Since becoming a podcaster, I have seen and read more systems; then in my whole gaming life. Just recently I reviewed a new system by a new publisher (Broken Meme) called Cipher, a dark and gritty super-human game; with secret government organisations and horrors untold. Reviewing products like this, is time consuming; but can be very rewarding. In the case of Cipher, this is the first published project of Paul E Holmes and the Broken Meme team.
So how do I judge something for reviewing? Initially I will read through it, at the start is usually the best place; though if it is a system I know I can sometimes gloss over it (i.e. Battletech reviews I have done). I’ll be making notes as I go, breaking it down into categories –
The writing is perhaps the most important thing to me, it is the one thing that tells me what the game is all about. Without good writing, it might as well be a jumble of words; with some pictures to break up the text. It needs to be clear and concise, easy to read (font, text size, etc) and give me a feel for what the game is about. With Artwork, is it colour or b&w; does it match the feel of the game. It shouldn’t matter if it is colour or black and white, sometimes B&W fits dark horror based systems better. Classic example of this is Call of Cthulhu, which is predominantely b&w art; makes this so atmospheric.
Layout is important, this is not just about the pictures matching the text. Have you ever read a book, with a picture right in the middle of the text. So the text is on either side of the picture?? It can sometimes be a distraction, when trying to read something; I find this a bad example of layout. The other thing is tables in places that make no sense; because the text that matters in on another page. Warhammer FRPG is like this, which frustrates me a lot.
Lastly the rules and mechanics that drive the game. Like the writing, this should be easy to follow; as well as understand. Many systems fall down on this, with complex mechanics; that clutter up the gaming experience. Rolemaster is a classic example of this, with dozens of tables; it can slow the game right down; especially with a large group.
Generally I like a system, that has a well written history (fluff) of existance in the game world. Sometimes this can be a great resource in itself, providing a GM with information to use in game. The mechanics have to be simple to learn and ultimately remember, I have trouble remembering things and this is one key issue I have with some systems; especially if I intend to GM the game. Finally, it has to appeal to me; it is no good playing something that doesn’t interest you. I generally avoid zombie, vampire and superhero systems. They bore me senseless, perhaps because of the Hollywood glutton for those movies; it could also be that they are just so one dimensional.