And The Winners Are!

Once again, I apologize for my tardiness in getting all of this done. But, finally, all votes have been counted and all scores have been tallied. Here are the winners of the 2007 BibliOdyssey Design Challenge!

Best Integration Of Images: The City At The Edge Of Sleep, by Mike Addison, with a total average score in the category of 8/10. Followed by:

  • Troll Lands (7.8)
  • Once More (6.8)
  • In Inordinate Fondness & Dark Explorations (6)
  • Friends or Fortune & In Frankensteins Wake (5)

Most Playable: In Frankenstein’s Wake, by Eric Boyd, with a total average score in the category of 8.5/10. Followed by:

  • An Inordinate Fondness (8.3)
  • Once More (7)
  • The City at the Edge of Sleep (6)
  • Friends or Fortune (5.5)
  • Troll Lands (4.6)
  • Dark Explorations (4)

Best Overall: In Frankenstein’s Wake also had the highest score in the category, with a total average of 7.25. As a game cannot take more than one title, the next highest was a three-way tie! The City at the Edge of Sleep, An Inordinate Fondness and Once More all received a score of 7. As City at the Edge of Sleep is also ineligible, the official winners of this category are both An Inordinate Fondness, by Mark Villianatos and Once More, by Mendel Schmiedekamp! The other scores:

  • Troll Lands (5.6)
  • Friends or Fortune (5.5)
  • Dark Explorations (5)

Congratulations to Mike, Eric, Mark and Mendel! I look forward to playing your games!

The individual pages will be updated with their scores and review links real soon now. There’s also a thread at StoryGames to talk about the winners, and the contest in general.

Thanks everyone!

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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

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

Review of “The City At The Edge of Sleep”

Image Incorporation:

The images were definitely an inspiration for this game. They are well placed in the text, however I wouldn’t classify their use as extraordinarily evocative.

Most Playable:

I have several major problems in the rules for this game.

1) Shaping rolls – All actions in the game basically come down to the shaping roll. The shaping roll has 3 major steps before the dice are rolled. The player declares their action, the GM chooses which of the player’s traits would apply to the roll, and finally the GM chooses a difficulty number. My problem occurs in the second step. The traits define the Shaper’s personality, so the GM’s choice of traits acts like a judgment of the player’s chosen action. I think this would be a far better mechanic if the player could announce the traits, thereby showing how they view the actions of their characters.

2)Betting Self – The mechanic to gain memories involves the betting of Self on a roll. Unfortunately this process increases the difficulty of the roll. I think that given the dice mechanic as it is, this would prohibit a player from betting Self on already difficult rolls as this would push the chance of success prohibitively low. So as a player the only time to bet Self is on rolls that are already fairly easy to achieve. Perhaps this was the intention of the author, but to me it lacks any real punch.

3) The Act and Event structure – The Act and Event structure looks like a railroaded story. The second Act especially presupposes that the players actually decide to save the City and pursue the means to do so. The game advises the GM that they may have to occasionally push the players towards the conclusion of the Act.

Best Overall:

I really don’t have a desire to play this game, but it is within the spirit of the contest.

Published in: on March 8, 2007 at 2:22 am  Comments (1)