Motobushido: Final Session

Decided tonight that I’d gotten what I wanted out of Motobushido. The tl;dr consensus from the table is that it’s extremely stylish, they loooove the card game, but the rest of the game is riddled with holes. I tend to agree.

The session itself was pretty decent: after narrowly escaping death after the big bike-on-bike duel last session, the Taicho is very nearly out of action and a power vacuum forms. He’s out of Ki so he requests a flashback. Kind of hard to run, and I have no idea how to assess whether fate or will drove a character through the flashback (you need to know this to determine how much Ki is recovered). Creatively I really like the flashback mechanism; as a practical matter I kind of wish there wasn’t any mechanical resolution inside it at all — after all, nobody can die since we know who’s alive right now. It felt constraining and artificial to resolve pointless little stakes-less conflicts. I get that a flashback also cycles the player deck and pulls Omens up faster; I honestly might just flip three cards and call it good.

Back in the current game, the den mother tries to step into the power vacuum left by the languishing taicho; she’s shut down by the enforcer. The little love triangle between those three characters is palpable and excellent. She doesn’t start a fight, but begins conniving to see the enforcer punished. 

Driven by his birth sign and pack triggers, the enforcer privately meets with the convalescing Taicho, complaining about the den mother’s meddling and demanding he make an example of her. It’s a duel! And the Taicho ends up strangling his own enforcer to death, which is delightful. When the game’s triggers are driving the PCs into each others’ faces, the game works best. 

Some of the tension in running the game I felt was from fitting every interpersonal conflict to the dueling system. There are areas of discretion and mandated right-now creativity that felt like a drag to figure out: what does a duel for blood versus a duel for influence look like? What does the Final Blow step of an Influence duel look like? Can I influence like…your whole gang or just you? What are suitable stakes? How do you start a duel for Honor, anyway? Makes no sense to me.

Some of that is sussing out best practices; I totally get that. Like…learning how to write a good, punchy Deed is about on-par with writing a good, punchy Burning Wheel Belief: it’s not as easy as it looks! I suspect the game would work fairly well with a group committed to fumbling through and figuring things out.

I think Motobushido has a lot going for it. We played through the end of the Willow Ridge scenario and I feel like it wouldn’t have been hard to set up another scenario. But I felt skeptical that the game would really stand up to long-term play. I suppose we’d eventually get a handle on the logical/creative holes, figure out our own table’s best practices. They were frustrating enough to me that I’m ready to play something more airtight.

The fiction, once we got around the rules, was good. Good story, good tension, nice little triangles. The table full of faction cards works quite well, a nice kind of ad-hoc relationship map for everyone to keep an eye on. If I had enormous time and resources I’d love to make them more visual: images of the bike gang for that faction, the spooky spirit woman from the springs, the terrifying brute of a man running the enemy gang. The game is begging for strong visuals.

Taking a week off the Indie Game Reading Club. In two weeks: Cartel!

0 thoughts on “Motobushido: Final Session”

  1. Another excellent summary thanks for doing these. You raised some good points and your struggles are things I always struggle with too for these kinds of games. On the pro side they can create these fantastic inner player dramas and really push story moments. On the con side they are only about these player dramas and tend to flounder when you go outside of it, when you just want to raid the dungeon .

    I think that there are amazing moments of gaming that come from these kinds of games. I just tend to burn out quicker on them because you always have to be on and pushing them. I personally need times where I can just kick back and kill an Orc.

  2. It definitely is a game about right-now creativity. And it is very much not a game about dungeon raids and orc killing.

    Sounds like a glorious ending there, perfect. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Chris Groff I very nearly never want to kick back and kill orcs. The pushing and character drama is my jam!

    Not sure if that was clear or not from the kind of gamers I write about.

  4. No it was perfectly clear.  Kicking back though is my jam.  But even when I’m in the mood for pushing drama games that I’ve tried that are supposed to do that really well flounder when you do anything else.

    They are very much you can’t bend the spoon so much as how does bending the spoon make you feel.

  5. I’ve always wondered what trad adventure type players thought of my blog or whatever here. I assumed it would be an exercise in frustration!

    Or maybe it’s just delicious schanenfreude to read about how sometimes they don’t work out.

    Everyone is welcome! Just me musing.

  6. “But even when I’m in the mood for pushing drama games that I’ve tried that are supposed to do that really well flounder when you do anything else.”

    Why would you try to make an aromatic beef stew out of a delicious bowl of fettuccine alfredo?

  7. Good question.  The reason is that I/we don’t get to game super regularly so when we do game we try and pick a system and run it for a while. Which often means one or two sessions a month if we are lucky but usually it’s one a month then maybe off a month or two between sessions.  Flipping systems gets Cumbersome as you are constantly trying to work up momentum over that kind of time frame.  

    When we do get to gaming even in a trad game there is that moment of getting everyone together and back in the jive.  It’s always easy to slay the Orc, it takes a while (at least for us) to get back into the character drama.

  8. Okay, I can get that, but your original presentation of this frames it as a problem with the systems, saying they “flounder,” when your final explanation explains that it is actually a limitation of your group’s ability to meet regularly and keep involved during downtime.

    And that’s unfair to the games you might otherwise be expecting to do jobs that they were never designed to do in the first place.

  9. And quite frankly, I also avoid pretty much all games of the “how does bending the spoon make you feel” forced-emotion variety. I don’t want to play games that try to hammer me with a singular forced emotional agenda like that. But on the rare occasion that I do play them, I know exactly what I’m getting into in advance, and I don’t expect Sad Things on Index Cards: the RPG to give me stats on 300 different pole arms for use in my dungeon crawling, nor blame it when it doesn’t.

  10. All true and maybe I’ve just never played those games with the right groups, like the actual designers perhaps.  But in the story games I’ve played they have always suffered from those points where the rules don’t cover the the situations that have come up.   My hangups perhaps.

  11. My understanding for all of those games (and this is explicit within Motobushido, in fact), is that when you reach a point that the rules don’t cover, say what happens and then move on until you get to a point that the rules do cover.

  12. That might be an interesting topic for a future post, Chris. Can you talk a little more about situations that you felt like the rules of a story game should address but didn’t?

    I’m reading that you feel like this happens in story games in general. True?

  13. I’d say in my experience it’s generally been true.  

    Maybe this will make my opinion clearer.  Story systems have rules around pushing the story, which is their intent.  When you aren’t pushing the story they often fall back to just let it happen and move on.

    Where I struggle with in running them and have struggled with in playing them is what is the cut off between a story moment and a non-story moment.   It’s that moment where I find they flounder because it’s not always so obvious.

  14. By that I mean one that isn’t of obvious dramatic story conflict.  When someone wants to do something and there is no obvious source of who they are going up against, yet it’s still something that needs to be overcome for consequential reasons.   I can’t think of a specific example now, only that those sorts of things have come up in the past.  The question of is this a hand wave and move on moment or is there actually something that is opposing the action so we need to roll it out.

  15. Again this has probably far more to do with my issue with how they work then how they are designed to work.  I want them to do things they are not designed to do because I fully admit I’m a trad gamer at heart and I approach games with that perspective, playing or running.

  16. What’s funny is that in trad games I have far less problem hand waving because the action moments have a clear definition.  I see it as trad games are built from the bottom and I enjoy that safety net I can always fall back to. 

    I’m much better at dramatic action then I am drama.  Probably why my wheel house is 5e, Marvel PQ, Warhammer/Star Wars and Feng Shui.  They are all basically trad games to different degrees that move into story games without being specifically story heavy.

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