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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Unexpected arrivals

A fond farewell
Many readers will be aware of last week's news that the Borders Books UK chain has gone into liquidation. I was saddened to hear this because Borders has been my favourite bookstore for several years now. For all I know Waterstone's might be a better bookshop- it was certainly my introduction to modern chainstore bookselling; but I preferred Borders' ambience. My visits there down the years have netted me a great wodge of cheap crime novels and thrillers as well as many bargains in the military history department. Borders even featured in the first series of posts here @RD/KA!

I already knew I was going to miss the place, but I didn't expect to be mildly shocked at the stark reality when Bill and I visited yesterday in search of more bargains, from the closing down sale. The shelves around the store were already picked half clean, giving the place the eerie air of the rotting hulk of a familiar old ship in which I'd travelled halfway round the world and back.


This cloud's silver lining was the addition, to my military history collection, of 4 fine volumes:
I could easily've gone absolutely mental clearing those shelves myself, so I restricted myself to 4 picks, then beat a hasty retreat before my willpower was overcome. None of these books are of mere passing interest- eg. I chose Stone's book in light of what I'd recently learned about the Russians leading the way with early innovations in small unit tactics on the industrial battlefields of 20th century total war. If I had to pick a 'one and only', it'd be Kershaw's Tank Men: I'd had my eye out for this since seeing the hardback a couple of years ago. It was fortuitous then to find it on my last visit to Borders UK. Plenty of good reading ahead for yours truly then. :-/

And well, hello...
Our trip into town yesterday also took us to Static, one of our FLGS. There, exactly as happened last week with HERO6, I was caught right between the eyes- this time by WFRP3. I wandered around the shop for a few minutes, as if dazedly pretending there was something else I was looking for (and I did almost grab a couple of bargains but WFRP3's £65 price tag- still hefty even with Static's generous discount, easily reined me in), then the inevitable followed as if by a law of nature.

A curious air of edgy anticipation was in the air as Kenny, Bill and I chatted after my purchase. In our own ways, Kenny and I had each just made big investments in what could be an interesting new turn in roleplaying, or which might prove to be an expensive white elephant. Bill and Kenny explained that parts-driven RPG's have been tried before and have failed- even when they were good systems. And Kenny and I are both only too aware of the weeping, wailing and general gnashing of teeth some old WFRP fans've been keeping up across the nets these past few months, on the strength of which we might conclude that WFRP3 will be a disaster on a par with New Coke, this time maybe even taking the company with it.

In the face of all that? Well, there are good reports from actual play, eg. WFRP Demo Event - A Demo Success Story (via RPGG). And the more I see of the game, the more I'd like to believe that WFRP3 is a good design with a lot to offer roleplayers from hardened veterans to complete newbs making their first ever run. The proof is in the pudding as they say, so there's little more I can add until I've thorougly digested the rules and played.

What's in a game?
What I can do off the bat is to scotch the notion that WFRP3 is anything but an RPG. The forms of roleplay being many and various, it'd be easy to subtilise with this definition or that. For my purposes here, the key distinguishing features are:
  • Roleplay.
  • Competition.
If WFRP3 actually was the boardgame so many wish it to be (the better to see it fail, naturally enough) then it'd be a game pitting the players against each other in a contest for victory- just like Descent, as often remarked. WFRP3 simply doesn't work like this; as was evident from the most casual perusal of FFG's publicity, let alone from the familiar quick gloat over the contents of a new box of stuff.

And as for the MMORG-derived mechanics delivered through boardgames-style systems? Consider some highlights of FFG's track record:
  • Midnight: the 'after the Dark Lord's triumph' setting which turned the convential roleplaying value-set inside out in a way I'd not seen since Paranoia (1984, naturally enough).
  • Doom: a FPS-into-co-op boardgame crossmedia adaption whose particular success depended above all on 2 features, IMO:
  1. Stealing the GM from RPG's and making him into the party's antagonist to break the monotony of the solitaire engine model of so many co-op boardgames.
  2. Using special dice to deepen players' sense of the FPS viewpoint.
  • Descent: a polished version of the Doom system showing that FFG have a pretty good idea of what they're doing with fancy dice, cards, and tracking tokens when it comes to making a boardgame.
  • Battlestar Galactica: another crossmedia adaption, in which the narrative envelope of competitive/cooperative boardgame design was pushed about as far as it has been taken.
None of these- neither individually nor in sum, serve to prove that WRFP3 will work as FFG assure us it will. But they strike me as good reason to hope that, if anyone can crack the conundrum that is the successful parts-driven RPG, it's going to be FFG. Fingers crossed I guess. ;)
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