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TableTop Reviews with Zap!

Jeff Robicheau reviews different tabletop games, some less known then others. Consider these reviews to be an ideal way to learn some interesting little tidbits of information into some new game ideas to play with your group of DnD buddies or BESM pals. You never know, you may like some of these little known gems!

Mouse Guard

Today we explore the world of Mouse Guard; a world of hardship and danger, where even the elements can be more dangerous than a hoard of monsters. In this game instead of humans or fantasy races the world is populated by intelligent mice and their enemies, the weasels. Mouse Guard, with its unique setting and its emphasis on role-playing is a step apart from the usual hack and slash, and to the right group, it can be a refreshing gaming experience.

Mouse Guard, published in 2008, is based off the bi-monthly comic series of the same name by David Petersen. With the help of Luke Crane (the creator of the Burning Wheel game system,) they developed this simple and creative game that combines a simplified version of the Burning Wheel system and the unique setting of the Mouse Guard comics.

Now, this is where I would blather on for a page and a half about the fluff and the setting, but before I get to that I want to talk about the book itself. I don't normally talk about the book because they’re all pretty much the same in look and lay out. Mouse Guard is something different though. First, it is not the standard size measuring 8.5in x 8.5in, with a full wrap around dust jacket which is unseen on most RPG book. These two things make it stand out on the shelf, but when you open it you know you are looking at something different. The layout starts with the general explanation of the game, role-playing and the basic system mechanics, but from there it diverges unlike most games. For example, the character creation, rather than appearing at the beginning, is the last chapter of the book! The main difference though is the way it is written in an almost conversational tone, as if someone is sitting across the table teaching you the rules. With its beautiful artwork and easy to read layout, this book is a great addition to any gamer’s bookshelf (especially this gamer.)
Now, we move on to the fluff. Why? Because it is my favorite part, that’s why.

The world of Mouse Guard is called “the Territories” which consist of a network of cities, towns, and villages that the mice carved out of the wilderness. Here, the mice live their lives working, building, and for some, serving in the Mouse Guard. As I noted before, there are no humans or fantasy races, just intelligent bipedal mice. As far as technology, they are using tools and building homes at a level equivalent to the 12th century in our history. The only other intelligent creatures are the weasels and their brethren (martins, sables, and stoats etc,) and these are the main enemies of the mice. All other creatures are of the same intelligence of our world.

Who are the members of the Mouse Guard? This organization is compiled of the guardians, pathfinders, mail carriers, and if need be, soldiers of the Territories. From the fortified City of Lockhaven, which forms the central hub of the Territories, the Guardmice receive orders and journey out to perform the duties of the guard. Some duties I’ve mentioned before, others are trailblazing, hunting predators, mediating disputes, and maintaining the scent border. The scent border is a scent based barrier that is made up of manufactured territorial markings to keep predators from entering mouse territory.

The Mouse Guard is a self governing entity steeped in tradition, the Guard is always commanded by a female mouse, given the rank of matriarch, with the help of her Captains and administrators beneath her. She governs Lockhaven, determines the Guards’ missions and goals, decides the Guards’ postings and what duties the patrols are to complete. The Guard is responsible for its own survival; it does not take tithes or taxes, receiving support from various towns in the form of gifts and donations. Regardless the Guard sees its duties as a sacred obligation to fulfill. If you want to get a better feel for the Guard and the Territories, you should take a look at the comic it is an excellent read and the artwork is great.

Okay, moving on (yes, I know that wasn't a page and a half, but if you want to know more I do recommend checking out the comic and book yourself... it is worth it.) to the mechanics of the game. First off, I would like to say that the game is about story telling, in particular- shared storytelling. The game is designed to be split between the GM’s turn and the Players’ turn. By that, I mean, that the GM runs his portion of the game by setting the mission, playing out the action, throwing in some twists and challenging the players, then rewarding them for a job well done. The players then drive the story by deciding what to do next, checking supplies, visit family, whatever plays out the rest of the story with the GM playing the NPCs and minds the rules.

This, as you can tell, is one of the many things that set the game apart from the rest. Because the game uses a simplified version of the Burning Wheel system is what is behind it. Those of you know about the Burning Wheel already have a handle on this, but I will assume that most of you do not. So with that in mind lets move on. The system has some unique features it uses D6’s for resolution but it’s the character layout that is most unique. The game makes use of stats like belief, goals and instinct. The belief stat is the core of the game, they represent the character morals and ethical stand points, it is the personal code or what the character is. In game each character has a goal related to the mission, these can change once completed. Instincts add more depth and flavor to a character, these simple stats provide the players and the GM a story hook and make the game interesting for everyone. But they are not just hook and fluffy tidbits, they are tied into the game itself and if you play your character right you get rewarded.

Combat is quite different as well. All conflicts whether they are arguments, fights, negotiations, or war are resolved in the same manner. The Characters break down into teams, most often the players versus the GM. They pick a goal for the conflict which represents what they are trying to accomplish. Next you determine your starting disposition, these are basically your hit points, once a team’s disposition gets to zero the conflict ends and they lose. After determining your disposition you choose three actions in advance, choosing from attack, maneuver, defend, and feint. These apply differently from conflict to conflict but are pretty much the same. Then the conflict is played out, each team revealing one action at a time comparing and resolving the actions and repeating this for all three actions. Rolling and role play are used during each step until you have a winner and a loser or it ends up with a compromise where both sides get something. Sometimes a player will fail a test or can’t overcome an obstacle that they really need to, for a price they can though. That is where conditions come into play. There are six conditions all have penalties that affect the character in some way... They are healthy, hungry and thirsty, angry, tired, injured, and sick. So maybe you DO succeed after all, but end up tired and angry.

Character creation, in this game it is the last thing covered in the book... and it is only 21 easy steps! That might seem like a lot but is a great system that produces a very organic character with a back story and skills gained from parents and mentors and life. It is not as daunting as it first seems, it is mostly answering simple questions.

All in all, this game is unique in the fact that, unlike most RPGs that have you playing a character that is a larger than life hero, in Mouse Guard you play the roll of the smallest and fragile creature... struggling against the elements and nature to survive in a dangerous world where you’re the bottom of the food chain. This game is great for everyone, old and new gamers alike. It is also good for those first time GMs because of the way it is structured.

Everyone should give this game a try; in fact you should go out and buy the book right now! But, anyway, I hope you enjoyed this look into another unique game and whether you play this one or any other, have fun and enjoy the experience.

And remember, no matter what you play, have fun and never stop using your imagination.


Written By Jeff Robicheau. Edited by Tyler Clapp. All references, icons, and imagery are trademark to their appropriate owners, and author and editor take no credit for creation/ownership of these things, only the opinions stated in this article.