Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mouse Guard RPG Unboxing

I've had a few people asking about the Mouse Guard RPG Boxed Set, so this post is going to be something I can point people to when they ask. It's been a while since I read or played Mouse Guard, so this is going to be mostly an evaluation of the physical components.

To start with, the box itself is nice. Solid, with nice artwork. Inside is a clear plastic insert to keep the contents from bouncing around too much. Roughly from top to bottom, I'll now go through those contents.

First are the dice. Ten solid six sided dice with engraved symbols, black on off-white. Three sides have a snake eating its tail for the cowards, two sides with crossed daggers for the regular successes, and one side with the Black Axe for the "6" side that can be exploded using fate points. While certainly not necessary, these look very nice.

There are five "mouse pawns" in different colors. These are oversized soft plastic chess pawns with mouse heads on top them. They resemble the pawns Gwendolyn uses in the comic to mark Guard patrols on the map. They don't really have any game function, but could make for a nice prop.

Next up are the cards. Three Action Decks, one deck of Conditions, and one of Weapons. Every card has an illustration and rules summary. The Action Decks have three each of the four different actions. The Conditions Deck has three each of the different conditions. The Weapons Deck has two each of ten different weapons, and one card for the mace introduced in the New Rules New Missions booklet. These cards seem to be the most useful things in the box, and I can see them coming in very handy when playing the game, especially with people new to the game.

Next is the rulebook. This is a softcover version of the rules, but otherwise identical to the hardcover book available separately.

Next is the "New Rules New Missions" booklet. The new rules introduce a variety of specialized "weapons" (really tactics and gear in most cases) for different types of activities, from giving speeches to fighting larger animals. There's also three new towns, a Combat Matrix revised for clarity, and rules for using mounts.

The bulk of the booklet is taken up with three new missions, each with new character templates. I've deliberately not looked too closely at these, but they are comparable in length to the sample missions in the rulebook.

The end of the booklet consists of a description of the other components which can be found in the boxed set. One thing I noticed here is that it mentions the presence of "other cards" beyond the decks I mentioned above, specifically cards with conflict disposition, conflict skills/action, and action mechanics on them. I can find no such cards in the box, and they aren't mentioned on the back of the box. I don't know if they're missing from my box or simply were dropped from production, but I suspect the latter given that they aren't mentioned on the box.

Next up are two pads of sheets. One pad of character sheets, and one of GM sheets. The former are what you'd expect from a character sheet. The latter has one side for summarizing the player characters, and the other is a rules summary.

Below the pads is a 3 panel cardstock GM's screen. It looks like it contains useful information, but I'd have to use it in play before I could fully evaluate whether it's well designed or not. The outer side consists of two panels of artwork, and one of information for the players, which is nice.

Finally, there's a map of the Mouse Territories in 1150. This is the same map found on the inside covers of the hardback rules, but with a little more color.

Overall, this is a nice set. Should you get it if you already own the rules? That's a tough call. If you're only interested in "crunch" then $70 is an awful lot for 44 pages of new rules and missions. It becomes a better deal if you're also interested in the play aids, like the cards and GM screen. If you were considering getting a second copy of the rules anyway, just to make things easier at the table, then definitely consider getting this set instead.

If you don't already own the rules, then I'd find this set an easier recommendation. You're still paying $35 above the cost of the hardcover for all the extras, but they are nice extras, and should make playing the game easier.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Don't Discourage Your Customers

These are some ideas that have been floating around in my head for a while, but I was finally inspired to write them down after reading the following tweet from Adam Jury: "Pricing that punishes late adopters discourages late adopters. Hey, discouraging customers kinda sucks."

In case it's not obvious: discouraged customers are less likely to buy your product.

An example of this is the pre-order discount. This is a common tactic in the hobby games industry, particularly among wargame manufacturers where it's become a nearly universal practice. It obviously works for them on some level, but it does tend to discourage new customers in a market that already struggles a great deal to attract new customers. Sometimes the pre-order discount is so large that you have to wonder whether the final MSRP is being overly inflated to further encourage pre-ordering.

Pricing isn't the only way to discourage customers. Another way is the pre-order exclusive. If the only way for a customer to get a certain substantial thing is to pre-order, and they missed the pre-order, then they're even more likely to become discouraged than they would from missing a discount. By substantial I mean something related to game-play. An adventure, or scenario, or expansion that's exclusive to pre-orders and otherwise unavailable.

In the past I've even seen companies that only offer a legitimate PDF of the product to those who pre-order. This goes beyond discouraging sales to actively preventing them!

Substantial exclusives in general are a bad idea. Whether it's a pre-order exclusive, a con-exclusive, or a direct order exclusive, when customers find out that they've missed out on something, they become discouraged. That means while they may have already bought your core game, now they're less likely to buy anything else related to it.

A combination of the two is the pre-order bundle. Everything in the bundle is available after the pre-order, but at a higher combined price. This is most commonly found in situations where the PDF is offered free with a pre-order, but has to be paid for separately if you don't pre-order.

So, what's a company to do if they want to encourage pre-orders, but don't want to discourage late adopters? Offer bonuses that aren't involved with game play: signed copies, t-shirts, posters, anything that's "cool" but isn't actually used in the play of the game.

Many Kickstarter projects are using this kind of thing effectively. In many cases people are actually paying extra to be an early adopter (in some cases a LOT extra) if it gets them something cool, even though it's not related to the game play. Something as simple as getting your name in the product as a supporter can help encourage people to put money up front.

It's possible to get creative about offering incentives while avoiding dis-incentives.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Diana Jones Award 2011

I still haven't gotten around to doing my own analysis of what would make for a good gaming award, but I almost don't have to, because I can point to the Diana Jones Award.

Instead of being a popularity contest, the Diana Jones Award is chosen by a panel of professionals. As a result, both the list of nominations and the final winner are consistently deserving of the attention given, and this year is no exception.

The nominees were:

Catacombs, a board game
Fiasco, a roleplaying game
Freemarket, a roleplaying game

These were all worthy nominations. I've played the three RPGs, and am familiar with the board games by reputation. While not all the nominees are my personal favorites, I can easily recognize the merits of them all.

The winner was Fiasco, and I think this was well deserved. It's been one of the most successful games I've played in terms of providing a consistently fun experience.

Congratulations to Jason Morningstar!