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Author Topic: Iron Game Chef Reviews and Results  (Read 25525 times)
Mike Holmes
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« on: May 04, 2004, 11:51:55 AM »

First, I wanted to comment on some trends I saw in the judging. First, a lot of these games are very close to the line between RPG and something else - something like a boardgame. That is, sure one can narrate events for the results indicated, but one can do that in monopoly as well. I think that structure is a fine thing, but it can be taken to the point where the primary act of roleplaying - selecting actions from amongst all those potentially viable for a character - is made moot, or eliminated as an option. This is potentially very problematic in some ways. I think a lot can be blamed on the success of My Life With Master, which might seem to some to be so rigidly structured, but which in play actually leads to a lot of "role-playing."

In other ways, I think we have here just a whole new category of games. Semi-RPGs? I mean, some of these games are going to be a lot of fun to play for what they are.

Also, there were a lot of trends in terms of themes. One would expect trends to hit things like classic fantasy, but instead, for some reason, we see a lot of pacific ocean and pacific rim inspired games. Interesting.

In general, I'm astounded by the quality of the games produced. I expected a lot more of them to be more incomplete, and a lot to have much worse mechanical problems. Instead I find that most are, if not flawless, basically mechanically sound.

This all said, certainly I've made some mistakes in my judging. I may have missed a rule in one game, or misinterpreted something in another. But the rulings have to stand. Each game was given the same amount of consideration, and I think that the analyses have at least a prima facia value to them.

So, without more ado, to the reviews! They are posted in alphabeticall order by title as they were listed in the original thread (yes, this means all of the titles with "the" starting them are together). They were reviewed in random order.

Mike
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« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2004, 11:55:55 AM »

At the Dawn - Raven
Style: Well, imitating the master is sure to make for good copy. And I think that this is carried over into the mechanics pretty well. Still, I can’t give full points because of the problems with originality. I mean, as an homage, it looks very nice. But I’m not even sure that it would be publishable, and the style might even damage playability in some ways.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: Pretty straightforward system, actually. Nifty rollover mechanics for going from one contest to the next.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: Descriptive of the sea of the world. Color only.
Ice: refers to the iciness of the elven lands. Still just color.
Dawn: Refers to the Dawn of time for the elves.
Assault: Mentioned barely in the description of what the elves have to do in the age.

Completeness: well, as the text itself says, it’s incomplete. Actually what’s there I think is playable, strictly speaking – we don’t need a monster list. There’s even inspirational stuff about. But I’m not sure that there’s enough in the mechanics to “do” to engage players. The game could use a lot more there.
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« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2004, 11:56:32 AM »

Broken Vows (The Dawn of the Final Judgement) - Dav
Style: skirting the genre of fantasy (it could almost just be medieval horror), and seductive in it’s presentation, the game manages to evoke the feeling of damnation that the characters must suffer through. The lands of the Islands of Between are enumerated in short strokes to be a wondrous place for adventure for the characters in question. The continued presentation in the narrative style threatens to overwhelm the actual game at times, in fact.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: the structured pace of addressing one or two of each character’s sins should drive play very effectively. Chargen is simple, yet the combinations of possible linkages in addition to the selected sins and bargains, make for quite well detailed characters.

The resolution system has lots of interesting mixed outcomes, instead of just the normal win/lose success/failures modes (though it requires a chart lookup to determine the result).

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: Islands of Between, a sort of Limbo.
Ice: the land of the “sands forever” is actually an ice plain, and one of the traits and associated track is Ice.
Dawn: the characters awaken on their first day in the Islands as the Dawn of their judgement.
Assault: not used.

Completeness: quite complete with two exceptions. One, there isn’t much describing what sort of contests make sense as tests for each sin – some examples at least would be good. In fact, there’s even less on what might happen in between (or do the characters just go from test to test)? Secondly, there’s no indication of how PCs might be thrown together – as written it sounds like a game for one player.
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« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2004, 11:57:04 AM »

Chanter - Jack Aidley
Style: Overflowing with style, chanter manages to bring us a staple of sci-fi/fantasy, the artificial world (though that’s not overt, and it might be a purely fantasy world), in a way that has the sleekness and voluptuousness of a world like Final Fantasy. In some ways completely alien, yet somehow familiar, too. Included is a brief, but yet very evocative cultural overview that delivers the tone of the game’s premises. The chanter culture is reminiscent of knights, and samurai, and many other noble organizations to the point that it becomes it’s own unique thing.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: the mechanical resolution system is somewhat like Godlike’s in that it looks for matches. But it improves on that system with it’s “extras” rule, which makes the resolution very interesting in that a “tied” contest may have mechanical results that are applied while the contest is extended. In addition these bonuses effectively become something like a margin of success. The system is simple and intuitive, but produces a lot of result.

Combine this with the overall IIEE of the conflict system presented, and you have a truly outstanding system. Without exaggeration, potentially one of the best ever created anywhere (not just for purposes of this contest). Failure can, at the player’s option remain failure, or he can design a new conflict to move into. Thus the player is never dissatisfied, and the mechanic is self-perpetuating. Most importantly it does all of this incredibly simply and intuitively. No odd director stance control mechanics, and very clear as to who has final say over resolutions.

Chargen is a tad undirected, but given the narrow focus of character types this shouldn’t be a major problem. Character advancement is linked to long periods of time, which forces play to follow a progression over time that seems quite epic in following the rise and decline of characters.

Magic is handled broadly, but not so broadly as not to provide some framework for it’s use.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: the attribute of self-reliance. Neat.
Ice: a complex virtue of chanters, the attribute representing it, and indicative of the special contests used to test it.
Dawn: magic associated with the rituals that the chanters perform to bring the return of the sun, and the attribute associated with it.
Assault: the combat attribute.

Completeness: all this, and the game’s only real contribution to answering “what do you do?” is to provide a list of creatures to slay. Well, the culture does seem to indicate a lot of political machinations, but most of this is left up to the GM to determine. Still, with characters as focused as this, and in this setting, even if the game ends up being hack and slash, I think it’ll be very good. I’m also tempted to count the missing explanations of the mysteries of All-that-is against the game, but leaving them as mysteries is probably just fine (as long as there isn’t an intended supplement with the answers!).
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« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2004, 11:57:41 AM »

Children of the North: Assault on the Frozen Isle of the Lich-Lord - Kirt "Loki" Dankemeyer
Style: manages in a very short space to create a notion of the potential moral conflicts present. But there’s just not very much to support it.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: employs a Trollbabe-like resolution model based on a single number that indicates how good or evil the character is. This mechanic would seem to incentivize taking radical scores as neutral contest will tend to go their way more of the time, and other contests, good and evil being equal, will tend to go their way.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: where the Lich-king lives with his “children.”
Ice: indicative of the northerliness of the Lich-king’s isle.
Dawn:
Assault: The scope of the game is the march north to make the assault on the Lich-king.

Completeness: Not much here besides the setting and the mechanic. Leaves all manner of questions as to what the assault looks like overall, and what sort of fantastic elements are suitable, etc, etc.
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« Reply #5 on: May 04, 2004, 11:58:09 AM »

Dawn of the Day of the Monsters - Crackerjack
Style: more paragraphs needed (which is saying a lot for such a short game)! But that’s a layout issue, so no deduction there really. The game sets a mood of your standard B horror movie, and would do well with it, if not for some problems with coherence in presentation. Worst, the only thing that makes this fantasy, instead of horror is the incongruous inclusion of goblins, with no explanation of their reason for having arrived.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: this is a one-shot, and it seems that the GM basically is supposed to railroad any player action into more, well, action. The rules are a simple freeform contract, but it’s not really clear what the GM prerogatives are – they sound like a reaction to the potential “abuse” that some imagine is extant in freeform play. There are constant contradictions saying that the players shouldn’t start with access to weapons, but then that they might be in the next room, and later that the game should be filled with weapons. Characters can be anything realistic, or not so realistic. It suggests at one point that a group of ninja are OK, but then that characters should be like the ones in disaster movies (in which there are never ninjas). There are some very strange rules about guns that involve things like max number of shots at once – but no rules for rounds or anything.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: the characters are trapped on a newly created isle of monsters and want to get off.
Ice: not used.
Dawn: when the characters note their dilemma.
Assault: not used. This puts the game one short on ingredients.

Completeness: well, to the extent that any freeform game is pretty much automatically complete, this one is, too. But there’s one glaring omission that seems odd considering all of the rest of the notes on play. Which is how the game is resolved. Apparently, from what I gather, the PCs just all die, the GM having the duty to prevent their escape no matter what. But that’s just a guess.
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« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2004, 11:58:40 AM »

Dawnstorm - Alexander Cherry
Style: despite some flavor text up front, the game has little flavor. The stats selected are potentially evocative, but because of their handling lose any potential feel. It doesn’t even evoke a vision of what the characters look like.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: I can’t see this game promoting much, if any role-playing. It might make an interesting strategy game, but, not only is there nothing mechanical to indicated what the action is like, there’s not even any text. What’s the difference between checking battle and blitz? Other than the player goal of winning the battle, how do I associate anything with my character?

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: The special time at the beginning of time.
Ice: the similie for how time works.
Dawn: Indicating that this is the beginning of time.
Assault: not used (although it’s all about a battle).

Completeness: There seems to be an entire rule about character’s getting to zero backbone (Death?). Other than that, the game is complete in some technical sense, but there is so little to do with so little variability that it’s hard to see it as an entire game. Certainly not as a complete RPG.
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« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2004, 11:59:01 AM »

Dawn-Winds - Piers Brown
Style: Despite the reliance on mechanical description for nearly everything, the fact that those mechanics are all about the structure of play means that you really get the sense of what the game will be like – and it seems pretty cool as far as it goes.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: Very hard to estimate. This is one of those games that is so complicated in terms of the long term mechanical interactions that it might work brilliantly and it might not work at all. That is, mechanically the ideas are more than sound, some are quite clever (overall reminds me in a way of the epilogue game from The Awful Green Things from Outer Space). The question is not whether the game is playable, but whether it’s too easy or too hard (impossible) to win. And if it is possible to win, then are there any dominant strategies? Because, despite the disclaimer, this game supports Gamism far more than anything else. If it does work right (or if/when tightened up), it should be a hoot to play from that perspective.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: These are ice.
Ice: Makes up the islands.
Dawn: A nice aesthetic element in terms of visualizing the chase.
Assault: The game is set before the final assault that determines the winners.

Completeness: There seem to be some potential problems with some of the text at the end that leave some ambiguities. I’m not sure, for example how turn rotation works for the assault. I think these are probably easy oversights to fix, but it would have been nice to have them in the text for clarity. Otherwise the game is quite complete in terms of encapsulating everything needed to play mechanically. My only worry is that there will be little narration, and that it will really devolve into just a dicing process. Which wouldn’t necessarily make for bad play, but it would only marginally then be a RPG.
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« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2004, 11:59:26 AM »

Diamonds Are Forever - Redevider
Style: Remarkable amounts of style are generated with only three sketchy settings, and a mechanic to link them. Very elegant. Unfortunately this game might stretch the boundaries of fantasy too far. There’s a suggestion that there may be supernatural elements going on, but none of the game addresses that directly, and play could be entirely non-fantastical. Not a major deduction, and not at all knock on the game outside of the competition.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: What we have here is a collaborative storytelling game that gives a very constricted framework on which to create. That said, enough is left open that the player additions will likely make for very different stories each time. The real question is whether there’s enough there to drive to an interesting conclusion. I think that each card having a unique meaning gives enough inspiration to go on from scene to scene. But there’s nothing to inspire a solution of any sort, other than seeing the cards running out.

Technically the game seems very sound with one small exception – the text indicates that Jokers should be used, but then doesn’t say what effect they have. I’m guessing that they’re completely player choice, and/or, that they match cards that they’re adjacent to. But other cool stuff could be assigned to them as well.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: One of the (in some ways the primary) settings.
Ice: Diamonds but also a stylistic metaphor in other ways. Also putatively the shape of the card formations (this could be tightened), as well. Also relates to the card suit. Superlative use.
Dawn: one of the Heart suit symbolisms. Seems a tad thrown in, so we’ll consider it unused.
Assault: one of the Club suit symbolisms. Tighter use here.

Completeness: Very tight little game. But I think that replayabilty is limited, and that endgame needs something more. That said, one could easily develop new scenes to play between, or assign new values to the numbers and suits to increase replayability.
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« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2004, 11:59:51 AM »

Dilmun, the Islands of Dawn: Assault of the Black Ice - Plaskar
Style: tries to evoke a feeling of the grandeur of a battle that originates with the gods. But the details that support play in this way are sparse.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: This is an application of the author’s diceless resolution system. Being generic it doesn’t do much itself to support the implied style of play, but it’s serviceable.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: Dilmun is a chain of islands.
Ice: the black ice spread by the invaders.
Dawn: the isles of Dilmun lay at the eastern gates of dawn (which is the source of magic).
Assault: what the insectoid forces are doing to Dilmun.

Completeness: nothing glaring missing, but there isn’t much to support the sort of action that the text implies outside of the suggested archetypes. The magic doesn’t have much detail to give the players a feel for what it’s supposed to look like. Moreover, there’s a large section that deals with the idea of moving between worlds, though this in entirely additional to the original concept of fighting a desperate battle against impossible odds, and seems rather tacked on.
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« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2004, 12:00:20 PM »

Fantasy Icebreaker #1: The Dragon's Lair - Jonathan Nichol
Style: little that’s not supplied by the players. But that’s intentional as the idea is to get people to talk.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: there may be some problems with the timing, and as an icebreaker the game will definitely run a tad long, especially if the group is large. But, otherwise the mechanics are too simple to be broken.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: the dragon is on an island.
Ice: well, it’s an icebreaker exercise in theory.
Dawn: the victor emerges at dawn.
Assault: what the dragonslayers do to the isle of the dragon.

Completeness: well, it does what it sets out to do, I think. Does that make it a complete RPG? In some senses, maybe, but in most senses, no. Not that people shouldn’t try this out at their next party, however.
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« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2004, 12:00:46 PM »

Four Walls and a Funeral: Roleplaying Behind Bars - Designer X
Style: Only fantasy in the sense that all RPGs are fantasies. As such it fails the style criteria as it’s completely out of genre. Too bad, as it’s in-your-face feel would have scored well in another competition.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: I think that mechanically the system will work well to demonstrate the idea of desperation, and the character’s measure of worth in the prison environment (especially the bidding). What I’m not sure about is whether this’ll be any fun – I think that you’ll tend to see all out maneuvers quite early. But that might be the point. From a POV of wanting to explore the environment, however, I think it would be quite effective in the short run. The skill trees seem a tad abstracted, but if you take that for granted, it certainly should work mechanically.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: Rikers Island. A very interesting choice.
Ice: One of the things that you can have running in your veins. Neat metaphor.
Dawn: Refresh point for coins. Seems suitable for the subject matter.
Assault: One of the three skill trees, and a major form of character interaction. Nice.

Completeness: I think that there’s an entire game of a sort here. It’s just that I’m not sure that it can manage to do more than simply make a statement that starts with the GM’s input. No major deduction, but I’m seeing almost more of a short exercise here than a game.
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« Reply #12 on: May 04, 2004, 12:01:08 PM »

Frigid Bitch - Alexander Cherry
Style: Gives me the feeling of a CRPG in some ways, mostly good ones. The closed environment serves to fix play and has a sort of set piece feel to it that makes the whole thing seem like you’re examining events in a pretty little snow globe.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: I think that the mechanics will work out fine, propelling characters from point to point, and leading eventually to a set end. Which I think will be more or less satisfying in a strongly Gamist way. On the other hand, I’m not sure how much role-playing will occur. One could play just rolling dice from end to end it seems to me. There is no place where setting a scene is indicated, just selection of challenges and whatnot, and the roll appropriate to them.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: Descriptive of the castle amongst the trees. Pretty, but not a strong use.
Ice: The Ice queen is the central goal of the game.
Dawn: When the task has to be accomplished by, or the PCs end up captured.
Assault: not used.

Completeness: Again, it has everything needed to play an entire game, but fairly little depth in some ways. More resolution options that change around than MLWM, but do they promote any sort of real color role-playing in play?
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« Reply #13 on: May 04, 2004, 12:01:30 PM »

G A N A K A G O K --- DAWN BREAKS UPON THE ISLAND OF ICE - Bill White
Style: there are some interesting contradictions, like the Inuit naming combined with Maori term mana, but in the end it all ends up somehow creating a “vaguely Polynesian” sort of aesthetic that seems to fit life on a fantastic iceberg of magic. The implications of the ancients and ghouls lend an interesting flavor to the whole.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: Village creation as a part of set up is an interesting mechanic. It means that play will be centered around the social interactions of a group of people automatically. And the metaplot (actually just a timeline of events, it would seem), should act to drive play forward in a consistent manner.

The resolution system in combination with the rigid and limited character definition provides interesting mechanical outcomes, and the game has nifty rules for resource management that have the capacity to extend beyond the implied limited resources. It also provides a simple gambling mechanism that looks like fun to use. And it’s open-ended enough to make most situations interesting in the mechanics of the resolution (while still staying very simple). Lastly, the GM is allowed to link failures to the metaplot, thus making any action potentially fateful (meaning that each has to be considered carefully, and one can’t just go off half cocked and do a jillion things).

The hunting rules make one want to organize a whaling party. The recovery rules add a lot of color to what otherwise tend to be dull contests in other games.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: Ganakagok is the island
Ice: Ganakagok is the island of ice
Dawn: the passing of Ganakagok into the warmth, and thus it’s impending end.
Assault:

Completeness: there definitely could be more material covering the sorts of elements that can be included in the Metaplot, and notes on how to pace it out. Spirit Journeys could be fleshed out somewhat in terms of what they look like, and how they occur. Similarly mana use could have been described a bit better. Also, it would have been better for trading if there had been some rules as to what successes bring – leaving it to guesswork seems likely to cause “economic problems.” This sounds like a lot missing, but actually each represents a small addition to what is actually a fairly complete game.
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« Reply #14 on: May 04, 2004, 12:02:01 PM »

God Lore: The Chronicles of the Immortals - Asrogoth
Style: reminds one of the computer game Populous or the like, as the players play gods altering the landscape of the world that they rule over. The elements that they rule over seem a tad stretched to make three of the ingredients fit. But otherwise the game does a fine job at keeping the action heady. In fact, it does this so well, it almost moves into another genre of it’s own, separate from fantasy (metaphysical?).

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: It’s hard to say if all the agglomerated mechanics will work together really well – playtesting definitely needs to be done. But assuming that they do, the system provides a good assortment of tools to simulate the powers of gods. In fact, the only real potential problem is drift to gamist conflict amongst the gods in which case there may be some slight incentive for “first strike.” Other than that, the mechanics seem very solid.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms
Island: the soil and rock that stabilize the world and support plant and animal life
Ice: the solid essence of life-nurturing water, and the freezing death of the chill
Dawn: the power of birth, the blazing sun and the warming fire
Assault: the action that involved attacking another god’s influence.

Completeness: A very complete game for a week, indeed. The only possible shortcoming is that, even with the sample of play, and with a sample adventure hook, one still has to wonder what immortals spend their time doing. All the rules about controlling stuff, and what’s the point? Why do the gods treasure these things, other than the potential damage that loss can do to them as gods. That is, why create anything new if it only becomes a liability? And what’s with all this hierarchy of gods – what does that do? I sense that there’s a lot we’re not seeing in the vision of play.
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