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Jason
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The Basics:

Mouse Guard is a Burning Wheel implementation set in David Petersens also titled “Mouse Guard” universe. It follows the trials and tribulations of a society of mice trying to carve out an existence in the world in the face of predators, fickle weather and their own natures.

Physical Presentation 5/5

What can I say that hasn't been before. It's a great box, a nice map with mouse pawns, well designed book with "expansion" booklet. Art is top notch and sets the mood of the game perfectly. The dice that come with the game are great as well!

All the art is from David Petersen which has been pulled from the comics, with a few new pieces. So it's obviously very unified, very thematic and appropriate.

There are also dice! Custom made Mouse Guard dice, 3 snakes, 2 swords and 1 Black Axe for the faces. The snakes represent failures, the swords and axe are success. The Axe is also the kicker to trigger more dice to be rolled.

Mouse pawns and map are also included in the boxed set. While for the most part they do not serve any function in the game, they are really nice pieces to have. If you’ve read the books you will recognize the mouse-headed pawns from the briefing room. I would have liked to have a copy of the game they play in the series, but...ah well.

There is also a nice sturdy GM’s shield with the typical data relevant to running a game, as well as a supplement with some advanced rules and new missions.

Also included with the game is a set of cards. There are 3 “sets”, one with “Conditions”, “Weapons” and “Conflicts”. The conflict cards are the most handy since it allows the players to choose their 3 actions without the need to write them down from turn to turn. Weapons cards are a quick reference for the different weapons and their effect on combat, and conditions are the conditions you can earn during play along with a description of their effect on the mouse.


Rules Layout 4/5

The rules are laid out fairly straightforward. It gives a rough overview of each section, then a deep dive into the Mouse Guard universe, then on basic mechanics and concepts. Interestingly enough, character generation is in the back of the rules. Examples are sprinkled throughout the rules sections to give a rough idea of how each portion interlinks.

One other interesting quirk of the book is that there is no clearly delineated “Players Section” and “GM’s Section”, the book intertwines the portions for players and GMs. The closest is the “Missions” section, which gives advice on how to set up scenarios. How to resolve conflicts is after the Missions section, which makes a certain amount of sense if you are the GM, but probably not so much if you are a player only. In some ways this could cause a bit of confusion when reading the rules from cover to cover, but a really good index and table of contents helps alleviate this.

Mechanics 5/5

The mechanics are fairly simple on the surface. It is an exploding dice mechanic with D6's. You gather a pool of dice depending upon situation, skills, traits, etc and roll. 4+ on each die is a single success, with a “6” being a potential additional die.However, they only "explode" if a player rolls at least 1 "6" and then spends a fate point to blow 'em up! This could lead to a chain reaction of dice as you spend the fate point only once, and then continue to roll dice as long as you continue to roll 6's.

At it’s base, you must meet or exceed an Obstacle number (OB) by reaching a certain number of successes. Those are called “independent tests”. A “versus” test is as the term implies, a test against something that is actively trying to achieve it’s own goals, those are rolled the same way, tally up the dice pool, roll, add up successes, spend FATE to reroll “6”s. Subtract lower from higher and then narrate what happens.

The Mouse Guard is not a typical “stat based” system, but is more narrative driven in both game play and in how to “build” a character. At the core of each character is a Belief, this is what that mouse believes most strongly. A player should play their character with this Belief in mind, and the job of the GM is to challenge this belief, force the character into situations that may make them bend...or break...their own beliefs. Each mission begins with a Goal for the players as well, this is something the players need to strive to meet.

Conflict resolution is an interesting rock/paper/scissors system. This is the same for any sort of conflict, speech and debate, combat, war...or anything else that could be considered a conflict. Each side chooses 3 different actions and orders them 1-2-3, these actions include “attack”, “maneuver”, “feint” and “defend”. These are then revealed during each ‘phase’ and then compared. The match up will dictate what actions are taken by each side. In some cases, an action completely trumps another, leaving one side utterly defenseless. That’s not all though, Mouse Guard is big on narrative, so players (and GM) need to be prepared to explain how their actions work in the scene. This can have an effect on the outcome as well.

How do you know who wins? Well, each side has what is called “disposition”, this is determined at the beginning of the conflict and is generated depending upon the conflict type. Once one side’s disposition has been reduced to 0, they have been defeated. However, the does not mean the victor is unscathed; depending upon how much disposition is lost by the “winner”, concessions may be made. Concessions take the form of “conditions”, twists, or other complications that may be brought up.

However, there is one niggling part of the game that frustrates me, it is the constant use of the term “checks”. In the traditional sense of the word, when you are called to make a “check” it is a roll against an attribute or skill. For Mouseguard, it is the actual physical check mark you make on your character sheet when you “tap” a trait. These checks are vitally important, as they are used by the character to recover from conditions, increase skills and so on.

Character Generation 5/5

This is one of the few games I've played where I really enjoy creating a character. First off, like most RPG’s, you need a concept, from there you decide on the mouse’s age and relative rank in the guard. These dictate your Health and Willpower scores. From there you are led to a few questionnaires about your character to determine another attribute known as “Nature”. Each part in the process is a slice of your characters life, and their behaviours. They also dictate what your character is skilled in and what they may learn. Skills are a very limited set, but are very broad in their usage. A player must also decide on who was their parents, mentor, who apprenticed them at an early age, as well as who is a close friend...and a bitter rival. These all become important in game-play, as they may crop up from time to time, as they do in real life. I find myself creating characters based off of my first mouse and then expanding the relationship network all over. Basically the character creation process also writes the guardmouse’s backstory and history, both in and out of the guard.

Ease of use 5/5
Indexes...yes, anyone that reads my reviews knows that I highly value a well thought out and useful index. So, yes, Mouseguard has an index in the proper spot of the book - at the end.

Overall Impressions

I really enjoy the Mouse Guard RPG. I find very little to want from it, from the simple but effect resolution, to consistent rules, to the engaging character building process. The world David Petersen has build for mice struggling to survive is vibrant and alive, and Mouse Guard just helps to make it so. I heartily give it 5 guardsmice out of 5.



This review is part of the 2012 RPG Review contest.
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Steven
United States
Spokane
Washington
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"The mystery of life isn't a problem to solve, but a reality to experience"
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Great review! Might I add that Jason is doing a wonderful job GMing the first MG PBF here too.

One point:

I think that Checks are a little different than you describe. Players earn checks play using their traits against themselves during the GM turn. They earn varying amounts if they subtract a die from their total, give the GM an extra two dice during a test, or break a tie in favor of the GM during a versus test. Players also need to justify why their traits would impeed them. For example, my mouse has the tall trait. During a chase conflict, with a predator trying to catch our fleeing patrol, I give the GM two additional dice. I tell the GM, because my mouse is taller than normal, it is easier for the Hawk chasing us to see my mouse in the grass!

These checks can then be used for a variety of different purposes, but mainly they are used to allow the players to do more during the Player Turn.

Overall I think the Check system is a very fun mechanic which lends itself to making the game more challenging and to put it simply, make the game more meaningful. You have to earn those checks, to suffer and struggle, to get to do more what you want.
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Jason
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Thanks, Steven. For some reason I just can't get my head wrapped around the checks, not exactly sure why.
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Steven
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Oh I understand the feeling! It took me a few readings to figure it out too. I wish they had used a different word, but it does mean exactly what it says: you earn "checks", literally putting a check mark by the trait on your character sheet, when you use a trait against yourself.

This is one of those cases where already having experience with RPGs and other game systems can actually impede you.
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Jonna Hind
Finland
Helsinki
Uusimaa
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“Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.” ― Steve Maraboli
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"Be happy with being you. Love your flaws. Own your quirks. And know that you are just as perfect as anyone else, exactly as you are." Ariana Grande
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SW_Cygnus wrote:
Oh I understand the feeling! It took me a few readings to figure it out too. I wish they had used a different word, but it does mean exactly what it says: you earn "checks", literally putting a check mark by the trait on your character sheet, when you use a trait against yourself.

This is one of those cases where already having experience with RPGs and other game systems can actually impede you.

Yay, so there's something in which it pays off to be newbie like me
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Jonna Hind
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“Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.” ― Steve Maraboli
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"Be happy with being you. Love your flaws. Own your quirks. And know that you are just as perfect as anyone else, exactly as you are." Ariana Grande
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SW_Cygnus wrote:
Great review! Might I add that Jason is doing a wonderful job GMing the first MG PBF here too.

I concur!
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Kris Vanhoyland
Belgium
Genk
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The Mouseguard box set has been parked on my wishlist for what seems forever, it looks like a wonderful RPG that has the potential to appeal to a great many people, I just haven't gotten around to tracking down a copy.
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ketchupgun
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this game, seems to me, knows storytelling.

"A story without conflict, is like music without sound."
- Robert McKee

and this game is conflict after conflict after conflict. I'm very happy to own it and can't wait for my sons to get older.
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