Archive | May, 2012

Session 20: Kingdom (playtest)

25 May

Tuesday, June 5
Guardian Games
303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St


Groups are stronger than individuals. A Kingdom can accomplish things no individual could.

But the Kingdom makes demands on you too. If you’re part of it, you’re pressured to do what it thinks is right. If you believe in what the Kingdom is doing, you’re fine. But if you don’t, or if the Kingdom starts to become something other than what you want it to be, you might find yourself caught in the middle, pressured to do things you don’t want to do.

The question becomes: do you change the Kingdom or does the Kingdom change you?

Kingdom is an upcoming game by Ben Robbins, author of the much praised Microscope. This is a playtest. All players involved will be credited for their participation.


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XP: On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon

23 May

On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon by Ben Lehman with Alexis Siemon, art by Kevin Moore is a quick playing humorous game about the pathetic and frankly juvenile behavior exhibited by the lowly Mud Dragon.

This has been kind of a difficult game to write about. The game text is so focused on its particular style and approach, and the game itself is so slim that there is surprisingly little to say that the text does not make explicit

Even just reading the text it’s pretty clear how it all works. I could have used “Hey, you are going to be constantly rolling dice, and that’s just how you do it” but that becomes clear in the first minute of gameplay anyway.


When it get’s down to it Mud Dragon is ultra-functional. The meager size of this game makes it possible.

So, I’m going to talk a bit about why some of the conventions really work to focus gameplay toward comical hijinx and how these conventions encourage the desired kind of participation.

First of all, everything related to characters and scenario is determined by rolling on charts. Even your Mud Dragon’s name. Even whatever it is they are trying to do. You get stuck with a set of assorted details and you have to connect them up, and that probably means it’s going to be ridiculous. But, that’s the point.

Second, when dice hit the table and a success or failure is determined, the player may choose to succeed in spite of themselves or fail anyway. The Ginormous Mudhole (“GM”) then chooses to raise or lower the stat in question. Raise or lower. This gives the player a great reason to focus not on the numbers, but on the humor of the situation. It also gives the GM a means to help the player when some stats get into dangerous (and potentially less fun) waters.

This brings up an interesting point. It seems like some games are so focused on the randomness of implemented mechanics that simply allowing a player choice to determine results is looked down upon. Here is a great example of how player choice can be used to great effect, and it certainly does not take away from the experience of play. Last I checked dice don’t make story decisions, people do.

Finally, if you are just doing something pathetic, stupid or reprehensible then yeah, whatever it is happens. No dice, no question. So go ahead with all of your silly antics.

These three conventions steer the players head on into the cartoonish antics Mud Dragons are known for. Why not misbehave? There is no reason not to.


There are a couple of small concerns that the play group should keep in mind.

It is fairly easy to allow gameplay to degenerate into a spree of bumbling stupidity and childish jokes. Which is fine and dandy, but can be a bit unfulfilling. An effective session requires the Mud Dragons to actually do things and get into trouble too big for them to handle. Fortunately, the text is aware of this pitfall and as long as the Ginormous Mudhole is as well there is little to fear.

The only other possibility of things going awry would be a mismatched set of expectations. Mud Dragon is a game for a specific mood, energy and purpose, and if you aren’t into it it just isn’t going to work. Still, I have to wonder why a person wanting neither the light-hearted nor the comical would consent to playing this game. I mean, the premise is so clearly up front and obvious.

Though Mud dragon is a simple game in every facet, it truly delivers on its expectations. No fuss, no confusion. No tricks, no dead ends. It seems like some kind of cosmic irony, On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon is an example more games ought to follow. Few games are this tight.

Go have some stupid adventures! Visit


18 May

ANIMAL CRIME by Ben Lehman, art by Jake Richmond is a noir mystery game set in Animal City. We had the opportunity to play this with Ben on May 8th along with On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon. The game follows Marmot Detective as he gradually (and often painfully) unravels a case detailed by the other players.

ANIMAL CRIME offers one of the most enjoyable detective/mystery games out there. It has a lot going for it.


Let’s get to the bottom of this!

ANIMAL CRIME is a quick play. With a large group and an elaborate crime you can still reasonably expect to conclude play within two hours. A more typical set up will result in about an hour of play.

The art found in the playbooks and in the comic is stellar. It captures the personality of the characters and the setting so effectively that as a player you immediately feel like you know what you are doing. This effect doubles up with the smart pairing of animals to characters to moves, which makes every character iconic and easy to grab onto.

The game text and playbooks offer very clear directions. How you use your character to engage with the fiction is obvious at every step. The moves, though they only consist of a few words each, intersect with the character’s personality in such a way that you will never be groping for what to say.

Even though Marmot Detective can only be killed under specific circumstances you will still feel the hot breath of danger on your neck when things turn sour. Marmot Detective seems to attract misery.


Much more significantly, there is hardly a question of whether Marmot Detective will uncover clues. Odds are, in any given confrontation Marmot Detective will learn something. The other characters are told to reveal the truth of the matter. This is important. The whole “hide the clue” method of mystery gaming is really frustrating. If you need the clue to proceed, and you want to proceed, why in the nine hells would you withhold the clues? Is checking under every stone in game any fun? Is going around in circles because the players have failed to guess what the GM is thinking meaningful play of any kind? How many dozens of games do we have that do just that? Thank you, ANIMAL CRIME, for being one of the few that gets this right.

However, that is not the best feature. The most interesting inclusion in ANIMAL CRIME is the story form mechanism. When Marmot Detective makes a move it lowers the stat in question, making that move less likely to be effective in future contests. So, Marmot Detective starts off getting some real info, homing in on the crime and the culprit. But as he gets close things start to go bad. The other characters start to take more direct action against Marmot Detective. Just as Marmot Detective gets to the very bottom of it all things are at their worst. To see this in play is simply wonderful.

But that’s not all. Since Marmot’s stats are going down, sooner or later Marmot’s player is going to have to mix things up and try using the other moves and stats. So we get to see more than one side of Marmot Detective. No relying on the single high rank skill here! Additionally, when Marmot Detective indulges in Alcoholism he may refresh one of his stats. Poor Marmot, who must give into vice and drown his sorrows so he can go on. This is, of course, a mechanical reinforcement of character, too.

Finally, you had best be ready for an unending stream of animal puns. You’ll be howling at the moon, I promise.


Compared to this long list of things I absolutely adore about ANIMAL CRIME I have only two quasi complaints.

When it gets down to it, only two players are really playing at any one time. Though this is not mandated by the game in any way the general tendency is for Marmot Detective to learn something that takes him to another character. You can have multiple characters in a scene, and the other players can take up minor characters, but this requires some deliberate attention from the players to make it so.

Now, these last couple of things don’t affect a player’s enjoyment of the game at all. But, the box is large and mostly empty. It gives me the impression of driving up the price, and there isn’t really more game here that various offerings at half this price. Granted, ANIMAL CRIME is a high production value affair. The comic and artwork is slick as hell and everything you need to play, pencils, dice and all is right in the box. But if I had to choose between buying ANIMAL CRIME or buying two other games of a similar scope it would be a tough choice. The detail about the box is only really relevant when you are trying to make that choice.

ANIMAL CRIME is a very impressive piece of work that promotes some dangerously functional play. This will be a go-to game for my spontaneous games for some time, especially with newer or more casual gamers.

Check it out now at

Session 19: Microscope

14 May

Tuesday, May 22
Guardian Games
303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St

Humanity spreads to the stars and forges a galactic civilization…

Fledgling nations arise from the ruins of the empire…

An ancient line of dragon-kings dies out as magic fades from the realm…

These are all examples of Microscope games. Want to explore an epic history of your own creation, hundreds or thousands of years long, all in an afternoon? That’s Microscope.

You won’t play the game in chronological order. You can defy the limits of time and space, jumping backward or forward to explore the parts of the history that interest you. Want to leap a thousand years into the future and see how an institution shaped society? Want to jump back to the childhood of the king you just saw assassinated and find out what made him such a hated ruler? That’s normal in Microscope.

You have vast power to create… and to destroy. Build beautiful, tranquil jewels of civilization and then consume them with nuclear fire. Zoom out to watch the majestic tide of history wash across empires, then zoom in and explore the lives of the people who endured it.

Mock chronological order.
Defy time and space.
Build worlds and destroy them.

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