Gene Freak's review (58%)
Whose dog is singing? Fabulous prizes to be won! (Pg 17.)
With the today's release of Patrick Nally (Pg 4.) we are here proud to reprint our original exclusive that lead to his arrest:
Everyone today has doubtless already been startled with animal stories, but here is one more that might shock you.
Last night, the Jackson Laboratory was broken into and all of the monkeys were released onto the grounds. The ALF (Animal Liberation Front) claimed responsibility.
Had last night been any normal night, we would doubtless be covering the front page with this story. If only because it involves monkeys flinging poo at policemen.
But last night all the animals started talking, so this story appears less important. But perhaps it is not.
We were told by one witness, who works as a guard at the site:
"They were working on the brain, here! Trying to discover why chimps and cats can't talk, important stuff! These hooligans rushed in and started smashing stuff. I did my best, but it's not like I could have stopped them."
Stop the press!
The police believe that they have found a safehouse used by the criminals responsible for the break-in, and were seen to remove a body.
Will you be lucky today? Your stars, read by our stars! (Pg 14.)
Zodiac Stone was Vitenka's entry into the TRO Challenge 2. It is a game of mystery, possible conspiracy, and magic.
I want to be clear: I really liked the character options in this game. I like how little the character is defined. The only reason that I couldn't give this more than a 12 out of 20, however, was because we need more examples. Defining your character by Kicker and Bangs is awesome! Now show us some!! The game does have a default "Kicker" but I'd like to see what else makes appropriate Kickers.
Again, I really liked this element of the game. The mechanics are very straightforward: you lose unless the horoscope says you don't. I didn't give you full points for this category because I, again, needed to see more examples of what gives you charges and exactly what you can do with charges. Also, I felt that you should have addressed the issue of how people select the applicable horoscope - for example, the daily horoscope from one daily newspaper is not going to be the same as the one published from some online source. Is the player permitted to look through all available horoscopes and select which one applies to him that day? Does the player select which source he will get his horoscopes from and only use that one the rest of the game? This could provide a way to differentiate the characters who are both the same star sign.
I'd be interested to know a bit more about the setting. The setting seems to be: real world + talking animals (and some unclear legal issues surrounding them) + government agents hunting you. It would have gone a long way to have had a specific organization that hunts down these Zodiac Magic people. As with the other categories, the freedom that this game features is its strength, but freedom like this only works with a strong guiding hand to show you what works best.
I'd also like a bit more information about why this world works the way it does. Why do people fail at things when it's not in their horoscope or their horoscope says they fail at it? It is because they have completely fallen under the spell of the Zodiac Stone which basically tethers you to your fate? And then why does failure give you magic? I think you can let the setting go without a ton more detail if you'd instead prefer to focus on what the themes of the game are and how the mechanics play with them.
Also, was the Zodiac Stone at the institute where they were doing research or is this some artifact that ALF brought to the break-in?
It's a little hard to say how well the setting and the mechanics of the game blend because we don't know much about the setting. The mechanics do support very well a particular play style, though, and I think that's what the author's goal was.
Star Signs was implemented very nicely. Talking animals felt a little incidental. It was there in the background happening but it didn't really feel like a vital part of the setting. The game would play practically the same, for instance, if you took them out and the government was just chasing you down because you were involved in any sort of criminal activity that brought you into contact with the Zodiac Stone. Artifact was well played though I daresay you might make more of the plot revolve around obtaining the Zodiac Stone...maybe every player should also write down what they would do if they had the Zodiac Stone (destroy it, put the world back the way it was, etc.). The Unique Magic System works for me, I think it serves as a really good base for the game making failure empower you. I don't buy the setting as being alternate history (but that's fine because you've got all the ingredients you needed anyway). And I'd either find a way to incorporate Halloween meaningfully into the game, maybe explaining why that is a significant day for the Zodiac Stone, or just drop it. Like I said, you've got all the ingredients you needed so forcing that one in just to have it there is unnecessary.
Zodiac Stone is solid groundwork. It satisfies my deep craving for rules-ultra-light game systems and it provides an ominous background. As it stands right now, however, the game needs a heavy revision. Games that have ultra-light rules also need very stern guidance because it's so easy for players and GMs to get lost in the possibilities. So really lay the smack down with your authorial voice in the pdf and give Zodiac Stone the direction it needs. I'm tempted to take this base and mash it up with Dread (the Jenga RPG, not whatever that other one is) and see what comes out!