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Review: Mr. Big's Right Hand

PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2006 3:50 pm
by kleenestar
GAME SYNOPSIS: Mr. Big’s Right Hand, by Remi Treuer

Welcome to The Right Hand of Mr. Big! In this game, Mr. Big wants an object, and he's sent his best pair of agents to get it. However, Mr. Big's chief rival, Mr. Small, does not want to give up this object, and has sent his own pair of agents to guard it. The players will take on the role of these two teams, acting in the stead of their masters, attempting to achieve their goals. For the sake of clarity, any reference to 'Mr. Big' is meant as a reference to the person the teams are working for.

This game draws from inspirations like the Soderbergh Oceans 11, Sneakers, Mission Impossible, the James Bond franchise, games like Splinter Cell, and the comic book series The Losers. So think modern setting, with technology standing in for magic as a means for otherwise human characters to get impossible or improbable things accomplished.

The game aims to be fast and competitive, with each team creating new complications to confuse, block, and delight their opponents.


1) CREATIVE AND EFFECTIVE INCORPORATION OF RULES (1-10): 9

This game used the time constraint of 1x2-hour session. The game is specifically designed to be short and easy to play, and in fact it would probably not scale well to a longer session. The fast-paced nature of the game makes it relate quite well to the genre chosen as source material, and the system is successful at keeping things moving so that play can be completed within two hours. Overall, I thought that time was used extremely well.

The ingredients used, though they were not listed, were actor, law and team. Two of the three ingredients were used in a creative and interesting way. The team play is a core element of both the setting and the gameplay, and is carried through the entire game. The notion of using ‘actor’ in the sense of ‘one who acts on behalf of another’ was original and very cool, and the player characters as cats-paws is very in-genre. Finally, law was, I suppose, used because the characters operate outside the law. This seemed reasonable to me, but it didn’t actively impress me like the use of the other ingredients did. Still, I thought this was overall a very strong entry, rules-wise.

2) CLARITY (1-10): 7

This game was quite well-written, but could have used better structure and editing. Additionally, some key rules questions were left a bit open-ended – and the answers to these would heavily modify the success of this game in play. A bit more attention to detail in writing up the game would have made it much more immediately accessible and playable.

One major rules question which was left ambiguous, for example, was whether dice in an ability are used up only when you are the initiator, or when you are both the initiator and the defender. The answer to this question matters a lot, as the first introduces negative feedback into a system that might otherwise run into an accumulating-advantage problem, while the second does not resolve this potentially severe issue. Similarly, the issue of what happens to ‘moved dice’ at the end of a conflict is significant, but was not clearly addressed.

Sections which were particularly unclear were the ‘Other Stakes’ section, which took me quite a while to puzzle out, and the section on ‘Informational Stakes’, which was fairly clear in and of itself, but should have come before the dice-resolving sections. In fact, a whole section on ‘Setting Stakes’ probably belongs before discussion of the dice, as you can’t roll dice until you know what stakes you’re rolling for.

3) COMPLETENESS (1-10): 6

This game is intended to be short to play, and so the shortness of the rules is fairly appropriate. Nonetheless, there were some rules issues that were missing, and more importantly, some more supporting narrative material would have been very helpful.

System-wise, the issues I found were relatively minor. There is the one paragraph that ends abruptly in the middle of explaining rules, which wasn’t so good, but I think I was able to figure out what was intended. The question I raised above about when dice get ‘used up’ is quite significant, but the issue is mentioned (just not entirely clearly). Similarly, I had questions about whether I can count information gathered about the other team as stakes that will help me get the object – a minor but important point which was not addressed. I also wanted more examples of play, particularly with regard to negotiating stakes. Stake-negotiating is a fairly free-form, social activity, but it would have been helpful to even have a sidebar about the problems that one might run into when negotiating stakes and how to handle it.

Story-wise, I felt like this game definitely needed more supporting material. The references to the movies at the beginning were very useful, helping the player establish ideas about who their team could be, what they might do, and what kinds of plot you might introduce. Nonetheless, for players who might be less familiar with the genre, there needed to be more material introduced about what makes a good obstacle, lists of possible stakes, and ‘story starters’ or sample characters to help an inexperienced player get started.

Overall, I thought this was a good first draft, and definitely enough for an experienced player to work with. If this game were going to be released to the world, though, there would need to be a lot more added.

4) ESTIMATED EFFECTIVENESS IN PLAY (1-10): 7

This game wanted to be a fast-paced action-oriented heist game, and I think it achieved its goals quite well. I had two major concerns, though. The first is the extent to which the game supports role-playing – a concern which I think could be addressed in a more complete version of the game. The second, related, concern has to do with the way that the game would go with fewer than four players.

First, the good news: I found the system quite playable and appropriately brief for a short game. The four stats were obvious and understandable, as well as being very in-genre. Resolving a conflict goes quite quickly, as players simply have to choose a stat, decide what they are doing about bonus dice, roll the dice and compare them. The incentives for players to work together do add complexity to the system, but in appropriate ways. When players work together then the system itself encourages role-playing and player interaction, something I really liked.

Structuring the players into two competing teams is often really hard to do. However, this game did a good job of providing the players with concrete ways to think about the obstacles that they might introduce, through the four stats. Similarly, asking the active team to declare their stakes helps determine what a particular scene might be about.

There are some system concerns. The game definitely needs to put brakes on one team getting an accumulating advantage over the other. For example, if a team can cripple the other team’s remaining stat(s) in one conflict, then they gain an advantage in the next one. While this rewards good gameplay, I think that it also risks making the game tilt rapidly toward whoever gains an early advantage when dice bonuses are at stake.

However, my biggest concerns were role-playing related. While this game certainly helps the players tell a great story, I didn’t feel that the players would ever interact in-character, or even that they were encouraged to develop a particular character. Heist movies are interesting not just because of the cool action scenes, but also because of the interpersonal relationships between the characters on the team, which provide a much-needed contrast to the go-go-go of the rest of the story. The game would have benefited from some way to include non-action scenes between teammates or with NPCs. For example, having each team run a personal scene at the end of each round would have made the game feel more like a heist movie, as well as allowed for a wider variety of play rather than the strict “we go for the object, now you do” structure.

This concern is particularly strong with the two or three-player versions of this game. With four players, the teams can interact both among themselves and with each other. Even though there is little formal incentive for non-conflict role-playing, it will likely naturally happen, particularly as players decide whether or not to step in to help their teammates during a conflict. With fewer players, the role-playing aspects become less central and this becomes more like a dice game with some story elements.

I would actually suggest having four players as the minimum, not the maximum, number of players that this game can support. Multiple players per team encourages role-playing, not just story construction, and it also makes collaboration between players during conflicts much more interesting. When it isn’t simply a choice of whether or not your teammate will help you, but who will help you and how, I think the intra-team interactions become more rich.

Overall, though, I felt that I could play this game quite successfully as it was written. I imagine that it would still need some ‘house rules’ to make it work right, but that’s hard to tell without a play-test. From my reading of it, it definitely seems workable – and, just as important, fun!

5) SWING VOTE (1-10): 9

I really liked this game. It set itself achievable goals and it met them! I thought the genre choice was cool, original and fun, and that the system supported the story without overpowering it. This game could be played in a very ‘gamey’ way but could also support some very cool stories. The design choices that this game made were all consistent with one another and quite coherent as well as successful. Although I think the game still has some problems, particularly in encouraging role-playing outside the structure of conflict, I would play it tomorrow if I had the time. With some more work, I think this game would do a fantastic job of helping players tell their own heist stories, and I would love to see future versions of this as the designer continues the project!

TOTAL SCORE (add items 1 through 5, above): 38/50
DESIGN SCORE (a la Ben Lehman): 16/20

PostPosted: Tue Mar 28, 2006 3:53 pm
by kleenestar
. . . you know, it just occurred to me that Remi might have used "steal" as a homonym for "steel." Either way, I don't think it makes a difference to the score, but it certainly amuses me.

PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2006 9:32 pm
by Remi
Holy cow, man! Thank you for the thorough working over of my game, as well as the far-too-generous scores.

It's late, so I'll just quickly answer one of your questions: the three ingredients are Law, Actor, and Team. At the very beginning of the document it has the dictionary definition of Actor, but it's the Law definition, which is one who acts for another. See how cute that is?

I'll try to respond to some of your questions on the mechanics this weekend, along with other clarifications. Your points will all be considered.

Thanks again! This has absolutely made my day, as well as giving me a lot ot chew on.

PostPosted: Sun Apr 02, 2006 10:28 am
by Queex
This is as I mailed- it was only afterwards that I read the 'Law' comment in this thread. It wouldn't have changed my numerical score, anyway.


1) CREATIVE AND EFFECTIVE INCORPORATION OF RULES (1-10): 8

Feedback:
Although the ingredients and time scale weren't put up front, they were well-used. Team was not only a quantity to use, but was something to use to generate team play in an imaginative way. The idea of using Actor to be someone's agent was neat. I couldn't see any use of Steel as such. The 2-hour time limit suited the game well and lends an appropriate air of urgency to proceedings.


2) CLARITY (1-10): 7

Feedback:
The basic idea was well set out, although there were parts of the rules (particularly with the fiddly uses of dice and how the modifier stakes work in practice) that I thought could have been better explained. The nature of the informational stakes could use a little more explanation, and the sort of explanations for them.


3) COMPLETENESS (1-10): 5

Feedback:
The text felt a little unpolished, and some of the rules would have been easier to digest if broken up a little. It would have been nice to have some inspirational material about how the game would progress, perhaps tied in with examples of play. Even something as simple as a big list of potential locations would help the game stand out. Improving clarity with more detailed explanations would help the completeness, too.


4) ESTIMATED EFFECTIVENESS IN PLAY (1-10): 4

Feedback:
Although the basic mechanics, and the way that players interact are well-fleshed out, there were two specific ways I thought the mechanics of the game might fall down. As it stands, there's never any reason to declare the use of anything other than your best two skills, meaning that the third and fourth skills are seldom used. The bonus dice and modifiers are likely to change skills, but I'm not sure it would be by enough to make a difference. A character need only emphasise two skills in order to be able to attack once and defend once each round. The second problem is the minimum requirement of information to be able to try to snatch the objective- if it takes three stakes to be able to attempt it, and it changes hands with only three potential conflicts left, then the game has effectively ended. There's missing text about when a round is considered to have ended, so I can't say for sure.


5) SWING VOTE (1-10): 8

Final Feedback:
I liked the concept, the setting, and much of the mechanics. With a little rethinking and some polish, this is definitely something I'd like to introduce at my games meetings.


TOTAL SCORE (add items 1 through 5, above): 32

PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2006 12:04 pm
by Remi
Hey Queex, thanks for the feedback. Your comments are spot-on, and I'm glad you can see the possibilities for the game underneath the incomplete text.

The mystery of the 'a round ends when' sentence ties in to your main complaint. It was intimiated, but never clear, but I meant for there to be a a 'Once an ability is used, it cannot be used until the next round'. I wanted a round to last 4 turns, which would mean, if there were no Team Dice spent, each player would be able to lean on their 'big stats', but they would probably lose if the other team ganged up on them with their own big stats, which would require team work, which would lead to low score abilities coming into play, even if just as bonus dice.

I think this will make when to use 'big guns' important, and coordinating that use with your team-mate closely tied to your success.

You are absolutely correct that the minimum requirement for capture of the object is geared towards an unsatisfying end if the object is acquired shortly before the end of the game. The game should change in an interesting way once the object has changed hands once.

I really like the 'list of places.

Thanks again! You've given me a ton of places to expand the game in a useful way.

-Remi

PostPosted: Sat Apr 08, 2006 1:11 am
by DevP
Creative and Effective Incorporation of Rules: 6

The time limit felt right for this game: a short, 2-hour affair. The use of the Actor and Team ingredients clicked well - particularly the use of Team Points, which are central to the game - but I feel that Law was under-represented overall. A decent use of the ingredients.

Clarity: 4

The text isn't quite where it needs to be. The intro text could be slightly better at getting people into the mindset of the game - it turns out, a cinematic and competitive affair. Some of the rules could be broken down / moved around for more clarity. (For example, under "Creating Actors", there's no talk of creating characters until the second paragraph, and it's slightly confusing.) I needed to reread the Team Points and Bonus Dice parts a few times to understand what was going, and I also felt that I didn't really get an idea for the structure of play until I saw the Information Stakes (and other Stakes information) near the end. This is a pretty important structure of the game, and it help to think about the different rounds in those terms.

Completeness: 6

This game is largely complete. Besides rules clarifications as mentioned above, examples can always help, especially for setting the tone of the game. I would find it helpful to see more information about how to pick, select and especially negotiate the various different kinds of stakes in the game, and I'm not entirely sure that pure negotatiation of stakes would work in a competitive game. (Also: "stakes" is a somewhat dry word in this situation. Are there other ways to frame the different tasks that the players are attempting?)

Estimated Effectiveness in Play: 5

The basics are here for the game, but some of the details need to be worked out to ensure that the players can move through the rounds smoothly. Richer choices, beyond simply setting stakes, may be better for this game.

Swing Vote: 5

I like the concept of a short, competitive heist game for a few players, and this has a good start. However, there are some gaps in understanding how play of this should go, and what the compelling parts of its choices/narrative are going to be.

Final Vote: 26/50

PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2006 12:06 pm
by Adam Dray
I am a guest reviewer. While I have never participated in an Iron Game Chef Competition, I did write a 24-Hour RPG called Trapped! and Andy asked me to help with the reviewing.

Again, as I compare my scoring to that of other reviewers, I seem to be the grumpy East German Judge. As I scored games, I tried to fit them into the scale and examples Andy gave in the reviewing guidelines.

I now realize that the review and scores I sent to Andy reflect a slight misunderstanding of the game (especially the TIME rules). After getting some sleep and taking another look at it, though, I don't think I'd change my scores. My misunderstanding of the TIME rules didn't negatively impact the score and I still feel that LAW is a no-show.

Here's what I submitted (mistakes and all) for my review of this game:


1) CREATIVE AND EFFECTIVE INCORPORATION OF RULES (1-10): 4
Ingredients: actor, team, law
Timescale: a single 3-hour session

Feedback:
The TIME element is fairly effective. There are three rounds, each an hour each. The clock is literally running down as two teams of players vie for control of the "Object." It seems that there are clock-running strategies if the game is almost over and you have control of the Object.

Similar to another game I reviewed, ACTOR is used as a synonym for "player character," but this time the author hints at the "one who acts for another" aspect of the term. This is weak, but better than it being /purely/ a "PC."

TEAM is effectively used, since the players are divided into two opposing teams and they play against each other throughout the game. The winner is the team who controls the "Object" (Macguffin!) at the end of three hours of play.

I'm not sure, but LAW seems to appear in the game in the opening dictionary definition of "actor." I don't see it anywhere else, and I don't see STEEL used anywhere. This is basically a no-show for this element.



2) CLARITY (1-10): 3
Feedback:
Parts of the rules confused me, I think because things were presented in a strange order. Also, the game seems like a collection of rules without any logical flow.

Must the teams ask the questions in any particular order? For example, can a team jump to "What does the Object do?" without asking "What is the Object?"

I really didn't fully understand the dice system and all the dice movement until I read it a few times. One point that I only got from examples was that this was a dice pool game, where each player rolls a number of dice equal to a character's ability. How do you decide which ability to use? Who has final say if it's appropriate? Since you can use each one only once, does it matter much anyway? If not, why bother with the distributions -- just for color? What's an "unopposed die"? Are the sets of dice being compared to each other RISK-style?


3) COMPLETENESS (1-10): 4
Feedback:
The game needs to be fleshed out a great deal. The "Other Stakes" section especially needs more work. Why would the opponent /ever/ agree to the "other stakes"? Can't they just argue the numerical penalty until you give up and go back to a question stake? Similarly, why would a player put character death on the line? What is to gain by it? Give the player some kind of bonus for putting his life on the line.

I liked the character sheet.


4) ESTIMATED EFFECTIVENESS IN PLAY (1-10): 5.5
Feedback:
I think, overall, the game will be fairly effective in creating the Ocean's Eleven-style play the game supports. The questions do seem a little forced. Consider narrowing the game's scope down to a specific setting and situation (yeah, the /players/ will know the answers to the questions, but the characters will not).



5) SWING VOTE (1-10): 6.5
Final Feedback:
I love the idea of a heist game, but I thought the game failed to capture the excitement of the movies that inspire it. The question stuff is brilliant. The team vs. team thing is really cool (but will people always want to be the attackers?).


TOTAL SCORE (add items 1 through 5, above): 23

Re: Review: Mr. Big's Right Hand

PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2015 2:48 am
by saboor
I'd like to thank Andy for all his work, my reviewers for being kind, Brand for telling me over and over to just relax and finish it and also to he and Gary Winchester for being so available for my crazy emergency playtest midway through the week of the contest. The game would have suffered very badly if it had gone without.