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!