Monday, November 19, 2012

Guild of Thieves by Andrew Wright

I really enjoyed Guild of Thieves. Much more than I enjoyed Andrew Wright's submission from last year, Sea of Madness, which is strange, given that Sea of Madness won last year's first prize.

Regardless, I think this is a very strong gamebook, with a solid structure and a lot of flavor. The only complaint I had was that all the flavor, in most cases, seems like nothing more than colorful painting on the walls. I really liked the descriptions of all the different thieves guilds that you meet and try to conquer, but I didn't feel like they mostly ultimately mattered that much. Each guild had two numbers which mattered: their power and their wealth. Beyond that, the rest was just so much fluff.

I would have liked to see more plot and story built around the factions and each of their unique characters. Maybe this one hates you if you ally with that one. Maybe this one brings you more information, but that one brings you more power. I want consequences! Ramifications! Story!

Ultimately, I think the problem is just that this is all being crammed into such a short gamebook. To have so many dozens of unique rival thieves guilds in such a short format, each one has to be necessarily abbreviated. It's a shame, but there's nothing for it, except perhaps to cut back the non-essentials and focus more on a smaller number of guilds, with more consequence and interplay in your interactions among them--but that would be a very different gamebook.

As it was, despite inhabiting a very fun, colorful world, the gameplay itself felt very repetetive and, like in Sea of Madness, not balanced well. Fights often had a 50/50 chance of going toward or against the player. Like I mentioned in another review above, I'm here to play a game--and that means making choices. Rolling dice to see if you die is not a choice. The player should ALWAYS be able to make choices to achieve success. Otherwise, what's the point? I don't need anyone to pat me on the back for rolling well.

Besides, with how many challenges there are in a gamebook of this size... if you throw two dozen "succeed or die" dice rolls at a player, each with a 50/50 chance of success or failure, I guaran-fucking-tee you that player is going to die before reaching the end rather than fall in that 50% or above mark every single time out of two dozen. The numbers may be a little off, but the point stands.

As Dave Morris said on twitter a while back (the quote may not be exact, but this captures the gist of it) "If the reader ever reaches a death paragraph, that's a failure, not only for the reader, but for the author."

At the end of the day, it felt a little more game-y than I would have preferred, and the game itself, going around to the different districts to win over rival factions, became very predictable very quickly. The story had a lot of color, but very little of it ultimately mattered. The flavor text could have been replaced almost completely without fundamentally changing the game very much, if at all. I did like the twist at the end--a lot. But what I wish most out of this gamebook would be to see an expanded, full length version, with a few of the extraneous guilds trimmed out and the more shiny among them given a more full treatment. It's a great world--I just don't feel like I've really gotten to go visit it yet.

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