Feedback

Feedback from Judges. Posted starting February 1, 2011 through February 10, 2011.





Judge: Evan Torner

BUILD A BETTER CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE® CHALLENGE 

Title of Game: C-Cubed
Name of Designer: John McGuckin
Challenge: Build a Better CYOA

2/1/11

Summary: You’re a time traveler sent to “fix” time over three missions.

Strengths: The game shifts the climactic decision-making of the CYOA genre from page choice to die choice, which the designer has articulated as your time-traveler equipment. This not only forces a player to consider the gravity of taking the stun pennies over the stun pen, but also allows the player to script the game’s events in their own head (rather than on one of several pre-written forking paths). The game is also well-conceived in terms of basic probabilities: if I roll one die-type, then I have an advantage toward my success either getting to a certain time period or fixing the problem that is there. Failure is seen as a result of the travel equipment – not the competency of the character – which implies something delightfully quotidian about human creations: no matter how advanced our technology, we can never seem to get it right!

Weaknesses: In playtesting the game, I found myself confronting just a bunch of numbers and tables that describe whether or not I succeed or fail. So its chief weakness would be the Whiff Factor (i.e. a high failure rate for otherwise competent characters): the game is all about winning/losing, which pretty much comes down to arbitrary dice rolls. Success in this game seems somewhat boring-but-elusive (what do I get for completing a mission? Just another mission?), whereas failure seems frequent, interesting, but vague. For example, I had a hard time evoking fiction for my missions, as well as devising Paradoxes to confound them -- I just might not be creative enough! Emphasis on success/failure from prior choices (i.e. equipment, returning home or not) rather than on setting/character/narrative exploration from the choices at hand (i.e. what do I do to target the anomaly and/or fix time there?) distances it from the page-turning excitement of a CYOA. Also, shouldn’t we at least have to stun the person who’s trying to change history?

Things Exciting About the Game:
• Uses my Dungeons and Dragons gamer-type dice!
• Opportunity to choose strange gizmos and describe what they do!
• The Iconic Commander!
Bolding the important rules bits within paragraphs!

Recommended Next Steps for Development:
• Actually provide the character sheet, which includes tables and writing prompts.
• Build in some immersive fiction about the company, the stolen item, the historical event, and the criminal, and give them loads of threatening Paradoxes to choose from. Don’t be afraid to author it a little!
• If you just fail (but don’t incur Paradox), what happens? Something interesting, I hope!
• Read Epidiah’s Time and Temp for more inspiration.

Playtest: I guess I’m a Time Fixer for this C-Cubed corporation, so let’s go fix time!

I choose the alien tech wrist band (d10) and the pocket change (3D6) for my equipment.

I choose the first mission: retrieve a stolen artifact. It must be, I don’t know, a Ming Vase! I roll a 10 on my Target roll.

I meet an Iconic Commander of the Eons! So I’m on my way through the time vortex and there’s a guy with a moustache who heartliy claps me on the back. I roll a 3 on a d4, which means I can choose to remove one Paradox in the future. Way to go self-confidence!

...and the Commander directs me to exactly where it was smuggled to, which happens to be (to get a little reflexive about how time adds value to things) back to the Ming Dynasty. A perfect place to hide it!

I roll a 1 on my Fix, so I find the Vase in the Qin Emperor’s palace and snatch it with my wrist band, which fortunately doesn’t phase me out.

Now let’s go capture that criminal. I don’t know what crime he committed -- maybe he’s a crazy time joy-rider? Let’s roll to Target. A 3! Crap, I take a Paradox by tracking him to ... the 27th Century 2 weeks before I left. That has me wreak all kinds of havoc as people sight me where I shouldn’t be. I re-roll. A 2! I can’t quite find him, or maybe it’s because my wrist band is phasing me too much. A 3! More Paradox... I’m up to 2. I’ve met my girlfriend and now she’s pissed. That joy rider’s got to be near my time, but where could he be? A 9! Finally Targeted him: he tricked me into searching the wrong era, and now I found his signal in the Cretaceous Period (for T-Rex effect).

Alright, there he is, and he’s joy-riding on a T-Rex. Let’s see if I can stun him. I roll ad6 and a d12 to get my target number: 15, +/- 2. Okay, let’s throw some pennies at him (roll 3d6): A 6! (miss) The penny hits the T-Rex instead and it’s coming after me! A 13! I knock him off with the second penny and he gets tangled in some prehistoric underbrush.

Now let’s see if I can fix this. I roll a d10. A 2! It’s done - I collar him to bring him back to our time. I roll my Target roll to go there - a 6! Darn that wristband - it’s got us there, but we can’t touch anything. An 8! Okay, phew - we’re there at last. I’ve been having some Targeting problems, but I’m going to take the -1 on my Fix roll for the final mission. I guess they recalibrate my wrist band?

Okay, here’s targeting the guy who’s stopping an important event in history. A 2! I have no clue where he is. Try again (Whiff!). A 9! There she is: she’s creating Twitter in 2003 before Evan Williams can.

Let’s Fix her. A 1 - I must be pretty lucky! I catch her at her computer and we share a moment of understanding. Okay, let’s get back to the 27th Century. A 7! Here we go.... vmmmmm. I win.



Title of Game:
Hero of Silvergate
Name of Designer: Rich DiTullio
Challenge(s):
Build a Better CYOA, Living in the Future
2/6/11


Summary: A knight’s career evolves over a series of chivalric choices.

Strengths (Build a Better CYOA): Emily has echoed many of my thoughts in her Living in the Future review of this game, so I thought I’d focus on those aspects that concern the Build a Better CYOA Challenge. The game appropriately incorporates the word “gate” into the title, for its theater of action is a knight’s life beyond the starting gate of his chivalric training. I like the emphasis on a varied life beyond mere adventurous (i.e., militaristic, quasi-religious, hegemonic) pursuits, meaning it improves on the CYOA model: now it’s Choose Your Own Adventure and Everything in Between. This itself opens the door to all kinds of story possibilities; courtly politics (possibly even the not-so-contrived kind), regrets and memories can play as much a role as brawn and bluster. I also like the idea of there being a story arc overall, focused on the life of this one particular knight.

Weaknesses (Build a Better CYOA): What are ‘correct’ choices, anyway? I mean, if my skill-set is “decent fighter, dishonorable, 50/50 between brave and prudent, and suffering the effects of two crippling injuries,” what’s the correct lifepath for me to choose right now? Go to a tavern and tell people about how I got my injuries, fending off those who came just to mug me when I was too drunk to stand? Hmmm.... There shouldn’t be a scenario where I constantly feel only one right option, but the tug of “what would this character do?” which should also be appropriately rewarded. The Choice Script tool gives you the opportunity to automatize your scene selection, so the game shouldn’t be afraid to be a little ambitious: more variables, or multiple variables built into choices, explorations of the social as well as the national-political and militaristic spheres, etc. I also like the idea of wounds accumulating over a career, but dislike calling it “Wounds.” How about “Permanent, Crippling Injuries?” The idea, of course, is to emotionally engage the person playing this thing via their web browser, already a space disconnected from regular human emotional engagement.

Things You're Excited About in the Game:
* The Ups and Downs of Courtly Life Included!
* Complex, Character-Driven Play over the Web!
* A Forest of Madness, You Say!
* Male and Female Knights!

Recommended Next Steps for Development:
* Choices should have quantitatively more ramifications than +10 this stat or -10 to another. That way, the variables are slightly too complex for your average player to “game” the system to become the most honorable, unblemished jerk in Silvergate. Then they’d have to do what “their character” would do...
* Really lean hard on that public/private sphere distinction (which wasn’t there in the Middle Ages, but may be important to your game) -- renown and honor are public ratings, bravery, prowess and wounds “private” ratings, meaning they happen whether or not someone’s present. I’m tantalized by the idea of a talentless hack of a knight nevertheless making it pretty far in war and peace...
* On that gender note: explore it as a variable!
* See Echo Bazaar (http://www.failbettergames.com) to get some ideas about framing player choices in web games between two or three equally interesting outcomes with a variety of cascading effects.

Playtest: I couldn’t get Choice Script to run right, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve died. I’d love to playtest a more solid version when it’s available!



Title of Game: Halflight
Name of Designer: Graham Walmsley
Challenge: Build a Better CYOA

2/1/11

Summary: A spooky journey into the mysterious town of Halflight... and your soul!

Strengths: This game is an absolute pleasure to play, and encapsulates the spirit of the Build a Better CYOA challenge: to take the forking decision paths of the genre to the more creative niveau of your traditional tabletop role-playing game. Halflight begins quite literally with the player making their mark on the game, in this case a protective sigil against future badness. The game then leads you through a series of instructions, descriptions and prompts that simultaneously delve the recesses of the seaside town of Halflight and the player his/herself. What lurks in your dreams? What protects you from your own dark fantasies? These are the questions Walmsley seeks to answer, and provides the player with an outlet to answer them. The instruction mechanics are clear enough for anyone to follow. The descriptions are open-ended enough to suit the standard path through the game. The prompts give you enough ammunition to draw and write that which interests you. Few CYOA novels dignify you as much as Halflight does.

Weaknesses: Dare I say you’re at a disadvantage if you dislike to draw? This is not your average passive CYOA, which also bars it from being a particularly casual game. In addition, there are multiple points where we as players contribute fiction that turns out to be worthless. In my playtest, I recall generating a dark hospital that I wanted to explore, but was instead forced away from it by virtue of the text. This negotiation of my desires with Graham’s storytelling appears a necessary evil of the CYOA genre, but an ability to tie the bits of ephemera together a little more tightly would be welcome. Finally, the slow reveal of the creature itself did not have the desired suspense effect: perhaps it would be better to put the creature on the table at the beginning and then explore all its diverse, disgusting facets throughout gameplay?

Things You're Excited About in the Game:
• Intriguing Atmosphere!
• Clarity of Form and Content!
• Opportunities aplenty for Creative License!
• Instrumentalisation of Player’s Interior Psychogical Space

Recommended Next Steps for Development:
• Create a next-level cover for the book that both underscores the atmosphere and the importance of player input (Perhaps a creepy mirror with a space to draw?).
• Refine the informational connections between discrete pages. Making, for example, the three words uttered by the bum on page 19 somehow in dialog with your final confrontation with the creature of your dreams would do well to link up bits of disparate, atomised fiction.
• Establish the creature of your dreams alongside the sigil: “You had a nightmare last night. You dreamt of a creature. Draw it below (to the best of your ability).”
• Working in some clever way of advising the reader to keep their contributions to the fiction fairly simple and thematically consistent... for that will be more effective!

Playtest: See accompanying Playtest document. I played it in Microsoft Word 2004 and highlighted the numbers of the pages I visited.
Halflight Playtest document



Title of Game: The Last Man

Name of Designer: Luca Ricci
Challenge(s):
Build a Better CYOA, Stuff in Your Domicile, Andy Kaufman Challenge
2/10/11

Summary: I Am Legend as a solo roleplaying game.

Strengths (CYOA, Stuff in Your Domicile): The Last Man anchors you in your real home in order to let you protect a fictional, post-apocalyptic home from harm. The CYOA aspect is the menu of survival options to be chosen over a limited period of time, with dice used to resolve success. The game presents you with (supposedly) the only reasonable choices a paranoid person would take, given the circumstances, and subtly nudges you into a story arc toward meeting other survivors or dying at the hands of the mysterious Others. You then (as per Stuff in Your Domicile) have to consider the materials you have in your real home to help you defend your fictional home. There’s also a certain self-reflexive dimension to being the “last man” as a solo RPG that is quite enjoyable.

Weaknesses (CYOA, Stuff in Your Domicile): As a CYOA, the game quickly becomes a series of Tables and Charts, which usually disinclines me from truly caring about my decisions. In addition, the Stuff in Your Domicile aspect is not entirely clear -- do you gather all the materials together at the end? How do the Others take them away? I find the Zones and the locations a bit hazy; some play examples would be nice. Oh, and how to frame it for the other people in your household should be included, since you’ll be getting up every now and then and moving around random items without speaking to them.

Things You're Excited About in the Game:
* Its Self-Reflexivity - You Are a Lone Player Playing a Human Alone!
* Progress Measured in Intuitive Units - Time, Self-Protection, Vulnerability!
* Communicates the Spirit of I Am Legend!
* Disturbs Your Household Members!

Recommended Next Steps for Development:
* Though Luca’s English is quite good, an edit by a native speaker would be welcome.
* For de-gendering purposes, maybe re-title as “The Last Human.”
* Clarify how your fictional domicile relates to your real domicile... and what you should tell your perplexed family members about the game!
* An example of play!

Playtest: Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to fully playtest the game.





Title of Game: Madness - The Solo Version

Name of Designer: Chris Engle
Challenge(s):
Build a Better CYOA
2/11/11

Summary: An investigation and adventure game based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Strengths: The game feels a lot like a story game version of Arkham Horror, with an added exploration of the usual Lovecraftian madness before the fighting against nameless horrors begins. There is a timing mechanism called the Catastrometer that escalates the tension as the world comes rolling to an end. But then an Adventure sequence helps you blow off all that built-up tension with a hearty dose of anti-monster violence and one-liners. The heroes also get more action tokens during the latter part of the game when they experience more horror early on. There’s much incentive to lay on the pain, go insane and somehow come back again.

Weaknesses: Most of the weaknesses of Madness the Solo Version stem from the fact that this is a story telling board game for two or more people apparently retrofitted for a single player. A player has to split their personality among four roles -- Hero, Sidekick, Bad Guy, and Gamemaster to oversee it all -- which sounds okay in principle but is, in fact, exhausting. The CYOA “forking decision” aspects can also get lost in this creative miasma -- the players can come up with any bits of fiction they like, so the paths they take don’t necessarily follow the CYOA format. In addition, the joke scenes in the Adventure section appear to me as a rogue design element to be removed: I can amuse myself, but I don’t want my character’s sanity dependent on it.

Things You're Excited About in the Game:
* Story Game Mechanics used Differently for Lovecraft Simulation
* Catastrometer as a Pacing Mechanism!
* Playing Your Own Adversity!
* Losing Your Sanity!

Recommended Next Steps for Development:
* Just take the player by the hand through the entire game, from character creation through the end.
* Diagrams, diagrams, diagrams. The system is a story telling board game, so I’d like to see some board.
* Remove the joke scenes element, or enhance it as “character development.” It’s hard to make jokes with yourself, but easier to make the characters tangible humans going insane.
* Consider making it for at least two players, given the amount of mental effort required to get this game off the ground.

Playtest: This one seems more fun with more than one player, so I’ll playtest it as such.


Title of Game: Monster Hunter X
Name of Designer: David J. Rowe
Challenge(s):
Pencil and Paper, The Sharing Challenge, Unlonely Your Fun, Build a Better Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Scheherazade Challenge
2/6/11

Summary: Being a monster hunter via drawing on a page.

Strengths (CYOA): Monster Hunter X was like being my own version of Link from the Legend of Zelda series, which meant running around the map and kick the ass of some strange-looking monsters. In this respect, the game succeeds at what it sets out to do: give you some monsters to hunt and a method to do it. The CYOA aspect suggested creating some maps for one’s friends, which would kind of be like an exchangeable, solo tabletop role-playing game. The adventures chosen would then replace the generic “P” prizes with specific Prizes, or chart out a generic map for others to explore differently than you have. There are also echoes of Minecraft here, where you chisel your own world out of available materials and then subject it to the horrors of the night monsters. So I’d say Monster Hunter X is for those people who want to get in a video game experience out of several sheets of paper.

Weaknesses (CYOA): Simply put, CYOA games function on a different topos (the message-laden screen, the page) than map-based adventure games. Monster Hunter X seems more about building various Prizes within Terrain and Monsters, rather than couching those Prizes within players’ desires, dreams and/or genre expectations. In effect, I’m not so much choosing my own adventure as I am pre-designing the forking paths... which reduces the suspense a little. Other weaknesses I found were the fact that I was using up way too much paper, especially in an age when even publishing houses ask us to conserve. The Monster Foot Race idea seemed somehow weaker than the others, and the Kingdom Map itself as an organizing tool could be better articulated.

Things You're Excited About in the Game:
* Straightforward Instructions!
* Confidence about the Game’s Enjoyability ... Which Makes It More Enjoyable!
* Opportunities for Drawing and Creativity!
* Get Your Video Game Experience Without the Video Game!
Recommended Next Steps for Development:
* Pare the entire “tutorial” section down to one sheet of paper. Maybe this’ll require subdividing it, but the rewards in terms of “design elegance” would be high.
* Expand on the CYOA suggestion: how would Monster Hunter X’s distribution for others change the goals of gameplay?
* Find a way to add pathos to each Prize, perhaps through clearer Destiny counting mechanics. For example: I get this diamond-studded throne, which I could trade to a powerful wizard to become my ally, simply add to my inventory (1 Destiny) or use to found a keep in its exact spot (2 Destiny, location-specific) Maybe Monsters also want your Prize, and will try to beat you to it?

Playtest: My playtest sheets are quite embarrassing, but maybe yours won’t be?



Title of Game: Sleepers (v 0.1 alpha)

Name of Designer: Seth Ben-Ezra
Challenge(s):
Build a Better Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Living in the Future, Unlonely Your Fun
2/10/11

Summary: A wiki-based world builder that collectively explores a dreamlike space.

Strengths (CYOA): Sleepers effectively establishes rules for developing a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) whose very options are determined by the active players. As a CYOA, the game functions insofar as others have tread Dream paths before you and developed interesting things for you to then modify and spin off. Instead of The Matrix, however, I’m more envisioning Harold and His Purple Crayon with this game: drawing the very ground before him as he walks on it. The game opens up possibilities for indie story-game mechanics to creep into online RPG and play-by-email forums. There would be a definite market for this sort of thing in the age of the smartphone and the iPad, as idle CYOA players would no longer need a book to page through. They’d just fire up their Internet connection and away into this evolving second-person world.

Weaknesses (CYOA): The economy of the Dreaming points and the Dreaming rating is totally unclear to me at this point, and may prove crucial in deciding how much authority individual players can have at any given time. After all, what if I’m having a particularly creative day and want to go write some text on Sleepers for a while, but my Dreaming rating is already maxed out? How often do I get Dreaming points, and based on what criteria? The idea demonstrates how particular concepts flow together, but I’m still left with the lingering thought of: “Yes, but how does it WORK?” Again, I’m thinking of assorted continuity problems certain actions may cause, and wondering if a wiki moderator hierarchy wouldn’t fast develop after more than, say, 20 players joined.

Things You're Excited About in the Game:
* Limitless Possibilities to Explore!
* Mark a CYOA Path that Others Can Change!
* Indie Game Mechanics into Wiki Format!
* Global, Simultaneous Playability! (Always good for a Solitaire game)

Recommended Next Steps for Development:
* Some ideas about how the Dreaming points economy would work would allow us to make predictions as to how players will behave -- and customize the point expenditures to match.
* Play Examples for every Dream Edit prompt
* Bending and Warping the Dream foregrounded and explained to death. These seem like the coolest parts in any case.
* Actually put it on the web and let us alpha-test it!

Playtest: There isn’t yet an online platform, so I decided to simulate them both. I imagined a further developed version of the wiki, and then watch two fictional players <Thing 1> and <Thing 2> spend their Dreaming Points. We’ll start them both off at 2, with a Dreaming rating of 2.

You awaken in a glass tube, naked except for a breathing tube. You thrash around in the warm liquid that surrounds you. A red light begins to blink on a control panel outside the tube. The liquid begins to drain from your tube. Once your tube is empty, the glass retracts, opening you to the outside world. But where are you? A mechanical voice speaks, "Welcome to The Dream."

Place
The Sleeping Room
A huge room, full of tubes containing sleepers. There's a door leading east and a corridor heading north.

Actions
* Go through the door
* Follow the corridor north.

<Thing 1> tries to go through the door.

Action
This door has a lock with a card swipe on it.

Actions
* If you have the Red Card Key, then you may Pass Through The Door.
* Return to the Sleeping Room.

<Thing 1> returns to the Sleeping Room.

Outcome
You return to the Sleeping Room.
Place
The Sleeping Room
A huge room, full of tubes containing sleepers. There's a door leading east and a corridor heading north.

Actions
* Go through the door
* Follow the corridor north.

<Thing 1> follows the corridor north.

Place
Locker Room
A locker room for the Dreamers’ convenience. A shower stall offers you the opportunity to rinse the warm liquid off your body. An open locker contains a Dreamsuit™ and a Dreamstick™. A spiral staircase goes up, and a hallway leads south to a room filled with tubes.

Actions
* Take a shower
* Take the Dreamsuit™ and put it on
* Go up the spiral staircase
* Return to the Sleeping Room

<Thing 1> uses a Free Dreaming Point to elaborate on the description.

Water moves slugishly down the drain as it competes with the fluids washed off by previous occupants.”

Not one to step into a dirty shower, <Thing 1> takes the Dreamsuit™ (an Item) and puts it on.

Action
You put on the Dreamsuit™. It is now in your Inventory.
Your Dreaming Point total is now 3.

Item
Dreamsuit™ - It’s whatever you want it to be.

<Thing 1> notices there is no taking of the Dreamstick™ option, so he spends 1 Dreaming Point to Find Something New.

Item
Dreamstick™ - IT’S FUCKING AWESOME!

<Thing 1> also spends 1 Dreaming Point to Forge a New Path.

Action
* Take the Dreamstick.™

Getting bored, <Thing 1> takes a free action and Dies.

Place
Death
The eternal blackness swimming before your eyes must mean you are dead!
Your inventory is now empty.
Your Dreaming Points are now at 3.

<Thing 2> sits down at the computer while <Thing 1> grabs a drink.

You awaken in a glass tube, naked except for a breathing tube. You thrash around in the warm liquid that surrounds you. A red light begins to blink on a control panel outside the tube. The liquid begins to drain from your tube. Once your tube is empty, the glass retracts, opening you to the outside world. But where are you? A mechanical voice speaks, "Welcome to The Dream."

Place
The Sleeping Room
A huge room, full of tubes containing sleepers. There's a door leading east and a corridor heading north.

Actions
* Go through the door
* Follow the corridor north.

<Thing 2> follows the corridor north.

Place
Locker Room
A locker room for the Dreamers’ convenience. A shower stall offers you the opportunity to rinse the warm liquid off your body. Water moves slugishly down the drain as it competes with the fluids washed off by previous occupants. An open locker contains a Dreamsuit™ and a Dreamstick™. A spiral staircase goes up, and a hallway leads south to a room filled with tubes.

Actions
* Take a shower
* Take the Dreamsuit™ and put it on
* Take the Dreamstick.™
* Go up the spiral staircase
* Return to the Sleeping Room

<Thing 2> spends no Dreaming point to correct “slugishly” to “sluggishly.”

Next, <Thing 2> takes the Dreamstick.™

Action
You take the Dreamstick™. It is now in your Inventory.
Your Dreaming Point total is now 3.

Item
Dreamstick™ - IT’S FUCKING AWESOME!

<Thing 2> grumbles at his brother’s contribution and immediately uses a Free action to Clean up language and grammar AGAIN:

Item
Dreamstick™ - An elegant stick for a day’s travel. It feels sturdy, yet weighs very little.

Then <Thing 2> goes up.

Place
The Winding Spiral Staircase
This seems to go up forever...

Actions
* Go down the stairs

Having reached the end of the road, so to speak, <Thing 2> spends 1 Dreaming point and Discovers a New Place.

Action
* Continue going up

Place
The Upper Hatch
At the very top of the stairs, there is a heavy iron hatch.

Actions
* Go down the stairs

And so forth... 




THE STUFF IN YOUR DOMICILE CHALLENGE

Title of Game: Joker Quest
Name of Designer: Nathan Hook
Challenge(s):
Stuff in Your Domicile

2/1/11


Summary: A protagonist goes on a journey until they find the object of their quest.

Strengths: Is there a deck of cards in your house? Then why aren’t you playing Joker Quest RIGHT NOW? Joker Quest resists nailing its players to a specific genre/setting in favor of narrative universality: you’re a protagonist (writ large) on a quest (writ large). The issue is, of course, that you don’t really know what quest you’re on. That’s the Joker’s joke. But all joking aside, this system offers a marvelous pacing mechanism for a story that proves a heroic character’s competence time and time again; challenges come up, and the hero draws on his/her resources to knock ‘em down. The mechanism appears loosely based on the Joseph Campbell “hero’s journey” story arc, but without the rigid structures of the Mentor, the Adversary, etc. The materials required, a deck of playing cards, are easily found in your domicile and put to good use in the service of an afternoon of adventure. The testimonials are in: this game is way more fun to play than it may look like at first blush!

Weaknesses: There are a few points in the rules that remain vague. Character creation should be more precisely articulated, namely how one reads one’s hand to generate a fully fledged human identity from a starting handful of 5 cards (it’s given in the play example, just not in the rules). In addition, what good are the allies after they give you the extra card for your arsenal? Extra rules for them would inject a little more pathos into the game. In fact, success seems too simple in this game. Do your victories ever come at others’ expense? Would there be a way to classify double-edged success (i.e. “You succeed, but...”) that smoothly leads us to the next challenge? Finally, since your character has no impetus to act (i.e. no goal) until the first Joker is drawn, there’s a certain narrative limbo encompassed by the starting scenes that ought to be addressed.

Things You're Excited About in the Game:
• Take it anywhere! Play in any setting!
• Pacing of the story arc!
• Allies that help you!
• Easy materials to use!

Recommended Next Steps for Development:
• Ensure that the cards’ meanings are articulated with play examples at each step.
• Provide a list of sample challenges and sample means of overcoming the challenges.
• Beef up the ally mechanics a little: can I sacrifice them? Do they just stay with me the whole time? Do they ever get fed up and leave? How metaphorical/literal is their aid?
• Stakes should be slightly more complicated than “Yes, you succeed, but how?” There ought to be a “Yes, you succeed, but...” mechanic, perhaps leading us from one challenge to another.

Playtest:

We select the Queen of Spades as our protagonist. Her name is Morgan.

The genre will be Space Opera. So I guess Morgan is a traveling space captain.

The starting hand is: Jack of Spades, 5 of Spades, 6 of Spades, Ace of Hearts, Jack of Hearts. Oh, look: two face cards! They are allies. We draw a King of Clubs (as an additional ally for the Jack of Spades) The King of Clubs and Jack of Spades combined draw the 10 of clubs (physical!) -- so the King must be a bounty hunter, who’s a brother of the starship programmer (the Jack of Spades). The bounty hunter possesses a big freakin’ space laser (10 of Clubs). For the Jack of Hearts, we’ll make him an actor in the space opera houses (har har!). He contributes a measly 3 of Hearts -- some lame moral support, if you will.

This makes Morgan the space philosopher a “highly intuitive, clever strategist with a big freakin’ space laser granted to her by her programmer lover’s bounty hunter brother and some moral support from her space opera lover.” Apparently we have no identifiable goals at this point, but the Jokers will reveal them.

The starting challenge is a 4 of Diamonds. This looks beatable by any of my cards.
Let’s say it’s the fee she owes when going into port at a space station. She uses her strategist (5 of Spades) ability to forge the documents of a Space Patrol member, so she is exempt from the fee.

Next is the 9 of Diamonds. It’s a higher level material threat. So somebody she owes a debt to happens to be in the space station. It’s Callisto, the space pirate, who spotted her money that one time. She seduces Callisto (Intuitive - Ace of Hearts) out of her mutual understanding of the loneliness of long-term space travel. Callisto backs down as Morgan invites her out to dinner that night. The Ace (as an 11) exceeds the 9 by 2, so we draw two cards - one is an ally (Queen of Spades). Let’s say it’s Callisto! She contributes a 6 of Clubs, which would be her awesome pirate fighting abilities.

The next card drawn is the 2 of clubs: a physical challenge easily overcome. They are accosted by a mugger. Morgan’s going to make a point and pull out her big freakin’ space laser (10 of Clubs). She fries the mugger.

Of the 8 next cards, we choose the 3 of Diamonds, so she has to bribe the cop who saw her kill the mugger with excessive force (Clever: 6 of Spades).

At the bottom of the next 3 is the Ace of Diamonds - a very high-level material challenge. She wakes up the next day to find her whole ship stolen. Sad day! She uses her strategist and cleverness (5 and 6 respectively) to call up her lover Xanth the space opera star (another 3 of Hearts for 3 over the challenge) to give her contacts with the black market dealers to track it down.

Next challenge: Ace of Spades - very high-level intellect. She finds her ship, but the thieves were downloading things they shouldn’t and got her computer infected with an Omega Virus. She uses a combination of Intuition (Ace of Hearts) and Strategist (5 of Spades) to get the hostile computer to confide in her, and then she quickly disables its defenses.

5 cards later: 7 of Spades - a medium-level intellect challenge. She has to steal the ship back, meaning maneuvering away from the black market hold. She uses the Clever/Strategist combo to get this done. She pretends she’s a spare parts dealer come to pick up the ship and, since she obviously knows the requisite info, gets through the people and computer defenses.

The next card - a Joker! That means we get a glimpse of the thing Morgan is seeking. She knows it’s not on this station, whatever it is, so she blasts out of there.

The used cards are reshuffled, the Joker replaced and we continue in space...

The top card is a Queen of Diamonds - an ally of wealth. She is a wealthy heiress named Christel, and she smuggled herself on board for oblique reasons. She contributes a lousy 2 of Hearts to our hand - weary respect?

She has a handmaiden - the Queen of Hearts - who’s actually the Princess of Caldonia in disguise. She gives us a 2 of Spades, which is the good idea.

We’ll need one soon because we just drew a 7 of Clubs - a meteor shower. The princess subtly suggests (2) the use of the big freakin’ space laser (10), now attached on the outside of the ship, to zap the meteors.

Now it’s a 10 of Spades: we’re trying to find a moon, and we want to find out where it is. Morgan uses her intuition and the princess’ good ideas to discern the moon on an older map - it’s been erased from newer versions!

The next challenge: an 8 of Hearts. When the moon comes into view, Morgan has flashbacks of the night her family was killed! She uses intuition and moral support to battle back her demons. 14 against an 8 allows us to draw 6 cards.

Okay, a 2 of Diamonds challenge - easy material problem. They’re low on fuel and need to gas up on the moon anyway. The princess suggests Christel pay for it, which she does.

Now we’ve got a 9 of Clubs - major physical obstacle! Morgan is assaulted by a group of thugs near the fuel station who work for the guy who killed her family. She hoses them with a space laser with Callisto’s pirate moves as backup. 7 draws lie ahead of us.

6 of Hearts! An emotional challenge. One of the men she nearly cuts down is a childhood friend, and he begs her not to kill him. Her Clever/Strategist combo has her cut a deal: she spares his life if he takes her to his master.

The Joker for the 2nd time. Obviously this is a revenge story now: the guy who killed her family is the McGuffin. His name is Bastian.

Act Three - The Final Act

8 of Clubs. Morgan and her allies get to Bastian’s futuristic skyscraper mansion and have to scale its walls to get inside. She’s intuitively using her breaking-and-entering maneuvers learned from Callisto.

9 cards later -- a King of Spades! The man whose life she spared turns out to be a brilliant dude who’s held in the gang by blackmail. His card contribution is the 4 of Hearts - happy memories!

4 of Diamonds -- a low-level material challenge. More bribes COULD get her past the security personnel ... well, screw that: she uses the space laser on the security guards who won’t comply!

3 of Spades -- low-level intellectual challenge. She has to figure out the tower password to the inner chambers. Luckily, her childhood friend Guyser knows it from his happy memories.

7 of Clubs -- physical challenge. There’s a horde of mooks that have been alerted to her presence. She uses the pirate/laser combo to cut through them all.

8 of Spades -- intellectual challenge. She reaches Bastian and has to figure out why he killed her parents. Cleverness + happy memories helps her piece together that he’s her REAL father.

The Joker -- So this completes the quest. What does she do now? She forgives her father for killing her fake parents, and decides to settle down as his heir.

The End!  





Title of Game: Replaced

Name of Designer: Scott Slomiany
Challenge(s):
Stuff in Your Domicile
2/11/11

Summary: A person fights back as his Town is slowly replaced with non-people.

Strengths: Replaced is an intricate, well-conceived solitary game based on indie game mechanics you’d find in Fiasco or Sorcerer. Players create a web of interpersonal connections and watch it destablize as certain people become “replaced” at its nodes. One thing that stabilizes the game itself, however, is the fact that you always begin the game with having killed your boss at your mundane office job. The fixed starting point for the game anchors the player already in a world of panic and paranoia that then nicely fuels encounters with other characters, whom you also play. I also like the fact that the cards tell you all you need to know about a character within this dull suburban hell, and that it generally plays like a torturous board game (with pawns) as you watch your loved ones and others become ... replaced.

Weaknesses: The game’s complexity also hinders easy play. I found myself constantly consulting the rules as I went through a scenario, which compiled with the fact that I also had the responsibility of playing two characters at the same time. Since your character has to start each scene with a goal, I kept saying “Okay, what’s motivating me here?” and finding myself lacking in vision. This aloofness from my character compounds with the idea of there being a Good Motivation and Bad Motivation, a concept which I found problematic. Finally, the Despair Points you get for losing your loved ones ought to be further explained, perhaps even made the central mechanic for resolving the game.

Things You're Excited About in the Game:
* Tragically Watching People You Know and Love Be Replaced!
* Defining Your Character’s Motivation Through Actions!
* Character Web with Motivation Cards!
* Person Run Amok in Suburban Hell!

Recommended Next Steps for Development:
* Begin graphic design -- the system is solid, and now it needs some uncanny pictures of suburbia to go with it.
* Play examples. More of them.
* Clarify what “Good” and “Bad” Motivations mean.
* Consider making this a two-person game.





Title of Game: Teen Witch

Name of Designer: Joe McDalno
Challenge(s):
Stuff in Your Domicile, The Scheherazade Challenge, Sharing Challenge, Unlonely Your Fun
2/10/11

Summary: A player pretends they are a teen witch and casts some spells.

Strengths (Stuff in Your Domicile): The prose on this game totally invites you to play it, which means using Stuff in Your Domicile in creative ways you likely wouldn’t have imagined. Teen Witch gives you a list of items to have that, while occasionally unusual, are more than likely available in the domicile of the average gamer. And that’s only the beginning. The items become fuel for you to light an internal fire, a discovery of one’s own inner teen witch. There are elements of the experimental Scandinavian role-playing games to be found here. It asks us to method act, as if we were going to a serious, introspective audition of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The game enchants your home on multiple levels and, when done right, leaves little trace behind.

Weaknesses (Stuff in Your Domicile): Well, about that trace: part of the game involves creating a mess on your floor which, of course, you clean up before anyone finds out, but may be discoverable nonetheless. Since the game itself involves interaction between yourself, the items and the dark forces you’re channeling, a somewhat serious disposition ought to be adopted in order to play; no tongue-in-cheek here! In any case, it’s also not an easy game to recommend to your friends.

Things You're Excited About in the Game:
* Building Self-Confidence as Design Goal!
* Use of Esoteric Items as Channels for Game Mechanics!
* Clear and Easy-to-Read!
* Full Character Immersion!
Recommended Next Steps for Development:
* Artwork and mystical symbols need to decorate the book/pdf of this game.
* More spells, and of a similar complexity to that of Secret Beauty.
* A disclaimer about the “danger” would be helpful.
* Maybe look at Alan Moore’s forthcoming The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic for inspiration on how to communicate magic ritual to the masses.

Playtest: I am now more Secretly Beautiful. That is all.



See CYOA:
The Last Man, by Luca Ricci





Judge: Emily Care Boss

PENCIL AND PAPER CHALLENGE



Title of Game: Anna the Miller's Daughter,

Game Designer: jackson tegu
Challenge(s): Pencil & Paper, Sharing
2/6/11

Summary: Adventures in the life of a little girl.

Strengths: Anna the Miller’s Daughter is a sweet, gentle little game that opens the door to the imagination. My first instinct on playing the game is to play it with kids I know, since telling stories, pretending and drawing are three of most young children’s favorite activities. The strengths of the game are it’s simplicity, the drawing and the slow build of the story and the game through the making of marks. This game has just three rules, making it easy to remember and the fact that it can be played with only a pencil and paper, as called for by the challenge, makes it an ideal game to be played at the drop of a hat. This game really fulfilled the ideals of the challenge in a great way! Drawing the map of the town is a great technique. Simple, not calling up on any great art skills, but simply asking people to draw lines as they go along creating the story, also line by line. It’s a simple way to pace the game, and draws your imagination in to the events. As a lone player, it can be easy to skim over things, or for stories to become abstract and not well define since there is no one else to whom you need to communicate. Making the primary activity of the game the act of drawing gives the game world and its events a needed tangibility. And invokes your creativity! Crafting the story and the drawing line by line is another strength of the game. The physical activity you are taking reinforces and cues the fictional creation, and gives the solitary player defined limits on what and how much they can create. How it is meant to be accomplished is a bit unclear, but more on that in the Weaknesses section.
Weaknesses: Although the fact that there is a drawing that measures out how the story gets built, I found I had many questions about how that was actually supposed to be accomplished. In the rules it says “You tell a story about Anna and her day-to-day adventures in her little town while drawing the map of the story which is also an unrelated line drawing.” And later: “Now start a sentence with ‘Every day, Anna...’ and then finish that sentence however you choose. As you say it draw a line that does two things: illustrates that sentence on the map, and also builds towards an eventual drawing that you’re doing.” I played the game twice, interpreted it two different ways, and in reading it again, I’m not sure that I didn’t get it completely wrong both times! The first time, I thought I was supposed to start the whole thing with “Evey day, Anna...” and start drawing things. I began with the river and the circle for the mill and filled in the mill. My sentence was “Every day Anna goes to the market for her Mother.” I drew a little rounded rectangle for the market and started filling in the stalls there. I said a sentence for each thing. “Anna gets apples and pears at the fruit sellers stalls. Milk and cheese from the dairy farm’s stand...” But my drawings were little sketches, and I made a little story about Anna raising  enough money to buy a puppy from the merchant by picking green beans at her uncles farm. When I realized you were supposed to start each sentence with “Everyday, Anna...” I went back and started again. I liked this better! I did a bunch of “Everyday” sentences which added a lot to the town and to Anna’s life. I found out she had a crush on Joe the butcher’s son, that the Mayor had a house that Anna walked by and that she rode her horse, Juniper everyday. But I wanted a change if that makes sense. I can’t tell whether what I did violated the spirit of the game, so I’ll just tell you what I did. I said “One day,...” and then she saw the strange merchant and fell in love with the puppy again. His animals were all hungry though and not happy. So she got the Mayor involved who put the merchant in jail. They rescued the animals and she got her puppy. And I ended it with “And after that..Anna went on her errands around town with her puppy Ruby at her heels.”  The way I made the drawings was this: I made an initial line (no corners!) for each “Everyday, Anna...” sentence. Then as I filled it out with more curves, straightlines or dots, I said more about whatever it was. That’s how we got Joe the butcher’s son.
One more weakness by be that the topic is so simple and innocent it sounds like it is just for kids. I found it lovely and engaging, but I wonder if that might be a turnoff for adults to play. Also if play is meant to just be listing the things that Anna does every day, without events happening, that might make it a little to simple to keep an adult’s attention for long. Kids too I think will clamor for action! I bet I am mis-interpreting that though, since you say Anna may get up to all kinds of adventures.

Okay enough! On to the next thing.
Exciting Parts: I love that it is a little girl and her Mother the Miller. It’s amazing how many books for kids still today have boy protagonists and often all male characters! It’s great to have models for little boys, but little girls need them too! Anna and her Mom are a great addition to that body of narratives, in my book. Also, your rule about drawing lines with no corners, just bends or straight baffled me at first, but is now one of my favorite things about the game. I made my drawings much more organic. And also made it so that I was never finishing things in one go. Making a square box seems more final than a circle or curve somehow, and I found myself sketching more. And being more open about what I was drawing not being perfect. It could suggest without being perfectly true. The Sentence structure is also a part that I think is extremely engaging. It leads the player through the game, though I am curious to see what you say about how you want the Sentences to go! The scale of the drawing determining the scope of the adventure is very clever. It gives you options and makes you think. Finally, the premise itself is something I really like. The main character being a girl who is the Miller’s daughter puts you in a place, in relationship with a town and townsfolk, in a possibly mythical past ready for adventure, but also in a place where you’ll meet people and see the normal things of a town that get lost in a more standard fantasy adventure game.
Next Steps: Clarifying how you’d like the sentences and drawings to work seems like a needed first step. I wonder how far off I was, and how your other playtesters played? Whatever the decision, the game has charm and appeal and will be strengthened by more description and some examples of play. Example drawings would be a great place to start. Again, as with map of house, this is an elegant little game. During the contest you asked how many you could enter. I wonder if you have more similar ideas to develop? If so, you might think about putting them together in a small volume or pdf similar to Mark Majcher’s Game Poems. Another thing you might think about is having other starting points for the game: different characters in different places, with different opening sentences and possibly different sentence structures for their story. Or you could include rules for players to make up their own character after they’ve visited with Anna. They could even share characters with eachother for others to play. You might experiment with starting situations that are more adult or dramatic in content too. I don’t know how well this simple structure would support that, but we might be surprised. The game gives you a short story, and that need not be limited to innocence. Also, you might want to look at Clover by Ben Lehman, another game about a little girl. It has a very different structure, but might be of interest. Thanks for a delightful entry, and good luck with whatever you do with it. 


Title of Game: Beloved
Game Designer: Ben Lehman
Challenge: Pencil & Paper
2/6/11

Strengths: Beloved is deceptively straightforward little game that makes a strong point about love and relationships while walking you through a fairy tale adventure of adventure and warfare. Taking a page from those classic early Mario Brothers video games you seek to rescue a princess who is imprisoned in a menacing fortress. Again, a standard fairy tale trope. The strength of this game is that the true enemy is not the monsters and walls you fight to overcome, but the projections and aspirations of your own heart.

The rules of the game are clear and well defined. You begin by being asked to imagine your Beloved. As the game begins, there is no character, just you the player. The hero is then formed in response to your described Beloved. She is hidden from you by walls and terrors, that you yourself create. This was easy to do, despite the fact that there is no structure on how to make up the walls and the monster that imprison your Beloved. Drawing them out works in several ways: since it is a solitaire game, it makes you delineate your imagination in absence of telling someone else; it allows your subconcious to work together with your conscious mind, it both distracts you from worrying about not being able to come up with something and allows you to come up with symbols and images that your conscious mind might not feed you; it makes a record of the events that can remind and inspire you quickly what you are dealing with as you keep the game sheet with you as you go about your business, and just a quick peek can get your imagination running again, working on the solution to the problem.

Then the surprise that this was not your Beloved and the choice of how they resemble your Beloved give the story both the narrative and psychological power. The struggle continues and you (may) learn more about what you are putting in your way, and what you value most and are looking for in a partner. And what you may be willing to do without. The f* you of the game is that there is no Beloved that you imagine. The poor terrified soul that you’ve put behind walls in our imagination is just another person, who may resemble what we are looking for (and lucky us if we do too for them) but who are a real person with their own strengths and weaknesses that are just trying to get by, same as us. Take that fairy tales.
Weaknesses: I hesitate to say it is a weakness, but parts that are lacking are the structure for creating the challenges, and the implicit nature of the psychological discovery that the game offers. Adding more on either front could either make the game more understandable and useable to a greater number of people, or make it mechanical and non-fruitful in any meaningful way (for example, if you had tables of types of walls and monsters) or hopelessly didactic, in-your-face about the message and as a result useless (for example, if the game was introduced as a game meant for exploring what you, the player want from a relationship and how to address your illusions yadda, yadda). If anything, structure for the challenges would best be served by giving suggestions on how to come up with things that are meaningful to the player, not by giving them standard options. Absolutely if it was random it would steal all the possible value of self discovery right out of the game. Possibly if there was choice involved there could at least be something there. But I really think you’ve got the right balance now.
Exciting Parts: The daydreaming. Using musing over time as the system for resolving the obstacles is what makes this game really special, to my mind. And this is because you are the one who makes up the obstacles. The directions to not wimp out and make sure that the monster feels unbeatable to you at the start is crucial. Both the feeling of not being able to overcome it, and finding a way to do so that feels right to you are the bottom line in this game. If anyone tells you to add some kind of mechanical whatever to do these things, please note my vote that what you have here is much better for what you’re doing than anything else could be. Placing the choice in the hands of the player is what gives the narrative power in their psyche. Letting both the impossibility and the overcoming it be felt is what could make it matter at all to the player as a person. If the game is just an exercise in overcoming obstacles, sure, let there but randomization, challenge through relative effect whatever. But if what you’re after is letting the subconscious lead the player through the labyrinth to learn about what you’re looking for in a lover, all those things would distance the relationship between the player and the fiction and rob it of meaning. Okay, I’ll shut up about that now. Point made.
Next Steps: I think you’re done, honestly. I’d love to see this in a collection of short games. jackson tegu wrote some for this contest that have a similar feel (short, pencil & paper, with psychological impact). If you and he and some other folks put together some games I think that would make a really nice set of games to have on the shelf. This is a game that might be good for teenagers, though at that age the fairy tale setting might be seem too childish. The lesson would be best learned at that age. Though perhaps not even. May be this is a game for all of us in our 20-somethingish age. When we’ve lived enough to start to actually think about settling down, but we still have enough time in our life left to have a chance to make mistakes and still be able to fix them, or get another chance.

Thanks so much for writing this, Ben. I enjoyed reading it, and I’m enjoying playing it. I’ll tell you about the game sometime if you’d like. Though this kind of thing is so personal it might not be interesting and would be embarrassing to share on the interwebs.




Title of the Game: Emotional Roller Coaster
Game Designer: Joseph Gamblin
Challenge: Pencil and Paper
2/10/11


Strengths: This game is a very complete structure for telling a quick story with great ups and downs, turns and twists. It does away with using stats and risk to provide the possibility of dramatic turns in the story. The stats themselves are timing mechanisms that weight how much they will (likely) come into play in the tale, rather than how much effectiveness the character will gain based on them. This is great! You’ve cut out a lot of the gamey baggage that our hobby carries with it. No insult to skill based games, of course. But they are just one tool and your game uses others that have different meanings and effects. I was not surprised to see Hamlet’s Hit Points in your influences section. This, along with Scott McCloud’s words on emotional elements of story are great places to start. And I agree wholeheartedly with your point in the introduction to your game: if we don’t have an emotional connection with action, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the animation is or how big the explosion may be, it will be dull as ditchwater once the novelty wears off. But human drama and true emotional engagement are the things that capture the imagination, get your heart beating and bring people back to experience a work again and again, over the generations.
In Emotional Rollercoaster you’ve created a structure intended to do just that. There are many strong elements that help a player find that gold. The chart of story starters is a great resource. After pulling 7 of spades (Rebirth) and Ace of clubs (Rivals), I came up with a story about a young girl just about to  graduate from high school top of her class, in full competition with a childhood friend, turned vampire and dealing with the fallout. She’s still determined to get into Yale! Treasures and Baggage are great trait categories: getting us into the mindset of what the character cherishes, and what hold them back. Not only their strengths and weaknesses, but what makes them tick, makes them who they are. They are used as scene-framing devices, rather than as resources called upon in response to adversity. Or rather, one is the scene framing element, one is used as a general element that is invoked to (potentially) help the character overcome the challenge, but instead of it being mechanically impactful, it informs the fiction. The rise or fall is left to the tiles. The tiles! These are a great mechanic, ideally suited to your goals for the game. Easy to make, when I first saw the images, I thought you made actual paper ribbons in that shape to indicate the rise and fall. Having the exceptional twists (escalation, plummet, etc.) be for occasional use only, and in response to wanting to shift the outcome of a narrative is a very strong choice as well. This gives the player the option to work with a turn of events dictated by random chance, that they want to see go another way, though by invoking the small stack, they risk even greater failure. But the fun is in the ride, not necessarily in the destination. Especially since the game is intended to be very brief, the incentive to become identified with the character’s success is more tenuous. Leaving open the door for greater drama, higher heights perhaps, and greater depths.

Weaknesses: The flow of the directions is not quite clear yet in the game. Terms are introduced before they are explained (such as Treasure and Baggage). Some ideas are described quite simply and could use more explanation (Genre, Tone, Situation). Once you get to the full example, it is much more clear what is intended, but on the way there it is a bit confusing. The directions for generating the story are really wide open too. The story starter grid is a great tool, and with Genre & Tone give you a solid beginning, but picking blindly from any genre whatsoever may be a stumbling block. Examples, again, would be helpful. What the story starter grid does is give you a good idea generater for the Situation once you have the others nailed down. Again, choosign the Self Image leads to being able to create meaningful Treasures and Baggages (SI crossed with the Situation should point the way to these). But I felt a bit undersupported in the process. That said, I found a story fine, so try it out on other folks and see if other have a similar reaction.
Another minor issues is that the game technically does not qualify as a purely pencil and paper game, since it uses the cards for the story starters. I’d not want you to leave that out, however. It’s a suggestion not a requirement I think, but it’s really key. I’d make it a requirement as a matter of fact! And the game certainly would qualify for the Stuff in your Domicile Challenge, but at this late date no harm, no foul.
Other slipping points: the tiles. They structure the story well, but it may be that shuffling only every so often when you run out of tiles might not lead to enough variation. You might want to try shuffling the deck more often. Currently, you will get the same number of ups as downs between each shuffle with the only variation being brought into play by the short stack of special tiles. That may be just the balance you want, but I suspect it may also give a fairly flat tale overall. Your suggestions for trimming or customizing the deck may answer my concern. And of course, here I am advocating for more randomization, when I praised the game for rejecting that in part. :) Well, it does utilize randomization to good effect, it is just used to provide different kinds of suspense: which way will the story turn, rather than will the character be good enough at this skill or will this trait make the difference?
Five minutes does not seem like enough time to play out the game. Making characters, certainly. Making 10-20 Xs in that time? That would seem to put a lot of pressure on the player. Even 10 or 15 minutes seems fine. A related aspect of the game that I had some twinges about was the opening monologue and the way the fiction happens during turns. I was surprised by the monologue! The game has so many fiddly bits, with writing and making the tiles that I was taken by surprise by being asked to talk out loud. I’d have expected just a bit more warning somehow, letting me know this was a more in-character experience than I’d expected, or getting me into the mood of expressing myself first person. And even finding a private place to do it, so that I could be free of social awkwardness. When I played, I did it partly out loud, then continued it on in my mind as I did chores in my house. It was a bit distracting, but I felt resolved and ready to enter play when I returned to the table. Making the situation and resolving it using the tiles went well. The Baggage was “sacrificed her childhood (3)” and the situation was that she couldn’t attend school since she was having bad reactions to sunlight (the Vampirism was as yet undiagnosed), so she had to work from home: at risk, being stuck at home not being able to see her friends and also not being able to do well. The Treasure I called upon was “straight As (3)”. A Teacher who believed in her was bringing her books and notes, and visited to cheer her up. I pulled an upswing: friends came over and had a sleepover with her, reviving her sense of community and play, and she did well in the class anyway!  The experience of the fiction was much less directed than that makes it sound, though. I was hazy on what the teacher did, or what their interactions were like. No information was specific about the friends. It is more like scripting a story than anything else. I made a quick note about the turn too, next to the X I placed on the baggage. I had an urge to record it somehow, and perhaps that would have made it a bit more concrete too.
Exciting Parts: There are several parts of this game that stand out as really unique: the use of the tiles of course, but also the mnemonic and the tone marks. The mnemonic seemed like an important element when it was introduced, but doesn’t enter in except in the additional bits. I would love to see more done with these, they could provide more structure and flavor to the ups and downs, and be used to good effect to direct the story. You may want to read the Imagination Sweatshop’s MonkeyDome, which uses dual tones to inform evens in a post-apocalyptic story. (You can find it at dig1000holes.com under other games).  This and Epidiah Ravachol’s Swords without Master, a descendant of MonkeyDome use tone markers to good effect. Your would be even more varied. This is interesting, little tread (as of yet) ground for rpg. 

Next Steps: This seems like a great first draft, with all of the pieces you want to be in play, just needing to be more clearly defined and illustrated. The game as a whole feels a bit too generic and open, but the real challenge may simply be making the player feel well supported to create the various elements within the genre and tone chosen. It reminds me of the dilemma I had when writing Shooting the Moon and Breaking the Ice, both of which are generic, situation based games. I’d be happy to share those both with you if you’d like to see the choices I made when faced with similar issues.
This game seems like it would make a great small game, either part of a larger anthology of games, or standing on its own. There a real need for short games, as well as fun single player games that truly help someone create their own story, rather than just consuming one already created. This game has that in spades, and is extremely accessible. A deck of cards, two sheets of paper and a pencil gets you all you need for something that could well be a somewhat expensive story/board game. Actually, that might well be a goal for the game: a handsome small volume or folded sheet with the rules, a pad with copies of the story sheet and a deck of tiles. That would be a great little game to have around the house for any spare moment. It probably could easily be played by a group of people too, collaboratively making suggestions. Narration passing hand to hand. Conceivably, the use of the special tiles could be decided by bid or competitively. People could bid to risk taking one of the tiles based on whether they liked the current twist or not. Ah well, these are just suggestions. Thanks so much for sharing the game, and all the best with whatever direction you take it!


Title of Game: Inner Worlds
Game Designer: Mendel Schmiedekamp
Challenges: Scheherazade, Sharing, somewhat: ARG RPGS! and Pencil and Paper
2/13/11

Strengths: The elements of the game are evocative and point toward a multi-layered experience of character and world. Matching emotions with direction, set in a metaphorical dream world the represents a character’s inner world is unique and ground breaking. Using the map itself to keep track of events and as an eventual timing mechanism where you can end the story by going off the edge matches the graphic nature of the fiction with visual elements of the play materials. This seems necessary and well planned in a game that is dealing with fairly non-standard forms of narrative and character representation. Having something tangible to tie the story to would be needed, and also helps the player navigate the fiction and play. 

Weaknesses: The game itself has many layers and orients the player in non-standard ways with respect to the fiction: both story and world. This makes learning from the rules challenging since the concepts are different from most rp. In the rules, there are forward references to things that will later be explained (for example, the first mentions of on-path and off-path, and gateway sites). These add to the confusion. Minimizing forward references would be very helpful in making the rules clearer.

It is unclear what course the fiction should take from the current draft of the game. Will there be two stories, on in the character’s real life, one in the dream world? Or is the dream world purely a map that is used to give a symbolic dimension to events happening in the character’s normal daily life? Either way would be interesting. Though having both feels like the way some Terry Gilliam films work (Fisher King, Big Fish, Imaginarium) which would be a great goal in my book. 

Exciting Parts: The cardinal directions and symbolic images for the inner worlds is powerful element of the game. Imagining a character and giving form to their personality and psyche through a metaphor that is concretely represented in the game is really taking rp and using it in ways that no other medium can (easily) parallel. It gives the player a way of imagining a character as well that is unusual and deeper than one usually has the ability or invitation to in a game. It is reminiscent of Inception, of course, which again is most easily analogous to rp, though I doubt any mass audiences would think so! 

Next Steps:There is a powerful piece of narrative ready to happen here, I’d like more clarity on how it will happen. Also, the guidelines for character creation are fairly open, and tie in to the dramscape map, but it’s not entirely clear how to do so. Working with the directions will I’m sure address that. Giving examples throughout is imperative. Both text examples like the ones you have later in the game, as well as drawings and charts that show what the maps would look like and how you would chart the movement through them and generate the fiction. I look forward to seeing how this game develops, and hope I’ve caught the flavor of it correctly. Thank you and good luck!



Title of Game: map of  house,
Designer: jackson tegu
Challenge: Pencil and Paper
2/1/11

Summary: Explore your past through drawing an important house from childhood.

Strengths: Map of House is a game that gives you the opportunity to do some profound thinking and feeling about a fundamental part of one’s life: a house of your childhood and all the memories it contains. Personally, this resonates strongly for me since my parent’s and I lived in a single, very unusual house throughout my whole childhood. This was a place of much joy, discover and sadness. One’s childhood home, or other significant house as the rules distinguish, is a very special place. The place you come to understand people, the world, yourself. In early childhood it can seem the whole world. And the objects and places within it hold great significance, for many. Some people’s early lives are very mobile, so there would be less time for a place to build up meaning. For myself, having lived in the house for 17 years, and having it in my parent’s lives still makes for a many-layered sense of the house. So many people, events and changes that happened there. 

Drawing the house brought out this in a strong way. Sketching it made me think about the house in a way I rarely do: what exactly are its parts? And when, what version of the house am I recording? The rules say to draw a house that was important to you when you were a child, but doesn’t say explicitly to draw it as it was then. Memory prompted me to draw my parents’ house as it is now: that is the way I remember is best now. I’d love to go back and draw different versions, changed back to how it was before renovations. Though when I then entered a room to encounter an obstacle, it was the room as it was when I lived there as a child. Overcoming it was very fulfilling somehow. An unfinished closet was finished as part of a fun work party with friends, completed with beautifying touches that I would have loved as a child, or now. The object I found was a hammer. What I took from the room, a carpeter’s tool belt, full of tools.

Strengths I see in the game are the simple and evocative structure of the exploration. It is not a story narrative that is built, but a psychological exploration of childhood and memory through the metaphorical vehicle of the home. This is a structure used in therapy, self-reflection and transformative ritual to excellent effect and is well suited to being explored in a single player game. You have full privacy and can dwell on and learn from feelings, emotions and memories one might hesitate to share. The game has many cautions and admonitions to pay attention to the feelings of the player in the present as well. And to mark out enough time and space for the person to be able to delve fully into these internal experiences. All very thoughtful and necessary reminders. The finding of objects, and carrying forward tools or resources that the player can use to overcome obstacles is another well defined and proven structure used in therapeutic play and personal development visualizations. The process of discovery, both of the obstacles and what they mean, and the helping objects is pleasurable and satisfying when it flows. Another very strong element of the game are the caveats not to push things. To allow the game to end if it is too disturbing, or not engaging for the player. Especially for this kind of psychological exploration, if the spirit is not willing, there is not reason to continue. Allowing for another time when it may be better received is good advice. It is also good that you mention that any place in the house that mattered to the player can be considered a room.

Weaknesses: Are the obstacles and objects meant to be practical and concrete, or metaphorical, or something else? I feel like I have an easy time understanding what I would look for and find useful in this kind of exploration. The closet and hammer I mention above have both practical and symbolic value for me. You might want to give the reader some more idea about what the obstacles are intended to be, or signify. Though, this may put too much in the way of the reader: weight the exerience towards “finding meaning” rather than just letting the associations flow from the subconscious to the conscious and letting the parts of one’s psyche have the conversation the want to have. In my first read through, I missed the line about using up the thing you found in the prior room. Why was that included? When I played, it felt like I was going to collect tools that I could bring with me back to the real world (in a symbolic way). But there may be value to using them up that I don’t see. I’d be interested to hear more about that. Also, though it may not matter, what version of the house do you want people to draw? From their childhood, current day? Does it matter?

Exciting Parts: Drawing the house is a great exercise. It brings together the head and hands, which is a great tool in personal exploration. When you are doing something it can free you up from self-consciousness. The image of the house is so powerful too. It’s a very strong symbol in my life, so really hit home. I wonder if it would have the same effect for all, but suspect you’ve hit on an image that is close to universal. And the fact that this game is intended for psychological exploration is very exciting to me. The role you take on is a version of yourself, with space and a fantastic flow that allows you to transcend your normal daily limitations. It’s a great exercise, and one that doesn’t need or supplies a narrative per se, but that would, likely, create strong stories that reverberate in a deep way for the player. You are hitting on some of the often overlooked strengths of the medium or form of role playing. One recognized in a medical context, but that is shied away from in our hobby. Why not embrace it? I’m glad you did here.

Next Steps: The game itself seems fairly complete. You may wish to clarify some aspects, such as what I noted above in the weaknesses, or other aspects that might be unclear to others. Definitely have friends play and give you feedback on what makes sense and flows for them or that does not. The brevity is a great thing. This game might well fit on a postcard size piece of paper or card. Or make a lovely short pdf or interactive web page. You might talk to a therapist or counselor in your area who might want to use rp in a broader way, with student groups for example. This is a great opener since it is simple and widely applicable. Playing this could be useful to anyone regardless of what they might be dealing with in life: small problems, great or just living a very happy healthy life. It is possible you might have a site where people send drawings of their houses. I wrote out my encounter with the obstacle as a way to make it concrete, and seeing these images might be of interest to others. Though it is a very personal game, so some might not want to share them. But I hope you do share this game with others in a way that pleases you. It could easily be one of a line of games with a similar feel. It’s non-genre nature also makes it a good candidate for introducing people to rp who might not play otherwise. Best of luck with all you do with the game, and I look forward to seeing where you go from here.





Title of Game: Monster Hunter X
Game Designer: David J. Rowe
Challenges: Pencil and Paper, The Sharing Challenge, Unlonely Your Fun, Build a Better Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Scheherazade Challenge
2/10/10

Summary: Monster Hunter X is a solo graphic fantasy adventure game where you seek Prizes to build your Kingdom and achieve greatness. (from game)

Strengths: I just had a delightful time playing X. The game is well written and explained well. The conversational tone is engaging, I felt like I was being taught by a charming person who was excited about the game *and* was able to explain how to play it well. It helped me feel enthusiastic about activities that might easily make me feel silly doing them without an enthusiastic friend at the elbow. The explanations are excellent. Each stage of play is described clearly and simply. At each stage I tried out how to do the actions and thus felt confident about doing them in conjunction with other steps later on. (This lead me to be able to have X make it through his first real adventure, through the Canyon of the Lookers just losing 1 circle of Destiny. Yes!) The figures are perfectly understandable and always helped me better understand the rules and explanations. X looks so lonely in the village of other symbols!

The use of symbols for the characters, to allow abstracted movement and to distinguish among the various types of characters. The movement and attacks are wonderful. When I first read this game, it reminded me of long, hot summer days from childhood, spent putting your feet in the creek, reading and finding other forms of mundane adventure. This would have been perfect for those days. I keep having flashbacks, also, to the elaborate battlefields an artistic friend would draw in 7th grade. This scratches that itch and brings me right back to the innocently destructive fun of those doodles.

The more advanced elements of the game are well explained as well, though some of them are more suggestions of ways the game can be customized rather than rigorous rules. But since the game is so simple, things like obstacles, companions, useful objects and so on would help keep things fresh. Each of these items is well utilized too--obstacles create different patterns of movement in the automated monsters. I tiny bit of AI, to keep you on your toes and give you surprises. The Kingdom mod of the game sounds takes elements you’ve already created (useful objects, companions) adds a new ongoing element (the keep) and creates a campaign with long-term interest. Not strategy, perhaps, but certainly the joy of discovery. Making the companions have limited chances to use their abilities makes finding more of them of interest, especially if as they might die. Sidekicks always do need to be replaced. As do the heros sometimes!

Weaknesses: The parts of the game that could use some improvement related to the advancements. Things like customizing the monsters, creating companions, useful items, are all explained and a great example given. But what is lacking are guidelines for how to choose moves and powers, and further examples that would give players more to start off from.  A challenging part of the game is that it is difficult to maintain the same size in your X’s and O’s. I found them changing over time, and I’d try to bring them back to the original which was awkward. And a question, when a Monster Hunter X gets killed, the next X has to make a kill before acquiring that title. In the mean time, does X have any Circles of Destiny? Not having any would be quite nice actually. Makes the little lass have to prove herself before taking on the mantle. I like it. Weaker parts were some of the suggestions for the challenges: sharing does seem possible, but it would likely require using tracing paper as Tony Dowler has you do in How to Host a Dungeon, since you’d presumably have played and X hunting Monsters in a dungeon or field to see if it was fun, and then it can’t be shared. Or you could make copies--oh, yeah, of course. :) I’m interested by your suggestions to make it like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but that would need a lot more description for it to be carried out. 

Exciting Parts: There were several parts of this game that I really admired. The way that terrain and obstacles work adds tactics to what was a straightforward shoot fest. Really though, the constraints of movement and flicks gives play a flow that is smooth but in stages that allow you to have some suspense about what will happen next. The spot turns are quick, but going back and forth provides a play by play, blow by blow pattern that allows you to assess and appreciate the progress made by both sides. I also love the Kingdom module. That whole section really made me want to play!

Next Steps:
Overall, the game is well put together and fairly complete. Giving more examples, and also creating guidelines for making up the customizable elements like monsters would put those very tantalizing and inspiring parts of the game into full play. Of course, everyone, especially 7th grader, has enough imagination to come up with their own monsters and so on, but it would really complete this text to provide more ideas and details on how to do so. Fleshing out some of the suggestions in the challenge paragraphs would be helpful as well.

Monster Hunter X could easily, in my opinion, has a potential future as a game fated to be passed hand to hand, passed note by passed note down the generations of school kids. The games of those kid cultures go back to the time of our great-great grandparents if not further (I mean, jacks, really! Didn’t Laura Ingles Wilder play that?). There could be worse things in the world than becoming a beloved pastime of kids. Though with the ipad all that may change!!! But this game can give whomever plays that nostalgic feeling, and lets us reclaim our creativity from the dedicated computer game console. It’s tone, illustrations and play are all charming. It could well be a great little game book, almost comic-like in its illustrations of epic battles and Kingdoms. I wish you well with the development and look forward to getting my copy someday!




Title of Game: Spiders Dance
Game Designer: Michael Wenman
Challenges: Pencil and Paper, The Scheherazade Challenge
2/12/11

Strengths: Spiders Dance is a beautiful and evocative game. The opening text sets the scene and conjures images of a world that I would want to save. The rules are simple, and easy to remember. The web woven by the children of Spider structure the creation of the story, and make it easy for the player to measure the beats and dramatic up and downswings of the flow. This gives play a structured freeform feel: creating a story using cues that signal which direction to go, rather than using quantifiers to weigh out the diverging paths based on weighted effectivess or other fictional elements. Playing two initial travels of spiders through a ten point web worked quite well. The need to gain a point of energy to get back out of the world, the directions to make things up as you travel through each part of the cycle, and the positive and negative worked fine. I have some hesitations about it though, but more in the Weaknesses.

Another strength is how simple the narration may be. Having the main character be a spirit spider changes the dynamic from adventuring and fighting, to one of discovery and simple challenges that can be about deeper things: why has the land lost it’s spirits? What can be done to save it? In my play, a theme came up about children’s toys and creations having sparks of energy in them. These are very sweet things that can be crafted into a story. It’s not limited to that, but it’s a lovely thing to have a game that can support a delicate story.

Weaknesses: As I mentioned above, I have some worry about issues of creative fatigue coming up in the game. As Eppy mentioned in his critique, the number of sentences one would need to come up with, especially in a long-term campaign with a variety of towns and areas to weave a web for, would make it hard to keep having inspiration for what to go wrong or right. The game is also a little unclear on the types of things that should be narrated. Both in their nature and content, and when good or bad or fulfilling or draining things should happen. Is it intended to be fairly open? My interpretation was that it was fairly strongly structured: rising mood when moving into a node and energy is gained, obstacles when crossing a web, overcoming as they have been passed. Is that correct or did you want it to be more loose? When I read through the rules, until I got to the example I wasn’t exactly sure how I would be able to handle having the spiders be the main characters. How do they interact with others? Who do they interact with? Humans, spirits? The example gave some nice answers to me, and made me feel confident that I’d find good ways to do so. Having more of that earlier might help as well. Some suggestions about what would happen, how to deal with spider, how to flesh out world.

Another question is, how can a spider fail, as happened in your example. Is that if you cross another web before touching a node? Can you go to an already touched node? Is it intended that spiders would die often?

Exciting Parts: I love the idea of doing this as a Round Robin. The turn taking nature of it seems ideally suited to doing so. As a game for trips or at bedtime with kids seems like a lovely application. Also, despite my trepidation on reading the rules, and fears about not knowing what to say, it went fine. I’ve included the text below. I realized as I copied it that I didn’t do enough sentences. The fey and magical nature of the narrative really appeals to me. I also want to see wolf, eagle, bear and snake come in someday too!

Next Steps:  What I would look for would be either simple ways to  have a direction for the story: be it writing a single word down by the web that can be reincorporated (there was reincorporation of challenges in your examples, I believe), or make up things as you go about the world and the overall situation, or have challenges that bested other spiders return and be overcome. Whatever it may be, having a direction would make me feel more confident about the overall story. Weaving the a sort of weft through the story to help me understand what the spiders are facing and how they are progressing would be great. Though it seems like doing this purely fictionally rather than through quantified mechanics seems most in keeping with your game. Just words, no need for countdowns or stats etc. But you’ve already got a great dynamic structure that can hold a story, I think I’m just looking for some more ways to help the solo player feel oriented in the world they create.

This is a lovely game. I’m looking forward to playing more. You’ve made a beautiful version already.

Playtest:
Town of Wrentham (10)
1) The spider enters Wrentham through a portal in an old abandoned church. (coming out from portal)
2) In the churche there is a flower that a child left at a statue of Mary and Jesus. (entering node)
3) The spider takes the flower and heads back to the spirit world. (going from node to portal)

******
1) The spider crawls out of a rain gutter and climbs down a web to the yard below.(from a portal)
2) In the yard, she sees a fairy house left by the nearby children. She sleeps safe inside and takes a juicy fly she finds there, filling her belly and soul. (entering node)
3) She walks off to find a portal back to the spirit world, filled and lazy, but sees that the humans have gathered on the street, talking angrily. (crossing web)
4) She climbs up a street lamp and watches them. She weaves a thread of peace and the calmer heads hold sway. (leaving web)
5) After the crowd disperses she climbs down and catches a ride on a peaceful person. She sits on their shoulder, a blessing, and both shine. (going to node)
6) She hops of at a storm drain in the street that is a portal and goes home, fulfilled and happy. (entering portal)




LIVING IN THE FUTURE CHALLENGE



Title of Game: Champion of the Realm

Name of Designer: David John Petroski
Challenge(s): Living in the Future
The Scheherazade (or Campaigner's) Challenge
ARG! RPGS! (Or, the Andy Kaufman Challenge)
Unlonely Your Fun
2/10/11

Strengths: This game has a lot of strong points. The use of cards to randomize creation of the world, the dynamic growth of the influence of the Big Bad and the use of the grid to represent the unfolding world are three. These add up to give you a game that gives you the sense of discovering a world that one often has when playing a good video game for the first time. The simple grid gives the world structure, and the effects of the evil presence and it’s spawn make the arrangement have meaning: those tentacles of doom are stretching out closer and closer to your beloved Refuge of Good. Reminiscent of the board game Tales of the Arabian Nights, the array of adjectives and location types gives a good sweep of types of locations. It is unlikely that you will get the same combinations, so each board will have a unique feel. 

Weaknesses: There are a few points lacking clarity in the rules: do you rank the abilities 1, 2, 3, 4 (strongest to weakest) so only one can be 1, one 2 etc. Or do you just choose any of the numbers for each? Is there any reason to not take 4 if so? It looks as though several of the tables need some finishing up, or is there a method there I’m missing? Other questions I had while reading the text were what if you drew both a red and black card when making a location? Is that ruled out? Also, is there a table that shows the attacks the monsters favor? It’s mentioned, but seems to be missing. A question I had about how the rules would work out is about the mushrooming of evil across the board. You could easily hit a run of bad luck and have most of the board be black. Though then that would simply make it a tragic tale. Not a bad thing if that occurs occassionally, but if it always happens might be a downer. Though there are many more cooperative and potentially 1 player board games these days, which thrive on making your life difficult. However, I’d want to do some number crunching on that part of the game to make sure you weren’t consigning the players to a hopeless cause. Intuitively it sounds fine, but that can be misleading.

On a minor note, Ace counts as 10 in one place, 11 in another. Also, though the character per se has little impact on the game fiction, you might well have a few charts that would let you create the person in the same way you create the world. Could even use that for guardians of the good places, or bad. The world is so well colored by the mechanics, it might add to it if you did so for the characters too. Traits could be tied to the characteristics too.

Another point that was not clear was how the information is meant to be recorded (about the characters). The first table seems to be a way for you to record your information, but is that what you create at the start? Or do you people it as you go along? Or am I wrong and that is another reference chart? and do you gain abilities as you go? that would be excellent. The variants at the end of the game are a great addition too. The original game is fairly simple and direct. Nice to have ways to vary it.

Exciting Parts: I love the unfolding nature of the world in this game. It has me itching to start playing. The dynamic nature of evil is another thing that draws me in. I want to see how it will spread, and what my poor little character will have to do to deal with the menace. This is actually a fairly innovative move in an rpg. Evil always seems to be plotting to expand, but when do you actually see it multiply? Another part that I particularly liked was the combat system. Using the suits for the monsters to have a first check to see if they can hit you is nice. Sets them apart from the characters, and again, uses the cards to good purpose. 

Next Steps: This game is a great little adventure waiting to happen. It would make a great little booklet, with the charts nicely laid out, which with cards, paper and some tokens would be a complete game. You could easily have variants and different settings. As the Oracles from In a Wicked Age... show, people do love to hack this kind of structure so you could well have some great crowdsourcing go on. I’d check through the math on the various aspects: combat, evil actions, predominance of evil locations. Hard to tell those things from thinking about it. The adjectives and location types are nicely evocative. I think the main thing that needs fleshing out is the characters. Are you interested in them having other type of interactions in the towns? Adding more types of interactions would also put more fiction into the game, more non-combat oriented fiction, that is. Though I do like the variation that the evil and good locations give to the turns. The wiki entry suggestions may need some trying out and extension. This game does seem to have plenty of shareability. It would also be easily adaptable to be affected by others, in a parallel lonely fun kind of way. I think you’ve really got something here. I look forward to getting to play, and to seeing where you take it!



Title of Game: G
Game Designer: David Pigeon
Challenges: The Sharing Challenge, Living in the Future, ARG! RPGs! (or the Andy Kaufman Challenge)
2/6/11

Summary: An astronaut in orbit records a lonely message log.
Strengths: This game has a very grabby premise. The prospect of playing an astronaut alone in the reaches of space makes me want to play. Marrying this with making a video log uses current technology very well, and gives a person engaging in solitary play an accessible way to both participate in the game and record your adventures. The ease by which one can make a blog or post videos and images also supports players. Creating a site for play is analogous to pulling out a pad and pencils. No need for a dedicate machine or cartridge as with a video game. And posting things online means you can play from whereever you are: traveling, over the holidays, on break if working late at work.

Creating the space station is also a strong element of the game. I had some trouble getting into the character, as I mention below, but making the station was a fun, easy part of play. It’s fun to draw out the station and it got my mind working about what the astronaut’s life might be like, what might go wrong, what she’d be trying to accomplish.

Weaknesses: I think one weak link in the chain is me, actually. Or at least from a sharing perspective: i enjoyed making the videos, that part is one of the most catchy parts of the game for me. But my videos were so dull! I pulled an Ace for the first turn and didn’t plan out what I would have had happen. So when I was johnny on the spot when I turned on the webcam, the first thing that came to mind was a fungal infestation in the food/life support lines. It would of course be a threatening thing to happen in space, but it’s not very sexy. A friend showed me a very entertaining youtube series called “Space Adventures” (though I can’t find it now) that was incredibly entertaining and similar to this game’s content. But I could never be so funny!  The second turn gave me a Red 6, so things improved for my health which had gotten whacked by that Ace. I talked about fixing the lines, and why I might have missed the fact that the scrubbers had been not operating at the highest efficiency. Loneliness. Worry. But that I inserted, free form. I suppose that’s fine, but I wasn’t sure that was what you intended?

Something I felt the lack of was more structure about fleshing out the content of my character and the events. I poked around on the internet and found was the requirements for becoming a US astronaut. NASA has them posted. I was surprised to find that all it requires is a bachelors and 3 years experience in a related field! That helped me get some ideas. I imagined that my character had a BS from Stanford, and was a mechanic in the Air Force for three years, working on jets. That kind of thing, along with the types of conflicts that might come up in orbit would be great to have included in the game. I slowly got a sense of my character, but felt like I was a bit directionless aside from the general overarching plot.

I was also a bit intimidated at the thought of making 52 entries. One a week really isn’t that much, but just the bare count felt daunting. Also, would it be likely to be able to last that long given the mechanics and stats? Aces and face cards comprise over a quarter of the deck, and though some of the face cards require certain conditions to trigger an incident, it does seem fairly likely that you’ll get many of them, which means reducing your stats to 0 often. Can you split up shifts from a single draw? For example, if I pull a red 3, can I apply two up-shifts to my health and one to my sanity (if both were at least that much below their maximum)?

Another weakness I experienced was a very silly issue of plausibility. I found myself wondering why my character would be alone in space--surely it’s too big of a risk to have one person alone? So I imagined she was in a transition situation: waiting for a new crew to arrive in a couple months, and that it was due to cost cut backs so was forced to happen. That might just be me, but that might be an issue you’d like to address.

Exciting Parts: I most enjoyed the drawing the station. As I mentioned above, that grounded me in the game and the character more than the process of creating the character--though when it came time to see what had happened and create log entries, I didn’t refer back to the map. I wish I had--tying those together would have helped me, I think since the map made the situation feel more concrete to me. Another part that I embraced and found to be an almost necessary part of the game was making the entries in the video log late at night. I was up until 2am some nights during the past few weeks and made an entry or two then. The headspace you enter during the wee hours, and when tired seemed to match the mood of the character, and also, from a purely practical perspective, I felt silly talking to the camera when other people were around. Doing it late at night meant I was more likely to be alone, easing the social pressure. Another part I liked and want to see in action is having your entries be public and having friends respond (in character even?), but not accessing them until the mission is over.

Next Steps: There is a lot of room here for simple random elements (maybe charts, or oracle type lists) or even using the internet for what it’s intended: finding out trivia. You could easily have players google to find random occurences they they play out the aftermath of. I also would highly recommend connecting the map to ongoing play somehow. Maybe you have to choose where something happens, maybe you create systems to become compromised, or have different spots where you imagine yourself to be when you make a log or fill out an entry. There is a great opportunity here in this game for your to do some excellent research on what life is like in a space station, which would give the players much more to work from, or for you to structure the player’s set up and play in a way that gets *them* to go out and learn a lot of things about life in microgravity, the science of space flight and maintaining life in such a limited environment.

Another connection that seems like it would strengthen the game is personal issues and relationships the Astronaut has that inform what you talk about in the log entries. You could have simple leading questions that the player answers when making the character: who do you miss on earth? who did you have an argument with before you left? What business is left hanging that you have to follow up on? and so on. That plus the events I think would make for a more engaging story for the player to express and expound upon. It would be neat to see a central bank of links to blogs with astronauts doing their thing. Also, definitely check the mechanics to make sure they are giving you enough twists and turns. And fit the length of play you want to support. You might even want to use the suits, having them indicate different areas of the astronaut’s life so players have more cues about what is going on in their character’s life.

This is a great idea for a game. It was well received in your posts on Story Games. I hope you refine it and make it something shareable with others. I can imagine it being a really interesting gallery of games, and even an educational tool put to great purpose.


Title of Game: Hero of Silvergate 
Designer: Rich DiTullio
Challenge(s): Build a Better Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Living in the Future
2/1/11

Summary: The adventures of a young knight.

Strengths: This game has a clear storyline that is familiar and engaging in its premise. But it takes the character through an interesting intial situation (first battle, establishing themself as a warrior and making relationships) through to proving themself and overcoming the challenges presented by a former ally/rival. It’s a full character arc from innocence to experience. The game as intended covers a wide variety of character paths after returning from war. That is a nice touch to bring the Knight back from the battlefield, and to let the player choose what direction their knight will take in peace time. The fact that player choice will open up story options is a very important aspect of the game. Choose your own adventure style books or game always have branching storylines, but the approach here seems to merge the way an rpg handles character development and effectiveness (stats, wounds, level ups) and the creation of the storyline. I’m very interested to see how that comes about. Another strong element of the game is the fact that things the player inputs become important elements of the game later on. It sounds as though the early character interactions with the ally/rival get reincorporated in the final confrontation or race with that character. Having elements that the player not only chooses out of a menu but names or fleshes out all together is a good way to allow the player to make the game their own.

Weaknesses: My initial questions were about how the description of the structure of play fit together, since the text outlines them sketchily. Things like how do the stats rise and fall, how do they affect the flow of the story, how much variety of story and plot is possible in the game, and how do choices happen--is there a set menu at each turning point? Going through a Choice Script game answered these questions. They are all included in the framework of Choice Script. I see why you chose it! It is tailor made. They create exactly the branching narrative of an interactive story book. The adventure needs simply to be filled out. I wonder how difficult it is to set the stat levels, and to match them with actions taken in the story. All the choices are pre-set, multiple choice being the way you navigate through the story.

The biggest weakness may be in the story itself, actually. The description of the story sounded fun and fresh to me on reading it, but on looking through some other examples of Choice games, it has a familiar ring. The ally or rival coming back as a big bad at the end is a fine adventure story trope, but I wonder what other kinds of twists could be found? It’s actually challenging that so much narrative ground can be covered through this type of game. You can have the Knight become a courtier, or assassin, or bold, brave protector, or any other number of turns, but the fictional structure of the games seems to need these turns: establishment of character, conflict in action, release from the purpose (ie fighting and war), then back to adventures in the battle, and then a final fight with a personal connection. It is a great formula, very satisfying. And I may be wrong, I’ve only seen this and one other Choice game, but they both had a very similar series of transitions. But, if this is the standard formula, the challenge would be how to either 1) go beyond what has been done while maintaining a good flow of the story and good balance for the game or 2) make this iteration of the formula most satisfying and entertaining. Good research and writing seem essential. The fact that you can be male or female is also a strong choice, you might want to see where that takes you as you craft the tale. That might be a way to make the choices more personal--though it would be easy to slip into stereotype also.

Exciting Parts: Choice Script is ideally suited to creating a single player game that is story based. The author of the game creates an interactive story that the reader chooses. I am reminded of a science fiction short story, Writers of the Future, about authors in a world where readers plug in to an immersive VR version of stories and have choice about how they will play out. The authors’ challenge in this world is building the story so well that readers choose the path the authors have picked out for them, so the story doesn’t break down through reader’s desire for other paths. In Choice Script books, you’re offering readers many, many choices. They get to chose among what you’ve provided. The challenge remains the same, though you have the advantage of writing in a well-defined genre. Everything you outlined feels right, and create a tale that fits nicely in the genre. The real test would be in writing an adventure that goes beyond these conventions. That is the part that is most exciting to me. To take this tool and put it into the service of story, and break out of already formed conventions.

Next Steps: You’re well on your way to creating a very solid Choice Script game. It seems like developing these takes a lot of work. The variety of storylines you’ve outline would make for dozens, at least, of alternating storylines, or mini-arcs within the overall story. There may well be some good techniques for plotting out this kind of story. Choice Script seems well established, and has active user groups, so you can likely find good tips on how to develop a game there. The other game I played, one set in a British (Albionese) sailing vessel, had a lot of naval-specific world information incorporated into it. So you might want to do some research on whatever period you want the game set. The joust you start out with uses just that kind of informed choice: how will you attack your opponent? To kill, or to be gentlemanly?
Are there ways you can incorporate what players do into the game that others after them experience? It seems unlikely, but that would be anotherway for the game to be owned by the players. It will be interesting to see if you might bridge interest between this community and table top role players. You may want to look at what are the overlaps between these styles of play (stats, story, characters, world) and what are the divergences? (online, set fiction in the Choice game, able to be played by one). This is a great opportunity to see what the full applications of this tool might be.

Title of Game: Sleepers
Designer: Seth Ben-Ezra
Challenges: Build a Better-Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Living in the Future, Unlonely Your Fun
2/1/11


Summary: Waking to a technological nightmare you navigate through your dreams.

Strengths: Sleepers is a very clean, evocative structure for gaming. It has one of my favorite design ethics: simple rules that can easily be remembered and applied (the Place-Action-Outcome rubric), yet can have endless permutations. The fact that the setting is dreaming opens up the horizons wide within that structure. In the game you create Places, Actions or Outcomes as entries in the wiki that forms the Dream world. Each leads to the next: Places have Actions listed on them, Actions have Outcomes, Outcomes lead to places. (It’s an interesting breakdown of iiee!) This rolling structure provides a multitude of ways that the players can create things, and also breaks up the action in a way different from a cyoa novel: those are story bits broken up by decision points. Here, you have places to explore with many possible actions in them, leading to outcomes that you choose! Ah, that hadn’t hit me ‘til I just wrote it, you choose your outcomes. Rather than being surprised by the effects of a choice, you make your way through the dream by choosing what the consequences are. This fits in with the Currency bits too: once you have Dream points you can Bend Outcomes to go to a different existing place. This may have some interesting an unforeseen ramifications. The currency is also a strength that I see: it creates a dynamic where players interaction with the fictional world it meted out through the actions they take. The system is not quite complete, but more about that in the Weaknesses sections.

Weaknesses: The rules for gaining Dream points seem to be incomplete. It is mentioned that there will be places in the dreaming where you will gain points, but it is not spelled out in what ways that is accomplished. It is mentioned in relation to Awakening, but this may be contradictory since you both require 2 dream points to Awaken, and it gives you 2 points once you Awaken. I may be missing something, or it may be that these are two different approaches you weren’t quite sure which to choose between. Though it is a different thing than being a Free action: one must have Awokened to Awaken, as it is. :) Creating guidelines for making ways to get Dream points would not be hard and would be an essential addition. Some more clarification is needed around Conditional and Unconditional Outcomes. Are all Outcome either Conditional (optional or mandatory) or Unconditional? Are there others that may simply be chosen regardless of what items you have? I think this will tell us a lot of how the game would function in play, and my interpretation of it changes fairly radically if items are the main hinge upon which actions may be chosen. I can see that being very interesting, but it would mean that there is a lot more that you *have* to do, rather than choosing paths through the experience.

Exciting Parts: Unconditional Outcomes are a very neat aspect of the game. Having default consequences that happen if nothing else does is a very neat idea. As I mentioned above, how the Conditional/Unconditional choices are handled would make a big difference in my experience of the game. Honestly, one of the aspects that I found most intriguing was the idea of picking your way through, and having so much agency on what the adventure was like. Having the Items occasional making things happen, or open up new options feels like the right kind of randomized leavening, so to add some unexpected twists. CYOAs are about making choises, of course. But in this structure, you have more control than in the books. That is a bonus! Other parts that I thought were really hooky & grounding were the stable entries: Death, Awakening and Sleeping (the opening page). There is something extremely pleasing about having these things always be there, and always be the same. It gives some solid ground to the world of the dream--which these things do in dreams and the waking dream we call life--as well as solid points of contact for the player in the game itself. This would be a shifting, changing open to all possibilities kind of game. It is good to have some stability in such a structure.

Next Steps: The first thing you may want to do would be to sit down and play the game. There are very interesting possibilities here: the increased choice about outcome, the way the currency plays out, the flow of experience in the Dream based on Outcomes and player choice. But they have different ways of playing out that may not be fully recognized in the text, and that you’ll have to choose among in how you want it to play. Also, there could be options and room for interpretation by players. Working out how the Dream Points are gained is a needed next step. And seeing what the structure looks & feels like. The structure should work well in a wiki. The issue might be in how to phrase the entries and how to embed the mechanical pieces in them.

As a final product, I can imagine this being a very elegant set of rules that could easily be implemented by anyone. There could be a set of games, like the Lexicon game, which help people explore and create fictional worlds together online. This is closely related to the narrative rp world (which is vast) but has a strength in the fact that it is a game in and of itself: a replicable structure that many different groups of people can use to play together. I can imagine you having your own, home dreaming site, that others could enter and exit from. Or give it as an example, with links to other group’s games. Groups could choose a theme for their dream worlds: cartoonish, trippy, intentionally-multi genre, cyberpunk, mythological.
This is a strong entry, and one that I think will not need much work to create a polished, defined structure that people can use to create. Thanks for sharing it, Seth and best of luck to you with it!





Title of Game: Stage Names 
Designer: Sage LaTorra
Challenge(s): Living In The Future, Unlonely Your Fun, ARG! RPGS!, Scheherazade, Sharing
2/1/11

Summary:  A performer's triumphs and struggles, in the voice of many people in their life.

Strengths: The shifting voices is a very strong element of Stage Names. It’s reminiscent of narrative rp you see online (Harry Potter and the like) since it uses the blog as a format, but since you are taking the roles of the various characters it gives you the central role in crafting the plot and fleshing out the characters and their relationships, rather than placing you in the mix with others. It’s a more authorial role. It brings to mind early novels, which used the letter format as a framing device. This has the up-to-date feel of a reality tv show (asides, confessionals, all allow actors (?) the opportunity to share what they would in this blog), but since it is truly fiction, you can do an even better job of providing dramatic irony, internal monologue, depth of psychology--or lack thereof for comedic or emotional effect. Good stuff! I can imagine people both sharpening their literary chops playing this game, as well as being able to have deep emotional experiences by exploring the different characters’ experiences.

The use of Youtube and other media really puts this game well into the living in the future category. Using Youtube as a jumping off point, and then crafting a narrative that you can weave in the creations of others (or yourself if you’re inspired I am sure!) creates a sort of narrative sampling that I can see being used to great effect. Have you seen the film Catfish? It speaks to this process. So much at the heart of our 21st century society! The post constraints give a good set of items to hit in each post. Also provide meaty creative inspiration: where are you (Location), what can you show to represent your performance (Media), and how can you get others to view it (Promotion)? I think these, along with the Benefits would help structure the story you are going to tell, in a way that will keep you inspired but not feel to constricted.

Weaknesses: It is unclear whether you are supposed to represent the Performance every time. Performance as a post contstraint is mentioned for the first one, but is that needed afterwards? Does “Media” take the a role instead? Do you want to encourage people to create their own performances? That might be asking them to overshare, in some ways, but it is interesting that it makes sense to use other people’s sharing as a jumping off point, but might seem too much to use one’s own. On the other hand, that might be fine & great. One issue that might come up is the using of other people’s work. Not from a plagarism stand point, you rightly mention that the work should always be attributed. But there is an issue a friend of mine more connected to the nar rp and slash communities, of using real people as subjects. So celebrity slash would be more problematic than ones based on characters. But the fact is that the internet is out there, and people put this stuff on Youtube to be seen. What is respectful and what is over the line? You might want to delve into these issues, by reading what people in those communities and others have to say, and discuss it with this game whatever form it takes. There are issues of our society here. Interesting stuff!

Exciting Parts: The Benefits make me all excited. Just seeing that you can “choose Breakup or Engaged” for a later post, makes me want to play. And the adding and removing of other Voices based on changing relationships feels like a really inspiring aspect of play. And the Voices themselves. Having as the central activity in the game seeing the shifting perspective of different characters feels like a genuinely addictive and compelling game. I want to see how the events unfold, how they are viewed by each character. It need not be as directly paralleled as something like Rashomon, but each event can have new light shed on it by getting the internal reflections of each character. This is a great exercise for anyone, and also is a strong way for a story to unfold. The most innovative part is the Promotion aspect of the posts. That really grabs our socially networked environment by the horns. It is potentially hazardous to the ego: there are so many, many things for people to read, why should anyone read our little blog?

Next Steps: Another area you might want to flesh out is what kind of support or structure players might want in crafting the characters. It might not be neccesary, just the act of writing fiction from their point of view might allow you to really get inside of them. But if upon play you find that it is hard you could easily provide. Also, discussion of what a voice is in writing, and how you express it, and distinguish it from others. You may also want to tune the number of hits required for a given outcome based on the Promotion you do. It may be that each player should determine their range. Some folks are likely more socially connected and so could garner A LOT of hits. While others (most of us) may be lucky to get a couple here and there. It would be too bad if your experience of the game was torpedoed by the fact that no one was reading it. It does match the premise though: it is all about the Performance after all.

As far as format, this game is obviously meant for internet play. Having it as a short pdf or electronic format that can be easily incorporated into a blog or site someone has created to play would be good. I can imagine it being fun to be part of a community of Performers, who can comment on one another, have affairs with their fiances, and snub eachother back stage. People could coordinate their posts to appear at venues or festivals together. Or this might be too much work, but it would be fun if it could work out! This could also be one of a series of similar games with this structure but focussed on a different central premise: social activism, conspiracies, crime infiltration or detection, you name it. I can see you developing a central template that can be adapted as needed. Perhaps a website with info on the various types that has links to example games. It’s a game that has a lot of potential depth, and many applications and benefits to the players. Good luck with it!


Title of Game: What's the Frequency Kenneth? 
Designer: Steve Dempsey
Challenge: Living in the Future
2/1/11
Summary: An agent of the conspiracy traces their actions through the daily press.
Strengths: This game was fun to play. It is easy to grasp and creatively inspiring. The use of online sites is especially good: the main news site has excellent stories for conspiracies (though I wonder how often they are updated?) and the use of Google as a randomizer to give you feed back on how your missions go is very satisfying. There seemed to be a lot of room to incorporate from what comes up on these searches too. In one, when I searched the term “confirmed” (for “date was not confirmed”) a hit was about being confirmed and had the line “God the father has marked you with his sign”. It was too good to pass up, so I had my character get religion on a the road with his (cover) metal band in Belgium. Using the time and cover left to randomize the date for the missions worked well. Though I was inconsistent in how I calculated it, but I figured as long as I got some date in the future, and I didn’t just pick it, it was fine. The game seems quick to play, though I cheated a bit to bring it to a close (more in Weaknesses), and writing the stories in between pulled the varied conspiracy threads I read about together nicely. Very necessary, since the conspiracies were extremely varied. The randomizer I had at hand to pick stories was a bowl of mixed nuts. Seemed topically appropriate, and fun to “roll” them. The suggestion to add in characters and to re-incorporate them was good. I made up the daughter of a murder victim who hunted me down. At the end, I fell for her (and god) and decided to come clean. With the last Googling, the highest result was bad for me (“dealer” with 163,000,000 hits) so I figured she had me pegged for the murderer from the start. But since cover was high, my character did away with her too. Satisfying if rather brutal.
Weaknesses: It was unclear whether I should change my cover from story to story. It seems as though you shouldn’t, but it would seem to make more sense if you did. It didn’t seem to come up. The biggest flaw seems to be how easy it is to avoid having things go badly. I very much wanted them to, so kept looking for ways to lose my cover! I was glad when a story took place near Antwerp, (the metal show mentioned above), so I could lose a nut (used them as counters for my cover). And though the next story was more than a month away I didn’t regain it, to give some pressure. I felt done after filling a sheet on both sides. Used 7 stories all told. (After 5 felt like I wanted to wrap up, so randomly chose how many more: 1, then did epilogue after that). I had 8 cover left when I finished. The rules need to cover how to end if you still have cover, and you may want to add ways to lose cover levels, and make it more difficult to regain them. I wanted that to happen so that I could have good twists to the story. I liked the synonyms site, but never used it. Wondered if that might be a way to make more words possible to come up in the online stories: not just the terms but their synonyms. Also, one limitation I found was in the number of stories at the news site. I had to skip over ones I’d already seen a few times. Though, it was great to have the same story come up in two separate entries. Made the story come full circle and feel much tighter. Later in the game, you say “only pick two terms, one good, one bad”. When does that start? I forgot to switch to that.

Exciting Parts: 
The googling for outcomes was exciting to me each time. The process felt very good (hitting that “home” button to clear the results each time, and simply being curious to see each time which one would have the most hits, religion or prison? drug dealer or cops?) There is a lot of room for bringing in elements from those searches. And the conspiracies site as the central hub for the game was wonderfully inspiring. Also, this game is easy to tweet! I tweeted my first entry (only to realize a term I’d innocently included was very NSFW). The simplicity of the rules was very pleasing too. I can imagine playing from anywhere, even without the rules now that I’ve played through once.
Next Steps: When I first read the rules, I’d imagined playing over a cup of tea in the morning, or once a day or so. Combining that with tweet could make a very fun little game that has shareability and interlocking fun possibilities. But the first thing I’d suggest doing would be to increase the number of ways you can lose cover, or perhaps reduce the starting levels you get. And look at the googling results for other items you would like players to introduce into the story they write (i.e. characters, traits, twists, etc.). Also, you may want to look for other sites to use, to give more variety. This game seems like it will not need a huge amount of play and testing to get it to a nice balance. It would make a great free game download or 1 pager to hand out. There could be some fun tie ins to Ken Hite (which your title refers to?). I bet he’d be willing to interact with folks games occassionally if they tweet him with an entry. :) Great job! I look forward to seeing what you do with it, and I look forward to playing more.




Judge: Robert Bohl

UNLONELY YOUR FUN CHALLENGE

Title of Game: Caravan
Designer: Emily Care Boss (not eligible for Category Favorite)
Challenges: Unlonely Your Fun, Scheherazade, Sharing (and Living in the Future)
2/1/11

Strengths: I enjoyed how each Waypoint in Caravan requires the player to change something, and the prompts are specific and evocative without being too restrictive for comfort. The Realms and Waypoints "construction kits." I also like the structured, directed daydreaming of Imagining, Answering, and Telling.

Weaknesses: I'm a little unclear on Adventuring, specifically how adventuring works out in Pathways. I feel like I have a lot of stuff to work with for Adventuring in Waypoints, even if that picture isn't supremely clear to me. Organizationally, there was also a bit of forward referencing, or many times in the text where I had to flip back and forth to figure out what was meant. Finally, while the notion of creating pages for "other rules interaction with the game" is exciting in what I think it might mean, I'm not actually sure what it means in context.

Things I'm excited about: I love the three questions that are used to create a traveler. That's an exciting, simple, compelling way to make a player character. I'm also really excited at the potential for people bouncing off one another's creativity on this wiki.

Recommendations for development: It might be nice to have an "adventures in" section for Waypoints and Pathways. I'd love to see this as a hosted, central wiki, and see what would happen to that place. Also, per Sleepers, I'd recommend having some sample pages that look and are laid out just like wikis are. Some diagrams to show how the different parts of the rules nest inside one another might make things clearer, too.





Title: Champion of the Realm

Designer: David John Petroski
Challenges: Living in the Future, The Scheherazade (or Campaigner's) Challenge, ARG! RPGS! (Or, the Andy Kaufman Challenge), Unlonely Your Fun
2/10/11

Strengths: I love the fun combinations of stuff that you get from the Adjective and Location chart that you have to consult whenever you name a new location. They're great inspirations to creativity. Also, given the number of fights you're going to have, I think it was smart design by David to have the monsters only hit one quarter of the time. I love the flavorful world that this creates, as well. The end product is pretty nifty. Also, David's recommendations do a good job of making sure that other people can be involved, per the Unlonely challenge.

Weaknesses: I had a few rules-confusions: It isn't often enough clear whether to reshuffle after a draw or not, and with cards that can make quite a bit of difference. Are all encounters in a Terrain fights with Monsters? Do you get into that many fights whenever you enter the Terrain? When do I draw a card to look up on the Monster table? I presume this happens before I determine the favored mode of attack, but the rules are unclear.

I'm not sure if these are weaknesses or not, or whether I'm missing something in the rules, but it seems like Evil has it all over good in the equation of the game. It seems like the only way to destroy an Evil Location is to draw a heart, as that's the only way for a player to reduce the resources for the location. While I only get to do one thing on my turn, on every Evil turn, every Evil Location that exists gets bigger, and has a 50/50 chance of expanding into another Evil Location. In endgame, the bad guy is very powerful and from what I can tell you can only fight him once every other turn, because there's no option to stay and fight, you have to Travel away and then come back.

Things I'm excited about: I love how Evil metastasizes in this game; every Evil Location quickly burbles into greater power, leeching life force from Good, and easily turning Good things Evil. It's fucking dark as hell. I also loved David's extensive tweaking suggestions. He stole a lot of my thunder for recommendations.

Recommendations for development: Give some more directed inspiration from the rules on how to give color to the "chronicle of adventures." For example, you talk about fleshing out your character more using the Skills and Adjectives from the Character Attributes table; you could have a little system here that directed players to write a few specific things about the character's temperament and appearance based on her best Skill and second best Magic.





Title of Game: Monster Hunter X

Game Designer: David J. Rowe
Challenges: Pencil and Paper, The Sharing Challenge, Unlonely Your Fun, Build a Better Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Scheherazade Challenge
2/12/11

Strengths: Reading Monster Hunter X feels like a tutorial level of a video game in a good way. You are on kind of an inescapable channel, but it teaches you everything you need to know to play the game, and teaches you that stuff as you need to know it.

Weaknesses: The elements here really don't suggest any fiction to me. I don't feel like I'm living the character's life in a significant way, or understanding what he's gone through. Also, I don't feel there's a lot here that addresses the Unlonelying challenge: the game prompts you to make a world map, but there aren't many systems to support or foster the world creation part.

Things I'm excited about: I like that David more or less abandons the notion of playing correctly. Or, rather, correct play as whatever you have fun with. The text is full of this sort of positive reinforcement, with a funny, engaging tone.

Recommendations for development: David identifies several areas where the game can be expanded upon, such as rules for making more Flick types and Companions. The game can more of that kind of thing, telling you how to build interesting monsters and locations.




Title: Plot IS Character
Designer: Rich Rogers
Challenge: Unlonely Your Fun
2/10/11

Strengths: Rich starts the game out strong, addressing the assumptions the game makes, and taking advantage of this opportunity to also state who the game is for, and who it is expressly not for. This is great stuff, and more games should have it. Rich also has a very friendly, informal, and inviting tone to his text.

The real strength I noticed, though, was the excellent text around setting up the Foil and Opposing Voice in conflict. Rich provides a few suggestions for what the Foil might want from the Opposing Voice which are comprehensive, useful in their own right, and useful as an inspiration for other ideas.

Weaknesses: The main concern I have about this game is that it isn't a complete game in and of itself. It's expressly required that you be playing another roleplaying game with other players away from Plot IS Character. In fact, in a laudible effort to make sure that PIC serves its intended purpose, Rich is very clear that it's your duty to tie this in to the ongoing game you're GMing. As a result, what we wind up with is a cool little hack to use in a variety of games, rather than a full game in its own right.

Things I'm excited about: Rich has identified a problem here: coming up with non-constrictive plot and motivation for your NPCs. He then shows the problem to you, and tries to solve it with a game. This is super-exciting in its own right. 

Recommendations for development: You make mention of tying NPCs to PCs, and creating good motivations for the Foil. Both of these are areas that could be written on extensively and productively, especially by someone who, like you, is so keenly aware of the problems that can be caused by this kind of exercise, and is so well-equipped to address it.

You could further adapt something cool from Otherkind, and give a little more flavor to the two potential risks. Is one risk social and the other physical? Is one about the villian's secrets and the other about her lies? Perhaps setting up these categories could be one of the setup steps.

It would be nice if the Foil were able to have some kind of effect on the game based on unique things about her. To give her a character sheet, in other words. If, when you had to roll your Otherkind dice, some particular feature of the Foil allowed you to modify the results, that would add another interesting layer.




Title of Game: Sleepers
Designer: Seth Ben-Ezra
Challenges: Build a Better-Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Living in the Future, Unlonely Your Fun
2/1/11

Strengths: I found Seth's game to be a very easy and clear read. The introductory text was evocative and interesting, very reminiscent of The Matrix (in a good way). The rules for how and when to mark up a location you go to are very good, as well.

Weaknesses: I don't know what to play with this game, what kind of fiction it would or should create. The structure is there, but I'm lacking any theme or flavor, and the rules don't provide one, either. Also, it seems like there might have been something left out, or I just wasn't reading it clearly, because I can't tell the difference between Dream Points and Dream Rating, and I don't know how you get Dream Points. I'm guessing you can write them into an Outcome or something, but I don't know. I also don't know how to place items in the rooms I create.

Things I'm excited about: The breakdown of wiki pages into Places, Actions, and Outcomes. I love how these interact, and as the first wiki-based game I've read in this contest, the design implications of wikis that this design reveals is quite exciting.

Recommendations for development: In terms of developing this further, giving players more fictional grist to play with, more guidance as to what kind of story to make, that would be very important. In my opinion, it needs to be ungenericized. I'd also create a diagram that shows the Places-Actions-Outcomes breakdown. Finally, I would present the example so that it looks like a wiki, rather than saying that the wiki will have certain links.



Title: Swords of the Skull-Takers

Designer: Joe Prince
Challenges: ARG! RPGS! (or the Andy Kaufman Challenge), the Sharing Challenge, Un-lonely Your Fun & the Scheherazade Challenge
A Ronnies Submission
2/10/11

Strengths: Joe's writing style is immediately engaging, funny, informal, and clear. It was a pleasure to read, and really communicated the vibe of the game very well. I liked all the little niche-making elements, too, such as giving the explorer an extra card for the Exploration phase. Joe has done a good job here of encouraging you to write intimately about the character.

Weaknesses: While I really like the initial questions, and the fact that you're asked only to think about them and not write about them, I am concerned that by the end you'll lose track of the answers to these questions. In general, I feel oddly disconnected from my avatar in the game, as the game is telling me very little about her, and doesn't connect back to her very often.

Things I'm excited about: I love the way the game starts with four direct questions that inspire the fuck out of me. The high-low guessing mechanic is bit of gaming technology that hadn't occurred to me, but seems like it would be fun to play with.

Recommendations for development: My instinct would be to find a way to get more flavor or inspiration out of all of the guessing you're asked to make. Since you're using tarot anyway, you have a lot of symbolism you can tap into with each of these draws. You make mention of this, but this is a prime area to flesh out.


Title of Game: Suspended Animation
Designer: Ross Cowman
Challenges: ARG RPGS! and Unlonely Your Fun 
2/1/11

Strengths: I loved the stealth meditation session hidden in the group play mode. There is also an extremely flavorful grid of options and outcomes from the encounter table. I also like how some of the cards set up fictional circumstances that you have to pay attention to and respect in future plays.

Weaknesses: The "Terms" are listed without explaining that they relate to the encounter table. It becomes clear later why you would care about Finding, Losing, and Risking, but not until the Last Transmission section, so it's very confusing until then. There is some confusing language in the encounter table: e.g., for Planet Fall, you are said to land on an alien world first, then it says you have a hard time getting to the star. Which of these is true, and in what order is unclear to me. It's also only clear from inference that you're supposed to answer the questions differently for each card in a classification. I'm unclear on what happens if more than one end condition is satisfied during the Last Transmission phase, and what order they're resolved in.

Things I'm excited about: The possibilities hinted at by the economy of Finding, Risking, and Losing are interesting and exciting to me, but I can't really make sense of what they mean. I'm very excited by the idea that, in group play, people will be operating with imperfect information about one another, yet they're leaving little trails of breadcrumbs for others inside the deck.

Recommendations for development: More guidance for the writing of transmissions, as well as a better explanation of what Finding, Risking, and Losing gets you, or why you'd want to do them. Restructuring the text flow so readers don't have to deal with forward or unclear references.



Title of Game: Teen Witch
Designer: Joe Mcdalno
Challenges: The Stuff in Your Domicile, The Scheherazade Challenge, Sharing Challenge, Unlonely Your Fun
2/1/11

Strengths: Joe has a wonderful, funny, engaging writing style that makes reading the game a pleasure. He is having a very intimate conversation with the reader, especially where he tells you not to feel rushed or pushed, and to consider carefully any feelings of discomfort you may have.

Weaknesses: I don't see any game in this RPG. It's a pure guided roleplaying experience, one which is so utterly about feeling what it's like to be someone else that there isn't even any narrative produced by the game.  

Things I'm excited about: You are required by the game to play a teenage girl, and Joe teaches you how to deal with it if you're stricken with a weird panic by being asked to do so.

Recommendations for development: Joe has done a great job evoking certain feelings, but there is a lot of area for development. I'd like to get a sense of who this person is, what her life is like, and what kind of struggles she'd face, and I think with a little bit more design, I can have that.



Title of Game: Town Crawler
Designer: David Berg
Challenge: Unlonely Your Fun
2/1/11

Strengths: I liked the breakdown of investigation, risk, and climax cards, and the matrix of possibilities that is produced by them (the young warrior can be the jumping-off point for 6 different interactions, for example). I also quite liked how the I/R/C cards act as a pacing mechanic, only allowing for certain cards to be drawn in certain proportions, and how once you've moved to one tier, you can't go back.

Weaknesses: A big concern for me is the Action cards. Is it a deck, as described, or a hand, as suggested by picking a Talking card in the first step. If it's a hand, why control the proportion of cards at all? When do you play Actions? Moving to the encounters, how do you figure out if you've been successful or not? I'm guessing success for encounters is handled per play step 2, a 4+ being a success and less being a failure, but this is not actually explicitly called out in the rules. Also, what is the height limit for the columns? What determines when it's time to move from investigation to risk? Finally, also, I don't see where the unlonelying part of the challenge comes in. The rules say that you can show your friends your map, but all the actions have been determined and all the success and failure has been worked out, so how could that be used as the seed for a game with others?

Things I'm excited about: As I said, I love the matrix of flavorful possibilities you get from the encounter cards + a d6 roll. There's plenty here to spur your imagination. And, although I can't see how they can interact with it, having players of the module (?) this creates pick the proportion of the different kinds of challenges is very cool.

Recommendations for development: I would clarify those rules questions and see about ways for the game to interact with other people more. Also, in play step 3, you are told to "make up an explanation for the change" that comes from rolling on per the instructions on the arrow. I'd add something in in that area so that your imagination is spurred by the game, in the wonderful way the I/R/C cards do. Finally, I'd like to see some design around the characters that this story is ostensibly about; Town Crawler tells us nothing about them.


See ARG! RPGS! Challenge:
Stage Names, Sage LaTorra
In Training the Templar, Erik Battle


ARG! RPGS! (OR THE ANDY KAUFMAN CHALLENGE)



Title: Demilich - the Evil Plan!

Designer: Noam Rosen
Challenge(s): Sharing, Andy Kaufman
2/12/11

Strengths: Noam is constantly giving the reader suggestions on how to be inspired, and the game gives you plenty of opportunities to come up with flavorful stuff. Also, since it's built on an existing game, the rules can be a lot easier to learn. Definitely, the strongest part of the game, though, is the essay on how to get into the head of a demilich. Noam does a great job of putting you in that mindset.

Weaknesses: The game assumes you know some of the terms of Klondike solitaire (foundations and tableau), and while it wasn't too hard to look up the terms it did make following the text a bit confusing. I am also unclear on what cards are being read in the "Example of Built Assets" section of the rules. Are they the bottom-most cards on the two tableaux for that asset?

In the Play section, you're told you can pick up a card you can legally pick up, but I don't know what cards I can legally pick up. During the Attack It! part of the game, you're supposed to used something called Relevant Skill, but I don't see where one dervies Relevant skills from. 

Things I'm excited about: Ordering the reader to cackle madly alone. Both before and after the game. Like the candle in Polaris, it's something I'm not sure I'd ever do, but it's something that probably helps with the mood quite a bit.

Recommendations for development: I would definitely make fiction-creation a more integral part of the game. I believe there is text now advising people to consider writing up their adventures, but some of the greatest writing is around being a demilich, so why not make that a necessary part of the game?





Title: G

Designer: David Pigeon
Challenges: The Sharing Challenge, Living in the Future, ARG! RPGs! (or the Andy Kaufman Challenge)
2/10/11

Strengths: Throughout the text there's a constant need to make something. To create, often literally with your own hands. In particular, I appreciated that the first thing I was asked to do was to draw, something I'm not particularly good at, and David made it very clear that I had to do it my own damn self, and not steal it from the Internet. I loved it for that.

Weaknesses: While the game encourages you to create a bunch of stuff, it could do a better job of giving you something to work with. You need inspiration to create something that won't just wind up being boring video blog. I think there's a lot of opportunity for system design here that isn't explored.

Things I'm excited about: In the introductory text, David sets up a nice little tension by telling you to encourage people to respond to your astronaut, but then forbids you to read any of these until the game's over. Since the game requires that you be putting the results of your play out throughout play, that would have to be delightfully maddening rule to actually follow.

Recommendations for development: Give people more inspiration. The system uses cards, so have have the value or suit matter a little more. The cards currently tell you what kind of week you've had, and whether there was an incident, but they can also tell you what kind of report you have to write, who it's to, how you're feeling, or any number of other things. E.g., I draw a couple of cards, and the game tells me I had major disaster with life support and I'm calling my aunt because it's her birthday.

Title: The Last Man
Designer: Luca Ricci
Challenges: Build a Better Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, The Stuff in Your Domicile, ARG! RPGS! (Or, the Andy Kaufman Challenge)
2/10/11

Strengths: I enjoyed Lucca's text whenver he asks you to draw or write. For example, the language around drawing the lab is excellent. It's specific, clear, and it gives you the idea of the kinds of things you should be thinking about when creating a home fortified against the apocalypse. 

I also really liked the flavorful results one can get from the Random Events table, and the tables that follow it. Each end-point of these branching options is a wonderful, specific, creativity-spurring prompt that makes it very easy to imagine what happened.

Weaknesses: For starting equipment, I'm not sure what the purpose of vehicles or building, electronic, or science material is. When you Study, it seems like you don't get any study points if you happen to roll the YOU option, unlike the other YOU options I noticed. How many Actions do I get to take before I proceed to MOB, the Random Event, and Maintenance? Do you always roll Consequences after you roll MOB? How can you ever be caught in the open when you only fight when they breach your home?

Things I'm excited about: Two things about this game really grabbed me: Trust No One, and YOU options. Being told that you will be given Stress Points if you even seriously THINK about responding to people is a serious mind-fuck and I'd love to see what the results of it are. Similarly, having a solo game ask you to get up and do certain things in your house is just so neat. I like how both of these things interact thematically with the subject material.

Recommendations for development: I'd definitely recommend tables and illustrations to explain some of the rules, as I found them hard to follow as pure text at times. Also, players have so many choices for Actions, some discussion of why you'd want to do different Actions, and when, would probably be illuminating and helpful.


Title of Game: Stage Names
Designer: Sage LaTorra
Challenge(s): Living In The Future, Unlonely Your Fun, ARG! RPGS!, Scheherazade, Sharing
2/1/11

Strengths: There's a lot to like in this game, and I'd first like to say it captures the spirit of the ARG! RPGs! challenge exactly as I had it in my head. To be specific: the character creation phase has some wonderfully-pointed questions, such as what — other than your art — does your biggest fan care about you? I love that you're creating a fake person here, and that the mechanics are so tied in to how the blog performs.

Weaknesses: What I'm supposed to write under Events is confusing. Also, you're asked to pick constraints from a list based on if you had 10 or fewer views, 10-21, etc., but the list for these choices is absent. I'm also unclear how your career (and thus, the game) ends. I am entirely unclear on the rules on Promotion; I know that you're limited at first to people you know, but I don't see how you gain new promotional opportunities. Finally, I'd like it if there were more variety in the "Choices" section other than all the ways to spend your blog-view points only being on romantic relationships.

Things I'm excited about: I love that Sage is putting up-front that your play has constraints, and makes those constraints a feature of the game rather than a detriment by positioning them to be the goads to creativity they are. The structure of requirements, constraints, and the character-building of the point system is very exciting as well; I feel like I'd never be at a loss for what to do next with this system, which is particularly difficult to achieve in a solo RPG.

Recommendations for development: A character sheet for this game would be both helpful, and fun to play with. Sage specifically suggests a custom implementation of Wordpress to do the game, and I would be very excited to see someone do that with this game. I would really love to see more mechanics that use the cruft of blogs (post counts, number of spammers attracted, search engine ranking, etc.) as their randomizers.



Title of Game: In Training The Templar
Designer: Erik Battle
Challenges: Unlonely Your fun, Scheherazade Challenge, ARG! RPGS! (or the Andy Kaufman challenge) and the Sharing Challenge
2/1/11

Strengths: This was a very clever little entry, and I commend Erik for both fucking with the obvious intent of the challenge, and what he did with it. The idea of tricking gamers into exercising is hilarious, and I think it works precisely because it's so transparent (Erik's own words). I was really surprised and pleased with Erik's take on the part of the ARG! challenge that asked you to teach people creative skills they didn't already possess. Physical fitness isn't necessarily what I had in mind, but I love that he actually does teach you something.

Weaknesses: I would have preferred if the fiction part of the game were less of an afterthought or joke than it seems to be. You are asked to write up your exercise routine into a story, but the game gives you very little to build a story out of. As a result, I don't really see this as a roleplaying game, since all the fiction and storytelling is attached mostly for humor.

Things I'm excited about: I love that Erik is trying to make a game that makes people's lives better. I love that he's taking his own personal experience, and he's created a reasonable workout that a lot of people can benefit from. But I'm most excited at how utterly unexpected this game was.

Recommendations for development: I see a real opportunity with this game. Erik makes several great points in the design notes at the end, including how he wants to channel the energy that people have to sit around playing WoW into something constructive and fun.

On the other hand, Erik makes several great points in the design notes at the end, including how he wants to channel the energy that people have to sit around playing WoW into something constructive and fun. I think with a little design that would amp up the fictional and gamey aspects of Train the Templar, and Erik could really get at some of the goals he was shooting for.




Title of Game:Winter
Designer: Zachary Donovan
Challenge(s): Sharing Challenge, Andy Kaufman Challenge
2/1/11

Strengths: I love that the first moment of play in this game is such a direct, evocative, and interesting request for you to imagine yourself in a particular circumstance. I also really enjoyed the economy here. It feels robust and seems like it would produce a very interesting session of play.

Weaknesses: There are a few forward-referencing problems. For example, there's talk of how you get rations, but it's not explained until much later where you get your rations from in the first place, and only then do you also know how to determine if you need to get rations.

Things I'm excited about: I love that the game asks you to talk to yourself. This notion excites and weirds me out, and I don't know what it adds to the game, but it's fascinating.

Recommendations for development: The key to making this game work better for me would be more inspiration for material for the 4 scene types. In each scene type, you're given a couple examples, but if there were some system or even just a longer list of ideas, that would be great.


See Unlonely Your Fun Challenge:
Suspended Animation, Ross Cowman
G, David Pigeon
Swords of the Skull-Takers, Joe Prince
The Last Man, Luca Ricci







Judge: Epidiah Ravachol

THE SCHEHEREZADE (OR CAMPAIGNER'S) CHALLENGE





Title of Game: Champion of the Realm
Game Designer: David John Petroski
Challenge(s): Living in the Future, The Scheherazade (or Campaigner's) Challenge, ARG! RPGS! (Or, the Andy Kaufman Challenge), Unlonely Your Fun
2/11/11

Strengths— There’s a lot of charm built into this game, especially in the charts that provide the random place and monster names.

The way the evil presence grows and keeps you ever on your feet is pretty exciting. In general, I’d like to play this game just to see the map that forms beneath my champion’s feet.

Weaknesses— The organization, especially with the charts, is a bit confusing. For instance, I missed that the Encounter draw was on the same table as the terrain. The game is highly procedural, and I got occasionally lost in the procedure on the first read through. I think this is a pretty easy fix, though.
Aces appear twice on the Monster chart with two very different monsters in each suit.

Exciting Parts— The growing and shifting world is pretty cool. And charts! Charts such as these are so delicious. I want more of them.

Next Steps—I want more charts. I want to be able to draw the name of my weapons and armor. And my potions.
The text could use a little cleaning up. The game is clearly a victim of the format, but the format was a requirement of the contest. I can’t wait to see what the dolled up version will look like.
Scheherazade—It seems very likely that one would not completely vanquish evil the first night they sit down to play this game, thus guaranteeing a campaign.


Title of Game: In Training the Templar

Game Designer: Erik Battle
Challenges: Unlonely Your fun, Scheherazade Challenge, ARG! RPGS! (or the Andy Kaufman challenge) and the Sharing Challenge
2/11/11

Strengths—Real life results. I’m a fan of that. I’m just in love with this concept.
Also, the monster names are great. Things like the Plague Scorpion and the Blighted Mammoth scare the shit out of me.

Weaknesses—The level table is a little confusing on first glance. Just a note or two to clarify what it is and what it means to have more hit points might be helpful.
This isn’t so much a weakness as it is a plea, but I really, really, really want to see the advanced version. This basic version gets the point across, but I think the advance is what’s going to sink it home for me. I want the more diverse monster, the treasures and the advanced moves. I want something that incorporates stretching and exercises like walking, running, biking or swimming.
Exciting Parts—Imaginary incentive for getting in shape (because all my real lift incentive hasn’t panned out).

Next Steps—Make this puppy happen! I want to see this published. I want to see a monster manual for it. I want you to contact a doctor and a nutritionist to add authority to the advice in the game.

Scheherazade—I share you hope in this category. I think many of the things you mention as possible advance rules might help reward those who do continue their campaigns.

Sharing—So I requested this game for this challenge and as I look at your criteria for the challenges you submitted to, I think your reasons for entering it into the Unlonely Your Fun Challenge make it almost perfect for the Sharing Challenge instead.


Title of Game: Inner Worlds
Game Designer: Mendel SchmiedekampChallenges: The Scheherazade Challenge, The Sharing Challenge2/11/11

Strengths—I like the overall idea of delving into an imaginary landscape of someone’s inner self. I like that the cardinal directions on the map to one’s inner self might be concepts like Love, Anger, Ambition and Joy rather than North, South, East and West.

Weaknesses—I can’t wrap my mind around what’s supposed to be happening in this game. The writing is a bit opaque and it’s clearly a game with a lot of moving parts. Or at least I think it is. I’m not entirely sure.

This part of it unfortunately halts my critique in its tracks. I cannot really say much more about the game because I can’t figure out what it is.

Some of this can be cleared up by rearranging your instructions so you’re not referencing concepts that haven’t been fully explained.

But I think there’s a something deeper here. You’re making some logical leaps that I’m just not following. And I may need to be held by the hand to get them. For example, when you tell me to decide on the meaning of a cardinal direction, you say it must be a broad ideal of the mind or heart. By contrast layer directions are supposed to a more concrete and have definite tone to them. And you provide examples of each, which is great. I just can’t see how Ambition fits on one list and Acceptance the other.


Title of Game: Monster Hunter X
Game Designer: David J. Rowe

Challenges: Pencil and Paper, The Sharing Challenge, Unlonely Your Fun, Build a Better Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, Scheherazade Challenge
2/11/11

Strengths—The instructions are really kind of great. They walk you through everything in a light, humorous way, taking you by the hand and leading you right to the gaping maw of death or destiny.
And the approach to combat harkens back to the earliest days of war gaming where a rubber band would suffice for a cannon. I love it.

Weaknesses—I don’t want to call the general idea for the game a weakness, per se. So let’s call this a challenge. The game is reminiscent of roguelike computer games and as such it really needs to find a way to set itself apart—a reason why you’d rather choose to play Monster Hunter X rather than Angband. I can see some reasons already (drawing monsters is fun, and I don’t have an iPhone so I might not have constant access to computer games of this sort), but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

More Kingdom X! This part feels a little tacked on at the moment, and it’s the part that really appeals to me. So I want more (see below).

Exciting Parts—The voice is of the text is light and humorous. And that goes a long way for a game such as this.
It harkens back to my salad days. Were I in high school, I’d be playing the hell out of this game right now.

Next Steps—More Kingdom X! I want more specific ways in which Monster Hunter X’s adventures affect the kingdom and his keep.

Challenges—The game text clearly explains how it fulfills the qualifications for the Sharing and Scheherazade challenges.



Title of Game: Relic
Game Designer: Ron EdwardsChallenge(s): Scheherezade and Sharing
2/11/11

Strengths—The options for the status of the church in society, the disposition of the skull, and the initiating phrases give the player grist for their mill. I’m very happy to see this. I’ve been noticing that one of the pitfalls of a solitaire RPG design is leaving the player to daydream without any help or guidance.

I’m also very happy to see that the instructions are explicitly to daydream, rather than to write the story you’re creating.

Weaknesses—I suspect the doctrinal document is going to need some help. It may be a bit much to ask folks to write 500-750 words of religious doctrine before engaging the religion. It may help to have a little guidance or creative restraint for this particular piece of prep.

Exciting Parts—The reversal of time! Watching the skull and the doctrinal history of the church reorder itself over the years is pretty catchy.
First hand experience with how a religious text is composed!

Next Steps—It took me a couple reads to figure out what was happening with the document and its discoveries. In fact, it was the influences and references section that made it clear. A quick bit at the beginning about the path the document and skull are going to take through the game would be helpful.

Sharing—The artifact created by this game is definitely an intriguing one. I’d be very curious to see some of these sacred texts as they are produced and reversed through history.

Scheherazade—Oddly, I feel the biggest draw to playing out all five phases of this game is to see how far into the past you can go. There’s something about randomly determining the decades between phases that really appeals to me.


Title of Game: Spiders Dance
Game Designer: Michael Wenman
Challenges: Pencil and Paper, The Scheherazade Challenge
2/11/11

Strengths—The setting for this game is wonderful. And both the setting and mechanics reflect each other in delicious ways.

Having your previous actions in the game ramp up the difficulty on your current challenge is very interesting. And it makes me want to play the game to see if early strategies can help avoid later disasters. I wonder if that can be represented in the narrative you’re creating.

Weaknesses—The game could use a note on what to write if you’re unable to complete the spider’s journey.

I’m a little fearful of creative fatigue with some of those larger maps. If my math is right, each successive spider journey adds two new sentences to the total you have to write for that spider. That means a 10-binding journey would require (5+7+9+11+13+15+17+19+21+23=) 140 sentences. It begins to look a bit more like homework than a game around 5 or so bindings.

Exciting Parts—The example of play is great. And its relative simplicity is big draw. Pencil and Paper may not have been my challenge, but I’m glad you took it on.

Next Steps— The step by step results of this game could be tweetable. Just saying.
I think some serious play testing to make sure the numbers work out and then you’re golden. Well, not golden, but well on your way to golden.

Scheherazade—The campaign set forth in the text sounds lovely and I can clearly see how it might be fun to develop future campaigns.


Title of Game: Stage Names
Designer: Sage LaTorra
Challenge(s): Living In The Future, Unlonely Your Fun, ARG! RPGS!, Scheherazade, Sharing
2/6/11

Strengths—I love the way this game incorporates the fact that you have to share its results in order to continue playing. I think there’s react traction here and lots of room for interesting hacks.
The way it works with existing Internet media is also very promising. I really want to see more of how that is governed and works.

Weaknesses—The document I have is clearly unfinished. There’s the framework for the game, but several lists of constraints and options that need to be filled in. It’s a no-brainer that they will be filled in if Sage is excited enough continue with the game, and I hope he is. But it’s a little hard to comment on the game without having a more complete picture.
Several parts of this game fall under separate mechanics, and I’m not sure why: the choices where you get to spend points and the constraints based on how many followers you have. It’s not horrible that they work differently, but it might be easier to stitch them together and have something easier to remember.

Exciting Parts
—Stage Names plays to a genre I don’t see too often in our hobby, and one that’s pretty damn popular. It’s got a little bit of American Idol in it and I mean that in a good way.

Next Steps—Clearly the game is a start. Or at least from the document I have. So I can’t comment too much on where I’d like to see it go.

That said, finding out the constraints available to you as you gain and lose followers is going to move this game in directions I can’t predict at the moment. And I’m excited about that. Just thinking about that makes me wonder what different sets of constraints might do for the game. You can add some interesting twists and perhaps sinister twists with stalkers and various other pitfalls of fame as the follower count goes up.

I’d also like to see more choices to spend points on.

Scheherazade—Addictively checking to see how many views I get on posts and the like is a game I go back to every day. I can easily see how this one meets the criteria for Scheherazade.

Sharing—In the game, you’re sharing your performances; which, if I understand correctly, might not be your own. There is something shareable here. In fact, it’s a major part of the mechanic. Well done.



Title of Game: Storyleaves
Game Designer: Jamie FristromChallenge(s): Sharing Challenge & Scheherazade Challenge
2/11/11

Strengths—This is another very strong game. The structure in particular really sings. You’re not just using the details on the cards to tell a story. The cards have mechanical weight that force you down paths you might not have taken. Good stuff.

Although the game requires a formidable amount of brainstorming in the beginning (30-60 cards worth) it does offer plenty of examples, plus a default set if you really get stuck. That’s great. Just reading the sets makes me want to play them straight out of the box.
Finally, the text is fraught with examples that help you right along. Anything that’s unclear won’t be for long.

Weaknesses—The only place where this game is soft at all is in determining the numerical value of the cards. In general it says the most important elements should get lower numbers, but it’s not entirely clear how you decide that. All the examples start off with characters as low numbers. This might be vital to the sort of story you’re telling. It means that if someone wants to get something done, involving another character is the best way to do it.

Since the protagonist is playing from a hand, it might mean that if the higher numbered cards get played at all, they’ll be played by the antagonist. This might inform which cards end up in the top 10 percent.

Then again, I might just be focusing on this because I can’t find anything else to harp on. It’s worth investigating, though.

Exciting Parts—These card sets! I want to make them, play them, share them, illustrate them and discuss them.

Next Steps—It’s pretty damn good the way it stands. I’m already a fan. If anything, I’d like to see other base story structures. Perhaps one where the Beloved is an ideal rather than a character. Or one where the antagonist is the protagonist in a man vs. himself sort of way.

Sharing—Like many entries in this category, this game relies on the resulting fiction to be interesting enough to be shared. Of all those, I think this has one of the strongest cases for it.

Scheherazade—I can definitely feel the pull of wanting to tell a whole series of adventures through this game. (Might be of interest to make a progression out of it by allowing the antagonist the best of two draws the second time they end up being the antagonist of the story.)

Pencil and Paper—The game was not entered under the Pencil and Paper challenge, but I’m going to go ahead and recommend it for it anyway.





Title of Game: Swords of the Skull-Takers 0.2

Game Designer: Joe Prince
Challenges: ARG! RPGS! (or the Andy Kaufman Challenge), the Sharing Challenge, Un-lonely Your Fun & the Scheherazade Challenge
2/6/11

Strengths—A great interplay between resources and risk. The game within the roleplaying here seems both evocative and sound. The quest for fellow survivors, hope and the material means to better defend myself from the ever growing onslaught is tantalizing.
Tarot is used to good effect here. It’s not just a randomizer.
Example of play! Well done, sir.

Weaknesses—I’m a little shaky on the cache rules. Having not played it yet (something I intend to remedy soon), I don’t know how the 5 card limit will impact the game, but I’m curious if the intent is to have NPC choke out the other resources as the game goes on. (Though, like I said, I haven’t played, so I’m not sure that would happen. It just seems likely on my read of it.)

The game would not be harmed by a straight up setting. As it stands, just exactly who the Skull-Takers are and almost everything else about the world is up to the player. And I enjoy a considerable amount of freedom, but already I can tell that my game will likely be set in the world of the example of play. And having a more defined setting would probably aid in making sure you’re Unlonelied Fun is compatible with others.

A balance can be struck there. Enough details to hang on to, but not so much that there aren’t enough questions to answer.

Exciting Parts—Skulls and swords! I’ll be honest, this game really calls to me. Hunkering down during some sort of apocalypse really appeals to me as a solo game.

Next Steps—So, I can see the tension being ratcheted between draws from the deck during the day as you wait to see if you acquire what you seek. I’m wondering if something can be done to solidify this more in the fiction. If you fail the first draw, you run into trouble, but perhaps the suit of the card could tell you what sort of trouble. This would prevent the player from shooting through both draws and create a pause where the tension could be savored as they contemplate the story implications.

Scheherazade—The game has a built in time limit. As the nights drag on, it becomes increasingly more likely that you won’t survive. During this time, it may take several days of real time to play it all out. Perhaps even only playing a single day and night each session, which I can see being a lot of fun. The optional rules for extending this (being able to discover the previous character’s journal and being able to relocate by sacrificing your cache) seem promising.

Sharing—The game produces journal entries which can be of interest to others playing the game, and perhaps of some interest to those who haven’t.



Title of the Game: Teen Witch
Game Designer: Joe Mcdalno
Challenges: The Stuff in Your Domicile, The Scheherazade Challenge, Sharing Challenge, Unlonely Your Fun
2/1/22

Strengths—Teen Witch is a crazy evocative game. Something of a solo LARP/ritual that directly and physically hits senses ignored by most games. And I’m a big fan of games that rely on the unused senses.
It practically reeks with potential. And not in that backhanded sort of way where you what you’re actually saying is that it would have potential if it just changed. As it sits, there’s so much one could do with it, especially once you let yourself accept the magic of it. It is unhindered by anything but its base premise.

Weaknesses—You are really out there on your own playing this. There is precious little in it to help you bridge the gap between who you are and being a teenage girl who is a witch. For me, this is a bit like handing someone a guitar and telling them to imagine they are a French gypsy musician until they become Django Reinhardt.

I’d love to see more direction and motivation. The starting spell, Secret Beauty, speaks volumes to the concerns of my teen witch, but I personally need more of that. I’m old enough to be afraid of teenagers (especially when they’re in packs). In order to become a teen witch, a broken old curmudgeon like me is going to need a lot of help. 
Also some spell ingredients might not be entirely vegan.
Exciting Parts—Spells! Collecting components and rituals! Such fun stuff here. This, above all else, makes me want to play this game.
Next Steps—Teen Witch, unfortunately, might not be written for me. As an exercise in ritual alone, it fits in a realm of game where my only practical experience involves techniques I use to battle insomnia, which cannot be helpful here. Plus, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m not too inclined towards pretending I’m a teen witch without a little mechanical help in that regard. So I fear that the only useful advice I can offer is to encourage Joe to make it a beautiful thing to possess; which is something I’m confident he not only would have done without my urging, but is quite capable of.

Scheherazade—The compulsion to return to Teen Witch seems to be drawn from identifying with your character and wanting to experience more of that character. For those drawn to such characters and experiences, the fact that they may play the game more than once is a bit of a given. Beyond that—and the promise of more candles—mastery over the fine art of witchcraft seems to be the primary lure to returning to the game.

Sharing—This game might not specifically qualify for this challenge. I’m not sure. I suspect that the idea that you’re able to teach the game to someone else is the shareable aspect of it. While that’s definitely something that can be shared, it’s not in and of itself a qualification for the challenge. If I’m wrong, please let me know. (Perhaps the sharing of spells?) 





Title of Game: The Turning Leaves

Game Designer: Jackson tegu
Challenge: Scheherazade

Strengths—The Turning Leaves has some interesting things to say about its ever growing world, not the least of which is that almost all we can know from the world comes from the characters. You spend some time in the beginning establishing the world and certain facts about it (such as why the year begins at 90), but after that, damn near all that happens to the world is the direct result of you explaining why characters feeling and change the way they do. There’s a lovely focus there.
The character creation pulls you deep enough into each character to make you understand them before playing them. This seems essential to how the game functions, and it does this with some great tricks. I’m a particular fan of the core-spots.

Weaknesses—There is some muddled text in there, that makes both the procedures and the intention a bit unclear. But that’s as to be expecting from an early draft. It was a little difficult for me to parse out how the interactions between the characters worked. I had to reread that section a few times to figure out the procedure and to determine which character changed.

I think the player could us a little more support from the game. It would be nice to see the game start with concrete material and work towards the vague and malleable.

For example, at the beginning the player is told to make up four cultures: a loose knit one, a regimented one, one that has been there for a long time, and one that has come from far away. I think these are wonderful starting points for someone who wants to take the game and make it their own. However it would be more helpful, more evocative, if the game just gave you four specific cultures to work with. Cultures that fit the criteria and expand on them. There will be plenty of blanks left for the player to fill in, but still provide direction.

Throughout I think the game could use a little more specific and concrete help. There’s a lot of general direction in the game that player must work to fulfill. It would help if these were more evocative and shot the player right into action.

Exciting Parts—The world grows! I’m very much draw to this. Especially with the additions of new sites.
The loss and transformation mechanics, and how they lead to death, are pretty attractive, too.

Next Steps—As the years go by, the world creates more interesting places to interact with and new people show up, but how about more? Can cultures change over the years? What about the terrain? Can Yearlings graduate to full-fledge characters? Do all events start with the character’s reactions and work out into the fiction?

Scheherazade—There is a definite draw to this game, especially as the world grows and becomes more populated by interesting individuals. I can see eventually having being quite invested in the future of various characters. If the game lead me to anticipate future events—perhaps by entangling characters in such a way that you know eventually they’re going to have to have a showdown or by offering new things you can add to the world after so many seasons of play—then I think it would be an almost perfect for this challenge.




THE SHARING CHALLENGE


Title of Game: Anna, the Millers Daughter
Game Designer: Jackson Tegu
Challenge(s): Pencil & Paper, Sharing
2/11/11

Strengths—A great, light little game. I can see it having broad appeal to some younger players, which is wonderful. We need more of those.

The story in this one is not supposed to be rollicking, but I love the way it shoots you right into it. The two-and-a-half starting lines help you to hit the ground running (well, strolling) and give you just enough momentum to keep it going. Well done.

Weaknesses—I have to be nitpicky here, because I think the design is solid. The text itself could be a little clearer. The introductory part raised a lot of questions that were quickly answered once I got to the “Let’s start!” part. You may just want to start there and explain the goal and priorities after the player has done their second-and-a-half line.

Also, I think the secondary object is to make the map a drawing of something other than a map, right? I’m not sure if I’m reading that part correctly.

(By the way, I pointed out a mistake Emily made when she read the rules. At least I think I did. You don’t have to start every line after the second with “Every day, Anna...” right?)

Exciting Parts—So easy to play, why wouldn’t you? I mean, once you’ve read it, it’ll be there for you next time you’re waiting for an appointment.

Next Steps—Make the text just a bit clearer and then unleash this puppy on the world.
Although designed for a solo RPG contest, you might want to drop the solo part. I can see this being a lot of fun for a parent to play with their child.

Sharing—I too would like to leave these line-drawings about. Perhaps with the story attached to them.



Title of Game: The Clock Strikes
Game Designer: Devon J. KelleyChallenge: The Sharing Challenge
2/11/11

Strengths—This critique is going to look a little thin. And that has everything to do with the strength of this charming little game. Its simple, compact and plays quite well with its theme.

Once you’ve read the rules, or had them swiftly explained to you, all you need to do is print out the clock sheet and hit the ground running. Wonderful.

Weaknesses—If need be, I’ll argue up and down the Internet that this game is utterly unrealistic and until the threat value of the Small Child is changed to at least 4, I’ll refuse to play this game.
Exciting Parts—Oh how I love how you draw the damage right on your clock face.

I’m tremendously interested in where the choices occur in this game. Aside from the gamble of spending a battery charge early to avoid damage, all other choices you make in this game are with the color and fiction. I really want to sink my teeth into that. I wonder how important it will be for me that what I encountered was a Small Child threatening to Scratch me rather than a Vacuum threatening to rub a Sticky Smear on me. And how interesting that if the Small Child is armed with the Sticky Smear, it’s unavoidable.

Next Steps—I suspect you’re already exactly where you want to be with this game. I know that my next step is going to be to play it and the hack the hell out of it to play out other epic quests. Such as Eppy trying to wake up and get his first cup of coffee in the morning.

Sharing—The sharing element of this gamed doesn’t quite stand on its own. You’ll have to explain the game that led to it. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying this game.


Title of Game: Demilich: The Evil Plan
Game Designer: Noam RosenChallenge(s): Sharing, Andy Kaufman2/11/11

Strengths—The voice of this text really carries the game. And the subject matter is something very near and dear to my heart, because I too have a skull and have yet to die.

The example evil plans, and just the examples in general, are great.

In fact, over all, this seems like a very strong game. With just a few tweaks to the text (as I will detail in a moment) and it feels ready to go.

Weaknesses— The Play section is rather unclear. I think you’ve got a really neat game in there, but it’s a bit murky.

I’m not sure what the Assets Relevant Skill is nor how to determine the relevant Skull Ability. I suspect it has something to do with the Suit/Asset Type chart and the face value of the cards underneath the Asset, but it’s unclear. The word “skill” is only mentioned in the Play and Oppositions Acts sections, and nowhere is it explained how a skill value is obtained.

Also, how many dice are we rolling? I suspect one for me and one for the opposition, but again, it’s a little unclear.

And finally, what does it mean to be damaged? I know the damage is the difference, but is that in number of cards? Is it in face value of cards?

Exciting Parts—Evil chuckle, mandatory.
Sacrificing minions! How lovely!

Next Steps—An example or two of a fight with the opposition would be tremendously helpful. Just cleaning that section would get this thing running pretty smoothly.

Sharing—The sharing element is clearly the megalomaniacal bragging you’re bound to engage in as your demilich on Twitter. Nothing wrong with that.



Title of Game: map of house
Game Designer: Jackson TeguChallenge(s): Pencil & Paper, Sharing
2/11/11

Strengths—The setting of this game is immediately enthralling. The portability of this game is also very attractive. And the end result is an artifact I can imagine wanting to hang on to. Like a dungeon map of your past. I’d like to get that framed.

Weaknesses—There’s not much bite, unfortunately. Simply telling the player to come up with a difficulty with nothing really concrete to hold on to is not going to cut it after the first couple rooms. You need something for the player to sink their teeth into.
The game is meant to be intense, but does little beyond suggesting it’s intense to drive the player toward something powerful. If the game is to be intense, it needs to be bolder. It needs to directly demand of the player something intense, rather than suggesting it. Especially if the text tells you to stop playing once it is no longer powerful.

Exciting Parts—There is something deeply appealing about exploring the houses of my youth. In fact, once I start, I’m not sure I’d be able to stop until I reach my home of today.

Next Steps—The difficulties need to be readdressed so that they can help the player do something other than roam around their old houses. Make the players face their history. Make them look in the mirror (literally if they have to) and play out those pivotal events that made them what they are or failed to make them what they wish to be.

Sharing—Presumably the shared product from this game are the maps created and as I’ve mentioned above, I really like the idea of having these artifacts around.




Title of Game: G
Game Designer: David PigeonChallenges: The Sharing Challenge, Living in the Future, ARG! RPGs! (or the Andy Kaufman Challenge)
2/11/11

Strengths—The theme to this game is strongly reinforced. I love the restriction that you’re not allowed to see responses to your creation until you’ve played all 52 turns. And the tedium and the ticking clock of the deck of cards are great. Overall it just seems like a really solid game.

Weaknesses—Having a list of possible incidents is great, but if the game plays out as it should, with most of your turns being about boredom, I think I’d like to see a list of everyday duties as well.
Something I can complain about. Some things (relatively) mundane that I can turn into a petty drama. Some things I can neglect. Some things I can be doing while recording my video.

The gauges are evocative, but I’d like to know a little more about just what a three-point or a five-point shift on them might look like. If I go from a 2 Happiness to a 6 Happiness, what does that mean? Is that a major, manic jump? Or is it the difference between a day when you stubbed your toe and a day you don’t? Am I supposed to be looking at the relative difference between the points from week to week or am I always unstable whenever my sanity is below a certain number?

Exciting Parts—I have a soft spot in my heart for the long, lonely sci-fi movies of our past. Back when sci-fi wasn’t just a sub-genre of action. I’m sold.

Next Steps—As I mentioned before, I’d like to see just a little more detail, especially as far as the gauges are concerned and that’s it. I really like where it stands right now.

Sharing—There’s definitely an opportunity to create some interesting things to share here. I think the sharing is more interesting when the audience understands the game, but I can see it standing on its own, as well.





Exciting Parts—Like I said in the strengths, what I have been able to discern from this game, I’m excited about. I like the idea of it.

Next Step—If you want, I’d be more than happy to talk about this game. I want to learn it! Maybe a dialogue will help us tease out why we’re having a miscommunication.



Title of Game: Winter for One
By Zachary Donovan
Challenge(s): Sharing Challenge, Andy Kaufman Challenge 

2/1/11

Strengths—It is hard not to daydream about how heroic, daring and self-sacrificing you’d be in WWII after seeing most films on the topic. ­It’s a war with a clear sense of right and wrong, which makes it ample fodder for the action-adventure centers of the brain. Winter for One stops those majestic dreams dead in their tracks. And I love that.
The limited types of scenes and rules for how they may follow one another make it very apparent that the story you’re about to tell is not wish fulfillment, not a heroic fantasy. They are very evocative and really help shape expectations in fruitful ways.

Weaknesses—As a practical matter, the text can be a bit confusing, which is understandable, being an early draft and all. Occasionally the wordmission is used interchangeably with scene, despite seeming to have a separate definition all its own.

Also, the consequences and results of choosing certain scenes are divorced from where the scenes are talked about. It might be good to mention that you lose Hope for not doing a Camaraderie scene both when you talk about the scene and the end of the day math. The same for the results of the Survival scene roll.
While I have no specific quibble with how Health and Hope are recorded, and I’m particularly interested in how they track over the course of several days, I am a little skeptical of just how much like hit points they seem. I get how they interact with each other, but it makes it kind of easy for me to view Hope as an armor metaphor. Which, of course, may be the point. But I’m a little put off by that and would rather see the loss of Hope lead down interesting paths besides an accelerated loss of Health.
 
Exciting Parts—Strange as it may seem, the part of this game that really grabs me is all the ways one could die without violence in it. You can feel the weight of war in more than the ammunition.

The best you can hope for is to be relieved of duty! You’re just trying to survive until then and I think that’s absolutely lovely.
“I never wanted to be a soldier.” “The wintertime has a certain beauty here.”
“I can't believe I volunteered for this.” Yes! Yes! Yes!

Next Steps—I can’t wait to see what form this document takes as it is developed further.

The game starts with three great lines to choose from when creating your journal. This is juicy, evocative stuff that really helps shape the fiction for the player (which is vital, because the player has no one else to help him or her shape the fiction). More of this please! You have lists throughout, but keep them coming! Any time you’re tempted to ask the player to think about something, give them a list of half a dozen conclusions to choose from. List what equipment they will have with them and so forth. The more details you can offer the player, the more they have to work with and the more they can do.

Sharing—The shared portion of Winter for One appears to be your journal entries. I can see this being of particular interest to a group of people also partaking in the game. But when it comes to a wider audience, it’s going to be hard to compete with actual accounts from veterans.

See also Scheherazade:
In Training the Templar, Erik Battle
Inner Worlds, Mendel Schmiedekamp
Monster Hunter X, David J. Rowe
Relic, Ron Edwards
Storyleaves, Jamie Fristrom
Stage Names, Sage LaTorra
Teen Witch, Joe Mcdalno





CHALLENGELESS CHALLENGE


Title of Game: My Dark Future

Game Designer: Tomas HV MørkridChallenge: Challengeless challenge
2/11/11

Strengths—The first stage is great. In fact, it’s a little scary when you read it, knowing the intent of the game. There are definite sinister overtones right from the start.

I love the way your dark side and your willingness to take active control over your life grows as you play out the scenes.

Weaknesses—I’d consider renaming the Willpower die. It took me a couple reads to realize it didn’t mean you had control over the scene, but rather that you were the active agent in the scene (rather than a passive recipient of good or ill fate). Simply calling it the Active die might help change that.

Are forgiveness and crime scenes exclusive to when the Willpower is high and tied with one or the other die? Or could you, for example, commit a crime in another dark die scene?

What happens during that 1 in 216th chance when all the dice tie? Or more commonly, when the willpower die is high, but the dark and light dice are tied?

Exciting Parts—Evil Eppy! I like the exercise put forth in this game. It’s something I’ll definitely try at some point.

Next Steps—I think there are just a few points to clarify, which I outlined above, plus a little editing and this baby is ready to be unleashed on an unexpecting world.