domenica 22 aprile 2012

Second Review: Lantern by Alla Hoffman

The idea behind Lantern is cool. The universe is imploding into a giant black hole, and only a few planets remain. The game is about finding out what the characters do before the universe finally ends.

The game uses a particular real-time mechanic: every 5 minutes we'll have to roll to see wich planets are affected by the environmental stress caused by the black hole. After the second time a planet gets and environmental stress, it explodes. A character on that planet may spend a point from a motivation or a health point to protect the planet to get environmental stress, so that it can exist longer. If the 5 minutes end before the scene does, the players have 1 more minute to finish it. Then, as said, you roll.

The other mechanics are not so particular. Every character has his stats (the motivations), Cruelty, Loyalty, Desperation and Conviction, as well as his health points and the bucket list, a list containing the things he wants to do before death.

The gameplay is divided in scenes: at his turn every player call for a scene starring his own character. The player at his left is the antagonist, that basically acts more or less as a GM (and he has a lot of authority too, as, for example, he can set the number of rolls necessary for the character to make it to the spaceship when escaping from an exploding planet).

I have some perplexity about the setting, I admit. I'm a fatalist and I find hard to understand how could be interisting a plot that basically have a so much ineluctable end. I mean: also in Montsegur you know how it's going to end, but there are various endings available per character, and playing you find out how those characters come to that ending. Here in Lantern the ending isn't linked to what the characters do: they'll get anyway crunched in the black hole, and there isn't any way they can save themselves. The introduction says that if there is some really good reason they don't necessarily have to die, though, even if it should be a rarity, so I can imagine the players trying to save themselves in any way they can (I admit: I haven't tested the game so maybe I'm wrong about this point).

I have the impression that the system doesn't support properly the object of the game. That stat system is a lot physical, and I'm not convinced about the health points. I would have put some sort of "consequence" mechanic, where the harm was only one of the possibilities. The HP are good for games strictly based on combat, and this isn't. The stats aren't clear too in their meaning, but I think that this is a consequence of having only 3000 words to write the game; in a future version of the game I would work on these ones. And I also would try to find a way to help players to have a game based upon their character's bucket list, as I think that at the moment the real deal is surviving.

I'm not convinced at all about the cookery stuff. Maybe the theme, Last Chance, is ok, but the ingredients (the four words) are used only as feeble setting elements. The lantern is the name of the black hole, as he emits some sort of light from inside (uhm... you don't really see a black hole, I think), the mimics are people trying to record what they can of the universe before it's all lost (and what will happen to their museum-like domes as they get eaten by the lantern? I don't even see how these guys can meet the other assumptions of the setting), the doctors are scientists willing to find a way to let the planets survive a little longer (I suppose the characters will want to meet these guys as soon as possible), while the coyote is only mentioned as the beginning of the game, "The Coyote's Head", a large spaceport. I think that all of these could have been used way better rather then only being names of some setting's elements.

As said, the game have interisting premises, anyway. After the Game Chef I would completely eliminate every reference to the ingredients, and I would work on finding a way to obtain a game based more on the character's bucket list, and less on those physical stats. And I would completely eliminate the possibility to survive the crunch, because that's the real deal: the annihilation has to be final and unappealable.

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