I’m wirting this sitting in the hotel room I’m sharing with Pete Figtree at GASPCon in Pittsburgh. So far, it’s been awesome. I’ve already had a chance to play Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition as well as Kenneth Hite’s Bookhounds of London playset for Fiasco. Later that night, I got a chance to play Dread, and then the next day, I got a chance to play both Summoner Wars and then Ganakagok. I just want to briefly give my impressions of each.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition
I haven’t played any other edition of WFRPG, nor have I ever played any of the minis games, the Warhammer 40k RPGs, or the MMO. Warhammer is not in my geek curriculum vitae, as it were. That being said, while working at Gamescape North I did get a chance to go through the WFRPG box when it arrived in the store and I loved the design of the game. I love the custom dice (like Descent, but with a bit more depth and complexity) and I love the card that players can slot tactics into so that other player-characters can use them.
The scenario was pretty straightforward – a group of Dwarves are going to Blackfire Pass to recover an artifact and find out what happened to their brother. I played a Trollslayer and had fun splitting foes in half with one shot and wringing blood and ale from my beard.
Kenneth Hite being awesome aside, Fiasco was a lot of fun, but I can see how it could be a lot more fun. My group was good people, but three of us had never played Fiasco, and two of the players were clearly having trouble with framing scenes and reacting to things and knowing what it is they were supposed to do when confronted with a challenge. These are new skills for most gamers, though, so no worries. I got to play Aleister Crowley, and I ended up trying to make amends for all the terrible things I’d done by feeding myself to a huge demonic cat-beast.
The triumph of Dread, in this session, was that even though our GM wasn’t doing a very good job, there were still plenty of moments of tension at the table. (Granted, it was a very late game, and maybe he was just off his mojo, who knows?) This would never have been the case with another system, period, and I really see the strength of the simple but brilliant insight of using Jenga as a resolution system for a horror rpg. It definitely made me hesitant about doing anything risky, and at one point I was very tempted to push the tower over and sacrifice my character to save another character’s life. At that point, though, it looked like we were going to make it out of the scenario alive – and we did.
I never got into Magic or any other CCGs or TCGs. I feel like, with a lot of them, there are so many sets and so much complexity that the game becomes a race to see who can find the most rules exploits. This appeals to some people but not really to me. I did enjoy Summoner Wars very much, though. I like that the decks are pretty simple, and that they are pre-built. I played the Cave Goblin army, and the tactic was simple enough – summon out zero-cost fighters and slingers, swarm my opponent, and use event cards to let them gang up on single units. I’m sure that the game is less fun when you aren’t beating the crap out of Pete Figtree, but still, a cool game.
Ganakagok is one of my new favorite games. The Game Chef event that gave rise to Polaris, Ganakagok and Mountain Witch must have been some kind of celestial event that rent the world open and let creativity pour out into game designers. Or something. Pretty much everything about Ganakagok is fantastic, but I’ll try to keep it to just 3 things I’ll mention.
1. I love a game where we end up with some kind of game-artifact that we made. It’s a reason I loved the Heroes of Karia Vitalus campaign so much – we ended up with literally hundreds of little short stories from that one. In Ganakagok, you end the game with a psycho-socio-mythical map of both your village and the outside world, and on those maps are written all of the major relationships and the major elements of the story you just told.
2. The resolution system leaves a lot of hard choices open. You work to move dice around a continuum between Good Medicine and Bad Medicine and at the same time try to win narration rights. You tap things in the world and aspects of your character that are involved in the conflict to move dice. You can gain Good Medicine but lose narration rights, or you can take Bad Medicine but keep rights, and so on. Whoever is at a disadvantage during the dice-moving portion has the advantage of going last in the conflict. Very, very cool, and far deeper than any resolution system I’ve seen in any other game (including very deep ones like Dogs in the Vineyard or WFRPG).
3. All of the players are pushed to collaborate and tell stories and bring the important things in the setting into play, but there is still someone pushing back as hard as he can. A lot of endings are possible – things can go well or poorly for each individual character, for the village, and for the world – any combination. Your character can win but the village can lose. The village can lose, but the world can flourish. Etc.
I will have to think long and hard about whether Ganakagok supplants Mouse Guard as the best game out there, in my view at least.