23 April 2005

Carnivale - First Episode Review

Well, they just began showing this in New Zealand at 11.30pm on Friday nights. Obviously two years late and an extremely inconvenient hour, as it was great.

It's hard to sum up - basically, a guy on the run gets taken in by carnies crossing the dustbowl. However, the show begins with the idea that this was the last few years that magic existed in the world, and we soon see that at least some of the carnies can do magic.

All the acting was good, the characters look like their stories will be interesting and there were some stunning visions and magical effects. Not stunning because they had sparkly special effects, but because they captured something meaningful. Hard to explain, especially as the main example I'd mention is rather a big spoiler. Oh well.

If you're one of my local readers, make sure you are watching this program.

13 April 2005

Read-through Review of Prime Time Adventures

This one is going to be short. Partly because Prime Time Adventures is a short game and partly because it's another that's hard to judge without actually playing it.

It's about roleplaying TV shows along the lines of Buffy, Angel, Alias, Farscape (those are all in there as inspirations). Adventure shows that are focused on characters.

The rules are pretty simple and they look fully capable of doing the job.

I particularly like the spotlight episode rule - each season, your protagonists gets one spotlight episode - all about them and their issues. Other episodes you'll be either normally involved or in a more minor role. Interestingly, you decide which is going to be which at the start of the season. This also determines how many dice you get to roll during each episode.

Another thing that seems to often be talked about is fan mail. This didn't seem so big to me from reading it, but it may matter more in play. The Producer (GM) may add dice against a protagonist from their budget (based on episode importance). However, this number of tokens then go into a pool. Any player may, once per scene, take a token and give it to another player in recognition of cool stuff they are doing. This is fan mail. Players may spend fan mail to get bonus dice. Seems pretty cool.

It looks good, I think it will be fun to play. I suspect the hardest parts will be thinking up good issues for the protagonists - that is, what complicates their lives all the time - and keeping the episode running in a nice TV-like structure. Scenes, acts, buildup all need to work right.

Overall? Well worth a look. It's going on the "to be played" list.

09 April 2005

Folding@Home Distributed Computing

Off topic post, I'm afraid. Just an ad, really, for Folding@Home Distributed Computing.

I've seen the SETI@Home project but I didn't really think that the research was important enough to bother with it all. However, the Folding@Home project is getting work done on protein folding which is a rather more compelling area to help out with.

So, think about letting them use your idle CPU cycles for this. You might end up helping to cure cancer or something (that's not a wild claim, by the way).

07 April 2005

Card Game Review: Gloom

A new game in the mail today, huzzah! This one was Gloom, a card game of freakish families having miserable lives.

Sat down and played three games to see what it was like, and was pleased to find that it is fun for just two players. Rare in card games.

Anyway, you play event cards on the characters, aiming to make yours miserable and (if possible) everyone else's happy. You can also play untimely deaths, when you think someone ought to go (when really miserable for yours, or not very miserable for others). When one family is totally dead, scoring occurs but counting up miserableness of all dead characters. Most miserable family wins (something about rewards in the next life, I think).

The cards are made of transparent plastic and have a gimmicky mechanic of playing the new ones on top of the character, so they develop little piles. Only the scores you can see count, so you can play a card on top to supersede what's already there. It works well. The cards suffer a bit from having the text very small and in hard to read colours and fonts, though.

Anyway, it's fun. The characters are twisted, the events bizarre. I think that you'd want to start making up stories for what happens to get the most out of it, and we found ourselves doing this a little bit. It's also really funny that you end up getting mad at your opponent when they, for instance, make one of your people get happy married (and vice versa).

It's not a must-buy, but it's diverting and will certainly come off my shelf a bit more often than some of the games that are currently gathering dust there.

06 April 2005

Dogs in the Vineyard Playtest Impressions

Well, I got to play it last night at the local games club. I played with one person I know fairly well, one I am acquainted with and one who I hadn't met before. The fact that we all had a damn good time despite this reflects pretty well on the game, I think.

So we sat down, I give the three of them a brief introduction to what the game's about and the structure of the Faith and go into character generation. That goes okay - not as well as it would have for people who knew each other better, I suspect. We get some good characters:
  • Brother Cutter, orphaned by Mountain People. An angry, sinner-smiting young man.
  • Brother Ezekiel, a student of theology and doctrine.
  • Brother Tom, a Mountain Person convert with a big chip on his shoulder about it.
Brothers Cutter and Tom, needless to say, weren't exactly happy about working together. The conflicts to round off character generation went okay except for me falling over a bit when conducting arguments about the nature of the Faith (this came up in both Ezekiel and Tom's ones - I managed okay for one).

So they ride in to Eagle Falls Branch. They take a look around a little outside the town and a boy comes up to greet them. They pretty much grill him on whether he has been learning the Book of Life and so forth. A pretty hard-ass start, I thought. The kid was just being friendly. Anyhow, he invites them into his place for something to eat and drink. His ma sets the Dogs up and then asks them to deal with her daughter Tryphena, who wanted to marry the wrong man. Both families and the Steward agreed the marriage wasn't ordained and told them to forget it, but it seems they were still seeing each other. The Dogs say they'll sort it out but don't talk to the girl now (in fact, they never did). They head into town instead.

They go to see the Steward, Jeduthan, except for Brother Cutter - he decides to check out the guy who's the other side of this love affair. Ezekiel and Tom sit down to talk to the Steward, who's a convert from back East. They immediately decide he's a bad guy because of all his decadent Eastern furnishings. He lets them know that there's a problem with a few of the congregation refusing to come to meetings on the Sabbath - because they dislike him for his background.

Meanwhile, Cutter scares the willies out of Archibald, who repents and promises to no longer question his ma, pa or the Steward.

Then the Dogs have a bit of a meeting in the town square and tell the folk that they're here and they're gonna sort out everything that's wrong. They ask people to come and let them know what's wrong, and spend the afternoon fielding more and more details about Micajah and the others he's convinced to avoid Jeduthan's preaching. Apparently Micajah was expected to be the Steward after the last one died but Jeduthan got appointed instead. There's also a few stories about bad things happening when Jeduthan's blessings ought to have protected the town.

The Dogs decide to sort out Micajah. They head to his house, where Cutter and Ezekiel start trying to get him to admit that he's a sinner. He comes right back with the line that he always ought to have been the Steward and that the Eastener ain't a true Faithful. Eventually Tom gets sick of this and pulls a gun on the guy. We go into a bigass conflict, starting with fighting and then escalating. We had shooting, tomahawks, demonic powers, exorcism and probably some other stuff before it all ended with Micajah shot down on his porch and Brother Tom bleeding to death from a couple of bullets in his gut.

Cutter and Ezekiel work feverishly to save Tom's life, and manage to do it by the skin of their teeth.

Then the three of them go through the town and get every one of the people influenced by Micajah's false teachings to go back to the Faith. Strangely enough, they all complied with this. Also, Cutter went of alone and married Archibald and Tryphena. I think he just felt sorry for them. They told Jeduthan off for letting things get as bad as they did, pretty much implying he was basically at fault for it all.

Reflection at the end had Cutter and Tom warming to each other significantly, which was nice. I don't think they pondered their judgments too much, oh well.

So that's what happened, now the analysis.

The game's astonishingly good at making the Dogs judge people. It really is hard to just go dump the problems on the Dogs, though. Baker says this himself. Every other damn game you're expected to hide the problem. So you are constantly thinking "Oh, let's just hint at this thing... No! Tell them the whole damn mess!" But it works. Especially with these Dogs... they made their judgments quick, and I suspect they might need to learn to double check what's going on as we play through some more towns. Either that or just hope they make a good choice first time.

The "say yes or roll dice" advice works like a charm (once I caught myself beginning a conflict out of habit when I didn't need one - I just said it all went as desired and didn't make that mistake again).

The dice mechanics are great. They work much smoother than they read and they've got a lot of style. I don't think I've seen another game where everybody "got it" so quick, either. It's fun, too - especially when the players realized things like "if I pull my gun and start shooting, I get all these extra dice to roll".

Overall, play seemed to be everything the game promised on reading. I cannot recommend this game enough. Buy it (one of the guys who played last night told me he ordered one already).