[Liminal] An unofficial review

Started by Dan Maruschak, April 29, 2012, 07:09:59 PM

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Dan Maruschak

I wasn't officially assigned to review Liminal by Robert Bruce but I wanted to post one anyway.

Liminal has some really interesting ideas in it. I really like the idea of the group building the "replaced" character without the "mimic" player in the room, since it really focuses a spotlight on making the mimicry a purely cosmetic thing, which helps sell the other-ness of the mimic. I think that's a really strong foundation for the game. The questions used to generate the mimicked character seem like they'll do a good job of creating a fleshed-out individual rather than a walking stereotype, which is good. (Procedurally, I had a little trouble understanding the "and answer the Why?" part of the chargen process – at first I thought this involved picking an entirely fresh question, but on reading it again I suspect it's supposed to be an elaboration on one of the already answered questions.)

Once normal gameplay begins, I'm a little concerned that the "non-mimic players" are essentially all doing the same thing, basically playing a somewhat traditional GM-like role via consensus. I'm also not sure how comfortable I am with the fact that the non-mimic players have absolute scene-framing authority even though the mimic player is controlling the only character in the game with actual agency (any other NPCs merely being authorial tools to provoke reactions from the mimic). This arrangement could be used well for a character that's being tossed by the vicissitudes of fate, but the game doesn't seem to explicitly set up the fictional situation for that style of story to be appropriate – the game even seems to acknowledge a mode of play where the mimic doesn't care at all whether people are fooled by the disguise, which seems like an odd design choice given the investment the rest of the players are asked to make in creating a compelling "mimicked". The normal moves seem pretty robust to me, and seem like they're flexible enough to apply to a lot of situations but specific enough that it should be relatively clear to the entire group when it's appropriate to "go to the dice". I understand what the Alien moves do, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around how they're supposed to contribute to play.  (The "Cross" move seems especially strange to my mind, since it's basically a switch to shut off the premise of the game, or maybe I'm missing the point).

During character creation for the mimic, the player is asked to do several things that I think I would find very difficult to do. Reframing my interactions with other players as "scenes" to play out in my head seems like it would be a difficult creative task, especially since I'm asked to do several of them in quick succession. I can also imagine the task of focusing on the mannerisms, etc., of the people I'm playing with feeling very socially awkward, which would make me reluctant to actually engage in that part of the game. I think I understand what this part of the game is going for ("priming" a player with tiny chunks of characterization so that they might pop up organically during play), but right now it feels a little bit disconnected to me, more like an arty acting exercise rather than something gamelike. I suspect I would find it a bit more palatable if it was a little more procedural and guided, so I wouldn't feel so creatively responsible for choosing what to focus on.

I'll be interested to see how this game develops if the designer chooses to take it further. I think the idea of the mimic is interesting, and setting the action within a community of migrant workers is intriguing. I think my biggest holdup with the game is the classic "what the do characters do?" question – why does the mimic take someone else's form? Why do they care about not getting caught? Do they care about not getting caught? Do they have a goal? I'd be much more comfortable with the game if it either answered those sorts of questions or gave some procedures or instructions for how the players are supposed to figure that kind of stuff out. Right now it seems like the game will work if the players bring a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and goals from outside the game, but I can easily see the game falling flat or spinning out if people don't start with strong ideas about where to take the game. I think the game would benefit if more of those things were addressed in the text. It might also be worthwhile considering whether the "1 player, many GMs" arrangement could be leveraged a bit more by divvying-up and specializing some of the tasks amongst the different non-mimic players, since there might be ways to take advantage of the fact that they're independent humans rather than a collective hive-mind.
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Robert Bruce

Hi Dan, thanks so much for reviewing and for your interest in the game.  I'm taking this game all the way to product and your feedback really asks some tough questions that I have to answer.  My chefs have been really generous with advice and observations, this contest is a wonderful thing.  :)  Yeah!