I just finished running a session of Mouse Guard for Free RPG day at my Friendly Local Game Store, and it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had running a game. Mouse Guard is clearly the culmination of all of that work Luke Crane put into Burning Wheel and Burning Empires, and it surpasses both in every way in my opinion (well, not in complexity, but in every other way).
The Scenario and Actual Play Impressions
The scenario was pretty simple. The players polished off their Guards by writing Beliefs, Goals and Instincts, and filling in a single Wise that I gave each of them but left blank. (One chose Weasel-wise which was hugely helpful later). It was winter, and the four Guards were called out of R&R to find out what happened to a pair of Guards who were sent west from Sprucetuck with important messages some time ago. They never returned, and the worst is assumed.
After getting into a scrape with an owl and learning some details, they arrive at a small new settlement near the eaves of the Darkheather. There they get into a social conflict with the head mouse of the settlement, who wants them to stay with them all winter and protect them from weasels. The Guard, however, knows that a terrible winter storm has been predicted by the sciencemice of Sprucetuck, and they have to convince the settlers to return east with them and winter in Sprucetuck – or they’ll likely freeze to death.
The PCs win, but with a big compromise – the settlers want proof that the local weasels are dead before they’ll move. The PC Guardmice set up an ambush for the weasels and completely own them. By Action 2, the weasels are dead. Nice job!
The last conflict is between the Guardmice, who are leading the settlers through the snow, and the onrush of the first part of the predicted winter storm. So I, the GM, get to play as winter and try to freeze them all to death. That was a lot of fun.
One of the most fun parts of the game, for me, was when the players would shoo me away from the table so they could strategize and then call me back when they were ready. I really love player empowerment.
As winter, I win with a major compromise, so I killed one Guard and a third of the settlers, but the rest arrived in Sprucetuck Hungry and Thirsty and Sick.
Every one of us had a great time for almost 100% of the session, which with RPGs is largely unheard-of. Well done, Luke. Well done.
From the GM’s Point of View
This five-hour scenario for four new players took me all of three or four hours to prepare last night – usually the best ratio I get is one-to-one for games that require prep, and if you were willing to leaf through the book more and were more familiar with the rules, I bet you could do with a lot less. This is my first time running, remember.
Comparing it to my first time running Burning Wheel, this was 1000x easier to learn, prepare for, and teach to new players. I didn’t have to change anything about the game to run it the first time. We took about the 30 minutes I predicted to explain the character sheets, basic rules and conflict sheets, and then we dove right in.
I had a lot of fun in the argument conflict playing the leader of these settlers trying to wheedle and coerce the Guard into staying to protect them, and I had a lot of fun playing winter and figuring out what a “Maneuver” action was when you are playing a season. But I loved the image of winter as a character in the story actively trying to kill the mice – that is very dramatic, and made me think of the blizzard on Caradhras in the Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve never seen a system that replicates that kind of experience, and it is probably the thing I am most greenly jealous of as a game designer. Again, well done.
“4th Edition Burning Wheel” Wins
I give this game a 5 out of 5 in every category I can think of. It is hands-down one of the best systems I have ever played. My only consolation is that it took Luke Crane four tries to get to this point with the Burning Wheel system.
It is cold comfort…but a hot, hot, hot game.