I had a whole post planned out to talk about Burning Wheel – how I think it is a wonderful, well-designed game, but why I think it is not an elegant game. But then I picked up a copy of Mouse Guard – which I’m thinking of as Burning Wheel Fourth Edition. (First Edition would be Burning Wheel “Classic”, Second Edition is Burning Wheel Revised, Third Edition is Burning Empires, and Fourth Edition is Mouse Guard)
Mouse Guard is an elegant game. It is the direct descendent of both Burning Wheel and Burning Empires, and it is better than either one. It is better written, better presented, better designed. It is clear that Luke Crane continues to learn as he goes, with each game better than the next. (This fact makes me more excited about Free Market)
I’ve seen other gamers pick up Burning Wheel, and then sort of get bogged down and paralyzed because it is such a complicated game. The problem is that Burning Wheel Revised is about a dozen systems under one roof. They work together, but they’re like an internal-combustion engine in that way – you raise the hood and its a bewhildering amalgam of movement and noise, and it takes some training to become familiar with all that is going on. I read the base books twice each, and ran the game twice for different groups, and each time, I realize something I ran a bit wrong, or missed entirely, or misinterpreted.
Burning Empires builds complexity onto Burning Wheel rather than removing it, but introduces defined turns and more information on how and when to frame scenes. Those two things are brought into Mouse Guard, but they are slimmed down and simplified.
Reading Mouse Guard, I felt a sense of elation. Its like I got to sit down with Luke Crane and tell him what I thought he should change about Burning Wheel. Most of what I would have told him made it in. All conflicts now look like the Duel of Wits. Conflict Scripting is more versatile and standardized, with only four maneuver types to choose from. The test-tracking system for advancement is much simpler and more logical by far (hint: no huge chart necessary to figure out what’s going on). The attributes are simplified, and learning new skills is as well. There are no massive lists of interconnected lifepaths to navigate in character creation. There’s no confusing wheel to track wounds, no special weapon system to make the brain hurt. I could go on, but you get the picture.
I say all of these things as a person who loves Burning Wheel, who has a lot of fun running and playing it. But Mouse Guard is better in every way. It is clear, concise, well-written…elegant. It is one of the best games I have ever read, and I look forward to playing it.