Yesterday I played the Dungeons and Dragons boardgame with Jasper Polane and two friends of his. I believe this game was never released in the United States of America, so those of you who live there may not have heard of it; and I don't think the game was a commercial success.
The game turned out to be a more complicated version of HeroQuest; though I found it somewhat lacking in style compared to its predecessor, the fact that it had more tactical options probably makes it a better game overall. Each player (except for the Dungeon Master) gets to play one or more out of four heroes (a fighter, a cleric, a rogue and a wizard), and then you embark on a classic dungeon crawl. You open doors, meet monsters (all of which are represented by small plastic miniatures), hack or blast them to pieces, amass piles of treasure and try not to fall into traps. For a more detailed overview of the system, you should consult this excellent RPG.net review. We completed the first two quests, and then we were slaughtered during the third.
One reason I was eager to try out this game is because its goal is quite similar to that of my half-baked (quite a bit less than half, probably) game Monsters we Slay: the colour is heroes fighting monsters without any fuzzy roleplaying stuff going on around that, the preparation time is almost nil, and the agenda is tactical gamism. Two questions that weighed heavily on my mind were: 1. whether Monsters we Slay isn't too complicated, 2. whether Monsters we Slay wouldn't benefit immensely from such things as a game board, miniatures and cards. The answer to the latter question is especially important, as I have little interest in trying to make a game that needs all those things - I'm not about to embark on any risky commercial venture whatsoever.
Well, back to the D&D boardgame. I was a bit disappointed by the depth of tactics that the game allows. You have to make an interesting decision now and then, but these moments are relatively scarce. For this reason, I don't think the game can hold anyone's attention for very long. I can see a group playing through the 12-adventure campaign, but I don't think many people would want to continue playing after that. There just isn't enough crunch, not enough tactical meat. If MwS is to be fun, it must have more crunch and more meat.
There are, however, two rules in the D&D game that are very well though out, and that might turn out to be useful in some form for Monsters we Slay as well. The first of these is the rule that every character (including monsters) can take two actions whenever it's their turn. So you can walk twice, or walk and attack, or attack twice, or switch weapons and attack - and so on. Why is this a great rule? Because it ensures that it doesn't really matter which of two enemies charges the other. If you use one action to move your miniature next to the monster, you still have one attack; then the monsters has two, then you have two, and so forth - if you think about it, you'll see that in general nobody has the advantage over the other. This is great because it ensures that you don't have stalemate situations where it is tactically disadvantageous for both opponents to go to the other guy.
The other brilliant rule is that everyone can use every weapon, no matter their class, but that the priest and the wizard start out with somewhat weak weapons that have as special ability that using them gives you a chance of regenerating spell points. This means that when you're out of spell points, you can still be a cool fighter - just use you sword of slaying and kicking ass! But, if you want to be able to cast more spells, you should attack using less useful weapons. The result of this is that the priest and the wizard are often fighting somewhat ineffectively, giving the rogue and the fighter the starring roles in melee and ranged combat, but that these actions are nevertheless beneficial to the group and therefore cool to the player, because they regenerate spell points. Role differentiation by rewards rather than punishments - very interesting!
What was very clear to me was that this game could not have been played without the board and the miniatures and the cards and the great character sheets. No way. There's just too much information to handle if you don't have all the props to help you. For me, this puts a very big question mark on my plans for Monsters we Slay. Is it possible for me to create a deep, tactical game that would not be a lot better for being a board game? Could I make do with stuff that everyone already owns, like a chess game?
And, relatedly - isn't this kind of stuff better handled by computer RPGs? I'll look into that in my next post.
On the other had, the game also inspired me to think of several new features and simplifications for Monsters we Slay - so I want to emphasise that the above are real questions, not rhetorical questions, and that this project has not yet been abandoned.