I play-tested my Mouse Guard game “Into the Wild” last night. Overall the game was fun, but I found some significant holes. I’m very happy that I tested it out.
Warm up and learning the game exercises:
- Mouse Ball – Fun, easy, and got people in the mood.
- I see – Not only define the characters but also the relationship dynamics. Very similar to “backstory” in effect.
- Accomplishments – Created solid beliefs and exposed the players to the core mechanics.
- Having the character sheets “half baked” with a few things filed out helped to complete the rest.
- It was fun to play the mentors. It created a connection for the characters and acted as foreshadowing.
- The Obstacle – Twist – Condition worked very well.
- Teamwork was excellent, both because of the mechanical advantage and because of the sense that mice would naturally work together.
- The oddball skills like “bone head-wise and incectrist” were lots of fun.
- Character tents and trait labels made it really easy for everyone to remember who was who and what traits they had.
- The map was just awesome. People got really excited when it came out.
- The cards used to represent the mentors was great.
- We had some great narratives and descriptions, mostly thanks to very creative players.
- The Tenderpaw enjoyed having an in game mentor.
- Pacing was good. From the first obstacle on the game flowed really well.
What could have been improved
This discussion was long and I realized mid way through that it had turned into a critique of the Mouseguard game rather than of my adventure. Since my goal is to present the game more or less as is, I am separating out the criticisms of the game. They are valid but won’t apply to changes I make.
Warm up and learning the game exercises:
- The Mentor fight was too long. Several suggestions were made but the two that stood out was starting the fight en media res with each side knocked down to half their disposition. The other idea was to script out only two rounds of the fight and then narrate the rest. After some thought I’m going to go with the first because I want players to see how compromises work.
- The Mentor fight included mentors for three of the four characters (not the Tenderpaw who was mentored by one of the PCs), leaving the character playing the Tenderpaw less excited about the fight.
- If I have players with more knowledge about the system, I will try to team them up with players who are new to it.
- During the warm up I should review the character sheet and tell everyone what everything means or at least where to find things.
- The ice breakers individually were fun but collectively were too long. I had five (Mouseball, the Epic Journey, I See, Accomplishments and the Group Challenge). I’m going to cut out the Epic Journey as it took a while and didn’t teach any of the mechanics. I wish I could figure out a way to introduce the traits/checks into one of these.
- Using the dry erase pens looked nice but it rubbed off on people’s fingers. Since I’m ditching the Epic Journey that will be eliminated.
- One player felt the obstacles seemed too tough and they were contrived to make the players fail. This may be true. I find that I often engineer twists to be much more interesting that the original obstacles so I hope the mice will fail on the first roll so I can bring out the twist. It isn’t a punishment, it’s a cool story … uh… twist (durh) but I can see how it feels like the odds are stacked against the players.
- Some of the skills like Archivist, Loremaster, and insectrist needed explaining. I will create a skill list for those characters.
- I really dropped the ball on explaining the interaction between traits and checks. I mentioned it but did not draw enough attention to it and didn’t remind people often enough that they could use them to gain checks.
- Since the game has two GMs turns and a Player turn, it’s worth mentioning advancement. As is we had one player who’s raised a skill from 2 to 3 and everyone else was like “you can do that?”
- I need to make sure everyone knows that each obstacle will be overcome regardless of success or fail. Failure just leads to either a twist or a condition. I need to encourage people to fail.
- After the discussion of checks (see below) a player suggested starting off the character with two free checks just in case they don’t get a chance to gather any.
- Beliefs weren’t challenged in game. This came from one of my Burning Wheel players who is used to me hammering on his beliefs and making the come to the forefront all the time. I don’t’ think I’m going to hammer on them more (MG is less confrontational in that regard) but I will encourage players to use broad beliefs and save things they want to accomplish for their goals.
- I had a frog come out in winter and one player noted that they are cold blooded and would be hibernating. My response was “yeah, funny that, he must be really hungry”. I’m going to look for another animal that would be out in winter and would care about crashing into the water.
Criticism of Mouse Guard
- The GM’s turn felt like the characters were steamrolled out of Gwendolyn’s chambers and onto the road without any chance to prepare. The player suggested adding a Player’s turn before the GM’s turn. While I see the merit in allowing the mice to prepare, I’d much rather get rolling sooner rather than later. Another player suggested starting the mice out in the snow and having them flashback to the mission given to them by Gwendolyn. A third option would be to stop talking after the mission is given and give the players a little flexibility in how it starts. If one player says he wants to get maps, etc., just let him do it without a roll or any scenes involved.
- Another player did not like that the only way to gain checks was to set yourself up for failure and would have preferred a flat number of checks. For me this breaks the entire trait system but it’s also indicative that I didn’t explain well enough that the mission will always proceed, regardless of success or failure. The game essentially rewards failure, which I love.
Notes I took during game.
- Remember to bring in the Mentors during the Players Turn. They should offer encouragement and or help.
- Make Robin pick a gender. I had two male characters, one female character and one named Robin who could be either male or female. My assumption was that the player would pick when the character was chosen. Instead the player opted for the gender to be uncertain (see Vaarsuvius from Order of the Stick, Chris from SNL, or other Shim jokes for reference). This caused some consternation in the group.
- I forgot a skill on Dain’s sheet and missed putting Resources and Circles on Brynn. Overall I think I need to look at the skills more and make sure that there is some niche protection as well as health overlap. I’ll probably do this by creating some skills at 4 on one character and 2 on another character.
- I need to write out a list of what Attack, Defend, Feint and Maneuver represent in conflicts other than fights.