Yesterday I received my eagerly awaited copy of shock:. Physically it's a startling orange square, with an extremely nice modernist layout. There's some really cool art too.
The game text is bracketed by a piece of fiction based on a game (with marginalia explaining rules stuff here and there). It's a pretty cool story, especially given the source (this is by Ben Lehman, not Newman).
Then there's a short overview, how to create characters and worlds, how to resolve conflicts, advice on being an antagonist and advice about end a protagonist's story. There's also some appendices, including a selection of media and how they might inspire games of shock:.
The game is intended to allow you to play through stories in which real issues are addressed through the lens of science fiction, and it is very strongly focused on this.
In particular, the first thing that players do is build the world. This involves picking some real issues you want to explore and then some 'shocks' (science fiction elements, basically) that are related to the issues. So if I wanted to run a game about mortality (issue), a shock could be anti-aging drugs or replacement clone bodies. These are then added to a grid, with each protagonist (essentially a player character) sitting in one junction. That is, your protagonist is about a particular issue and shock.
The next thing that defines the world is the praxis scales. These are two opposed pairs of ways of acheiving things. These are analogous to stats in most games, in that every conflict you will pick one of these four methods to get your way. Again, the choices reflect on the world (e.g. hope vs despair in one game and lasers vs missiles in another would indicate quite different styles).
Finally a world is defined by minutia. These are any other future details. They have a small mechanical effect, but they're mainly formalised in order to keep track of them, it seems to me.
Issues, shocks and minutia all get an owner when they are created. The owner gets to decide any details about how things in that area work (i.e. the owner of the shock 'anti-aging drugs' would decide all questions about how the drugs work, where they come from, etc).
Now you have your world sorted out, you can make characters. Everyone takes their position on the shock/issue grid and generates a protagonist for that spot. Characters are defined by how where on each praxis scale their 'fulcrum' is and some features and links. The fulcrum is basically where you fall on the scale - is this or that method easier for you? Features are general traits of the character, and give you more dice in conflicts. Links are your important connections, and can beused to try and recover from lost conflicts. Lastly is the story goal - what you want to happen to your protagonist in this story.
Then you make an antagonist, for the person on your left. This is the character or organisation who creates trouble for that protagonist, and is based on a suggestion from that player. You allocate them fulcrums and some features, and give them some credits (these are spent in conflicts, and thus determine the length of the game).
Then the game begins, with players taking turns setting scenes for their protagonist. After the scene is set, you begin roleplaying and the antagonist tries to push on the protagonist's buttons (as indicated by their issue, shock, links, story goal, etc).
Conflicts are mainly interesting in that the parties to a conflict roll separately and their intentions must be compatible, win or lose. I.e. every conflict, everyone can win, everyone can lose, or some combination in between. I'm not sure how this will affect play - I suspect that it will make things more complicated, in general, which is probably good for this sort of story.
The game design seems really solid. It has nothing that isn't integral to what it does, and looks like it does that well. However, the game also has only miminal explanation of how things go. In fact, "the players take turns to start scenes for their protagonists" is implied only - never actually stated in the game. There are a few aspects like that which could probably do with more elaboration, especially as the book is fairly short as it is.
I want to play this as soon as possible, expect an actual play report in the nearish future.