14 July, 2015

Game Chef Review 52: Dragonfly Wings and Starship Engines by Steven Schwartz

I was just going to do "finalists" from this point onward, then maybe a few others that caught my eye,  but a polite note on the blog from Steven Schwartz (who has apparently been reading through these reviews) made me go and open up his files to see what he had produced for the contest. I'm glad I did.

Dragonfly Wings and Starship Engines

Ingredients: 8 [Stillness (3), Dragonfly (3), Dream (2)]
The combination of Dreams and Stillness to form a cryosleep setting was certainly a common theme this year. I think I've reviewed a half dozen of these now. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, just that it's a thing. It's also interesting that in a lot of these entries, dragonflies appeared as either drones repairing the ship containing the dreamers in stasis, or existed as the shape of the ship itself. This follows that solid consistent setting, but deviates from other games after that point.

Theme: 6 (4 +2 Bonus for showing how the audience is addressed in an interesting way)
It's really interesting to see how different people have interpreted the theme. Ways that I might have dismissed earlier in my reviews are recurring in later entries, and this game tends toward one of those. The theme of a different audience is addressed in this game as a projected dream sent to an audience of dim-witted dragonflies, not quite sentient, but developed enough to be used as tools by a crashed ship's AI. As a game, it doesn't particularly project itself to a different audience, but within the game, the notion is certainly addressed.

Would I Play This?: 7
This reminds me a bit of two different concepts...firstly the RPG "Paranoia", possibly due to the tone of voice used on the opening page, then due to the multiple lives aspect reflected here by multiple dragonflies... Secondly the Star Trek collectable card game (though I'm sure there are other games that use similar mechanisms, this is the one I'm most familiar with), I'll dig further into that in the innovation section.

Completeness: 8
Setting (check), Set Up / Character Generation (check), Turn Sequence (check), End Game Sequence (check), Play examples (check), Alternate Ways to Play (check), Necessary cards and sheets for play (check). Yeah pretty much all the boxes are ticked on this one, which is far better than most of the examples I've reviewed. Maybe it's just my cursory glance so far, but there are bits of the rules that seem to need a bot more clarification, and I'm sure a playthrough or two will confirm or dispel that thought. Maybe I'm just nitpicking again.

Innovation: 6
I've seen a lot of these ideas before, not in this configuration, but the components are familiar and I generally know they work. When I said that the game reminded me of the Star Trek CCG, it seems to work on the idea that you assemble a team, then flip cards that modify the team before they are able to actually confront the climax of the mission... some of these cards affect a random member of the team, others specific target a member with the highest (or lowest) stat... Then once those cards have suitably modified the team the final values are compared to a certain threshold to determine success. It's an elegant system, it tells a story through the resolution. I'd flesh out the game by adding more of these complications into the mix. It's certainly one of the methods I'd use when formulating a diceless game.

Output Quality: 8 [Language (3), Layout (2), Imagery (1), +1 Bonus for overall layout]
There has been some good attention to detail in this, with language at a good level, layout on a par with most of the entries, and a great cover image. If this game were to be refined I'd love to see a few more images of the dragonflies added in, maybe a few sidebars for the play examples, general layout improvement (maybe an evocative header font...something digital to reflect the AI, or something more organic to reflect the dragonflies). All in all though, not bad.

Overall: 73% Credit [24+12+7+16+6+8]
It really wouldn't have taken a lot to push this entry up to my distinction level. It's the kind of game I like, and certainly something I'd like to see refined in the future. There are a few bits where the mechanisms don't seem to gel into a coherent whole, such as the conversion between projected dreams and actual dragonfly actions, but nothing that couldn't be remedied or clarified fairly easily.
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