Review: Friends or Fortune

In Short…

Friends or Fortune is Dave Cleaver’s game of a Dutch sailing voyage to the far east. An interesting blend of full-on storygame style and boardgame-like presentation, I found myself intrigued by the game, but not convinced that gameplay would have the results that Dave had in mind when writing the game.

Incorporation Of Images

I found the inline images, from Adam Dray’s image set, to be nicely enough placed in the text to break up the pages of text. The game was certainly inspired by the images, with the emphasis on the “inspired” and not as much on the “image.” However, I totally and completely love the map that tracks the ships progress, either to its destination or to its destruction. It’s something that makes me want to put it on the table and play with it, which is great.

I think further development should definitely include finding portraits of 16th and 17th century sailors and using them in the background of the crew cards. And popout ships.

Playability

The rules are simple enough and clearly explained. Most of my questions about them would require some playtesting in order to answer, I think. I have one over-riding concern which cuts right to the heart of the game, however – where’s the tension? I see no consequences or payoff (flip sides of the same coin) at the end of the game for the choices and sacrifices made during the game. It is left ambiguous in the text whether one or the other result (destination or disaster) constitutes “winning” the game, and with the board-game element of the map, I found myself searching for these kinds of concrete, game elements.

As is, I see little reason for the Companion to push for saving sailors, as there is no consequence for killing off your crewmates, other than fictional onces that each group may or may not impose. Basically, I see little reason for anyone to play hard and push for hard choices, as there is no difference in the end (again, unless the group is grooving on a certain kind of play, which may or may not be being affected by this game in particular).

Finally, I really, really wanted Ghosts to have a bigger role in the game, especially with the link between nautical tales and ghost stories.

Overall

I dig the concept, but I fear that the lack of mechanical tension in the rules will lead to lackluster, “parlor narration” style play, with little staying power. I love that it’s designed for three players and how Bonds and Anchors work, but I don’t really see an overarching reward cycle or mechanical engine for dynamic play. I see the potential for a really strong narrative boardgame here, but playtesting certainly needs to happen to see if my concerns are on the mark.

Further Thoughts

Production model: Small boxed set, fold-out map, glossy character cards, booklet with the rules, one-session play set of rules in addition to “full” rules. Hells, yes.

I really think you should take a hard look at why people should be making hard choices for their characters. Where’s the motivation? What’s the payoff? The rules are there to shape the interaction around the table, and right now I see the interaction being un-driven. If the people are into the material and their characters anyway, then they’ll have a good time – but what if they’re not?

Also, make Ghosts a bigger part of play. For me!

-N

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Published in: on March 13, 2007 at 1:59 am  Comments (1)  

Friends or Fortune

This game feels incomplete, not in the sense of something being left out, but as though it were a piece of another game. Specifically, the game is about making only one decision, iterated a significant number of times. This has potential, but I do not feel that the consequences for that decision were sufficiently explored – and interesting consequences are the only way to avoid the game play from feeling simply repetative.

Image Use: This is a category where I’m fairly split on this game. On one hand, the ship map is evocative and well-done. On the other hand, that is the only image which deals with sea journeys and travel. The rest feel tacked on, and if anything detract from the feel of the game as a whole.

Playability: The functional playability of the game is largely limited by the lack of examples and inspiration. We will tend to have 9-10 challenge scenes, each of which will place the ship and a sailor at risk. Giving no basis for coming up with these challenges, is a recipe for creative burn-out for the players framing the scene. Likewise, some examples or even some direct mechanics for the endgame, especially ghosts would put some meat into the decision to let a fellow sailor die. That being said, the mechanics and game structure is clearly described, and offers the opportunity for a potentially interesting game, albeit a narrow one.

Overall: I liked the core of this game, but I felt there needs to be more too it. Specifically having a ‘make a friend’ scene followed by a ‘choose to save that friend or the ship’ scene is asking for boring repeatition. Especially as the outcome of that scene is binary, and produces a random effect on one of two status charts. There is a detachment from the consequences, which makes them less meaningful, and ultimately trivializes the decisions the game is based upon. I suspect this can easily be fixed, but it is a serious problem with the game as designed.

Suggestions: Two ideas spring to mind. First, increasing the depth of the decisions – one way could be to allow the sacrifice of an anchor as a means to influence the outcome, perhaps re-rolling a die, saving the sailor but sacrificing the friendship, or letting you roll and add another die when you save the ship (sacrificing the anchor you connected with that sailor).  Second, the appearance of randomness can be removed – consider if you have a pool of 10 NPC sailors, and under each is a face down card from 1 to 10, which is how much that sailor contributes to the journey if they die. You would be able to look at that card after you befriend the sailor, and you still roll to determine loss of seaworthiness. But now the decision is one based on some definite knowledge versus a gamble. This even fits the traditions of sailing, with the ill-fortunated sailors being considered the cause of a journey’s ills.
– Mendel

Published in: on March 9, 2007 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)