Friday, April 10, 2015

Review: Mythic Mortals

Who doesn't want to take the battle to titanic foes, wielding super-awesome powers in cool action scenes? I know I do, and that's exactly the itch that Mythic Mortals aims to scratch. You play as humans imbued with the spark of ancient gods' power, fighting back when the Ancients come back to reclaim the world. (There's a little more to the story than that, but I'm condensing.) The game's goals are to give players a fun, vibrant, action-packed experience that's also very straightforward to learn and play.

I received a review copy of this game for the purposes of this post.

Technical Specifications
Let's start out with what sort of game it is, to begin with. Mythic Mortals starts with "5-minute read-aloud rules" that act as a tutorial for the players, and they quickly set out the mechanics of the game. In Mythic Mortals, you use a personal deck of playing cards to set your initial combat stats, then cycle through them during the fight. The cards go on a playmat that's specific to your character; this helps a lot, and reminds me of Mythender's character sheet, in how it facilitates the tracking of a lot of interrelated information.

From there, the game uses a 2d6 roll-under system: you roll two six-sided dice, and try to roll lower than the card in a specific slot. Each slot is used for different rolls, such as damaging an enemy, doing something cool with your powers, or defending against an attack. As you fight on, you have to discard cards from your character's playmat and replace them, just to keep your volatile magical power in check. If you let it go for too long, you experience an Overload, being forced to swap out all of your cards! So, your different stats will often be fluctuating in their strength, and you'll have to discard some stats in order to preserve other stats.

General Gameplay
While I haven't been able to try the game out yet, I can give my impressions on how the combat fits together, plus an overview of what you wind up doing on a given turn. Let's break down the three main actions you can take: Attack, Mythos Ability, and Sprint. They do very different things, and what I'm going to be focusing on is how interesting each option is in combat.

The simplest one is Sprint: it's a positioning move. You change your position by one range relative to the enemy; the three ranges are Melee, Shout, and Sight (quite intuitively defined and easy to adjucate). Your powers are only effective in certain ranges, so positioning can matter, especially if your weapon card gets swapped out. (I can't tell if the rules say anywhere whether the Ancients are limited to attacking a certain range. The positioning rules could use a bit more comprehensive detailing here.) It's not a colorful move, but it will wind up being useful in some circumstances, mostly when you need to get in range for your new weapon to be effective.

Attacking is the next-most straightforward action: you deal damage according to the card in your Damage slot if you successfully make an attack roll. Pretty simple, and it's how you win. This also means you have an incentive to keep a high-value card in both your Damage and Accuracy slots. The more damage you can deal, the quicker the fight ends. So, attacking is the start point of combat. Also, the cards you slot into Accuracy and Defense will combine to affect the attacks you make.

Finally, we have the Mythos Ability action. These are the "special tricks", and they typically involve either dealing damage or restoring damage...but they also often set up for other moves or gain side benefits. I'm not sure that using Mythos Abilities is superior to the power combinations you can use between Accuracy and Defense, but keeping a high card in Mythos would work out fairly well, and let you quickly cycle other cards.

The most important part of the combat phase is outlined in the official player mats, which you can peruse for yourself. I'm fairly sure that there's some imbalance in the playmats, in that many of them have superior options, but since you'll continually be cycling cards, you won't reliably have access to any grouping of options.

Character Development
Creating a character starts with a straightforward seed: "play as yourself". This skips past a lot of hurdles in the game, and is a pretty good tool for jumping into the action. If you eventually don't feel like playing yourself in a future game, you could always create a new character from scratch, although a newcomer to RPGs might not realize everything that new character creation entails. The game itself doesn't go into detail about that aspect. From there, you pick one of the four playmats, which are essentially character classes: Brute, Hunter, Brewer, and Sneak. (The Brewer in particular seems like an odd choice, with this number of archetypes, but would fit in better if there were more archetypes, I think.) Each mat gives you different abilities for slotting cards of particular suits in Mythos, Accuracy, Damage, and Defense.

The playmat also contains the sole personality element of the mechanical side: the Flaw. Each playmat is prone to one of four Flaws, depending on the suit of the card slotted in Damage. Your flaw is a mechanical limiter but also a temporary personality trait that somewhat defines you. It's important to note that your Flaw will probably fluctuate as you discard and change the card you put in the Damage slot. I like that idea, though, because it ties a particular set of character traits to a specific playmat, keeping them within a particular theme.

From there on out, character development is up to you, but since the game is an action-fest, it probably shouldn't be too terribly heavy anyway. The advice in the GM section leans heavily on the GM's knowledge of the players in real life, suggesting things like having the monsters attack a beloved meet-up place. You also get some character development by the way of the events which happen in the game--I've experienced this in Mythender, for example. Though, I'll note that this game does lack one thing that's critical to the character-centric play in Mythender: you don't get the opportunity to attempt to humanize your Mythender, which acts as a strong contrast to the intense superpowered gameplay. I think I'd like to see a bit more of that in Mythic Mortals.

Other Bits
After the very straightforward player-facing rules comes a lot of small paragraphs with GM advice. There's some really good (though short) pieces of advice here, and I rather wish I'd been able to see more of them fleshed out. They're good starting points, though, and they really do help to bring some texture to the game. All of it's about creating a particular tone in the game, one that'll mesh with the superpowered action. I really like bits like the encouragement to prompting: for instance, when a player uses an ability, the GM section suggests to ask them what it looks like.

That said, there's some stuff I'm not so fond of: suggestions that start to undermine the mechanical element of the game, for example. I'm a big fan of mechanics leading to meaningful choices in the game, but the GM section talks about handing out mechanical rewards for clever in-game thinking, which I feel does make the card-slotting choices a little less significant. There's also talk of a campaign mode where you start with only the 13 cards of one suit, then gain more cards as loot...but it doesn't say anything besides "hand them out randomly", which I feel is a missed opportunity--I'd rather give some guidelines for letting players customize their own decks.

One thing I do really like in the last bits of the rules is just how many examples the game gives. I'm the sort of person who learns well from examples, so I love that the game shows me lots of different powers that I can use with my monsters, giving me a framework for "what sorts of things can I make this monster do?"

Summing Up
There's a lot of rough edges in the game, and I'd love to see it expanded more, but it's a great novel take on action gameplay, and there's a lot of cool evocative stuff, especially on the players' playsheets. The choices on your playsheet are compelling, and the card-slotting mechanic is easily the strongest point of the game. It's well worth checking out, especially at the price point it comes at.

You can get Mythic Mortals from this site, name your own price (suggested price is $5.00).