Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tabletop Review: The Princes' Kingdom

I think my new favorite tabletop RPG designer is a man with the unlikely name of "Clinton R Nixon".

On a recent excursion to the local geek shop, I picked up half a dozen indie RPGs, and the one I left until last was a thin little number obviously geared towards children.

A thin little children's game with a level of clarity and grace and depth of play that I haven't seen much!

It's a game that's a bit like Narnia: the players all play children between 6 and 12 years old, princes of their island chain. The game revolves around them visiting various islands you invent and solving problems like good little princes should.

By page 15, I was pretty uninterested. Premise, premise, premise, all told as if to children. Expected, but still boring. On page 16, I began to get interested.

See, the age of your prince really matters. Young princes get to specify a lot more cool powers than older princes, and older princes get more flat dice. I don't know how intentional the choice was, but it fits beautifully into what a child at a given age is likely to be able to do: at a young age, using whatever's handy as a hammer. At an older age, having to struggle to apply what few tools you have while working out the numbers and tactics of the dice. Essentially, gaining responsibility and the need to look forward as you get older.

In theory, adults who choose a given age of prince can be lured into the same mindset by this, although I can't say for sure.

The laws of the land and the island creation routine are deceptively simple but offer an astonishingly good framework for creating adventures with nuggets of hard choice at their core.

Now, I do think there are too many pieces to everything. It's a slightly flabby design: a bit too structured for my taste. But that's personal opinion. I like my clean simplicity, and I don't see any rules reason that a relationship, a thing, and a capability should be treated differently. They all offer the same die-related effects.

But structure is important to newbies, especially children, so I can see the value in doing it that way. It just... rakes on my nerves a little. My instinct would either be to make them fundamentally different rule-side, or to combine them.

Ha, such a tiny complaint. That's how good the game design is.

So I just went and bought his other two games. On PDF. I almost never buy on PDF.

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