Jonathan Walton finally passes judgment on MoL, MoW and the decision is… FINALIST, for Game Chef 2010.
Man-of-Letters, Man-of-Wars: A Game of Tactical Correspondence with a Chance of Drowning by E. Tage Larsen / Double King
“Man-of-Letters, Man of War” is one part saucy libertine epistolary and one part age-of-sail slugfest. It is loosely set amongst the 18th and 19th century’s naval warfare and the epistolary novels that were popular in this time. This is a gm-less game is about letter writing and naval battles. Each player will have a turn with naval mayhem and scurrilous penmanship. Bon voyage!
* Concept: This game emulates 18th and 19th century epistolary naval novels. Hotness.
* Execution: Perhaps the designer knew that I’ve been reading the Master & Commander books recently and is trying to stack the deck on here. Still, I really wish the designer used larger type, as it was somewhat painful to read on the screen as a PDF, at least without awkwardly zooming in on the pages. I’m a bit unsure why every player makes their sailor be on a different boat during character creation. The designers this year really want to design solo or 2-player games, don’t they? Still, I suppose it supports the correspondence theme, though characters are corresponding more with their loved ones at home than with the other characters aboard ships, which seems like a missed opportunity. I can imagine a lot of drama with various sailors and officers informing their fellows on other ships of their victories or defeats. The way the dice “explode” is clever, because it allows you to gamble that the explosion will continue, but with the potential to lose everything. This is actually the only way to fail, which matches nicely with pulpy novels in which self-aggrandizing junior naval officers mess things up by overplaying their limited resources and luck. Additionally, the ship and character creation guidelines are delightful and really add to the feel of the game.
* Completeness: In the naval combat section, the Speed rules are a bit unclear, since you seem to roll+Speed (of your ship) in an attempt to close with any object on the playing field, but it doesn’t really explain what happens if you don’t actually want to close, but keep your distance, or how to maneuver your ship marker on the map if you miss, since presumably you still move somewhere. The rest of the rules look pretty exciting, though it’s surprising that there are no explicit guidelines for continuing your narrative, presumably under a new flag and on a new ship, once you are rescued from being shipwrecked. In the correspondence section, there probably need to be examples of Assertions, since they are so crucial to the rules and are won with naval victories. Part of me also wonders how random impressed hands know how to write, but that’s a separate issue entirely. This game is clearly in need of some playtesting to see if traits are adjusted in practice in a way that suits the endgame.
* Cookery: On the acknowledgements page, the designer wrongly lists the theme of this year’s contest as Voyage rather than Journey. But I suppose we’ll forgive that.
* Conclusion: This Finalist really needs to see the table, which will undoubtedly help it work out any remaining issues. Like the last game, it is also in need of some playsheets to make this easier, given the relative density of the mechanics and guidelines.
Thanks for the kind words, Jonathan. Though i think picking nits over Journey/Voyage might lead to bloodshed. Time will bare this out.
Good notes. And i’m very thankful to have had additional eyes and some critical feedback on the project. Certainly some framing questions i need to review. A note on your notes, at present the Ship is considered half of the player’s character which is why i isolated everyone on their own vessel. That drove the narration into bloodshed vs isolation. I’ll take a look at some of the places you raised eyebrows.
MoL, MoW continues to evolve! Arrrrgh.