Mouse Guard (a review)

13 10 2009

mouse_guard_rpg_coverMouse Guard is a roleplaying game where players assume the role of mice (no surprise there) from the comic books of the same name. 

The rulebook is lovely and for someone like me that likes to create characters, it was awesome – but more of that later.

The mice in the game are, to all intents and purposes, like humans.  They stand on their hind legs and perform human type activities.  The Guard are the ones that protect the communities from all threats – from crows to weasels.  To conclude the background, it is set in a medieval world but there is no magic – nor do you encounter any humans. 

If you know Burning Wheel, you know Mouse Guard.  If you don’t it doesn’t matter.  The book starts with a background to the world and role-playing in general before moving on to characters.

Character generation was, for me, almost a game in itself.  Unlike many role-playing games where one warrior is much like another, there is no excuse with Mouse Guard to play the same character twice.  But I’m getting ahead of myself gain, character creation doesn’t come just yet.

An interesting aspect of the game is the emphasis on beliefs, goals and instincts.  Your mouse has a code that they must live by, a goal that is set before each adventure and an instinct that your mouse automatically follows.  Experience points in part depend on how well you role-play these.

There is a section on missions (adventures) and here is where my love affair started to wane.  I will say up front that I don’t know how much of my disappointment with playing the game was down to the GM and how much was the rules .  I have spoken to another player who waxed lyrical about the game, so perhaps my experience wasn’t typical.

The role-playing aspect of the game is based upon missions.  For missions read obstacles.  The obstacles are weather, wilderness, animals and other mice.   Typically two of these comprise a mission. 

The way the game runs felt to me more like a board-game than a role-playing game.  The GM takes a turn, and then the players take a turn.  To me this felt wrong.  And the turn options were awkward for me.  More than half the time my turn consisted of offering a bonus to the leader of my group – as did most of the other PCs. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of options available but my experience differed from the theory.  Actions are typically opposed and continue until there is a winner and a loser. 

There are sections on the ‘world,’ other animals and the weather (a significant aspect of this game).

Getting back to characters, one interesting choice the PC has is, how close to natural mice behaviour do you want to be?  Closeness leads to benefits in mouse-type skills – like hiding or foraging.  Going against your nature gives more opportunities for skill progression.

The creation of the character is heavily slanted towards their background.  What your parents’ did for a living for example will enable you to take skill ranks in an associated area.  Characters also have ‘wises’ (areas of knowledge) and traits (special abilities).  Traits, by definition, have a positive and a negative side to them.  Being alert helps spot things but can make you anxious.

The character generation is actually referred to as recruitment.  Depending on your choice of rank and background – your lifepath – your points to allocate to things like skills and resources vary considerably.  Youth has benefits – as does age.  It’s all about the sort of mouse you want to play.

And this links to my second concern.  One mouse is typically the leader of the group and I found I spent a large proportion of my time supporting him – as the leader – rather than developing my own character.

As I’ve said before, I don’t know how much of my misgiving is down to the game and how much is down to the GM.  Will I try it once more?  Yes, but I’ll take some convincing.  That’s not to say this is in any way a poor product. 

 I can see huge appeal to younger players, new to role-playing (plus the fact that death is rare) and to groups wanting something different (and who have an inventive GM).  But I do think this is a Marmite product – people will either love it or hate it.




2 responses

21 10 2009
MJ Harnish

It sounds like the GM ran the game wrong – you should have no more than one GM turn and one player turn per session (assuming a normal 2-4 hour length) – the “turns” refer more to the pacing of the session and how hard the GM gets to push the players.

“Supporting characters” really only happens in helping a team member with a skill test – your character should have been pretty autonomous. Similarly, the patrol leader is the mouse in charge but the patrol works much more like a democracy with no real formal “rank” order – the book explicitly points this out. As such, the patrol should work as a team with each member contributing different specialities and thus taking the “lead” at various points of the adventure.

Finally, it sounds like the GM largely ignored the various characters’ beliefs and goals since they are supposed to drive the story – he’ supposed to push, challenge, and exploit them to involve each character (and thus player) throughout the session.

You can read through some of my MG AP reports on my blog if you want a better idea of how the game should run.

21 10 2009

Thanks for this. I can only review as I find but I hoped in the report I did point out that I recognised the GM may well have been a factor in my enjoyment of the game. Certainly Burning Wheel is well reviewed.

It gives me food for thought for another blog – where does enjoyment (or not) of a game rely on the system and when does the GM help (or hinder).

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