Review: The City at the Edge of Sleep

In Short…

The City at the Edge of Sleep is Mike Addison’s game of dreamworld adventure and identity creation. I really dig the Event framework and how the mechanics of the game really shape the position of your character relative to the setting and situation. While I have a couple of severe reservations (mainly about Shaping rolls), I think that this game had a lot of potential to shape up (heh) into a really great short-form story game.

Incorporation of Images

I really like how the game was very much written from the images. It’s a bit hard to explain, but as I read the text, I had a very strong sense that the images and the text were integrated, like they had grown out of each other. The fact that the images were chosen before the text was written means that I think Mike did a fantastic job using them to inspire his game. It’s not that the images are used particularly well in a graphic design sense, but they really show the world that he describes in a useful fashion, and I think it’s great.

Playability

I’m a big fan of constrained/delineated time structures for play, and I think the Event framework gives a strong backbone to the three-act structure of play. While Events may not be implemented as well as they could be, they serve to give needed structure to what could otherwise be a very chaotic playspace. I was reminded of Don’t Rest Your Head for a number of reasons (theme being the obvious one, though this game certainly takes a different tack on the genre), but one of them is that the initial character questionnaire in DRYH serves the same purpose as Events in CatEoS (hows that for an acronym!), but from the opposite side of play.

In any case, the Events give me some solid ground for running this game right out of the box. That said, I feel like the exact structure and scope of Events may need to shift (be either looser and vaguer, or more solid and specific) in order to drive play in a more meaningful fashion, but thats a big question for playtesting.

The other thing I want to touch on is Shaping rolls. I have one huge reservation about how they work, and thats that the GM chooses which traits you use. I think this is a problem mainly because the GM has a lot of explicit power in this game, and the players relatively little. Making something that is both historically and intuitively a huge player choice (how their character addresses a problem or conflict) something that’s ALSO under the domain of the GM treads dangerously close to, and perhaps over, the line between “active participant” and “passively being entertained”

Finally, I think that Shaping could have more “texture.” As is, it’s a little flat, especially when the rest of the game is mainly free narration. I think making more mechanical toys to play with when Shaping would make the process of play that much more grabby.

Overall

I really like this game, and I want to play it right now. I’m a sucker for this kind of game (I’m a big DRYH fan, for example), and the procedures of play hit a lot of my play preference buttons as well. Other than what I’ve mentioned above, there’s one more thing that would really make play of this game more fun for me, and that’s an increased attention to character development. I’ll expand below, but the bottom line is, I really hope you dedicate some time and attention to developing this game, Mike. I really like it.

Further Thoughts

So, I think that the three-act structure is keen, and I think there’s more room to develop within it. Three-act stories tend to involve characters that go through definite and clear character arcs within them (think of, like, all good movies and plays) Right now, the only character development mechanism in the game is the gradual regaining of memories, which is cool, but is really mostly an exploration of backstory. It certainly informs the game you’re playing, but it’s also all stuff that happened in the past, not right now.

The opposed scores for your character stats are a good germ for this, I believe. I think that having those scores shift over the course of play would both help add texture to the resolution system (which I think is good), and serve as a focus for paying attention to your characters actions and Shaping. I can see cool things happening with either you changing your stats, maybe at the ends of Acts or as the result of failed (or successful) Shaping rolls, or for your stats changing as the perceptions of others change. Maybe it requires a Shaping contest to change, or preserve, your stats. Anyhow, I hope this makes sense, and that you put some thought into this while playtesting.

And you will be playtesting it. Oh yes. Oh yes.

-N

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Published in: on March 18, 2007 at 1:34 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Nathan, thanks so much. A lot of your criticisms are in line with Dave Cleaver’s thoughts. Perhaps a few quick tweaks should be done before any playtesting happens.


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