Innovation – it’s one of those holy grails that nearly every game designer strives for. Something that gamers often look for in a new game that promises that ”this one is different from all the others…” Now the last few months have seen quite a few games released that have gunned for the moniker of innovative – but few have even come close to Mechanical Dream. This game will change the way you view setting and system design.
Appearance wise, Mechanical Dream is gorgeous. The book has two covers – one side of the book is the Dream Aspect – setting material. This contains a beautifully illustrated colour section that covers the ten primary races within the game. Flip the book over and you’ll find another cover. This is the Mechanical Aspect – which details the game’s rules as well as provides some clarification of certain elements mentioned on the Dream side.
MD’s artwork is simply the best I have ever seen in a roleplaying supplement. Unfortunately there are some moments where the print has caused the image to be too dark – but I suspect that future products will take care of this problem. The artwork remains evocative and consistent throughout the book and really helps you get a grasp on what this game’s world is truly like.
Mechanical Dream manages to create a vivid and truly original world – filled with adventure; political intrigue and plenty of plot hooks. Characters can be what are known as Echoes – the settings “hero-types” who are pretty toned down next to Exalted or AGONE’s equilvalents, at least initially – and character creation manages to be a refreshing mix of point expenditure and random attribute generation. Essentially, characters spend points on deciding what dice rolling method they desire to generate their stats.
Combat is fast and brutal – drawing upon several game systems to create a unique and exciting system of its own. Essentially all characters have a Combat Dice Pool. This dictates the maximum number of dice that a character can roll within one combat round. Players then allocate these points into certain skills – up to their maximum CP before they roll initiative. It sounds complicated, but in practice my players found it to work like a charm and it took next to no time to learn the various intricacies of the rules. Given that at the cost of one “CP” a character can change an action after initiative has been rolled, this system makes combat a lot more tactical and intelligent. Yet it manages to remain faster than an average d20 combat session – which is quite an achievement.
This degree of flexibility seems to be the key theme to the game’s systems. Most rules are based around a simple “defeat the difficulty” rule – yet it has a particularly wide scope at the same time. Attributes will dictate which die-type the PC rolls (d4, d6, d8, d10 or d12) and then the skill is used to decide how many dice to roll. There are some fantastic mental state rules – if a character takes a particularly vicious hit during combat there is a chance that they will also be mentally damaged as well, which can sometimes require the aid of a psychologist to heal and in other cases may never heal!
Too perfect to be true?
There is a downside to all of this. The translation and errata. Although Mechanical Dream is written in English, it is clear that this is the author’s second language. The book is peppered with spelling mistakes and odd sentence structures that cause you to re-read them time and again. Oddly – this isn’t as much of a hindrance as it may seem. Most of the time it’s just amusing to spot these. They certainly don’t detract from the enjoyment of the book – and never are they so bad as to be unintelligible.
If there is one true gripe I have with this game – it’s the number of rules contradictions. Given that this is the very first edition and publication, I can be somewhat lenient. The rules are not impossible to understand – most of it is there, just not always in the best place for ease of reference. An index would have benefited this book as well as a glossary in the center. Some of the rules appear to have been re-written as the book was being prepared and so there are cases where a rule is mentioned, but then shown to be redundant by the end of the book. Again, these are very rare – but could have afforded with not being there.
BUY MECHANICAL DREAM!!! To put it simply, no roleplayer should go without having at least perused this book. Very few products have caused me to want to drop everything I’m doing to run a game, but this one did. Despite the editorial gaffs – which I have been informed are being fixed now – this is just the most innovative, original, exciting and evocative game on the market. It flies in the face of the GNS argument by succeeding to be all three at once – the rules are realistic, flexible and involving while never once hindering the narrative flow of a game.
The setting is pure genius with the promise of a metaplot that doesn’t sideline the players nor does it control them – being completely within the background of the setting it helps to give the game a narrative landscape for the players to explore at their leisure. At a time where many roleplaying publishing houses are being too scared to try anything new, Steamlogic has shown true bravery by making this their first project and I’d have to say that they have succeeded. No roleplayer should be without this one.
[5 of 5 Stars!]