Bitching about another game or two

This is absolutely, positively only of interest to gamers. And then, only if you want to read my bitching about the Serenity and Battlestar Galactica RPGs.

The new Battlestar Galactica RPG published by Margaret Weis Productions came out at GenCon and the PDF version was just posted on DriveThruRPG yesterday. The print game sells for $45 for a 232 pages full-colour hardback book, and the PDF — get this — is being offered for $35 (prices are set by the publisher, not DTRPG). The system is the so-called Cortex system used in their previous game, the terribly disappointing Serenity RPG. The BSG 32-page quickstart guide sells for $10; I just thumbed through it at our local gaming store and it compares poorly to what you can get for similar quickstarts for other games (see the recent free quickstarts for Changeling (White Wolf, print) and Septimus (West End Games, PDF).

I have a serious problem about the value/price ratio. I’ll also throw in a mini-rant on publishers need to listen to feedback.

The Cortex system is at best uninspired, being mostly a rehash of Savage Worlds and similar systems. The primary difference between Cortex and Savage Worlds is that instead of throwing a 6-sided Wild Die and a varied-size skill die as in SW, you throw one varied-size die for the attribute and one (different) for the skill in Cortex. Other than that, almost identical except less fleshed out. Even more than Savage Worlds, the GM needs to throw a bucket load of luck points to the players. It’s not a terrible system (except for glaring omissions in the write-up which I will charitably assumed were fixed in Battlestar Galactica) but it’s not an interesting or original one and it doesn’t mimic the Serenity movie or even Firefly all that well.

Value/Price Ratio was not one of the Serenity RPG‘s strong suit. Yes, it was a pretty, glossy full-colour hardback. It sells for $40 ($30 in PDF!) for, yes, 232 pages. I had been expectantly waiting for this game; I was (am) a Browncoat, the dedicated Firefly followers, and I had already successfully run a Firefly game using the Shatterzone/Masterbook/TORG, and played in a friend’s Risus Firefly game. My big disappointment started when I realized that the new book provided even less background than I had already found online for free when preparing my game.

Add that sparseness and steep price to the numerous omissions in the book that made it usable only by experienced gamers: poor explanation of the ship combat system leading to nonsensical results, lack of play examples, lack of even a character sheet, which did not appear for two years on the company’s Website(!), etc. I felt I did not get my money’s worth at all, even though I was all predisposed to like this book. At $40 primarily for the print quality, I felt I could have used either more substance or a lower price to make it worth my while. The book compared poorly to other books in the same price range and printing quality. I never did write an actual play review of the game because we only played it a couple of times, and because I didn’t really want to post an RPGNet review just so I could bitch (that’s what my LJ is for!) :-\

Fast forward two years to the new Battlestar Galactica RPG. $45 for, once again, 232 pages when I can buy the new edition of Savage Worlds for $10? (an excellent buy, by the way.) Or I can get Scion for $35, RuneQuest for $25, Pirates of the Spanish Main for $25, the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport for $35, Mutants & Masterminds for $40, etc. (I’m trying to stick to recent books with the same type of production values, except the $10 edition of Savage Worlds, which is small format softcover but still full colours.)

Let’s note that the source material in the BSG game covers only the first season of the television show, and that it has the problem of being sandwiched between two segments of unknown material: the series’ big Cylon Plan, and the Caprica backstory for the upcoming prequel movie. In other words, once again we get nothing in the book that we can’t piece together from free online sources, packed with a mediocre system. So easy conclusion: even for a pretty hardcore fan, there is not enough value in these books for the price.

My final annoyance is with the well intentioned but self-righteous people who work or freelance for Margaret Weis Productions. As soon as anyone mentions any of the flaws with these books, these people assume extreme pickiness on the part of the critics, pointing out that some people are happy with the game. Dude, I’ happy that they’re happy, really I am. It would take an extremely crappy game to not have a few fans, since even RaHoWa and FATAL have fans. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just be very, very thankful and move on — these are not games you want to know about. Seriously). But the fact that some people can play a game and even be happy with it does not invalidate the criticisms.

I didn’t even bother to wade through this time, seeing as others had already had this discussion on RPGNet last night and it went nowhere fast. Here is a prize quote from co-author Nathan Rockwood:

RPG.net seems to have a fair number of people who aren’t willing to pay the general market price for these game books; that’s fine, it’s your right, but this population isn’t terribly representative.

WTF? I guarantee you that (1) this is well above general market price, and (2) RPGNet, with all its warts, is a pretty useful indicator of the gamer population. Not an unbiased one, mind you; but definitely worth watching.

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