08 December 2009

Read-through Review: FreeMarket (beta)

I've been waiting for Crane and Sorenson to finish this one ever since I found out about the premise. They have released the beta to anyone who signs up for the colonist program at the website (only 1000 berths available!)

So, the premise is that you are a bunch of dudes who live on this space station where death is not permanent, scarcity is no more and everyone cares mainly about reputation (here called Flow, and basically the same as Whuffie from Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom). The player characters start as a MRCZ - an group who have formed a team to do something. You can pretty much pick any goal you want - the examples in the text include people trying to make various station systems work better through party designers and professional extortionists.

What drives it all, however, is Flow. You want your Flow to be increasing, because your MRCZ only gets more Flow when the members get more. You need to risk it whenever you use the game's challenge mechanics, so you'll spend a bit as well. Plus, if you run out you can be voted off the station forever.

There's lots of cool stuff to do - making things, smushing things together to make other things, hacking people's memories, engineering memes, and so on. The world's sketched in the example tech and things like that, and there's plenty of ideas there. Still, it's overall a sandbox kind of game. And pretty much anything goes (although if you're annoying, sooner or later your Flow will tank and you'll be put in a box aimed at Mars).

I suspect what will happen in play is that the players will go a bit crazy picking a project for their MRCZ, but that will soon become an all-consuming quest (no matter how silly it is). The notes on how to run it provide lots of ways for the GM to build on what's on the character sheets and make the game rock on no matter whether you are trying to save the solar system or breeding a superior moss as a novelty item. The game's probably not for everyone, but it's certainly for me and I plan to play it the next session that someone is absent (i.e. preventing more Trail of Cthulhu play).

One more note: the beta requires a significant craftiness investment, as the game is played with 6 custom card decks. Now, the beta package includes the raw materials to print and make them (and some fans have even made versions that are more printing out friendly), but I can tell you from experience that it takes a long time to assemble the 245 (!) cards you need. I wouldn't have bothered if the boxed set was going to be any earlier than it is (sounds like next May or June is the ETA). On the other hand, you can consider making the cards your first Cultivation challenge (Cultivation: making tech items using old fashioned techniques).

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