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Iron Game Chef - Simulationist!

Started by Mike Holmes, May 08, 2003, 09:09:57 PM

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Mike Holmes

OK, Somehow I had gotten worried about the drop outs. Just now I went and counted up the games to be judged. Folks, there are no less than seventeen games in there. And I was worried that exams would have a negative impact on number of entries. Sheesh!

This may take me longer than I thought. Please bear with me.

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Mike Holmes

OK, I've got them all reviewed. They're short reviews, and to the point as there were so many to do. But hopefully one can see my thought processes.

Anyhow, before I start posting the reviews, I'd like to make a couple of  honorable mentions.

First, I would really like to see what Shreyas was cooking up with Te Anau, and Matt with whatever sci-fi madness he was working on. Eveen from the little tidbits, one got the sense of very cool ideas.

More importantly, we need to see Argonauts. So, Jonathan, when you have the time, dude, do this game up.

Thanks, and now on to the reviews (entered alphabetically by title).
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Blood Songs of the Volcanic Sphere
Author:  Ethan Greer

Style: The text is a bit chatty, but the images it evokes are powerful. I get a sense of a really neat setting out there, but it's a pretty vague sense. Still, some points for a nifty idea.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: I think that the direct nature of the game speaks in favor of it as far as direct use goes. However, the game's definitely missing any elements for what to do in play. At best we get a suggestion that the Blood Singers travel between villages doing good.

That's a bit thin. Also, many of the rules seem a bit contradictory at first. They're not, it turns out, but they require careful reading at the moment.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano - floating in a sea of lava? Pretty good, I'd say.
Sphere - likens the worldview of the natives to their view of their own bodies. Which subsequently is related to magic, and thence back to the world. Very Nice.
Blood - again linked in strongly with the above.
Song - same. All together these last three elements were incorporated not only into the game but also inextricably with each other.

Overall, extremely good. Even included the unnecessary fourth element.

Completeness: the author admits in the text that it's not done (-1/2 point; we're all aware that these will need work), and goes to some length to explain what he would do with it given more time. I agree that it's got a lot of potential, but it's pretty good as is, too. If the game had a little more in terms of the "what do I do?" in the text, I think that I could have given reasonable marks. As it is, I have to deduct a bit for what would need a lot of GM investment to get going.

Overall, a very nice entry. Ethan had some interesting notes about the competition that I'll have to take into account. Thanks Ethan.
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Daemons of Strife and Love
Author:  John Laviolette

Style: John's sense of style comes through strongly in his choice of subject material, and how he presents it. I got a definite feel for the setting and its color. I wasn't thrilled about the choice of subject matter, personally, but that's too reflective of my own predilections for me to count heavily against the game.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: The mechanics are interesting, if a bit counterintuitive, especially in the fragmented presentation. Once I got them, however, I think they'll work fine. Assuming that players are into the idea of the game, I think that there's plenty enough direction on what to do that it would go just fine. In fact, I think that what we see here is hybrid Sim/Nar. There's definitely strong propulsion towards the issue of Strife, and the allowance to play it out any way the player wants. And the GMing suggestions would allow for Nar play. I'm tempted to deduct points for trying to slip a Nar game in under the radar, but I think that there's just enough Sim in there to allow it. Besides I didn't say that the game couldn't be hybrid. But, despite liking the Nar elements, I really can't give points for them either. Still, overall, I think it'll play well.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano - Almost seemed tacked on at the end. But it's in there.
Sphere - a central theme, but only loosely embodied in the mechanics.
Blood - here we have a better connection. On the subject of reincarnation, however, I worry that it will end up being more problematic than it's worth. Could be fixed, however.
Song - not used.

Overall, hit's the marks, but not in a very strong way.

Completeness: I think the game has everything it needs to play. I would give it strong marks were it not that I think that some of the lack of detail seems more there to support the narrativist thrust. Still, however, John proves he can make games that work, and the game is definitely whole.

All said, a very strong entry from the Iron Game Chef Gamist. And if this were a competition for specifically hybrid games, or even Nar, I would probably consider it an excellent entry.
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Author: Joe (Dragongrace)

Style: Joe paints a very compelling picture of an asylum in which the doctors are as insane as the patients, and yet it's simply our world in the early part of the last century. All very creepy. Big points for style. It all evokes well the feeling of the process of primitive mental health treatment. This is present not only in the "fiction" but also in the text describing the mechanics. Did I mention creepy?

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: Seems almost too effective. Reading the game there seem to be strong Gamist elements. But this is belied by the fact that there seems to be no winning strategies. It's all quite abstracted, and as such, "winning and losing" take on different meanings.

This might be confusing to those trying to play, but I think that therein lies the message of the game. Those who "get it" I think might really get something out of the game. Those who don't "get it" may be sorely disappointed. While that last seems problematic, potentially, I'm very interested in the idea of the game as a practical lesson. Very nice. Could use some tightening on the text, but overall, the play should deliver the experience in a really scary way.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano - Very cool mechanic. I can see how the magma rises and subsides in patients. OTOH, what happens at 7? Other than the outburst, does the level go back down? Or is the patient permanently violent? Or violent until a good night sleep?
Sphere - I was a little fuzzy on the use of the constellations, and they were tenuously linked.
Blood - standard if well designed use of the term.
Song - interesting sanity mechanic. Very indicative of the innovative mechanics. People who have debated in the past about "numberless" mechanics should look closely at some of these.

Overall, at least three of these are good uses. Well done.

Completeness: There are some spots that seem a little underdone. That is, the text probably needs some tweaking to get the idea of how it all works together into easy reach. I highly suggest a thread on this right away to bang it out. With a little work, I can see this as something that, say, Ron would play test with glee.

All said and done, a really fascinating design. A simulation of the mental illness experience using mechanics very specifically designed to get the feel across. Also interesting for not needing a GM (though some handling instructions might be nice). A little rough overall, but a design that definitely deserves to see a full fruition.[/b]
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In Your Element, Out of this World
Author:  Fang Langford

Style: This entry is intended, apparently as social commentary. As it's targeted at me amongst others, it's very hard for me to review it in an objective manner. I will say that Fang does a consistent job of maintaining his Metaphor/Reality tone throughout. And there are definitely some interesting ideas in terms of turning the arena dueling phenomenon inside out. But this seems much more a treatise on forum use hidden in

metaphor than a game.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: I think it can be played, though I'm not sure that, as it's fully metaphorical form, that anyone will want to play.

That said, who knows? As such I see no particular problems in overall terms. There are places where the metaphor does make it a bit unclear as to how it would work in terms of a game, but these could be cleaned up or overcome. OTOH, the actual mechanics of the duels seem to be unbalanced. Which is to an extent the point. To the extent that players would understand this would be the extent that they were really interested in investigating the deeper meanings of the game, and not just playing it as a dueling game. And since that seems to be the point, I have to accede that it's effective as such.

One might consider it an interesting incorporation of metagame priorities directly into gaming form.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano, Sphere, Blood, Song - all stats for the player entity essentially these are all well incorporated mechanically. They might be seen as a tad forced, however. A better version might use different terms for the categories.

Completeness: Very complete. I can't see anything missing per se. Again, some text could be tidied up, for accessibility, but otherwise it's all there.

Overall. An interesting foray into gaming philosophy that may or may not (the reader will have to decide independently) have been marred by it's editorial nature. That said, the game probably would not exist if not for that motive. Designers can look to the game for some interesting concepts, however, to be sure.
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Author:  Mendel S. (Wormwood)

Style: Mendel goes off on another trip into the realm of concepts and memes as he and a lot of other designers have lately. Straightforward deliver indicative of the hour that he took to put it together does manage to deliver the general idea. That being the idea of playing a song as a means to societal change. Apparently Clayton Michael Thomas is a memetic deity in this world, which I have to give "in" points for.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: lots of rewriting necessary to make this playable, unfortunately. Whole sections are confusing. And even then, there's the question of what a song "does". But at least it's an interesting question.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano - not used
Sphere - The realms which a song can affect, this is a simple if effective mechanic.
Blood - A sphere. Pretty cool.
Song - Well, you play one, at least on one level.

Makes it, but, like the rest of the game, only barely.

Completeness: Interestingly, if rewritten, I think it would have most everything you need. And that's cool, because I've yet to see one of these games get completed. OTOH, it's still not much more than an interesting thought experiment, IMO.

Pretty good for only an hour.
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Author: Gwen

Style: a little rough in the delivery, but one gets the satirical tone well enough from the text. Reminds me a lot, in fact, of the board game, "Road to the White House" by Mayfair games. And, cripes, who doesn't like to take a stab at the political process once in a while? I also like the touch of Dr. Evil thrown in by V.O.L.C.A.N.O.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: loads of IIEE issues. Who can do what when? There are several options, but not much in the way of direction on how to use them. This leads me to wonder just what play will look like. Also, this is a decidedly Gamist game. The best parts aren't very Sim at all (more about player competition than trying to model even a silly universe). With tweaking, however, I think you'd have a really fun one-shot sort of game. Fun for a night of political satire.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano - creative use here. But I would have given you a ton of points if you had included what the acronym stands for (here's my attempt: Violent Overthrow League - Centralized Anti-Nationalist Organization; Kinda a combo organization like the AFL-CIO).
Sphere - used as main character differentiator, cool.
Blood - like "blood on your hands" (a Knipe idea). Nifty.
Song - Not used.

Got all three. Not bad for a short game.

Completeness: I think that this needs at least some more explanatory text. There might be a complete game in there, I'm just not seeing it yet. But I want to see it, so work it out.

For what seems to be another quick effort, this looks like a fun idea. Sorta Paranioa meets the political process. Nifty idea for looking at such action from a high level. People can look to such designs to see how one can Sim things on a different scale and still be playing individuals.
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Precious Fluid
Author:  Walt Freitag

Style: the subtitle is a pun? What are we in for? Leave it to Walt the clever tactician to waltz in last second with a complete meal. Vampire satire? Vicious logical extension? And, wait, what's this? Yes, They Fight Crime! OK, I laughed more than once reading this. It's presented deadpan, and all makes internal sense (I'm not sure about the logic behind the "System" entirely, but it's a least debatable). But that's part of it's weird charm. Kitsch points for mentioning battling tops.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: the Spheres mechanic provides infinitely small granularity, and total character customization via a tactile and visual system that is, itself the resolution system device. Folks that's a breakthrough in more than one way. Wow. I do have a feeling that this will have some quirks in adjudication, but it's too interesting do dismiss because of that. Just as players have rules for "cocked" dice, house rules for adjudication will arise.

On the subject of the "Song" economy, I'm also a little dubious. But that shouldn't be too hard to work out.

I'm not sure if "they fight crime" should get you points or not. Certainly it's a strong indicator of where play should go. But, damnit, couldn't you find something a teensy bit less cliché? Well, we won't penalize too harshly as it is the oddest-looking crime fighting. I'm very interested to see what sort of strategies occur with players trying to best incorporate their resources. Reminds me a bit of Bladerunner in a way, in that you can't directly take on some of your opposition.

Why are humans in this position, though? Why aren't vampires self-monitoring? Again, there are some internal consistency points that need cleaning up. But sounds like fun to me.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano - not used (thanks Walt for no Squid flavored ice cream)
Sphere - Really neat mechanic
Blood - Central point of the game.
Song - as Walt admits this is obviously tacked on, but that said, it's a good tack job.

Overall, very good use of terms. Certainly they all work together well.

Completeness: Other than the explanations, if you buy into it, I think that you're off and running. Can't see anything missing, except possibly a better explanation of the economics. This game could go to play test now.

Excellent entry. Indeed, a new take on an old subject (or two). Both in terms of setting and system. Well, done.
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Sign in Stranger
Author:  Emily Care

Style: one might think that Ms. Care is pandering to my tastes with her design. GMfull, worldbuilding Sim. I will endeavor to remain objective despite her nailing some f the things that I've been looking for lately. They are, after all, only one small "pervy" way to play Sim. Still...

For what approaches a generic game Emily delivers quite a lot of feel. I'd consider this to be a good compromise between purist for system and high concept. Essentially, the high concept enables the purism. Nice that.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: there are no rules for adjudicating what happens when the players disagree on, say, what planet to go to as the starting mission or who gets to be Overseer on rolls that might fall under two modes. House methods might suffice...

Otherwise, it all looks solid as far as it goes. Which is to say that I can see this being excellent in the context of colonization; but I don't see much more application than that. I mean, it could do other things, but the text doesn't even suggest it, much less support it in any way.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano – not used
Sphere - spheres of player control in metagame terms. Interesting.
Blood - as the motivation for characters to get off world. Not extensive, but it works.
Song - another term could have been used as well, or maybe better. I call this one a stretch.

Overall, not incredibly tight, but for a game that goes it's own way, not bad at all.

Completeness: I think, again, that this has everything you need for some really intense alien contact action. In fact, I'd say it sounds like the best system that I've heard of for this purpose. If that could be expanded to stuff like policing, warfare, interstellar trade, etc, that would be a real boon, I'd think. I call this game complete, but not extensively so.

This seems to be a game well designed to its goals. Modest though they may be, I think it's an exceptional design in a several ways. I especially like the way that character personality links into their ability to deal with the aliens. Makes it so much more personal seeming than the idea of just applying skills to the task. Which is cool.
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Songs of Distant Spheres
Author:  Sean (ADGBoss)

Style: Crisp, clean and direct. Sci-fi with a definite anime feel at times. One gets the basic dark feel, but not much more than that. Notably,

what is the human universe like? Other than the Imperial Tyranny? That said, I think one does get the feel. But is it unique enough to maintain attention? It has a lot in common with, say, Macross.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: Seems all to be in place. Simple D20 system has all the important elements. There does seem to be a point at which there might be some problems with auto successes or failures, but only by extrapolating about bonuses and penalties. The stats as they stand are fine. Nothing particularly innovative here, but I think you'll definitely get decent play. OTOH, besides the obvious blasting of the baddies, and the typical melodramatic side conflicts between the players, there isn't much indicated to do. So, I think you'll see good play for a while, and after that, it's all on the GM.

Song effects are not well described, but that can be worked around.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano - Not used
Sphere - Well, it's in there, but only as a term in quotes in one of the flavor text sections. That's about as thin as it gets.
Blood - Again, it's in there but only by the thinnest of margins.
Song - This is the source of Kewl Powerz in the game, and well incorporated, including some rules for making your own (which is good as not many are included).

Completeness: Very complete. Using fairly standard methods, it seems that there's little left out. IIEE was amongst the most completely written out (other entries seem to rely a lot on the "common method" idea). One could imagine rules for the mecha, but I'm just as good with them being left as abstractions of the PCs effectiveness. Overall, pretty darn complete.

This is a very stable seeming design, with a couple of cool ideas. A bit too stock in terms of overall subject right now, but with some fleshing out that might be something that can be overcome.
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Songs of the Dead
Author:  Chris (Bankuei)

Style: Chris describes very succinctly a world of tribal conflict and mysticism. It has a neat feel, but the elements as described in the mechanics have a somewhat fragmented presentation. As if the whole was cobbled together. That said, they're fairly compelling to me in a visceral way.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: some of the notes about tribe creation are vague or contradictory, but would be easy to fix. I like how traits define what a character is, rather than vice versa. I think the system will work in general terms, but there seems to be little to do but hack up one's enemies. If one could capture some of the feel that I think you intend, that could be cool. But it's not going to be easy from the text.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano - Not used
Sphere - use of the term might be replaced with something better. But it's included.
Blood - Bloodlines, Blood song, lot's of blood.
Song - These are again the source of Kewl Powerz.

All there, but somewhat slim. I get a strong sense on Blood, but the others seem tossed in a bit.

Completeness: Looking about the fragmented text, I see everything I need in general terms. But again that's to support just tribal warfare. Nice addition of rules for that, BTW.

I think that there's a kernel of something here, but it needs to be developed and reworked. It could be played as an interesting one-shot, however.
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Author:  Simon Washbourne

Style: I think this game delivers four-color supers extremely well. The whole method of play is suited to high excitement.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: first, this is a really Gamist design. I mean, c'mon, the players are set in teams in direct competition. Can't get much more Gamist than that. So I have to deduct points in terms of the contest. That said, I think it's an awesome Gamist construct, and I want to play it soon. Reminds me a lot of certain double-blind games at Con's that I've played (GMs with headsets). So it'll work fine...just not in a particularly Simulationist manner. Right game, wrong contest.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano, Sphere, Blood, Song - all characters from the game. As they are part of the list to choose from, they count.

Completeness: as Simon mentioned, this needs some rules for win conditions. And complete rules for making your own teams would help, too. But those things out of the way, I think you have all you need for a Gamist romp.

Again, wrong comeptition. But there's the start of a really fun game in there. Much better than the Clix stuff, IMO.
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Tiki God
Author:  Chris Edwards

Style: whacky surf goodness. Fun, fun.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: well, if this isn't the most Gamist game I've ever seen, I don't know what is. Sounds like a ton of fun, and I can't see any obvious gaps. It should go right to play testing. But you get -10000 points for having the wrong type of design. +1000 for waayy funny tho, dude.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
All in there in various silly ways. Very nice. Why couldn't you make it Sim? :-)

Completeness: I think this needs to move straight to play test with some brave souls. Who'll volunteer?

Still laughing. Should win some contest, just not this one. :-)
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Tooth & Claw
Author:  Jared Sorensen (memento-mori)

Style: Jared incorporates his usual gleeful tone in his entry. Actually a game that has been slated to come out for a long time, we're honored to have him present it here. Um, dinosaurs...what else do you need to say, you get to play a dinosaur. Haven't you wanted these rules since you were ten? I have.

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: What, I'm going to criticize one of Jared's designs? He's got a rock solid system, typical of his designs, yet, I think brand new. Sort of a combination "I" system and Godlike thing going, except with straights instead of matches. Everything you need is there. Even a section on sample sorts of adventures. I don't think that the game would support real long-term play with adults, but then maybe it would. And can you imagine playing this with kids? Should be a complete success.

Creative and Effective Incorporation of Terms:
Volcano - atmospheric use only
Sphere - in an adventure
Blood - again, atmospheric
Song - not used

Well, he's got them in there, but they seem sorta weak. I want to deduct big points, but somehow I can't Volcano and Blood just seem inextricably entwined with the concept even if they aren't embedded that strongly in the text or mechanics. Still, Sphere is a bit weak, and the only problem I can see with the entry.

Completeness: it's all there. Even some Sim elements that other more traditional entries missed (he even put in a last minute section on environmental hazards just to cap it off. Are we surprised it's complete? From the man of a zillion games? No, not surprised.

Obviously the man to beat. Jared's entry is typical of his expert design technique. It's only a question of whether anyone can beat him.
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