This review is one of the reviews I am doing as part of the peer review process for the “Last Chance” Game Chef game design competition.
In Dark Beast, Dark Name one player assumes the role of the “GM/Doctor/Beast” and the other three players are travelers who have confronted the beast throughout their lives / lifetimes? The tone of the game is dark and foreboding.
The game begins with the GM lighting a candle, and passing out materials. Each player writes down a personal secret on an index card, if their character is eliminated they are supposed to share the secret. Each player is associated with a different face card, Jack, Queen, and King. The Ace is reserved for the GM. Numbered cards are separated from face cards into two piles. Each player is dealt a numbered card which is used as their defense / clarity card. Each round a number card is drawn, and each player draws a portion of the beast, and adds to its name depending on the number of the card. If a player has a same color match to their number card they can claim the card as additional clarity. Next, a face card is drawn. The player associated with the face card takes “damage” and becomes the spotlight character for the round. Play continues until one of the end game scenarios occurs.
There is a lot of potential in this game. Individual components of the game each add something interesting. The idea of protecting a personal secret is a good motivator. Recreating the drawings could be used as the basis for a really interesting mechanic, maybe like an advanced sort of hangman. The notion of aged individuals coming together to commiserate over shared ordeals is classic, and a solid hook. Unfortunately, for as much good as there is here there is a long way to go.
The Less Good
While I like the different components of the game, I don’t feel like they are integrated in a way that enforces play. For example, drawing and naming the beast is an interesting activity, but it does not really have any impact on the game. And, while the idea of protecting your secret is compelling, the game does not really give you much to do to actually protect it, everything seems predetermined based on card draw.
Another issue I had is with presentation. I’m not exactly sure why pastebin was selected for the distribution method, but it certainly did not work favorably. I ended up having to pull down the text and do a little reformatting before reading it. There are also several confusingly worded procedures, and organizational issues.
Dark Beast, Dark Name has several good ideas but lacks the cohesive structure necessary to leverage the individual components of the game. I would like see a second revision of the game. My recommendation would be to first start with a focus on structure and clarity. Work on reorganizing the pieces of the game and continue to get peer reviews to work out he kinks in wording. The next step would be to work on tying the pieces of the game more tightly together. Give the player more tactical ability to defend their secrets, have more mechanical support for drawing and naming the beast, etc…