Mutant: Year Zero
The tl/dr; goes like this: I have no really good reason to stop playing, but lots and lots of pretty good reasons that all added up.
First off, I really like Mutant: Year Zero. I think it has a hell of a lot going for it, and has provided a lot of fun time for us. Eight sessions, I think? And I wouldn’t even necessarily say we’re never playing it again. But I know me, and odds are against returning to it (about on-par with us picking up the Great Pendragon Campaign again tbh).
But every session, small doubts and problems kind of crept in.
* The lack of social conflict support was the first one. I’ve talked about this at some length, no big surprises here. But it definitely cut the legs out from really pursuing the interesting Ark-internal politicking that I think the game’s setup wants.
* The speed of advancement was an even bigger issue, though. An every-session bump is sweet! They like it, I like it. No problems there. But there are a couple issues: for one, the characters get hypercompetent. For another, you just never know when they’ll mutate again. I felt like we got to a place where mechanical competence reached a point where there was no longer narrative uncertainty. They wanted to do something, it got done. Only Zone expeditions continued to be (mechanically) challenging, but tbh it’s kind of boring on the GM side to run those as purely procedurally generated incidents. It’s easy, but easy =/= fun. Not by itself.
* The mutations are all over the place. I get that they’re random and that that’s part of the secret sauce. Buuuuut you also have mutations that are objectively terrible. And you have mutations that synergize in surprising and maybe broken ways.
* Too much to track, after a while. The big one here is that everyone in the Ark is a mutant. Well goddamn it. That means every single conflict means me either looking up the mutation (for an existing NPC) or drawing something from the deck. Then remembering to use it. This is a minor thing, really minor, but it added up.
* I kind of wish there was a better/easier way to track the Zone stuff. I ended up deploying my Endless Roll of Butcher Paper to create our epic zone map, and it’s like 3′ x 4′ and it’s still not big enough. They’d doodle everything they could but still left out details. And I’d furiously doodle stuff into my own notes — remember, we were generating the Zone on the fly — but like… just coordinates (B11, C10, A10, etc.) do not convey nearly enough context. I don’t have a solution to this. It’s a lot of paper/information handling and it accumulates every session.
Boiling all this down, I think the main deal in the end was that whole “mechanical certainty killed narrative uncertainty” thing up there. They got too good, to the point where there’s even precious little niche protection so they can enjoy being good at the things they’re supposed to be. Example: the ex-slave-turned-stalker was always a better fighter than the enforcer. That’s what the enforcer does! So he was left, more often than not, getting punked early in a fight and then waiting for the real warrior to come along and clean up. Blah.
The whole thing feels like it is not built for the long haul, but the baked in campaign demands that you play probably 15ish sessions before you’re within striking distance of finishing.
There’s so very much to love about this game, though.
* The resource grind is great. I love it. You kind of need to gloss over some stuff, like how “and time passes” time needs to happen narratively sometimes but you can’t be grinding through water and grub.
* I really like the rich dice. I kind of wish they’d gone even further, Edge of the Empire style, but it works well. I think it works a bit too well at a certain point, though. Some tipping point of die pool size where you’re not actually rolling to see if you won/lost but to see how well you won by. Which, you know, it’s fine. That means the skills need more things to spend successes on, though, and except for combat those opportunities are spotty.
* The playbooks/classes are good. I wish there were more of them, and more to explore once you got into them. More niche protection. This is one place where stealing the playbooks but not the moves from Apocalypse World show the weakness in that approach: when everyone can “know the zone” or “comprehend” or “move” at a very high level, everyone acts the same. The single playbook special talent is not nearly enough to differentiate them.
* The ark/zone split is genius. Best in class. I want to see many more games do this. Spend some time in acrimonious angry interpersonal mode, then spend some time in tactical dangerous murdergrind mode, and see how those modes interact and inform one another. The best session we ran was where the PCs worked out their differences with an NPC gang they ran into in the Zone. Gloves are off, no witnesses, let’s get this shit sorted oh no it’s rot worms ruuuuunnnn…
Next up: Motobushido.