle of the game, or before the game, then this is going to be a complete list.

To sum up, because this was the section I was asked to spend a lot of time on. Overall I think the mechanic is a really simple one with a bunch of fiddly bits that I think could be flattened out to be something interesting but right now there are just a few too many exceptions going on for me to play it without needing to refer to the book all the time.

Layout:

It's layed out well. It's easy to read and important bits are highlighted. Just one note, MORE SIDEBARS! It was really helpful to figure out the base mechanic, but the fiddly bits need them too.

Over all Feel: I think this could be a really gritty dark game that delves deeply into people's fears underneath a thin ray light of redemption. I just think it needs to have another read through and a little more fleshing out and then it would be a really good game to play.

Random Arbitrary Number for Quality: Five Mages desperately seeking to destroy the city against Five Mages who want to protect it.

General Agreement: Yes, a narrative game is a lot harder than people give it credit for.

1 comment:

baxil said...

Thanks for the in-depth critique! I'll do some editing based on your feedback, but I wanted to respond to a few of the mechanical points here as well:

* Dislike of the unmodified d20 roll for overcoming Drives: I'll give this some thought. Your chances of success depend on how many other challenges you've overcome, so by the time you actually reach the roll you've accumulated a lot of investment. In the test play we did, it felt to me like there was a lot of tension on the d20 roll, but it might not be the kind of tension I want.

* Manifestations and Power: This is described under Attributes. Power is based on the Insanity of the player they are interacting with. However, it makes sense to add it to the GM section as well.

* I added the crit rule based on playtester feedback; the argument was that it adds moments of relief to your relentless degeneration. But I can see it your way too. Removing the rule would both streamline out one of the "fiddly bits" and reinforce the theme; I'll most likely take it out again.

* More sidebars would be good, yes, and I think the game would benefit from a "cheat sheet" (or printable cards) for quick reference to things like Supporting Roles.

Again, much appreciated. :)

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