Pretty Princess Death Dowry

The Secret War

An entry for game-fu 1 by Vitenka
Elements used:
Tied mechanic (conspiracies, concealment)
Creative equipment (all does the same stuff, but is declared to have a target player it is effective against)
Secret War (players fight each other, the more secretively the more effective they are)
Contested Succession (what they are fighting over, also hit-points)
And, of course, the dowry.
Author's Description:
In the great city of Samarkand it came to pass that the ruler had only one son.
However, this prince was young and healthy and vigorous Ė and much to be desired.
All of the great princesses of the realm wished to be his bride.
Seeing in this situation an advantage, the ruler declared that his son would marry the most deserving princess, she whose family could provide a suitable dowry.
To his surprise, several families stepped up to announce their interest.
Several princesses got a gleam in their eyes and came up with a plan...
GavKen's review:

This is a game of Machiavellian Princesses competing for the favour of a Prince and using their dowry to try and eliminate all the competition. Upon winning the Princess marries then kills the Prince to claim the throne and the remainder of her dowry.

Character Options (11/20)

Like the Win a Royal Heart game you are restricted to playing a Princess who is competing for the heart of a Prince and thus accession to the throne. Unlike that game you get a little more control over your character with your own names, choose to allocate virtue points and create your own starting items. This provides a bit more option to the starting character. Your Princess will still be the scheming heartless bitch that the other characters are, but at least youíll have more style (or so you think).

Mechanics (13/20)

The mechanics of the game revolve around two things. These involve creating items or plots and attacking opponents. As a result there rules for creating items / plots which reflect how well concealed the item is. Note it is not clear in the rules how much you should pay for the item. You get a free spy on the least concealed card of two Princesses, which helps you know if someone has a plot against you. The attack is announced to compare on a Princesses virtue and an item that is used in the attack. The defender defends on their virtue and may play any cards to help their defence. They may also get allies to help. The game is more a multiplayer card game with the ability to make your own cards than a role-playing game.

Setting (5/20)

Like the Win a Royal Heart game there is only a barebones of the setting given in the game to justify what the characters are doing. Indeed the setting is no longer important once you realise what you need to do to win the game.

Integration (14/20)

The game is pretty integrated to the setting, but given that their really isnít much in the way of setting all the mechanics definitely give rise to the goal of the game. As a result although it feels integrated I have had to mark this down since the setting is so minimal.

Ingredients (18/20)

This game has all the ingredients fairly well integrated into the game. The tied mechanic (for item concealment) does a good job of protecting secret plots and the creative equipment is a really good take on integrating this into a game. The game is obviously about a contested succession, although the contest is for the dowry (which is being used in the game as currency. The secret war Iím going to mark down slightly as these warring Princesses may well not be able to hide their contempt for each other and thus the war is not that secret.

Rating: 61%
King Turnip's review:

Summary

The players take the roles of Machevellian princesses vying for the soon to be cold, dead hand of the crown prince. Presumably, they will blame it on Guilder, the sworn enemy of Florin.
The princesses hawk their dowry (expressed in numbers of piles of priceless loot) to enact Byzantine plans to humiliate and/or murder their rivals. Murdering your rivals impresses the Prince (Humperdink.)
Andre the Giant is strictly optional.
Mechanics are diceless, with skill, plots and counterplots determining the outcome of any given turn.

Character Options

Characters are defined by dividing 7 points among 4 skills, and the option of begining with as many as 3 item/plots in play. There are not a whole lot of options available, but I don't think it detracts from the game as a whole.

Justin gives it a 8/20.

Mechanics

The diceless mechanics have plots adding to skills, and the difference between the total and the rival's skill and counterplots being damage. Damage first transfers the Princes Favor to the victor and then reduces skills. I am a little concerned about a death spiral-- once you start taking damage it's hard to stop. But then again, this is a game of Machivellian inrtigue....
I am really impressed with the mechanics. Sleek, clear and fitting into the theme of the game. I know that you ran at least two playtests, and it shows.

Justin gives it a 14/20.

Setting

The minimalist setting leaves the focus on the characters and their interaction, but it also leaves the players without any direction and scene setting. The optional Event cards help put the characters in the world, but I feel like I would be groping for princessy scenes to frame.

Justin gives it a 9/20

Integration

Good structure, solid theme, well reasoned rules. A bookmark pane in the .pdf and a quick reference for the rules. I can't think of much that would make it better.

Justin gives it a 17/20

Ingredients

The setting-tied mechanic (concealment) is central, but not fully princess-motivated. Plots as Equipment is interesing. The players are engaging in a secret "war" of succession, and it is all about the dowry. Pretty darn good.

Justin gives it a (4+4+3+5) 16/20

Oh, and before I forget, I will offer the obligatory advice: Hire an editor if you plan to publish in any capacity. Really, editors are that important.

Rating: 62%
Codex Arcanum's review:

Vitenka offers us a game about pretty princesses who have tea parties, gossip, and plot each other's baleful downfall so that they alone can marry the unsuspecting prince, kill him, and use his piles of jewels to pay off their debts.

Character Options - 3

A tough call on this category, to be sure. All princesses are essentially the same: 4 stats, 10 monies, "health", spies, and their items. Their are some differences in stats, but ultimately this is a game of player skill at deception and backstabbery. Plus, everyone will be a princess, every time, and have the same motivation. Still, it's a strong premise and it fits the goals of the game, so I have trouble faulting it.

Suggestions:
None such that would be too great. You suggests that princesses can make up to 3 item cards before play (but still pay for them). I would suggest, instead, that each princess just start with 3 item cards. The Concealment value of them is self-balancing, as is the need for defensive cards. Allow for unlimited inital spying and you've got a pre-game setup that opens the game with everyone sitting on a powder keg. Might also help with your suggested problem of the game taking too long.

You might also try adding some kind of skills or traits in. Maybe princesses are very good at getting certain items, and so get a free point of concealment on them, or something like that. The extra power is balanced by the greater chance of rivals making defense cards against such things. I just suggest that for more princess variety, however, and the effects to the core mechanic may be too great to be desirable.

Mechanics - 5

Wow, PPDD blew me away with the mechanics. I have to hand it to Vitenka, this game has a really good gameplay mechanic. I won't try to summarize it, but as I read over it I was very impressed with how the game turns the kind of ridiculously complext political plots common to the inspiring stories into a simple game mechanic that let's anyone feel like a Machivelian spy lord. It's a great diplomatic game, wrapped around a simple card mechnanic that brings the RPG/story elements into in via the "flavor" that the item has from the creating player.

Suggestions: I really have nothing to add! Anything I suggest might break the wonderful balance that is already here. I think the mechanics here are fascinating, and I really want to play a game to see how they hold up in the real world. I have concerns about the limited amounts of resources, but they may be baseless in actual play. And again, the more I think on it, the more well thought it seems. There could only be 10xPlayers in attack cards ever, but each player can see 10 cards (5 spies with 2 cards each) and thus the game gains another layer of intrigue as you bargain with rivals for their knowledge. Really, great stuff Vitenka.

Setting - 2

There's the bare hints of a setting in there, and I give you great credit for the quotes that open each section. That adds a lot of flavor. From the little hints, I gather this is meant to be based on Middle Eastern tropes and images, a nice departure from the typical euro-centric fantasies. Still, bring that setting out! I like the optional rule of letting one player be GM and having them describe the world more, but give the people who play this game something to base it off of.

Suggestions: The flavor text is good, and I like setting snippets. Maybe try throwing in some sample item cards, each with a bit of flavor text to really sell the setting. Also, a rules suggestion: make the GM role more regular. I think there's room in this game for a score keeper and interpretter in case a conflict comes up in the rules. Plus, I think the GM role would work well to inflict some randomness onto the game. Each round (after all princesses have gone) the Score Keeper could run an event in the kingdom. That will mix things up a bit and open new opportunities for roleplaying, resource gathering, and so on. Perhaps the winner of each game earns the right to keep Score for the next game, if she wants?

Integration - 4

I waver on this score, but I think this is a fair amount. True, the setting is somewhat absent. But what setting is there is almost purely in the brilliant mechanics. This seems like a game where the setting and the story emerge as a consequence of the game, not as a tool to make the game. Conflict drives story instead of story driving conflict, you see?

Suggestion: I think this may be the best time to say that I really question if this is a roleplaying game. Certainly roleplaying, a great deal of it even, could come into it. The mechanics themselves, however, encourage a flavorful card game. And nothing is wrong with that. I think there should be room in our gaming lexicon for more mixed games: wargames that use cards, card games that involve flavorful description and roleplaying, and RPGs about big battles or whatever. I hold to my suggestion that a Score/Lore Keeper role who runs events between rounds of conspiracy could add a lot to the RPG element of this game.

Ingrediants - 5

Again, I feel halfway torn on the score here, but I think PPDD has the best use of ingrediants I've seen thus far in the contest. Those chosen were: Setting-Tied Mechanic, Creative Equipment, Secret War, Contested Succession, and Dowry. Now, PPDD takes some big liberties with the intepretation of them, but I encouraged that pre-contest and I think the intepretations make for a stronger game here. Also, the ingrediants were put to great use. The mechanics create the setting, and conflict is based entirely around the equipment (which is assigned in a pretty neat way). "Dowry," in this game, is the perfect example of how to use a Phrase-ingrediant to season a game. The dowry is the money spent to buy items (on credit) and it is the prize. Due to the debts, not getting the prize leads to death. At all levels of the game, at all times, "Dowry" is an important concept. Secret War and Contested Succession are both used to influence the setting and the mechanics.

Suggestions: None from me, I think this is pretty close to a perfect use of ingrediants. You even took on a 5th extra ingrediant. Such bravado was rewarded in previous Game Chef contests and I think that tradition should find it's way into RPGnet's contests. Well done!

Final Thoughts and Suggestions

Pretty Princess Death Dowry is, so far, my ideal entrant for such a contest. Great use of ingrediants, amazing mechanical elements, and it even looks like a fun game to play. My main suggestion is to work on that setting. You even propose a few alternative settings, but I think you should focus in on the one. Throw some examples at us: sample princesses, lots and lots of sample item cards, and example of play! Consider making the Score Keeper a primary role, not just a half-thrown out optional rule. Make GM-less "card game" play the option and flavorful, rich conspiracy roleplaying with a GM the main mode.

Overall, this is an amazing effort and you should be very proud. You should be charged with a crime if you don't flesh this all the way out into a real product, I really think it's that good.

Best Mechanics
Best Integration
Best Ingrediants Use
Rating: 79%