Monday, March 31, 2014

Myth: Great Game, Horrid Rulebook

Our copy of Myth arrived last week. It was a Kickstarter we backed last year, and should be available on retail soon-ish. Myth a big cooperative dungeoncrawl game with lots of bells and whistles (and cards and minis). It's in the same genre as HeroQuest or MageKnight Dungeons or the more recent Galaxy Defenders, but I feel it's a vastly superior game to any of those. (Though, to be fair, the only thing I have against Galaxy Defenders is its plodding and fiddly set-up before play.)

Here's a quick run-down of the things I really like about Myth:
  • Fully Cooperative: There's no GM. Everybody's a player, and we're all working together. There's no need for someone to run the monsters, or set up the dungeon, or be otherwise adversarial to the rest of the group. Everybody has the same amount of plot-knowledge, and the same goal.
  • Flexible: Play duration is in your control, and game play starts almost immediately. Set-up of each board is quick, fun, and collaborative. You can decide on the fly just how long a game you want to play. Somebody having to leave early doesn't anticlimactically ruin your entire session, and you should be able to easily bargain with them "how about we just finish this tile we're on and then we call it end of Act?"
  • Engaging: The turn structure is unique, and very clever. Things are happening all the time, and everyone is constantly involved in the action. You're never sitting around waiting for someone else to act. No one can dominate the game, because there's built-in mechanisms to keep everyone contributing at roughly the same activity level. Stealing the spotlight in consecutive turns is punished in a dramatic but enjoyable way. It's genius. The only place this "all hands on deck" turn structure breaks down at all is when a PC dies - but odds are good that a PC death will be followed quickly by either resurrection or a TPK, so I'm cautiously optimistic the downtime even in those circumstances will be short. Honestly, I'd love to see this turn-structure converted for use in an RPG in place of traditional Initiative systems.
  • Elegant: The dice mechanics are robust and quick. An area-of-effect blast on half a dozen minions, or a mass attack against a hero surrounded by minions, can both be handled in seconds with a single die roll each, but still feature meaningful depth and variety of results. It's a game that can handle 4 or 5 PCs facing off against dozens of badguys at once without ever hitting a speed bump.
  • Toys: There's so much in the box. Not only are the fancy physical components numerous (40 miniatures, a stack of beautiful map tiles, a bunch of decks, etc), but there's multiple game modes and a lot of quest-cards that create interesting scenarios to play out. The game feels like it has depth and replayability aplenty, with lots of eye-candy to keep you entertained along the way.
It's an excellent game. I've played it four times now, and I'm really diggin' it. Can't wait to break it out again.

Yo Momma Is A Crawla


All those praises having been said, the rulebook is wretchedly awful. It's beautiful to look at, but really hard to read. It jumps from topic to topic and back again without warning (but at least it has a better-than-average index). There are several topics, however, that never get addressed in the rules. They skulk silently between the pages waiting to ambush you.

For example:
  • Poison and Stun: These two status effects are caused by various cards (poison shows up a lot more than stun), but are never actually defined in the rules. Luckily, the rules do have a "Damage Over Time" status and a "Prone" status that can fairly intuitively be used for Poison and Stun respectively.  An easy fix once you're aware of the problem, but an ugly surprise if the first time it crops up is in the middle of a play session.
  • Combo and Optional: These two keywords appear on a number of player cards, but really aren't defined anywhere in the rules. The Archer character and the Brigand character both rely on those two keywords, and the consensus on the forums is that they mean completely different things in the two decks. To feel that I understood it at all, I had to read the rulebook cover-to-cover, then read two FAQ threads (one on BGG, the other at the publisher's forums),  then watch a couple gameplay videos, then re-read relevant parts of the rulebook.
  • Stretch Goals: There are plenty of cards, and charts in the rulebook, that reference things that aren't included in the base set. It's often not immediately obvious what expansion-product you'd have to buy to fill in these holes and complete the chains. That's no problem if you bought the "Captain level" Kickstarter pledge which includes nearly 1 of everything for a very reasonable price... but folks buying this piecemeal at retail are probably going to experience some frustration and confusion.
  • Action, Reaction, and Interrupt: These are pretty simple concepts in most games, and people can usually intuit what they mean. Not in Myth. As it turns out, "reaction" and "interrupt" are horrible names for what these cards do, and using those terms actually makes the game harder to teach. The rules themselves are straightforward, but the nomenclature is misleading.
There's a huge number of other minor complaints, but those are good examples. It's all stuff you'll eventually figure out, and since it's a cooperative game no one's getting an unfair advantage out of the confusion... but damn is it annoying to have critical terms and mechanics go undefined in the rules, and to have such inconsistent templating and phrasing on the cards.

All of this could/should have been caught with a just a single blind playtest before they went to print, or by any editing pass, and it blows my mind that such obvious holes and murkiness slipped through the cracks. It's like all the time that should have been used for editing and playtesting just went into art assets and layout... but at least it looks sweeet.



2 comments:

C.D. Gallant-King said...

Screwy rule book aside, this sounds like a very fun game.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Good review, fair one too. It's a good thing the game's so enjoyable because the incomplete rules and contradictory cards very nearly ruin it.