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Author Topic: [Cranium Rats] Another View.  (Read 5689 times)

Posts: 486

Still Here.

« on: June 21, 2006, 07:24:36 AM »

The following points have been written by Itamar Parann, he was originally given Beta Version 1.1 on April, in a local convention. He sent me his thoughts but it would seem that they were lost in the depths of the ether, he had recently read Beta version 2.0 and had sent me the following.
Note, I asked him to pass judgement on the game.

I find these posts interesting and believe they could lead to some interesting discussion, I however, wish to hear others' thoughts regarding them before I post my own thoughts(and thus may shape the thread).
You may also use this thread to address other "Contrary points", like Filip's "No GM" idea.


I read the 2.0 beta version.

My thoughts:

1. Since the game focuses on the struggle between the three aspects,
there is actually no character development nor any role play. It is
indeed like a boardgame or card game, for good and bad. Personally, I
see no reason to emulate the feel of a boardgame with live people, since
this is a limiting of human gaming potential. This is related to point
2, below.

2. I am unconvinced you need more than one character. Yes, I get the
idea that you want everyone to play all three aspects, thus the need for
three characters - but why? Why not go for a more role play attitude,
really develop a single character (the human) and have the Aspects
develop as personalities and not just as foci for action? Indeed, what
about a game where the Aspects have to play along side a fourth person -
the character, as presented by a player, not the GM?

3. As for the system: the game, as presented, puts the system in the
center: but while this system is pretty straightforward, and certainly
effective, it is not interesting. It has no special twists, it is more
like a betting game than anything else: and how many people like to
yammer and jabber along with their Poker? I mean, I see  no reason why
Cranium Rats should be played with this specific system and not with,
for example, cards (real poker, with GM capable of giving a player an
extra card o show advantage). If the system does not grant the game a
unique role-playing benefit (or tactical/strategic benefit if you forgo
the role play), then why use IT and not something else, or no special
system at all?

I like the basic idea of aspects fighting over a character that is
attempting enlightenment. But I think you should concentrate more on the
drama of the path, on the toil and change that the aspects themselves
undergo while he path is walked than on mechanics for interpersonal
challenges - it is easy to arrange any number of rules for challenges
and any number of reasons for challenges to occur. In short - the
aspects are not really interesting as presented; they need to become
characters, with internal change and stories and development, otherwise
I see no special reason to play them.

I think you can take the basic idea and even the existing conflict rules
and do quite a lot with them - keep the system for internal fights, but
extrapolate from it what you need in order to to achieve a unique role
playing environment.

Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010

Posts: 928

Don't Panic!

« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2006, 09:11:43 AM »

  Well, I'll say 3 things:
1) I agree with Itamar's design goals. And, in fact, I would be surprised to hear anyone who is an RPG designer that doesn't agree with his stated feelings about what makes a good RPG.
2) That being said, I am not sure that all his comments apply to your game Guy. I think that there is role play, for sure. But I think that in the area of character development (specifically, the 3 main chars, as opposed to the aspects) is weak. I see why there is 3 chars, and it is pretty spot on. Your goal is to make a competitive RPG, but the only way to keep the copetition fun is to wire each aspect differently. But in order to avoid "whoever plays Rat wins" or whatever, making each player play all three aspects is a great way to balance the competition without having to balance each aspect down to the 3rd decimal place. As to the system, I haven't played it, but the comments are accurate in that the mechanics are mechanics and only tangentially relate to the character or aspects. I think that you might want to take a cue from ditv and tie the bidding to narration. In other words, each time a player bids, they have to back the bid up with story advancement.
3) Back to char development. How do characters devlop in a non-rpg story? Exposition, Dialogue and conflict. Your game handles conflict well, but the other two sort of get short circuited, no?
  Well, that's just my 2 cents, good luck with your game man!

Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo

Posts: 486

Still Here.

« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2006, 07:16:59 AM »

Well, time to give my answers and thus open the way to dialogue.

First, though it's outdated, if you can find your review of version 1.1 I'd be very happy to read it, as much still applies.

1. I want to state this up-front. I don't claim Cranium Rats as an RPG, I call this a CSI Game and even explain what that means within version 2.0 Beta. It means Competitive(/Cooperative) Story Interaction Game. The issue of playing a role is never brought up and is considered tangential by myself, it is a way to create a story and interact, but Interaction can also stem from the system and Story can be created in numerous ways.
I am going to post questions as my replies, they are by no means intended as veiled attempts at rebuttal, but since you make claims, I want to see your opinions on relating issues.
So, we do not use the creative and story creating potential of humans while playing a board or card game, but what about the social aspect? And, considering your statement, do you consider board/card games to be a waste of time, or at least of human potential?

2. I considered this while in the shower(such a great place to have thoughts), and this thought made me very glad I took the time to think my reply before posting it. While my game does simulate Guy Ritchie flicks quite fine, it falls a bit short on Pulp Fiction, and the answer is two-fold:
i) Allow for longer narration without Conflict, and/or multiple conflicts in a single scene.
ii) Which presents a viable solution, a good option, but I'm undecided if it's a better fit as the default one(I tend to think not, it's too slow for me). Have each Aspect run a scene for the same character, one after the other, then move to the next character, have each player run a scene(or Conflict) and move on. This allows for more focus on each character at a time.

3. Is your problem with the system or the fact it is put in the front? What do you think of DitV, or that's ok because the system is in the background while the Morality and Escalation take the front?
Also, why do you consider people play Poker if it is boring?
Regarding my system, I think the mechanics themselves might be simple, but the interactions and results seem to be anything but. Filip, do all your questions result from the depth of the system or the lack of clarity?
Also, here's a quote by Mike Holmes:
I think that with the amount of work you have here, that there's probably something cool going on. But without playing it, I doubt I'm going to get it from reading the rules. Which is a good thing, in a way, what I'm saying is that unlike a lot of games that are so simple that they're transparent, this one has a lot more going than most.

Dave, I certainly lack Dialogue and Exposition, but I'm yet undecided if I need or want it, if I want to put the characters in the fore. Currently they serve as the background and playing-pieces. Itamar, I certainly accept that the part regarding the path towards Enlightenment needs more cover, but the toil and strife on that route should be seen as the inter-Aspect conflict.

Also, you may be interested to see Slime Octopi and Coral, it may be even more Board Game geared, but the Slime Octopi do change... Currently under thought-progress!

Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Filip Luszczyk

Posts: 746


« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2006, 08:47:11 AM »

I think Ittamar's comments do not apply. In fact, while reading them I got a feeling, that they arise from a slight xenophobia. "This is something new, it doesn't fit into the schemes I'm used to, I don't need anything like this myself, therefore it can't work and should be corrected to fit the norm."

Ittamar's points demonstrate one thing - that not everyone could play the game with satisfaction. The basic concept won't appeal to many. Creative Agenda issue, I believe. So it looks like you've sent the game to a wrong person.

Especially that "limiting potential" part got me thinking.

Actually, there is a board in Cranium Rats, and it's called SIS.

I remember prophecies concerning the fall of RPG in competition with computer games or card games. Why should someone want to imagine things if he can simply watch them on the screen? Why bother with narration and stuff if you can simply shuffle the deck? Well, turns out people still need RPGs, despite CCG and computer games thriving.

Now, the "game" part in board/card games and computer games is roughly similar when it comes to mechanics - the main difference is the medium used, or rather the method of presentation.

Computer games stimulate you mostly visually and auditively. Board/card games also add tactile stimulation, and face-to-face interaction (but there is less visual, and no auditive stimulation).

In RPGs you have face-to-face interaction and SIS. Computer games and board/card games do not involve using your imagination. At the same time, there is only a small number of role-plating games that support using your imagination while pursuing a gamist agenda well. CSI Games fill that niche.

To conclude, I'll ask an important question. You obviously need games that fill the niche. Same for me. And how many more people? Is the existence of the niche a result of there being only a handfull of people interested in such a play, or there being not enough games that could generate real interest? Or maybe misconceptions about competition in role-playing context?


Posts: 486

Still Here.

« Reply #4 on: June 27, 2006, 05:29:06 AM »

Filip, this is a good place to explore your "No GM" idea.

Ok, so we have various thoughts and opinions from the RPG crowd, I think it's time to see what the board-game crowd thinks, and what they complain about.

I agree about the niche's need to be filled. Were it filled, would we create these games? But then again, how many games exist that try to fit an already full niche...?

As to your question, I think the answer doesn't lie within the RPG Crowd, I suspect the numbers are small there, the crowd is either amongst board/card gamers, or amongst those who do not "game", such as those who play sports...

Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Filip Luszczyk

Posts: 746


« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2006, 09:02:55 AM »

As for the "No GM" issue.

I've already discussed with you my problems concerning The Enlightened's role, and John Kirk's analysis also points at some problems here. Basically, it all boils down to:

-GM is on completely different level than Aspect players, and he does not compete, although the game's focus is inter-player competition.
-GM can freely mess up with Aspect players competition (by using his Tokens), and usually will do it from different agenda. This might lead to some incoherence.
-GM is not involved in narration to the extent other players are. He's more an audience than an actual player.
-GM controlls "outside token pool" which is important to the game's currency flow.
-GM has some metaphysical role, but I don't quite understand this ;)

I think I summed it up, but some omission is possible.

It seems to me that The Enlightened is somehow "outside" the actual game, and I don't think he gets as much fun as the rest of the group. Unless he maintains completely different agenda, but this in turns requires a group of four players with very specific play preferences.

Now, let's see what actually GM does in your game, and how it could be done without him:

-Sometimes he buys narration rights from other players, but they don't have to sell them (and I assume that often they will not do it, unless in desperate need for more Tokens - having narrative control over the scene has its merits). So in fact he can sit the whole session not being able to add to the story. An idea connected with this - allowing The Enlightened to force players to sell him narration rights, for an additional Token (given to the player or maybe spent), might solve this problem and allow him to interject whenever he wants.

-He is an arbiter when it comes to specialty application or advantage bonuses. This might cause problems, since players might feel favored or threatened, regardless of his actual intents. GM's fiat here could be easily eliminated. E.g. if anyone states that a specialty works and gives any reason why it works - then it

-He can give character goals, and spend Tokens to support Aspects, but it would often look like favoring one or the other side. In theory, he does this to prolong the play, so in fact he is going to support the weakest player anyway, most of the time. This could be solved by changing The Enlightened's token pool into a public pool, from which all players could draw in particular circumstances (e.g. when two players are involved in a conflict, the third one could use the pool, or decide whether he prefers to involve himself fully, or work "from outside" using the public pool).

-He plays the NPCs, which now means that he boosts them with tokens during conflicts. Again, public pool could do the same thing.

There is one more thing worth discussing I think. There is no GM in board or card games (at least I don't know such games), nor in most of the wargames, nor in sports. If there is a referee, it's mostly during tournaments, when someone neutral from outside the group is actually needed. In normal play, rulebook is usually enough, and group agreement solves most of possible problems. The GM seems to be out of place in a competitive game for me, unless he is given very well defined role that actually supports the structure of a given game.

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