04 November 2006

Provisional Review of Full Light, Full Steam by Joshua BishopRoby

Note: provisional review means that it's not really thorough. The game's not out yet, so I'm working from reading the pdf that I got for preordering. It's also too long for me to effectively read the full pdf, so this is really just general impressions.

Full Light, Full Steam is a steampunk game about the alternate-Victorian Royal Astronomical Navy. This means, in short, that you fly big spaceships around the solar system, helping maintan Britain's Imperial assets.

The setting is all good stuff. It brings to mind all the good stuff from the old game Space: 1899, as well as an 'expedition to Mars' one-shot I ran a few times several years ago. The setting chapter is good fun, with all the information presented as excerpts from in-game handbooks and magazines.

What sets the game apart from most is the extensive work to make what the players want to do be the center of play all the time. There's a chapter on 'The First Session' that goes over various social issues to consider before getting started on character generation. It's all good advice, although I suspect most gaming groups will be able to move through these pretty quick (probably not even needing to explicitly address some of them).

Characters get various stats, the most important being three 'thematic batteries', each a descriptive word or phrase (e.g. 'rake' or 'mad inventor'). These are used to focus play. Most straightforwardly, the player can 'charge' a battery any time by taking a roll penalty that reflects the battery. Later on, you can use the charged battery to give you a bonus in another situation that reflects it.

I'm also very keen to try the situation engineering rules. Basically, play situations are built by the GM using 'cogs' - individual characters, settings or props - that are built with reference to characters' thematic batteries (and a few other sources of inspiration). This system is all done in a lot of detail, and looks like fun. Also, everyone can join in here - it's not just the GM whe has to do all this work.

The last unique aspect I want to mention is the 'spoils scrip'. Every player starts with one of these, a strip of paper basically. Whenever you make reference in play to another character's thematic battery, you pass it to the relevant player and they sign the paper. You then gain 'spoils' (kind of experience points) - more if this is their first signature on the scrip this scene. The scrip also restricts scene changes - scenes can only end once everyone has signed a scrip or you pass it to someone for a character who isn't present (allowing you to jump to a scene about that character).

Those are all interesting ideas, and I'm looking forward to seeing how they play out. The other thing that really stands out is that this game is just packed with advice on how to play. It all reads as good advice, although a lot of it may be old hat to a lot of gamers. Like Dogs in the Vineyard, Full Light, Full Steam is carefully written to tell you how to play. However, the latter is more like a full (period) technical manual.

I'll follow with another review once I have the paper book in my hands (probably in a month or so).

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