Murderland: Pies 21-25

2009 Aug 27

21. Danny Ozbot – If a Raven Calls Your Name

Premise: Players play townsfolk in a fairy tale village, describe their daily activities, and secretly picking a number of tokens from a pile. Then the raven player names one character and challenges them, rolling a die and potentially a) being rebuffed, b) taking the tokens, or c) killing the character, depending on the value of the die roll and number of tokens. Players can team up before the roll, however, pooling their tokens. The raven wins when they have most of the tokens. The players win if they rebuff the raven three times.

Thoughts: While the overall concept is neat, this game is mechanically problematic. This is what I would do to win this game: always pick 3 trinkets, always team up with the other players, and thus only lose to the raven on roll of 6. I don’t mind the lightness of the tactics involved here, so long as there are multiple interesting choices to make or, alternately, if what seem like tactical choices don’t ultimately matter. But here, they have a direct effect on whether you win or lose and there are clearly some strategies (actually, one strategy) that is unquestionably superior. I’m afraid that’s likely to scuttle whatever else is going on here, which is too bad.

Conclusion: Warm.

22. Jason Dettman – Murderland

Premise:A police procedural in which one player is the murderer and the other players are investigators. Coins are flipped and spent to add descriptive details and bits of evidence.

Thoughts: Reading through the rules, I honestly wasn’t that excited, but the example of play showed very clearly that play could be super-fast and fairly gripping. I definitely want to try it out now. Still, I think this game would really sing if the “murderer” player just represented the evidence / lay thereof and no one at the table could actually say for sure who the murderer was. The investigators would ultimately decide who they will charge with the crime and either convict someone or not, but the “truth” of the crime would never be revealed. That would be fascinating, I imagine, and very much like what actual police work is like, where you try not to think about your doubts after you’ve convicted someone, because you have to move on to the next case.

Conclusion: Baked.

23. Ben Wray – Murderland: Quest for the Sphinx of Quartz

Premise: Something like a deconstruction of a standard fantasy adventure game. The characters, with traits that don’t matter, adventure through the Murderlands fighting monsters and gaining Glory (which doesn’t matter), and make a random roll at the end to see who survives the trail of murderous crows that follows their bloody wake.

Thoughts: Pretty clever as a little social experiment, to see how far the trappings of a standard RPG will carry you. Answer: right to your destruction. Everything that happens in the game is essentially random and inconsequential, but it doesn’t necessarily appear that way until you get to the end. The only thing not covered in the rules is… what happens if there are only two characters left and they both are eliminated? I assume that it’s a Total Party Kill, but Ben doesn’t say. Honestly, as a game, this is pretty terrible, but as an activity, something to mess around with and hopefully have an interesting reaction to… I really like it. But the majority of the players can’t read the game beforehand, I don’t think, unless they are all willing to embrace the deconstructed randomness. Even then, I don’t think it would have the full impact unless one or two players were innocent in the whole affair and felt really cheated or baffled at the end.

Conclusion: Baked, but you would probably only play it once.

24. Dave Cleaver – Three Ravens

Premise: Three ravens take turns trying to overcome the three obstacles — the hounds, the hawk, and the lady – that guard the body of a fallen knight that the ravens would like to eat. No matter what, the ravens will overcome the obstacles; the only thing in question is which ravens will be around at the end of the game to eat the knights body (potentially all three, 2, 1, or none).

Thoughts: This is a neat little exercise, reminding me a bit of John Harper’s Mustang, though predating it by several months. The only thing that makes me squint a bit is the artificiality of the structure, where one raven goes off to face one of the three challenges and then returns. While it has a storybook quality, it doesn’t feel natural to me and makes the most important part of the game, the confrontation, feel very alone and isolating. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s the theme or what but there’s a definite sense of loneliness in many of these games, which is interesting to watch. I do wish there were a few more details about the challenges themselves. What are the hounds like? What is the lady like? Otherwise, I would worry that the crows interactions with them would default to being similar, with the challenges trying to drive the birds away from the body.

Conclusion: Browned, but maybe baked enough if you have a group of players who are all “on” and strongly engaged.

25. Logos Seven – Thought and Memory

Premise: Players play ravens picking over dead bodies, gathering as many dice or cards from the table as they can. If the other players are greedy or impolite, you can call down Odin’s wolves, Geri and Freki, on them. Once the wolves are in play, you can trigger the endgame, in which players give each other gifts and total up the final score to determine the two winners.

Thoughts: I like the arbitrary nature of both gathering dice and invoking the wolves on others. That makes for an interesting bit of social maneuvering. However, I honestly don’t get the endgame at all. At first, I thought gift giving was another bit of social maneuvering, where you try to give away as little as possible while earning as many dice from others as you can. But the rules aren’t really set up to allow that, as far as I can see. Also, the giving of special gifts, such as Fenrir’s Will (death) is confusing and I’m not sure when or how you do that. Ultimately, I can’t see how the two halves of the game, the gathering trinkets and the gift giving, go together, at least from the rules as they currently stand. It seems like the arbitrary removal of one raven from the game is so powerful as to undermine the rest of it.

Conclusion: Warm, but maybe browned with a bit more explanation of giving Fenrir’s Will.

4 Responses to “Murderland: Pies 21-25”

  1. Regarding #22:

    I’m not sure I understand the changes you are suggesting. Do you just want to leave who the actual murderer is unclear or is it more substantial than that?


    Having played the game many time now, I can say that the game play is super-fast. I think the longest game I’ve played was 30 minutes.

    It can also take a game or two for new ‘investigators’ to wrap their heads around some of the nuances of play but once they do it’s pretty cool.



  2. Yeah, having it unclear whether the investigators have got the right guy or not is the main thing I’m suggesting.

    It’s definitely something I’m excited to play.

  3. I’m happy that you are excited to play. I hope we get to hear about it when you do.

    Thank you for the review, btw.


    I’ll probably think about it more but I’m not sure the ambiguity you’re looking for requires any mechanical changes. It may require the ‘murderer’ player to work a little harder to create multiple suspects, though.

  4. No, I think you’re right. No mechanical changes are needed so much as a change in perspective. And, thinking about it again, I don’t think that little thing is worth knocking your game down to a Browned rating, so that’s my bad there.

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