Sunday, May 11, 2014

Microscope Review

A little under a month ago I posted here how excited I was to be trying out a different type of RPG called Microscope. Today I'll be reflecting on the actual experience and compare it to my expectations/hopes. But first, let's look at my game table before and after the game:

Those hands at the bottom of the second picture are +Patrick Lorenz working diligently, on his birthday, to ensure that all of the history we created was captured in a single local. 

As it says on the front of the book, Microscope is a "fractal role-playing game of epic histories." I had to look up what "fractal" meant because as far as I understood it fractal means "broken" or "broken up." It just so happens, that definition isn't too far from the truth, but the best fitting definition was this one: "A fractal is a mathematical set that typically displays self-similar patterns." What makes this definition fit so well is the little symbol on the cover of the book which has two circles placed within one larger circle, and the fact that once you get the hang of the game, each part you play is just a smaller element within a larger element. Let me explain.

You start with a grand scheme, for example ours was "The end of the Modern World"
Next you create the bookends for your history. These are the two points on either side of your history that you cannot pass in this session of the game. We chose "The Information Age" as the earliest point we could explore, and "50 years after the Apocalypse" as the bookend to our history. 
Then you create a "Palette" of what's acceptable and restricted.
Then each player creates another age, event, or scene to place within the timeline. 
Here's where the circles come in: Every age, event, and scene has a little circle drawn on it to summarize weather this particular element is considered a light or dark turn in the history books.

So by the beginning of the "actual game" you have anywhere from 5-7 circles on the table that fit within or near each other to create self-similar patterns throughout history. And the rest of the game is just a deeper exploration of the elements that each player finds interesting.

My favorite, and by far the strangest, part of the game was "the scene." We only did one of these because most of us were unsure what would happen and how to run this particular part of the game. However, we did try one of them, and it was awesome! In the span of a few minutes we had created characters, laid out the scene and began role-playing to discover the answer to a simple question "How did the squadron kill the first Pit Lord?" 

Compared to my expectations Microscope matched up pretty well. It was very, VERY different from most anything we had ever played before. But different in this case is a good thing. At first the game fits like a flipper on land. It is awkward because we are used to walking on the surface of a story, but when you jump into the depths of the history, a flipper is just what you need.

When looking at a game the three questions I consider are: 
Playability: How easy is it for the working adult gamer to understand, play, and enjoy the elements of the game?
Creativity: What new elements does this game bring to the table that increases the value of gaming?
Look: Does the art/layout grab the reader and give them food for the imagination?
I guess I'll grade them on a scale from 1-5 Dice. One being very poor and 5 being excellent.

So here's the breakdown for Microscope:
Playability: 4. It starts out a little rocky, just because it is so different, but once you get your feet wet, it's easy.
Creativity: 5. No other game I've played captures such an ambitious goal in such a creative manner.
Look: 2. Easily the lowest point of the game is that it is purposefully written as an instruction manual and spends very little time tickling the creativity out of you. I understand, even appreciate, the decision to write it this way, but it does affect the overall look of the game.

Overall: 11/15 Dice.