Reflections on My Giants Ashcan Playtest

At Gen Con, I purchased a copy of Giants by Jeff Lower of the Sons of Kryos.  I had really gotten excited about Giants from listening to his show, so I went to the Ashcan Front with no doubt I was going to buy this game.

I assembled a group consisting of myself as the GM, Tony, and Brian.  Unfortunately, the games starts to breakdown pretty much from the start when the players decide on their specific goals.  The players knew from my description that there is supposed to be a threat coming to get them, but the threat does not get fleshed out until after the players choose their goals.  So the players choose goals pretty much out of the thin air: Tony’s goal was self glorification and Brian’s was to build a boat so he could explore the rest of the world. The players then decide that the threat to the world is that birds are attacking from somewhere, eating all the crops, and killing people as they go. 

Immediately, right off the bat, the players are working for goals that are in no way related to the larger threat.  In the end, Tony’s PC will end up fighting the birds with his plant power while Brian’s PC ends up channeling a lava flow to his city so that its citizens will have the raw materials they need to make a boat to escape in.  I am not sure if the disjointedness between the threat and the  goals and between the goals themselves is a failing on my part as a GM or not, but it seems like I was following the letter of the law if not the spirit.

Once the goals were laid out,  characters were made.  Tony is  playing Little Giant (a size 4 Giant) and Brian is playing Chip (a size 10 Giant.)  Little Giant has several Breed powers, most notably that he could control plant life.    Chip was just big, dumb, and powerful.

Then the players made the map.  Map making may well be the greatest tool for player for immersion I have ever experienced.  The players not only got into their characters, but they bought into the world as a whole.  It was awesome to see cities and rivers and the Tree of Evil pop up from everyone’s imaginations.  It was truly amazing.  And a hell of a lot of fun.

Then play started.  Basically, at this point, scenes got framed and dice were rolled.  There were feeding scenes and healing scenes.  A city tried to attack Chip because he was channeling lava right by it, but as I understood the rules there was no way a Size 4 city could muster an army that could stop a Chip so Chip won and added a second city to his community.

During that time, Little Giant began researching ancient seeds and found one that was poisonous to the large birds.  So he quested to the Tree of Evil, found the seeds, planted then, and used his super powers to grow them quickly.  This ended the bird threat.

The game lasted six turns around the table across three lunch sessions.  So it was fast to play, which I thought was a good thing.

Overall, the game fostered a sense of fun with the players.  They had a good time being Giants, making the map, playing, but ultimately the game felt disjointed.  It was hard to take world spanning actions like rerouting a volcano and break them into scenes.  Also, any conflict normally boiled down to a battle between a city and a PC’s giant.  There was only one NPC giant vs. PC giant which started off as combat.  However, Little Giant could never win so he retreated.  Next scene, he used his intellect to confuse the Giant and stole the seeds.  That was good.

Ultimately, I think the finished book needs a better explanation of how to frame a scene and what the purpose of each type of scene is.  Also, some tips for GMing would be nice.  I was wondering how to build drama with the world threat.  At first, the giants were too busy going after their own goals to care about the birds.  When the birds started attacking cities, they did not care.  Only when the birds attacked their cities did it make a difference and then only to the Giant whose city was attacked.   

In addition to questions about GMing the game, a few others cropped up during play.

1.  Shouldn’t we design a Giant’s community after we design the Giant.
2.  How should the Giant’s goal and the threat to the world mesh or is this about the choice between the two?  If it’s a choice, is there a way to support that mechanically?
3.  Does a Hunger scene cause 1 Hunger?
4.  How can a city of a Size less than a Giant beat the Giant in combat?

Lastly, in answer to Jeff’s questions:

Do Boulders work well as a reward mechanic?  My players used boulders once in the game.   I could not make them do anything which would elicit a boulder even when I game them away freely.
Does the map create player buy-in…?  Hell yes!
Does the Hunger and Rage economy work?  I can’t say that I remember Rage being all that prominent.  The Hunger seemed more like one more thing to keep track of.
What would I need to do to make the game more child-friendly?  Reduce the complexity of some of the stats.  Other than that, this would be a great game thematically for children.
Does the game really need a Health stat?  I believe the game needs a way to track damage.  Health may not be that stat.

I had one other thought.  Could Hunger come from actions rather than scenes?  Instead of one Hunger per scene, could certain things trigger it?  Like fighting, using a Breed Power, or entering another player’s scene?

The review feels harsher than I intended.  The players had a good time, there was just some confusion about the rules, but like Jeff said, the game is not quite baked yet. 

I feel like part of the failing of the game I ran was that I did not fully grok all the rules.  With that being said, I hope that Jeff can add a few more examples to make things more clear.

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~ by Chris Perrin on December 12, 2007.

One Response to “Reflections on My Giants Ashcan Playtest”

  1. Hey Common, thanks for the review. As you mentioned, the game is a Ashcan, and I want to thank you for taking part in the process of helping me out with it.

    There are certainly a number of things that I need to explain better in the text of the book. You pointed a few more out to me here.

    I am glad you and your group of two had a good time playing the game.

    I’ll try and answer your four questions here.

    1. Shouldn’t we design a Giant’s community after we design the Giant.

    I have found that a number of people react like a “dear in the headlights” when they are asked to create their Giant first. However, if they start on the community first, they seem to slowly build up to it in their head. I do however think doing it the other way around works fine for some.

    2. How should the Giant’s goal and the threat to the world mesh or is this about the choice between the two? If it’s a choice, is there a way to support that mechanically?

    To me the character’s “goal” should be something that lets the player flesh out the character a bit more. This also a huge flag to the GM saying that they want the game to have this in it.

    Here is a good way to separate the two, “gaols” are something that the Giant wants to accomplish for them self, and will likely take a game session or two. The Threat or Group Threat is the point of the game. Accomplishing “goals” earns you a special kind of XP, and defeating the Threat likely ends the game.

    Not sure if that answered your question that well, let me know.

    3. Does a Hunger scene cause 1 Hunger?

    A Feasting Scene does not impose a loss of Hunger. That is unless you are feasting another Giant. That’s actually in the Hunger section of the book.

    4. How can a city of a Size less than a Giant beat the Giant in combat?

    Honestly, unless the town rolls really really well, and the Giant rolls very very poorly, it wont. I Giant of equal, or even greater size has a big advantage. That being said, a town can ask other towns for help. Depending on the amount of help, and the size of the Giant, this will increase their chances of fending off or even defeating the Giant.

    Thanks for the feedback.

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