Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Game Review – Order of the Stick

I’ve noticed this blog has become really active in the last month, with some great wargaming and frugalling articles, so I thought I’d contribute something slightly different. To keep up with my frugal resolutions – I’m a couple of weeks behind my painting obligations, but catching up fast and well within my budgetary limits (I’ve spent nothing) despite several temptations (having played more Gorkamorka/Necromunda and read more of tUGS). Not just spending less, but definitely playing a lot so far this year (see here and here)! Without further ado, a schizophrenic game review.

imageThe Order of the Stick is a humourous webcomic, which lampoons tabletop RPGs – the basic question being ‘how would the characters (without players) live, act and converse if they understood the rules of the game?’. There is also an adventure game, which gives the flavour of a tabletop RPG without actually being one. Being a fan of one, I picked up the other.

The game is fun, and funny, although in my experience some of the jokes go over people’s heads if they’re not familiar with the comic. Although it stretches to about five book collections (possibly more) the game was produced early on, and really only re-enacts events from the first book – and the additional expenditure of a book isn’t required, since all the comics are online, free to view. How’s that for frugal?

Gameplay revolves around getting your pseudo-RPG character down the levels of a randomly generated dungeon (draw cards for rooms) until you reach the bottom level – where you need to defeat the boss (a lich named Xykon) and then escape. Along the way, you level up by gaining ‘shticks’ – additional cards that represent your powers increasing. You also gain loot from defeating enemies, which is important at the end – whoever escapes with the most loot, wins. An additional twist, however, is that loot needs to be relevant to your character. One character loves food, another loves treasure, a third knowledge... occasionally, these will cross over and loot will be desired by more than one player.

The game is very good at providing new experiences – rooms are selected at random by drawing cards, many of them have special rules, some of the loot is actually a trap, and everything has the flavour of the comic strips humour. Unfortunately, if you play too many times in a short space of time, the jokes can feel a bit overplayed. They would probably work well in a games night setting, where people, beer and popcorn often bring up those sorts of jokes anyway. Typical game-table humour.

Unfortunately, I’ve never tried it out at a games night because the rules are not quick to learn, especially to an audience not familiar with the common concepts of an RPG. The same people would probably not enjoy the jokes so much either, which need an understanding of popular RPGs even more. To them, it would probably appear overly-complicated and irreverent. Some people might like that sort of thing, but it’s difficult to predict that. Even if all those things come together alright, for me as a fan of the series already, there seem to be a lot of the jokes based on knowledge of the Order of the Stick comic and not just in the style and source of it’s humour. People might get the rules quickly, understand the dragon-colour jokes, but still fail at the fun poked at a character’s personality quirks. This can be off-putting to some players.

games/APE/oots3.jpgAnother problem with this as a party game is that it takes a long time to play – a bit like Talisman, you’ll probably want to take an evening playing one game of Order of the Stick and nothing else. Games nights are best when there is a variety of games to play, when everyone can pick up the rules to a sufficient level fairly quickly (ie, Kill Doctor Lucky!) and when everyone feels included. An alternative is when a significant proportion of players already know the game being played so everyone can help new people learn, and everyone knows what game they’re going into beforehand. It’s less of a ‘games night’ and more of a ‘Talisman night’ or ‘Order of the Stick night’ (although it’s still hard to stop games nights becoming ‘Kill Doctor Lucky nights’).

So, despite being a very fun game, the time investment to play it is a little too high to make it an frequent occurrence. I’ve not tried to play it since our son got walking around, because (with the random dungeon layout / size) it’s difficult to find somewhere to play that he won’t end up walking on things, and he’s likely to finish any nap before the game is done. At around £35 (although I can’t find it in 30 seconds on Amazon to confirm), it’s just a little too high for a game that can’t be picked up and played anytime, especially if you already own games that fit into the same sort of ‘long-play, complex rules’ bracket. It probably won’t get a lot of action.

That being said, while researching for this review, I found reference to a new expansion for the game (board game expansions are still something a little strange to me...) called ‘The Shortening’ that promises to make the game quicker and simpler – which is a good move, given what I’ve mentioned here. But then, that’s increasing the cost ever so slightly again...

Finally, this is a Frugal game review – is the game good value for money, will you get a lot of use and play out of it, what does it require that you bring along with you. If you have enough cash for an expensive board game, oodles of time, and loads of gamer mates who have nothing to do of a weekend, you’ll love this game – it’s very funny, and great fun. I’m not so lucky, and our regular roleplay group is having enough trouble trying to find time to roleplay without bringing them another game to play!

(images stolen from www.ookoodook.com)


Frugal Dave said...

Great write-up Pete! I love the comic, but I've always been wary of buying boardgames tie-ins. The Price tag does put me off as well.

Anyway what's the correct term for an 'expansion' that makes a game shorter? :p

pete the pagan-gerbil said...

Technically, would it be a 'contraction'? Maybe there's a special physics word for 'put more in to make it smaller'. Knowing physicists, it could be anything!

For myself, I might end up picking that up (there's a deal on Ookoodook where you buy a book and a small game and get money off, and there's a limited OOTS book on there...) and since I already bought the game, an expansion that makes it easier to play once the kids are in bed could be a wise investment. It'll still be about two months of my games budget though :P

Hope the review made sense, I lost my flow editing (and adding about the expansion) because the building evacuated for fire - I'll follow up if I get 'The Shortening' (expect halfling/dwarf jokes...)