Review: Minimus 2

So Minimus 2 is out. That took literally a day or two. I'm calling it "2", because it's now Minimus: The Two-Page Roleplaying Game. Please see my previous blog entry for my very recent review of Minimus. The download URL for the game itself remains the same. What follows is my Minimus 2 re-review…

First, almost all the problems I reported have been fixed. Some new mechanics and a lot more description give much better support to the GM. It's clear now that the owner allocates the skill points (though I still think that's a mistake) and that every skill starts between levels one and four. It's also now clear that skills may reach a maximum of 9 over the character's lifetime. The combat system has been outright fixed, and now looks actually playable, albeit nothing special.

New bad typos have been introduced; I wish the author would get someone to proofread. The GM role still looks kind of tough to me, though doable now. The skill point allocation problem is still there, albeit more minor now that there's a reason to push skills beyond 4. I still don't like the small degree to which skill levels affect results. None of this detracts much from what now looks like a pretty playable game.

One thing that I didn't pick up on earlier is that the whole relationship thing is a bit limiting. Normally a lot of RPG characters are natural loners, with few bonds with anyone. It's an archetype. It would be a bit tough to do that here.

A whole "clarifying question" mechanic has been added, presumably to help the GM along. The task sequencing mechanic has been expanded a bit, which seems like overkill to me. It's also not clear whether when trading ordering cards you are allowed to tell the other players what you have. The cards are supposed to be facedown until trading stops, hence the confusion.

My current ambition is to try to do a full-on prebuilt adventure for Minimus —also in two pages. If I get time, I'll go there. Friend of Bart

Update 2008/01/08: The game continues to evolve, so some of the stuff up there may no longer be quite right. I'll take a third look at it once the revisions start to settle down.

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Minimus 4 interview cont.

Nice interview! Very thorough, and covered all kinds of interesting stuff. The interview was helpful in getting inside Mr Burnside's head as to his ideas and influences with the game, and helpful in understanding some of the rule mechanics that still weren't clear to me from reading the rules.

I pretty clearly need to re-re-review Minimus 4. Aside from the (welcome!) 2-page GM Guide addition, it looks like the game has undergone substantial improvement since my last comments. For example, the game appears to now be properly spellchecked and have reasonable, if not perfect, grammar—thanks!

I really need to give Minimus a try sometime soon. Friend of Bart

Name Change

How many additional pages can Ken add before it's called Moderatus ?

GM Guide

To be fair, the GM guide really is a separate document, which is a pretty traditional thing to do. The players still only need two pages.

I imagine the next two pages will be a prebuilt adventure. Friend of Bart

To Be Fair

Minimus requires both a Game Master and Players. You can't discard any of the four pages and play. They are all fundamentally necessary and thus the name "Minimus" becomes increasingly funny.

I am clearly not a fan, and am unlikely to become one. The basic game mechanics are ugly, and so is the result. Adding more pages is not a substitute for writing good rules, and even the game's name becomes an example of its low quality.

Minimus 4 interview

Thanks much for the note! I had lost track of Minimus; great to see that Mr Burnside has completed the 2-page GM guide! Friend of Bart

More Minimus Minimizing

My own, more-severe review has been posted for your consumption.

My Bile

I know your comment isn't meant to be taken seriously, but I think it reflects a fundamental philosophy of gaming which I don't share. You want people to undergo some kind of self-improvement because of your mechanics. You want them to "make lemons into lemonade" and "pursue explicit goals" and "learn from mistakes." (I'm paraphrasing your paraphrases.)

That might be admirable in a self-help book or a therapy group. I don't think it's practical or entertaining for role-playing. When I read a story, I don't want the villain to undergo therapy. I want to see him get what he deserves. That would be problematic in real life, but I role-play to escape real life, not duplicate it.

Likewise, I don't want my escapist chance to satisfy unsociable but entertaining impulses turned into a quest for self-actualization by imaginary people. In real life, we negotiate with the "orcs", understand their cultural differences and accommodate their culture. It's difficult and full of non-satisfying details. My role-playing ideal is to stab the crap out of them until they die. They're evil and I want their treasure.

Philosophy aside, the objections in my review are very specific and concrete. I'd be delighted to read a substantive rebuttal.

You'll be delighted to learn that I've written my own two-page game, which will be available online in the near future for your professional critique.

All the best, Neal

Bilious Amoral Sociopath Responds

You called me an amoral sociopath. In the fourth sentence. I'm impressed by your salesmanship: I play Minimus, or I'm on the verge of a serial-killing spree.

I want a game where players collaborate and tell a story.

The level of "collaboration" is so high that it's hard to distinguish Minimus from the "chain stories" we passed from desk to desk in high school. They were fun! No question. But we didn't call the teacher a game designer, and he/she didn't pass out a two-page sheet of rules.

I looked at all the things that happen in novels, and all the things that are important to characters in novels and movies, and asked myself "What needs to be change in an RPG to make these things happen?"

Decades of experience show that what needs to happen is that the Game Master prepares carefully and well. The players can create these "memorable moments' by clever role-playing, clever thinking, and creativity. No system (or lack thereof) can subsitute for this essential element. A system can definitely wreck it, though. Minimus goes a long way in that regard.

Along the way, I realized something important: RPGs aren't about game balance, or physics engines. They're about rewarding the intended style of play.

So the purpose of the rules is not to improve the quality of the story and the enjoyment of the players. The purpose of the rules is to coerce real-world behavior according to the designer's preferences.

Um... that's not healthy.

Now, by making a game that rewards an intended style of play, there are people (like you) who seem to feel that the RPG isn't doing what they want, that there's "something wrong with it".

When I role-play, Im focused on the story, not the "style of play". I'm focused on doing my role as best I can, whether my character in the story, or all the other elements when I take the role of Game Master. I am not trying for some kind of abstract execution ideals. I'm enjoying the story as I help make it happen.

The formalized conversational rules of Minimus destroy the suspension of disbelief which is the single hallmark of a great story. The pursuit of "intended style of play" destroys the "play" itself. The bathwater is Ken's perfect temperature for his personal compfort, but there is no baby.

a group of players collaborates to give one another Invincible! Invulnerable! and Indestructable!, my question is this:

If you didn't want to play in this game, why not tell me what you want to play instead? Indeed, I wish you'd told me you wanted something different before character creation.

You draw a false association here between player goals and game design. If you feel that players who want to be Invincible! are morally wrong or even "amoral sociopaths", that is your personal, false, belief. The goal of every half-decent role-playing game is to develop a character into something "better" than before. Invincible! is a common-sense dream for any hero.

What you're claiming is that it's not your job as a game designer to provide the obstacles for this universal goal. The players are supposed to "just know" that it's wrong to achieve their ultimate goal during character creation. That's ridiculous. It's your job as game designer to ensure that they don't achieve it before the game even starts.. You're passing the buck, as if it's everyone's job except yours to make sure that the game is not trivial.

The way to prevent players from crocking the system is to make sure that crocking it is so easy, and so blatantly obvious, that nobody bothers.

This platitude can be easily rephrased as "The job of a game designer is to not design a game. Provide no mechanic or reason that players can't be whatever they want. If they want "too much" according to my personal standards, or their own common sense, then criticize them for wrecking the non-design of the non-game."

Seriously, if you aren't interested in putting obstacles in the way of players who (of course) want to enjoy the process of overcoming those obstacles, why publish? Why call it a game when it's an exercise in self-restraint for the players, which you reward by removing the natual consequences of self-restraint?! "The less you try, the more I'll make it happen." is a paraphrase of your philosophy. This is just unsettling detail behind "rewarding a perferred style of play".

In my experience, the only time players ever undertake anything that's worse than a 50/50 chance is when they can roll multiple times to effectively boost the odds.

I cannot reconcile this with anything you've said previously. First of all, your players are explicitly funnelled into a "preferred style of play" where dying isn't really possible. Why wouldn't they take that 1 in 20 chance if they can just explain how they survived every time? There is no ultimate consquence for taking ridiculous risks in Minimus. Your claim makes no sense in this regard.

Second, what about your goal of "making great heroic stories happen"?! Do you think great heroic stories happen where the characters never try anything with less than a 50/50 chance? They don't. All I can see now is Han Solo shouting "Never tell me the odds!" to C3PO. That's heroic fiction!

Third, you address this ridiculous, broken mechanic earlier by saying that game balance is of no consquence. I refer you back to "suspension of disblief": There are plenty of worthwhile, logical reasons that a player would try something with less than 50% chance of success. Perhaps the consequnces of failure are neglible, for example. Building a dice-rolling system where it's LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE to have less than 50% chance is horrible. Why would anyone do this, what possible advantage can there be to designing the system this way?

"Players will just string together details and get Massive Bonuses!" Yep. You'd think that was an intended result, wouldn't you? Players describing the cool things their characters are doing is part of the fun of an RPG for me.

Of course that's part of the fun! But there's a huge difference between "describing cool things their characters are doing" and "stringing together key words which were self-defined in a highly formalized Jeopardy-style question period." That's not role-playing. That's vocabulary practice.

There is no real-world or even heroic-fiction analogy for this "mechanic" in Minimus. Again, it rips the cover off "suspension of disblief" and exposes the Telephone Game underpinnings. It's not "role-playing" a character. It's stepping totally outside the role and doing the work of the GM for him. Every time the game requires you to step totally outside the role, the story suffers.

Rolling dice to see if your sword hits is also "stepping outside the story". The difference is cause and effect. The dice roll is the effect which came from the role-playing "I want to hit with my sword." In Minimus, it's bass-ackward. The cause of the role-playing in Minimus is Clarifying Question. Instead of the all-important story unfortunately requiring mechanics, the all-important mechanics are unfortunately requiring a story. This is directly opposite to your stated goal.

"Why should I have to describe my character's failures! That's the GM's job!" In this game, it isn't."

A total non-answer to an objection I never made, not even close. Perhaps one of the other negative reviews got mixed up with mine? In any case, this is totally wasted spacetime.

"Why can't I ask exactly how many orcs/ratlings/dark jedi/evil gingerbread men there are as a clarification?" Because if the number of opponents were important to the scene the GM would've given that information in the description.

"If I didn't tell you, it isn't important!" It must be nice to be a perfect storyteller, to think of every possible angle which might be important to the characters beforehand.

"But you don't differentiate between a .22 Ruger and a Desert Eagle .50 cal pistol! It's horrible!" In my experience, once everyone figures out that the Desert Eagle uses more/bigger/scarier dice than the .22 Ruger, everyone carries the Desert Eagle. At which point, the eigenstate of "gun" collapses to "There is one gun type in the campaign. It's the one with the best stats in the book.

Another straw man. I never made this objection anywhere in my review. The closest I came was "there is no shotgun, there is no light-saber" etc. That's something quite different from this crap you made up and then "rebutted".

As far as "your experience", did you ever think how fun it can be to have to work to get the best weapons? How interesting and motivating it is for the players? Or do you just give them unlimited funds and access?

DId you consider that the real world works the same way? That police don't carry the ninth-best gun on the market? What about the heroic ficiton you want to model? Did you ever read about a hero who chose to arm himself with an "okay sword" or an "unreliable handgun"?

Of course your explanation here directly contradicts your opening philosophy, which is that the rules must be so breakable that no one wants to break them (laughable, but that's your claim). Now you're saying "We can't have specific weapons because people will want to abuse them". Which is it?

Is knowing that a Desert Eagle does 4d8 impaling damage and a .22 Ruger does 1d6 impaling better than "OK, I got hit. I should describe how I got hit in a nicely gruesome way so that other players will nominate me for more bennies.

There's something unsettling about being in charge of your own destruction. It's called "suicide" in the real world, and we don't enjoy, respect or derive entertainment from it. Hence the natural, logical, healthy tendency for the Game Master to tell us about the really bad things which happen to us.

Second, this is a total straw man. I never once objected to this lack of detail. I just wanted to know if a light-saber was a "3" or a "2" or a "4" in your bizarre and unwieldy system. It's just not on there. Is a shotgun a rifle? Is it something more? Something less? What is the point of telling me what a rifle is, then leaving off machine guns? Is there no heroic fiction with machine guns?

"I have to define other characters I'm tied to! Ewww! That's not escapism!" To some of us, it is...

So you're confirming how fun it is, thank you. What about how badly it's done? My review details very specific problems, for which I see no solutions here.

Thanks for taking the time to confirm my suspicions about Minimus in their entirety.


Some comments

I dropped you some email with the typo list and some other things in it. I think you should have seen it by now, so drop me some email or post here again if it still seems to be missing.

I'm guessing you have an experienced group of gamers with a strong affinity toward actual roleplaying. In that situation, I can definitely see a game "just about running itself." Of course, why would we play with gamers of lower quality? Friend of Bart

I understand your feelings toward "the loner", believe me. As a kid, I had some good times with the kind of dungeon trawl that this game doesn't really seem tuned to. As an adult, I can see the attraction of the kind of relationship-based roleplaying the system seems aimed at. I'm wondering how much middle ground there might be. Let me think about it, and email you some proposed changes if I come up with them (assuming you're not so concerned about encumbrance that they're unwelcome—if so, I understand).

Very much looking forward to the GM supplement! Like I say, if I get time (hah) I'll work on a canned adventure and post it here.