Thursday, September 12, 2013

Schauermarchen: A Very Scary Little Game by John Wick Presents

The Village is made of rust, oil and steam. Every corner is jagged, catching and ripping clothes. Thick black clouds of smog keep the sun and moon far away from the Village and no waves ever roll up on the shore. The sea sits like a corpse, its dark waters still and silent. Iron clocks hang over the streets, clicking away the hours, but none of them tell the same time.
The children are not alone in the Village. There are two others. One of them lives in the tall house on the hill, sending a deep shadow across the center of the Village. The children hear the tinkling of an out-of-tune piano and the garbled voice singing along with it. Songs of gleeful murder, songs of graveyard dances.
Then, at night, he steps from the front door, his hat on his head, his cane in hand, and he walks through the Village's cramped streets... (from the description on Drive Thru RPG)
Schauermarchen: A Very Scary Little Game by John Wick Presents is currently available as a Pay What You Want title on Drive Thru RPG. I'm unfamiliar with John Wick Presents as a company but this title along with Thirty caught my attention and I decided to give Schauermarchen a try first.

The game promises to be a very scary experience and the narrative presented to sell the game would have you believe that there is a mountain of material to terrify you not only during your initial play through but for several sessions to come. 

Unfortunately that isn't the case. 

The Story of Schauermarchen

The narrative presented in Schauermarchen: A Very Scary Little Game is presented in a style reminiscent of a children's story. This is supposed to provide a creepy atmosphere that will send your mind racing forward into the terrifying circumstances of the story, but it falls flat. The story isn't terrifying. Hell, it's not even all that original as it attempts to drawn on the same elements as so many horror movies.
The author presents the children in a limited way that does not take into account their natural creativity, nor their violent and devious natures.
The biggest problem with the story of Schauermarchen is that the author has a clear lack of knowledge about children. The children presented in the story are fearful creatures who scrounge through the ruined village crafting rudimentary tools and not really getting anywhere. That's not children - especially not children in large groups who have little interaction with adults. Children are inventive and they will find a way to do things that most adults couldn't even imagine attempting without a four year college degree. Instead of taking that into account the author presents the children in a limited way and creates a situation wherein the children are absolutely powerless to effectively harm the Bad Man (or Grinning Man as he's referred to later) without a large amount of meta knowledge.

That isn't good game design but rather a bullshit cop out to effect a situation similar to the Slender Man games wherein the player is powerless to affect his situation.

The Game Mechanics

In Schauermarchen each player is given a single sheet of paper and told to write down two words: Hope and Fear. These words are your traits and each begins with two ranks. Each time a player acts out of either Hope (a brave act) or Fear (a cowardly act) they put a point under that score, and when the points total the ranks in that trait a new rank is earned, while a rank is taken away from the other trait. This sort of give and take can quickly create a situation where your character can be put in a very, very bad way.
the only interesting thing about the game mechanics is that each person is able to effect the narrative of the game by their success
Contests in this game are called Risks and they're resolved by rolling d6s based on the number of ranks you have and the number of injuries your character sustains. Results of 4 and 5 are considered successes while results of 6 are considered double successes. 

Now the only interesting thing about the game mechanics is that each person is able to effect the narrative of the game by their success with the person attaining the most successes going last. That's cool and all but the deck is stacked against the player.

Winning the Game

this game is designed around the idea that 
the player will lose

The only way to really win the game, to go home to your family and wake up in your own bed, is to kill the Grinning Man and dismember him. Now that is fine but to do so requires so much out of game knowledge and counter-intuitive thinking that it is practically impossible for any player to win the game.

Instead it is obvious that this game is designed around the idea that the player will lose. They will die. They will die, naked, and it's implied that far worse will happen to them before that death. 

I could do without that.

Production Value

Schauermarchen: A Very Scary Little Game is a tiny little book coming in at 19 pages including the cover, five pages of fluff, and an advertisement for Thirty. There is no art to speak of, though the cover is pleasing to the eye. The individual pages of the PDF I downloaded are not set up in a way that will provide you with a pleasing printing so to print it will be a bit of a bitch - not that you'd actually want to print the fucking thing. 

Overall Review

If I had paid money for Schauermarchen: A Very Scary Little Game then I would be pissed. The game is not original and is not scary if you play with inventive and creative players. It is a game designed for the player to lose time and time again as there is no way within the narrative of the game for the player to learn how to kill the Grinning Man. 

Playing a game where there is no way to win blows. 

Rating: 1 out of 10

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