It’s Monday, you will probably have to spend time with your family this week, there are minutes.
File Me Under: Mrs. Frisby and the Fellowship of the Ring
What It’s All About: Mouse Guard is a slimmed down Burning Wheel variant by Luke Crane and based on the comic work of David Petersen. Players control sentient mice and help defend the Mouse Territories from predators, disaster and strife. It is a fantasy setting that is both whimsical and dire in equal measure. One of the lynchpins of adventure and danger in the world of Mouse Guard is the new perspective that players must adjust to. While you are brave and capable you are still only mice. Most everything wants to eat you or eat what you need and simple events like a rain storm or a frost snap can devastate.
Mechanically, Mouse Guard makes some refinements to the Burning Wheel system but remains almost entirely intact. In the GM turn, players pool dice to collect successes (4s, 5s & 6s) and are encouraged to assist one another with relevant skills or abilities. Mice can call upon their instincts to excel at particularly Mouse-like tasks or cash in Fate or Persona points to improve their chances of success. Character growth is tied to skill usage that requires both success and failure to unlock progression, which is a astonishingly honest and sensible system. Likewisde certain traits of you character can serve as double edge swords; you might be very Determined which could be used to give you an edge in an arduous task or be cashed in as a negative to earn Checks for later use. On the players turn you trade in checks you have earned to take actions like recovery or development and advance the story in equal measure.
Mouse Guard is a great alternative to standard high fantasy RPG nonsense and deserves a run at every gaming table.
Gripes: The Burning Wheel system, while rich and deep is unforgiving. Mouse Guard benefits from a generous and experienced GM who can keep the party just on the edge of failure.
Tweaks: As with many RPGs it can be refreshing to break the game into multiple shorter sessions if schedules allow. Mouse Guard is particularly suited for this with it’s GM & Player turns.
Cost: $20 as a downloadable .pdf but a brand new edition is coming in 2015!
Time Commitment: 3-4 hours per session
Best For: Gamers looking for a unique RPG challenge
This past Saturday GPD trekked down to Melcher street in Boston for a day of indie gaming ay JiffyCon. In addition to a wonderful session of Mouse Guard (srsly pick that one up) we were able to break out our latest prototype of Big Dumb Wargame and have a run at it. Thanks to Alla, Alex, Alan Kate and Navik for clunking through our steampunk Mexico odyssey your patience and good company really made our night!
Dan shot a quick impressions video with our playtesters amid the clamour of geeks having fun. You can check out our latest build of the rules here. To sum it up we are blending abstract war a la Risk/Axis & Allies with the development and economy of Supremacy and the variable powers of Small World. Our biggest learning moment from the playtest was to significantly ramp up the starting economy as the first few turns were a real grind. Battles played out smoothly and we were pleasantly surprised to see presumably dominant players a bit thrown back on the heels after an over commitment of forces and massive counterstrike. There is obviously some balance tweaking still to do and seeing peices on the table has us conceptualizing the components a smidge.
What It’s All About: Richard Garfield (RoboRally, Magic) returns to the kaiju well for King of New York, a deeper — but not too deep — evolution of his city smashing King of Tokyo. In KoNY players are again vying for conquest of a major metropolitan area but the rules have changed. You are still doing a three pass Yahtzee style roll of action dice, and you can still purchase powers, effects and straight up points with radioactive currency. But the field has widened; monsters now roam around the 5 boroughs, with Manhattan acting as the top of this king of the hill. Each borough is stocked with 9 random buildings which can be smashed to grant health, energy or points. When smashed they flip to summon military units. These units can be triggered on opposing player turns to damage monsters in the same borough as them so it’s a good idea not to let to many build up.
You can smash the giant faces of your rivals to drive them out of Manhattan and claim the throne for yourself, slowly accruing points and energy as you act a pinata for the rest of the table. Alternately you can aim to be come the Superstar monster by rolling triple stars (this replaces KoT rolling for points system) or team up with the Statue of Liberty to become the hero of the city. Each direction seems well balanced. During play we all agreed that there were fewer instances when we felt unable to grow our strategy. Also, since the military units threaten everyone, it exerts a calming effect and there tends to be less early player elimination (a major sticking point we had with King of Tokyo).
King of New York addresses a lot of the gripes we had about Tokyo while retaining the fun and whimsy of the original. It is, perhaps, more sedate in it’s gameplay but that is a net positive.
Gripes: With new depth comes new complexity and confusion. Players familiar with King of Tokyo may frequently resolve the turn as if they were playing the former game; There are small but important differences. For instance fleeing and entering Manhattan is a rules change that should be tracked carefully.
Tweaks: You can pull in characters from King of Tokyo and it’s expansions, although they are purely flavor changes. I would love to see a set of individualized powers as KoT monsters got with their expansions.
Time Commitment: ~30 minutes
Best For: people who wanted a bit more depth out of King of Tokyo.
File me under: My friend Russ is an idiot
What It’s All About: Machi Koro is a city building race game by Masao Suganuma. Each player is attempting to complete the monuments in their city (Train Station, Shopping Mall, Radio Tower & Amusement Park) and the first to do so wins. To earn the capital for such grand construction you must invest in lesser buildings first. Each round a die (or two if you have completed the Train Station) is rolled and players earn cash depending on which buildings of theirs have been triggered by the die value. Some structures like Wheat Fields, Forests and Mine award coins on any turn, others like Bakeries & Cheese Factories only pay out on your turn (but have a higher probability of triggering). Eateries steal money from other players and special buildings like the business center or stadium trigger unique effects like cards swapping or the like.
Machi Koro is simultaneously elegant and clunky. The early game is super rickety due to frequent turns of inaction as the die fails to trigger anything on the field. Shortly though, as you build out, you begin to realize that a balance of covering the spread and cornering certain structures is the trick. It is entirely possible late in the game to sweep the field with a lucky roll. But for that to happen you have to construct the right circumstances beforehand. It’s not often that a game so random turns out so well and I think that is because the entire focus of Machi Koro is on the management and mitigation of randomness; master that and you’ll have a great city.
Gripes: Machi Koro can feel super random and futile especially in it’s early phases. Entire turns may go around the board with nothing triggering and that is really disheartening.
Tweaks: It is widely agreed that many of Machi Koro’s perceived flaws are overcome by switching to the ten card variant. In this you shuffle all of the building cards (except for your starting cards) into one deck. From that deck you begin to deal out stacks of identical cards until you have ten stacks. This creates an array of less predictable buildings with variable amounts. When you run out of a stack repeat the dealing process.
Time Commitment: 30 minutes
Best For: Deck building fans