Publisher: Muse of Fire Studio
Review Dated: 23rd, November 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 5
Average Score: 5.00
Capes is a superhero RPG with a difference. Capes is very different to most RPGs.
There is no Gamesmaster for a start. No DM. Storyteller, Guide, GOD (games operation director) or any other synonym for “the guy who runs the plot” is applicable in Capes. In Capes the players take turns describing what could happen, who tries to make what happen and then what actually happens. In fact, in core rules Capes the players can even play different characters in turn or randomly. Capes quickly concedes that perhaps some people roleplay to get (and by getting) a feel for and into the personality of a character they’ve created. As an optional rule you can create Spotlight characters which are yours and which are hands off to the other players.
Capes is an indie RPG. It’s an academic offering (hence no focus on killing orcs for gold and experience) and lots of focus on theme. Here we explore what it means to have great powers. “Power is fun, but do you deserve it?” the game asks. This is not just a theoretical “wouldn’t it be nice” for the players to explore. This question is rather hardwired in the game system. As our heroes (or villains) use their powers and partake in scenes they’ll accrue a collection of Debt and Story tokens. These tokens then influence game play by being spent by the players.
Sometimes when a game presents a new concept to me for the first time I don’t get it and therefore do not see the attraction. As I read through the game, see the examples and begin to understand the mechanics I can be won around. This is not the case for Capes. Rather unusually, I liked the concept for the outset but lost faith in its implementation. The simple idea becomes horribly confusing.
“Note that players may never keep Debt Tokens* from one of their own characters as Story Tokens, even if they also played a different character on the losing side of the Conflict.*
If the character who created the Conflict is on the losing side, and they are being played by someone other than the Resolver then the first Story Token must go to that player.
In the rare case that no player except the Resolver has a character allied with any losing side, Story Tokens cannot be awarded. Instead the Tokens are discarded.
When a losing character must take back Debt, all the Debt they take back returns to the Drive from which it was Staked.”
A random chunk of rule-speak for you (and as a random chunk it’s extra confusing) to illustrate just how far Capes is from the expected rule chatter. One of the issues is that by beginning to explain one set of rules Tony Lower-Basch has to cite other terms and mechanics which do not yet make sense to us (whereas we could hazard a guess to what “Armour Value” or “Magic Rating” might refer to). In my snippet above I’ve used stars where Muse of Fire Studio has a black circle with a page number reference. These citations are extremely useful and the rules would be even more lost on me without these anchor points.
The game uses Terminology such as Scenes, Pages, Actions, Conflicts and Goals to pace and drive (there are Drives too) the action (but not Actions). As the antagonists and protagonists line up (the players claiming rights to play them and bidding Story Tokens to back this up if they want) and the drama begins to resolve the focus of the game play index cards (remember those?) are used to track Conflicts. Cards and Tokens? Playing to win Tokens? This makes Capes sound and feel a bit like a card or board game?
A quote in the book expresses that one play test group found the rules liberating even though they weren’t a rules heavy group. I think this is possible, some people will like the quirky way Capes is set up but I suspect the game is most appealing as a one off (ie, something of a play test situation). I really doubt mechanics heavy/favouring game groups will find Capes appealing. Those gaming groups interested in creating memorable characters might find the lack of cohesion a turn off – Captain Ratman may seem more likely to take risks in one encounter (with player A at the helm) and then rather timid in another (with player B at the helm). The same goes for plot weavers. There’s no planning here – in fact, players wrestle with one another to throw in plot twists which favour their own current assets.
Capes, I think, works best as an easy drop in game. This is a game to play between other campaigns.
Rather handily it doesn’t take long to start a game of Capes. You go for the Click and Lock system and make use of pre-loaded templates, you can go through the chargen process from scratch or you can mix-and-max.
It turns out that after the faff of Pages, Conflicts and Goals the core mechanics – the actual mechanics are fairly straight forward. You do have to roll a handful of multicoloured d6 now and then but many gamers like that. There aren’t too many skills or attributes, Capes is not mechanically county, you just have to keep an eye on your Tokens.
Capes is a game that I can’t settle with. It does nothing terribly wrong – except tease me with a great idea and then fail to follow through with a great solution. This isn’t a game I’ll leave untouched on the back of the shelf. This is simply a game that I’ll bring out on those rare occasions when nothing else seems to fit the mood.