This post originally appeared over on Nearly Enough Dice
Engrenages: First Impressions
Sunday afternoon of Conpulsion I got a chance to play in a demo of Engrenages, a game in development by a group of students from Kedge Business School in France. While the game is still in development I wanted to provide my first impressions of the game. Before I do though I’ll first point you to the interview Nearly Enough Dice conducted with two of the developers, which you can find here.
The setting for Engrenages is an alternative history steampunk world, sometime in the late 19th century. The setting differs from the typical steampunk, however, due to the presence of the Secade, a reptilian race whose civilization controls the majority of the North American continent (and possibly South America as well). The European expansion into the continent has, therefore, been limited to a scattering of settlements along the Eastern seaboard. Chief amongst these is the city of Havengrinn, where the expatiates of the Old World seek political power by day and occult knowledge by night. Combined together the world provides an interesting and different take on the steampunk genre while the inclusion of the Secade encourages a strong pulp feel and suggests adventure and exploration are going to be important components of the final game. The demo scenario was focused around the exploration of a ruined city, located within the no-mans land between Secade and human territory and the discovery of an ancient temple that may help humanity develop their understanding of the Secade culture and civilization. The adventure was fairly interesting, although a few of the scenes felt forced or out of place, in part because they added little to the flow of the story.
The central mechanic of Engrenages is a basic die roll + fixed attribute / skill bonus, however, on making a skill roll players must choose whether their action draws upon chaos or order (represented by different coloured dice) and roll accordingly. This choice is designed to impact directly on the narrative, both in terms of the way skills are being performed and the way the result pans out. Depending on the situation the GM may force use of a particular die or alter what is achievable depending on whether an ordered or chaotic approach is utilised. Take, as an example Indiana Jones, a classic pulp hero archetype. During his many adventures he’s likely to use his archaeology skill to decode ancient riddles, saving him from an untimely death from the traps concealed in the temples he is investigating. Such an action would force use of the chaos die, as he’s likely charged in, set the trap off and is trying to stop it before he goes squish. If however he had gone in with a more cautious approach then he could have used his order die, decoding the riddle in advance and avoiding setting the trap off at all.
While it wasn’t included as part of the demo the chaos / order mechanic would also be well suited to incorporate an advantage / complications system similar to that of Fate’s aspects, where the aspect can be utilised to provide both a bonus and a penalty. For Engrenages this would work well where the aspect provides a bonus to a skill when used with one die type and a penalty when using it with the other. Going back to the Indiana Jones example he could easily have an aspect along the lines of “Brilliant explorer” which would provide a bonus when using the chaos die in combination with his archaeology skill. However a more ordered approach, such as combing through library texts, bore our hero to the point that he often misses important details, represented by a penalty when using an order die to make archaeology checks.
Based on the demo and from talking to the creators of the game Engrenages has done pipped my interest enough to keep an eye out on it. At present it appears to very much be a game that is a work in progress so it will be interesting to see what directions it takes in the long run so expect to hear more about the game as and when information becomes available. In the meantime you can find out more about Engrenages on their blog.