Inordinate Fondness Review

Inordinate Fondness puts the players in the role of insect archaeologists that explore the earth after the fall of human civilization. Using card mechanics that include card swapping, hand building, and a bit of risk-reward assessment, players explore the ruins of human civilization, recover artifacts, and attempt to gain status by interpreting their findings to their nest.

Use of Images
Inordinate Fondness makes great use of the source images as inspiration for the game. The images juxtapose the trappings of human civilization with various insects. The theme and design of the game embraces that juxtaposition, offering players the opportunity to explore the same emotional range found in the images.

Unfortunately, the images are not incorporated into the mechanics of the game, and are half-heartedly cut-n-pasted into a single page of the rules document. It seems like the designer was most interested in delivering a solid gaming experience based on his concept, and included images in the rules solely to meet the base requirements of the contest.

The game mechanics are great: simple, playable, though slightly idiosyncratic. The game is broken down into logical phases, which gives the reader a good sense of the cycle of exploration and scholarly theorizing that fill their character’s lives. Each mechanic within the game interwines with at least one other part of the game, so that decisions made in one phase have an impact on later phases. Also, every mechanic ties directly into the shared imagination space and enforces the themes of the game.

The game has an interesting idiosyncrasy. The risk level at several points in the game is fairly high. Survival during exploration depends on having a card that is identical or ‘adjacent’ to (i.e. one higher or one lower than) the value of a facedown card. Careful maneuvering of cards can increase a player’s odds of survival, but one round of bad luck can spell doom for one or all of the characters. Likewise, social status, an important commodity in the game, greatly depends on a random poker hand draw. A dominant character with a lot of status could easily be overturned by bad luck or persistent challenges from other players. If the focus of the game were strategy, I would call the high risk a flaw. However, the point of the game seems to be the story told, in which case I think the high risk makes for a more lively tale.

One problem I see is that a successful character could become stagnant. Once a player has a good hand, there is not much motivation to change it. However, I think the high level of risk mentioned above counterbalances this issue. Even if you are dominating the game, you have no guarantee that you will survive the next Exploration.

The layout and play examples do a pretty good job of supporting actual game play. I especially like the way the author divides the play example into its own column, like a running commentary or conversation with the meat of the rules. I only have a few quibbles in terms of play support. Steps Nine and Ten make reference to the players ‘hand’ of cards, and it is not immediately evident that the rules mean the Insect Cards drawn in Step Four. Lastly, in Step Fourteen, I was a little confused by having the listing of status rewards for introducing and supporting theories on the same line. I was able to figure it out, but it would be clearer if each reward was listed separately.

I’m really pleased with the direction Mark took with his game. In fact, you could say I have an inordinate fondness of it (sorry, couldn’t resist). Good work, Mark! I’m eager to try it out.
As for fulfilling the spirit of the contest, I feel that this design only goes about half-way. The game design is great, but I feel that the author could have done more to incorporate the image set past the initial inspiration for the game.

Suggestions to the Designer
I have two additions to suggest, and a few minor nitpicks to tighten up what you already have.

I would like to see an endgame added to the design. In its current form, it seems like players simply play until they have had enough, or they run out of time, etc. It would be nice if players had some guidance for wrapping up their story when they are ready to end their game. Perhaps the player with the most social status at the end becomes a personal attendant of the nest queen, or wins the right to narrate how the surviving theories shape the future of the nest. Or if you feel that having a ‘winner’ undermines the spirit of the game, maybe a group narration of the end is more appropriate.

I also think it would be nice if the legacy of dead characters counted for something, especially if you add in rules for an endgame. Maybe the status of dead characters factors into determining a ‘winner’ at the end.

The descriptions of player order in Step Nine could use some clean-up. First, I would include the player with the lowest status in your list. Simply state that they are not allowed a card swap. Second, your second bullet point refers to the “third highest status player”, when I think you mean “third lowest”. That caused some initial confusion for me.

In Step Four, it would be really useful if the example displayed images of each player’s hand, rather than listing the cards in text.

Finally, I’d like to see a record sheet for theories, with spaces for supporting and detracting evidence and current credibility.

Published in: on March 8, 2007 at 2:11 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for the useful comments. Guilty as charged on using the images for inspiration and not much else. I like the idea of an endgame linked to the queen or fate of the nest or their grand theory of those who came before. I sort of like the disposibility of characters- but will think about their legacy.

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