Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: Lacuna

Review:  Lacuna Part I.
The Creation of Mystery and the Girl from Blue City

by Jared Soresen of Memento Mori
Rating: ★★★★★

You must PLAY this game.

Yes, I will admit I love this game that much.  You MUST play this game.  IF you are a gm, then you must RUN this game.  But if you are a player, then heaven help you and find a game master RIGHT now to get this game and actually play it!  This game is incredibly engaging and intensely fun.  You MUST play this.

Okay, now that all that is out of the way, let me try to explain why I love the game so much without spoiling it.  Because that's where the game really works well.  It spoils the players.  It spoils the game master.

The game is so frigging awesome I cannot stop gushing over it.

What is Lacuna?
The website describes the game as follows:

Sinister secret agents with shadowy employers and mysterious pasts. A bizarre landscape built from six- billion human minds. Arachnid-headed beings that guard a war-torn borderzone. And all the worst that Mankind has to offer, stalking the alleys and crumbling buildings of a place called Blue City.
Is it a dream? Is it a nightmare? Or is it just a game? And are you already playing?
A quick search in the net will throw a nice list of movies that match the feel of the game with Christopher Nolan's Inception leading the pack.  I personally found myself remembering Tarsem Singh's The Cell, as well as Satoshi Kon's anime Paprika.  The game will remind you of Matrix, of Dark City, of the Adjustment Bureau and many other movies.  And that's what makes the game really awesome.  

Memory Loss is Common in the Blue City
The game has players portray the role of Mystery Agents, and while in most games one has to come up with a cool character concept, in Lacuna you don't.  You actually instead start the game during the process of character creation itself, with some dice being rolled in order to determine certain details for your character, INCLUDING your name.  

As the players are oriented on the basic rules as well as the roles they are expected to portray during missions, the players pretty much dive into the game with what they know as players pretty much matching what the characters know.   Secrets, revelations and more mysteries abound in the game, as players learn of the many layers of Clearance they can gain, the depths of the Blue City they can explore, and the strange Personalities - both Hostile and not - that inhabit the non-place.  

Basic Rules System
At the most basic, the game uses six-sided dice to determine whether or not characters succeed in their actions.   Characters are called Mystery Agents and all have three Attributes (Force, Instinct and Access) to allocate nine points to which determine the number of dice rolled for appropriate actions.  If the dice total 11 or higher, then the Mystery Agent succeeds in their action.  Characters also have a Talent, which reflects an area where they can roll an extra dice.  This is important because of the second major rule: The Heart Rate.

All Mystery Agents have a starting Heart Rate, a Target Heart Rate and a Maximum Heart Rate.  Whenever they fail a roll, the player can opt to "push" the roll, which means rolling again in hopes of hitting 11.  The balancing factor to the system is that the rolls (save for the results of a Talent die) are added to the Mystery Agent's Starting Heart Rate, and as the rate increases, the characters learn to function better and in a more optimized way.  Think of this as people nicely getting into the flow of things, with their adrenaline pumping and their senses in focus.  While within their Target Heart Rate, they can freely reroll as many dice as they want to push any failed rolls.   While this relatively means they ALWAYS succeed in their actions, this also does mean their heart rates rise faster.

Once a Mystery Agent hits their Maximum Heart Rate, however, all rolls are considered Risky Actions.  Failing a Risky Action causes an Agent to lose Force or Instinct by one.  You do not want either of them to reach zero.

Mystery Agents, by dint of their training and mentor, gain access also to Techniques which can range from being aware of Safe Locations while in the Blue City, to knowing how to Meditate and bring down their Heart Rate even during a mission.  Some Techniques add to the mystery of the game, such as Reader which allows you to read while in the Blue City (yes, everyone else without this Technique CANNOT read while in the mission!).

And the Game Master?
The Game Master pretty much runs the game like most typical role-playing games, with him portraying any other Personalities and non-playing characters the players come across.  But unlike most RPGs, in Lacuna the Game Master is not even required to come up with the actual Mission details.  The GM can actually simply come up with the basics of the mission, and let the players develop it further with their speculation.  I personally prefer to run my games in real time, giving each game session a three hour maximum to accomplish their mission.   It keeps the feel of the game tense and the adrenaline pumping.

In Lacuna, the GM never roll dice.  It took a moment for me to really grasp that idea, but it really works nicely in this game.  Given the game has the Mystery Agents as the focus of the story, it really works that they can always succeed in their actions (so long as they accept the consequences) at the early parts of the game, but later on they start worrying about their Heart Rates and start failing on some things just to keep their hearts from bursting!  So you only call for rolls when the drama requires it.

What about these things I read about in other sites?  About Spider Men.  Or Static.  And stuff like that.
I would love to say more, but such things are beyond your Clearance Level.

I will say this, the book is absolutely worth the price.  Some reviewers raise the fact that the game is listed as Part I, and while there have been many years since its release, there does not seem to be any Part II in sight.  They feel, therefore, that the game is incomplete and still needs more information to be worth playing.  

I would simply have to disagree.  For me, the book itself already houses so much story potential.  The game offers so many ideas and concepts that you can explore in the game.

But Yeah I LOVE This Game.
You can find my actual play summaries in this blog.
Not to mention see the kind of stuff I've come up with to make my Lacuna games even more immersive.


Rating Breakdown:
Concept: A pure win.  Few games out there make me feel am seeing something new.  This one succeeds wonderfully in doing that.
Crunch: Light yet perfect for what it wants to achieve.  Admittedly, there's precious little I see in terms of system that I would want to add to the game.
Layout:  The PDF is very impressive, and while I do wish there was more to explore (translation: More material) the way the book paces the info helps.  I did notice, however, in practice, I kept having to jump back and forth between the page for the Talents and Techniques during sessions.  Maybe it would have been nice to have these info reiterated and in a condensed page for Control to use as a guide during games.
My favorite part: The Heart Rate system.  This is just cinema gold.  Absolutely incredible.  How I wish I could use this in another game or officially write more material for this game.
What I wish was better: Well, I want PART II.  And PART III.  Heck, I'm game if it goes all the way to Part XXII.  I want more Lacuna!  MORE!!!  But seriously there's little complaint to be found in this game as far as I am concerned.

So there you have it.
Lacuna, Part I.
Increase your Clearance Level today.
Available at Drivethru rpg.

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