Emprint Reviews Mouse Guard

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Neat fantasy* games: Mouse Guard

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You're a mouse. You're also the law. You've got a cloak, and a sword, and a whole mess of problems.

I've heard a lot of people say this "I was always interested in Burning Wheel, but I just didn't get [mechanic x]." I suspect I'll soon hear some of those same people saying "but I love Mouse Guard." You'll certainly hear me say that. With Mouse Guard, Luke Crane takes a lot of ideas that I enjoyed in BW, and packages them up in a game I could actually get a group for.

What mechanics, you ask? Beliefs that earn you drama beans, for instance. Incentives to use the stuff on your sheet, even if you're going to fail. That nifty business of blindly choosing actions three rounds out. Its all there, without bizarre misuses of "factor" and "exponent" or rules that are transparently designed to prevent Luke Crane from his players around.

"Transparently" being the key word. The Burning Wheel ethos is still there, it's just been wrought into a few straightforward rules rather than many fiddly ones. I can definitely dig this. I don't mind chopping rules out of games, but with BW I've been afraid that one of those fiddly bits would be load-bearing. Mouse Guard, I can see what it's trying to do and how it's trying to do it, and I can keep the whole damn thing in my head at once.**

To illustrate all that, here's a rule I very much like:

If a player fails an ability or skill test, one of two things can happen. You can decide he fails to overcome the obstacle and throw an unexpected twist into the story or you can allow the player to succeed with a condition. He passes but his character is made Hungry, Angry, Tired, Injured or Sick in the process.

Simple, to the point,*** and the kind of thing that comes up all the time in play.

Burning Wheel's various conflict systems have been combined into a single, universal conflict engine. I'd call it the Burning Wheel equivalent of Shadow of Yesterday's Bringing the Pain. There are just four actions to script, but their interplay looks interesting.

MG also seems to take some pointers from other games. Instead of the Burning Empires scene economy, we get an AGON-like system of alternating GM and player turns. The GM dishes out obstacles which do harm and provide resources, then the players use their resources to heal back up. This fits nicely into a do-mission-go-to-town rhythm that will be familiar to anyone who's read the comics. Traits now all have uniform rules: invoke a trait in your favor and get a die. Invoke it against yourself and get a resource you can use to recover during the player turn.

There's a lot of depth to the world, too... something which pleasantly surprised me. With the Mouse Guard comics being mostly action, I wasn't expecting all of the detail on what seasons mean to gameplay, what a mouse's place in the world is, and rules that give a character connections all over the map. That last is a big deal to me; I'm a firm believer that if you've got a big, fancy map, it should be somehow significant. This is why I love those old Judge's Guild products so much.

It's important to note that Mouse Guard is beautiful. It's Luke's typically elegant layout paired with creator David Petersen's intricately rendered mouse-world. I've only got the PDF for now, but it's remarkably readable even in that form.

So, I really dig it. What am I going to do with it? Well, I'm going to try and get a group together. Hopefully, they'll be into the whole mouse guard thing. If they're not, though, I might try applying the rules to something else. For all that the game models the way mice are portrayed in the comics, the mechanics could be applied to almost anything with only small tweaks... especially if that anything involves dangerous journeys. The Nature mechanics, for instance, could easily become class in a dungeon crawl or the force in Star Wars. Nice stuff.

Which is all a very long way of saying that you'll probably enjoy this if you like mice with swords.

'**' Thereby leaving room also for the Excellent Prismatic Spray. Kiss my ass, Kandive the Golden.
'***' Unlike this post.