To Win the Royal Heart

An entry for game-fu 1 by Gene Freak
Elements used:
"a game mechanic that is specifically tied to the setting" (the Affection system for romance)
"structured pacing and scene mechanics" (scenes operate by providing new ways for the Suitors to woo the Princess and are ended when the terms of the scene conclude)
"events surrounding a contested succession - royal" (because all of the Suitors are contending to be the next king)
"dowry" (because the Princess' dowry just happens to be the keys to the kingdom!)
Author's Description:
In Royal Heart players take on the role of either the ready-to-wed Princess or one of her Suitors. It is a time when the Princess has just come of age to marry when both of her parents tragically pass. So who will succeed the king as the new ruler of the kingdom? That's what the game is all about! Taking on the role of her Suitors, the players will attempt to persuade the Princess that they are the best man for the job. Winning the Princess' royal heart means winning the throne of the kingdom.
GavKen's review:

In Royal Heart players take on the role of either the ready-to-wed Princess or one of her Suitors. It is a time when the Princess has just come of age to marry when both of her parents tragically pass. So who will succeed the king as the new ruler of the kingdom?

Character Options (8/20)

The character options for this game are fairly fixed as there are a number of potential suitors available and already rolled up. It would have been nice to have a system whereby players could define their own suitors rather than just have predefined setup characters. As such the potential suitors available in the game are quite limited but at least there is some variety. The background questions that suitors must answer do give some variety to the suitors but it doesnít give great character variance.

Mechanics (14/20)

The mechanics of the game are fairly simple in determining whether a character has succeeded at a virtue test. All they have to do is make one success on a 50% test. This sounds easy and with virtues set to 2,3 or 4 they should on average make the tests most times. Fulfilling charms will give players dice at the end of the scene that can be compared against the appropriate princesses virtue. Some examples of play would have been useful here to help players figure out tests and the end of scene affection tests.

Setting (6/20)

The setting is fairly sparsely defined with the premise that the King has died and the only daughter will marry a potential suitor. Most of the rest of the setting is a fill in the blanks that the Princess Master makes up as part of her background questions.

Integration (16/20)

The mechanics including scene setup, charms, and the three virtues all lead the game towards the goal. As such the game is fairly well integrated and the end of scene event gives rise to helping the game move on quite quickly.

Ingredients (16/20)

Tthe Affection system for romance is a mechanic specially tied to the setting which works well for determining the eventual winner of the game. The game also has rules for structured pacing and scene mechanics which ensures that the game has a specific number of scenes and for determining when a scene will end. The events surrounding a Royal succession are integrated in that this is the object of the game for the suitors. The last ingredient included was the dowry, although this one seems a bit more tacked on than the others.

Rating: 60%
King Turnip's review:

Summary

The players take the role of suitors trying to woo the Princess, and her huge... tracts of land. Play takes place over a number of scenes--one per player--and the player with the highest Affection score at the end of these scenes has won the royal heart.

The game is laid out as a Wiki, and I'm really digging that layout. Unfortunately, it could also use some more linear navigation features, but that is a tiny complaint compared to the expandability and community input that a wiki allows.

Mechanically, tests are made against virtues, rolling dice pools with each die being a 50-50 chance of success. One die wins, there is no benefit to multiple successes.

One interesting element is the LARP-like elements. This is not a game meant for sitting around a card table. It is very explicitly stated that you should be active, doing what your character is doing, having a few drinks and having fun.

Character Options

On the Player side, there are seven archetypes to choose from as suitor, and none may be duplicated. Several questions are proposed to help bring the archetype to life, but it still leaves the game with seven possible character choices. The Princess Master (Mistress?) also gets a number of choices for that GMPC role. While the questions really give the opportunity to flesh out the characters, I would not describe this game as full of Character Options.

Justin gives it a 7/20.

Mechanics

One thing I would have liked is a rules summary. At the end of each scene, the suitors roll the appropriate dice, and anything over the Princesses virtue is the new Affection rating, but it seems that the Affection rating is not cumulative, or at least it is not clear as to how it is cumulative. I like the roll-what-you're-holding approach, but I'm left scratching my head a bit on the actual rules themselves.

Justin gives it a 10/20.

Setting

The setting is assumed to be a general knight-in-shining-armor-with-a-squire-that-is-secretly-a-girl fantasy environment, with a devil, knight, and wizard as suitor archetypes. The specifics of the setting are created by the Princess Master as part of the questions she must answer. In contrast to what would work for other games, I think it is just right to provide an evocative backdrop for the focus of the game, wooing the princess.

Justin gives it a 15/20

Integration

The mechanical rules are not especially fun-in-themselves (to borrow a phraseology from existentialism, the bastards) not are they especially evocative, but they do a good job of staying out of the way. The big strength of the rules is to require silly behavior of the players, a noble goal but not fully realized. I would have liked one central description of the rules for ease of reference.

Justin gives it a 10/20

Ingredients

The contested royal succession is well done. Indeed, that it what the game revolves around. The dowry--The Kingdom-- is less well so but still fully present. The structured pacing is complete, as is the setting-based mechanic. Well done.

Justin gives it a (5+3+5+5) 18/20

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: 60%
Codex Arcanum's review:

Benjamin Huffman leads us through a game of love and bad acting in the amusing "To Win the Royal Heart." The combination of LARPing elements with some truly amusing characters looks like a good setup, though mechanical imbalance may hurt the game on the judging.

Character Options - 4

The list of characters to pick from is very solid and offers numerous approaches to the game that should suit many playesr. Characters are simple, but I found the use of a questionaire and the Charms to be a very effective means of bringing forth the character.

Suggestions: With only 7 characters (and 8 scenes) the game could get stale after one or two sessions, or leave big groups with members sitting out. I'd like to see a means of creating a character-scene pair before the game so that there's always a new and interesting character and scene to play out if it's needed.

Mechanics - 3

I feel like the mechanics drag on this game a bit. On the one hand, you've got a standard dice pool system: roll and count successes with a flat 50% chance per die throughout. On the other hand, there's the brilliant Charms system and the mix of narrated dice actions with acted out LARP-style actions. I was left confused by when I should be rolling dice and when I should be acting, and if acting was better than dicing or if both were essentially connected. I'm also not sure on the mechanical balance between characters. Some have lower stats, but arguably have easier Charms to work into a scene, giving them more dice for the final push.

Suggestions: The dice mechanic is built into the end condition of the scene, but I can't help feel like it drags down how interesting the game could be with everything acted out and a heavier focus on the amusing Charms.

Setting - 3

The setting, what little is described, seems to be generic fantasy kingdom. The heavy focus on love, humor, and competing for affection does offer a nice spin on it. I did like some little touches like one of the suitors being the Devil in Disguise or the hints of a setting present in the Charms like how the Vizier gets bonus points for cringing and changing the subject whenever someone brings up the King and Queen's murder. Ultimately, I feel like the setting is generic enough to pass but lacks enough interesting elements to be worth a higher score.

Suggestions: Bring out the Charms more! This is the hidden gem of the game, I'm convinced and tying setting and scene elements into players more would be a great way of sneaking more setting into this game. It's like each player (and each scene, which have their own "Charms") are packing little Hooks, Kickers, and Bangs that can be used to drive the gameplay. Ben, you also mention some alternative settings like a horror themed game or an eastern samuraii theme. I could even see a space opera, Star Wars-esque game being done with this. I like those ideas as well, and would love seeing some alternative settings, maybe tied into the idea of paired character-scene creation I mentioned above.

Integration - 4

The mechanics do a good job of pacing the game, but I feel like it's the Charms and the scene Setting that are doing the heavy lifting here. I'm going to pick on that dice pool some more, because sitting down at the table to roll dice seems to contrast so heavily with the "stand up and act" nature of the rest of the game. I do like the end of scene play: rolling that last big pool to see who is ahead with the princess in Affection. I think that's why I'm torn on the mechanics here. I'd like some method of randomising the contests in the scenes that doesn't slow down play, but then still have that driving goal of "I need more points for that final roll at the end of the scene!" I feel like the dice and the Affection system actually work into the game and setting pretty poorly, but I love Charms and that saves this category from a mediocre score.

Suggestions: Again, I praise the Charms. Those integrate the story to setting so well, in a manner that point registers and dice just can't.

Ingrediants - 4

The chosen ingrediants were put to good use, and I see how they inspired the game's design. Primarily, I see influence of the "Contested Succession" and "Structured Pacing" elements, while I think "Dowry" and "Setting-tied mechanic" got left a bit behind. I just don't feel like Affection (which the author claims is his tie-in mechanic) is really all that strong a tie. It's basically a "who won?" score that never comes up in play until the end. Dowry is listed as a goal (You win the Kingdom!) but never really arises in play. I feel that Contested Succession and Structured Pacing were put to excellent use however.

suggestions: I think Charms already filled as a better "setting mechanic" than Affection does, see my endless ramblings above. For "Dowry," I'd borrow a bit from another game and let the winner of the game get a real prize. I think the winning suitor should get something like "you get to be the next Princess" or "you get to make up a rule and add it to the next game of TWtRH we play." Then the dowry is a more tangable thing, something that's worth winning above and beyond the goal of just winning.

Final Thoughts and Suggestions

Ben, I think you have a really solid game here. I see here the makings of an RPG party game. No really! The ease of set-up, the fun characters, and most especially the idea of acting out your character to get bonus points really lends themselves towards a game like "Stand up, break out the booze, and let's play a party game."

A few mechanical areas tripped me up. Like I'm unsure if the Princess is supposed to take the scene that is tied to each suitor that is taken, or just to pick random scenes. If she does random, then some suitors get mechanical advantage. I think I'd make the Wedding always be the final scene and let characters and scenes be tied. You could have more than one scene per character to offer more choices on future sessions. That method at least gives everyone a chance to shine and the wedding offers one final push to claim victory. I'm also unsure if acting is better than dicing or what. A few Charms suggest that acting them out is automatic victory, which is way better than a random shot at points from a dice contest. You mostly seem to leave dice-events as Scene events and Charms as auto-points, which is good. I'd suggest just working on that distinction more.

I think you could get something really cool out of this if you're willing to put a bit more work into it. Here's my suggested "Checklist for a final game":

  1. Clean up the mechanics, really focus on how fun those Charms and the LARP elements are.
  2. More characters and settings (maybe save settings as "expansion packs") and add a character-scene creation guide.
  3. Put scenes and characters on cards, with a nice picture and framing for each one, that players can print out. This will ease prep-time and make the game more "party friendly."

Good luck Ben, and I hope to see more "To Win the Royal Heart."

Rating: 72%