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Oath Pre-Review

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23 Nov 2020 10:10 #316457 by Gary Sax
Oath Pre-Review was created by Gary Sax
It is unusual to review a game before it is...

Oath creates a grand narrative.  While I believe it will develop an extremely devoted following among players who brave several plays and are not averse to the traditional characteristics of the multiplayer conflict genre, it is going to fall flat among many of the people designer Cole Wehrle brought onboard with his much more approachable Root.

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23 Nov 2020 11:27 #316458 by Msample
Replied by Msample on topic Oath Pre-Review
Great write up. While it sounds pretty interesting, I think I will be glad I passed on this one as I think it would not hit the table often enough to gain the competency for fast play. How strong/necessary is the legacy element if players drop in.out?

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23 Nov 2020 11:37 #316461 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic Oath Pre-Review
Not necessary at all, the game is intentionally made to allow people to drop in and out pretty seamlessly. BUT I think it enhances the experience a lot because you grow with the board state and you've seen the key cards the current board state is revolving around and developed some love/hate for some of the existing combos. Missing a game here and there is no big deal, and in fact might provide a fun surprise when you come back to the game and someone has built up a huge empire.
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23 Nov 2020 11:49 #316463 by hotseatgames
Replied by hotseatgames on topic Oath Pre-Review
Great article! I too am glad I passed. I think if I had a group that could make this work, I'd rather we played Dune.

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23 Nov 2020 17:09 - 23 Nov 2020 17:20 #316482 by Not Sure
Replied by Not Sure on topic Oath Pre-Review

Msample wrote: Great write up. While it sounds pretty interesting, I think I will be glad I passed on this one as I think it would not hit the table often enough to gain the competency for fast play. How strong/necessary is the legacy element if players drop in.out?


Competency for fast play doesn't take 25 games, maybe 4-5. The first one is a doozy, though. There are a lot of actions, and they vary a lot in complexity so it's really hard to get a picture of what to do on your first game. Then once you have an idea of what you can do, you can start putting things together in the next few games.

Dropping in and out is pretty easy, but if you're playing without a notion of the "next game", some of the more intricate bits don't always make a ton of sense. Specifically, the "Citizen" aspect of the game is rarely going to benefit someone in the game they're in unless it's a kingmaking sort of deal. You gain access to a different win condition that you haven't been working towards, and if you've been after a Vision win then your work towards that no longer applies. So the Chancellor is unlikely to offer citizenship to a player still in the hunt for a win (and they're unlikely to accept!). In many circumstances, being a citizen is just "lose differently".

That said, it can be a great move to pick up someone who's running last and elevate them to a citizen to help seal this game, and then they start with a slightly better position next game, having a clear victory goal from turn 1 that even takes precedence over the Chancellor's own victory goal. Without some expected continuity, those discussions become pretty moot.

In a world that didn't have literally thousands of releases every year, this would be a shining star. If this had been published in the 80s, it would be one of the biggest grail games around. But with so much competition and new title churn, I don't think it's ever going to get the repeat plays it needs to sink in. I'm glad it's being published, but i don't expect a second print run of this game. It's definitely not Root.


edit: Also, I agree "great writeup"! I'm glad you took the time to distill all those plays into something coherent and approachable. It's a tricky game to get your head around at first, and "will I like it?" can be pretty hard to answer from the just the rulebook in this case.
Last edit: 23 Nov 2020 17:20 by Not Sure.
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23 Nov 2020 18:25 #316485 by Shellhead
Replied by Shellhead on topic Oath Pre-Review
I really like the concept of Oath, but it's unlikely that I would actually enjoy playing. I have played Root three times now, and still don't enjoy it at a fundamental level because it feel likes interesting mechanics were created first and then had the setting slapped on afterwards. I greatly prefer games that were designed in the opposite manner, where the designer starts with theme and setting and then translates those into a game through the mechanics. This sounds like a petty and arbitrary difference, but it means a lot to me, because starting with mechanics often produces a non-intuitive distance between mechanics and subject matter. That in turn makes it harder to remember rules and exceptions, and the stories that the game tells might be diminished by the more gamey elements.

The other major problem that I have had with Root is that I really like asymmetric factions in general, but they are so extremely asymmetric in Root that they seem to end up somewhat scripted in terms of strategy. You can literally see the script on each faction's dashboard. That, and the asymmetry in Root feels like it reduces the potential interaction in the game to less direct than the type of interaction I like to see in a multi-player game. I get the impression that those issues are not a problem for Oath.

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23 Nov 2020 18:50 - 23 Nov 2020 18:50 #316488 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic Oath Pre-Review
I've definitely never felt the Root factions were created mechanics before theme, but to each their own.

Scripted directions are not a feature of Oath, for sure, that semi-scripted part of Root is one of my issues with it too. Some Root factions are worse than others with that, a faction like Woodland Alliance feels very scripted.
Last edit: 23 Nov 2020 18:50 by Gary Sax.

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23 Nov 2020 19:16 - 23 Nov 2020 19:19 #316489 by mc
Replied by mc on topic Oath Pre-Review
Yeah, you can't deny the way a game feels for you, and games where the mechanisms stick out of the theme are the ones I bounce off the hardest,BUT Wehrle has discussed in various places the way he designs, which is that he tends to have 2 questions in mind - a thematic one, and a mechanical one. Things start to develop when the two questions form a kind of coherent whole, basically. I too found the factions fairly thematic. But - I can see how they also are a little mechanical, all the steps, etc.


BTW thanks for the write-up Gary. I'd echo the first couple of comments there too; I held off even thought the excitement was high about the ideas. Got an email to do a late pledge or whatever the other day and started getting the feels again. Timely article :) Just wouldn't get it played, I think.
Last edit: 23 Nov 2020 19:19 by mc.
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23 Nov 2020 19:36 #316490 by Not Sure
Replied by Not Sure on topic Oath Pre-Review
"wouldn't get it played" never stops me. That's the story of my whole game collection.

If I were to guess, I'd say some of the Root factions were theme-first (particularly Vagabond) and some were mechanics-first, or at the very least needs-based (like the guerilla Alliance or the bartering Otters).

But to swing it back to Oath (derailment mea culpa), Oath is about as much like Root as Root is like Pax Pamir or John Company. Which is to say not very alike at all. There are some similarities in design sensibilities across those games (high-negotiation, willingness to play off-table, closed-resource economies) because they're from the same designer, but that's it.

My purpose in mentioning Root is that I don't think this game is going to be a huge hit. I think it will sell a lot of copies up-front (because of Root and Pax Pamir), people will cycle it, and then be on the secondary market for a long long time.

As it happens, I really like Cole's design sensibilities and the games that he makes. They don't really fit easily into the "play-em-all-quick" space in the hobby, though. Doubly so when you factor in how much he likes harsh economies, fuzzy alliances, kingmaking, etc.
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23 Nov 2020 20:41 #316491 by Andi Lennon
Replied by Andi Lennon on topic Oath Pre-Review
Having passed on Root and yet to unbox Pax Pamir 2e I remain unmolested by Werhlegigs thus far but the emergent narrative aspect of this has me super intrigued and glad I backed it.

My favourite element of my favourite game KD:M is almost entirely the stories that were crafted by emergent circumstances that evolved out of scant prompts and story nubs across successive sessions. The exposition was entirely our own to weave and that made the experience 'ours'. I just hope it gels with the group in a way that invites sustained play.

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24 Nov 2020 07:05 #316496 by Ah_Pook
Replied by Ah_Pook on topic Oath Pre-Review
Great write up is a game that is definitely not for my play group. I love reading about it though.

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30 Nov 2020 18:39 #316710 by Tamburlain
Replied by Tamburlain on topic Oath Pre-Review
I'm an Oath backer and I hope not a soon-to-be disappointed one. My primary concern is the touted emergent narrative. Admittedly, I have not played the game yet, but in watching several run-throughs I'm having difficulty conjuring the mental cinema of what exactly is happening, which is not a problem I've had with Root and Pax Pamir. Could it a limitation of the somewhat abstract map? What does it mean when magic is canceled, for instance, or when visions are revealed, or citizenship awarded? Do the cards in the tableau truly evoke a world? The mental picture is fuzzy when watching it played. Combat is easy enough to envision, but without a real historical context, even that seems to lack dynamism. By way of comparison, Root takes place in a meadow with physical landmarks that spark the same imago mundi of Mouse Guard and a the long tradition of other woodland references. I'm eager to get the game and see for myself. I would like to invite anyone who's played the game to share their imaginings.
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30 Nov 2020 19:59 - 30 Nov 2020 20:58 #316716 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic Oath Pre-Review
I feel like people have been taking this review as being pretty negative! I think this game is *wonderful* and far, far better and more interesting than Root! I have it rated as a 10.

I haven't had a hard time thematically at all---the cards are *quite* specific in what group or supporter is helping you and how. And the game runs on the card plays, with the menu of action choices being pretty straightforward in terms of their verbs. You have an advisor or denizen of Arcane plague engines, or Nomad elders, or Order shield wall controlled... it's pretty clear you've enlisted their political support and the powers tend to be pretty spot on thematic.

The thing that, I think, makes Oath a little different than Root or the like is that the cards are broadly indicative of an asset, faction or group supporting you in your quest for the throne. An Oath board is a geographically abstract representation of the political, cultural, and economic situation of a state. So it paints a broader political and military picture unlike the very specific, detailed narrative a Root game makes (as you mention). A game of Oath is a lot more like the events described in a few chapters of the Game of Thrones books than a single, military-focused, conflict. Here's my first game from the other, Oath specific, thread in the forums if this helps:

"I just played a solo two handed game of this and it was absolutely wild, delightful shit. It was supremacy and the Chancellor took territory and managed to get lots of denizen cards on the board, in particular playing toll roads and curfew, which completely left the exile out in the hinterlands dead in the water because of the punishing action restrictions in any part of the realm. By turn 6 they had no sites ruled and the chancellor had 6! In turn 5, though, the completely out of it exile drew lost heir on a "what else should I do, drawing from the world deck only costs 2 due to darkest secret" draw from the world deck and put it face down. From just holding the darkest secret at the beginning and down 2-1 in relics at the start of turn 6, the exile bought the people's favor (a relic) and then bought the sticky fire relic at their site with the last of their resources, flipped up long lost heir to become a citizen, then rolled for the end of the game. 5. Citizen red wins.

This shit writes itself. Court noble starts a civil war, is resoundingly beaten and driven to the hinterlands as the king consolidates and develops a police state in the realm (very effective order cards), then in the hinterlands slums finds out that he is the unknown bastard son via his intelligence network (darkest secret), whereupon he takes the people's favor by showing off an ancient family relic (sticky fire).

An individual game of this is super short so I think this sort of stuff is just going to be a blast."

That thread has other people mentioning some of their stories too, this one was from an older version of the playtest so some of the mechanisms have changed slightly.
Last edit: 30 Nov 2020 20:58 by Gary Sax.
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30 Nov 2020 22:50 #316723 by Cyrus
Replied by Cyrus on topic Oath Pre-Review
I'm not sure, it might just be me but I don't think that it'll be too hard to create your own narritive.

I don't know most of the cards but say you get a vision of prophecy, to me, that sounds like your exile encountered a holy figure/prophet of some sort who has sent your exile on a genuine religious war to topple the government and usher in a theocracy. Maybe they had a Mohammed Esque vision on the mountain top and will lead their followers to topple the empires of old. I don't think you need a historical setting to draw from history in creating your own narrative.
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01 Dec 2020 04:42 - 01 Dec 2020 06:26 #316730 by sornars
Replied by sornars on topic Oath Pre-Review
Excellent review! I find it funny to know how enamoured with the game you are yet how the perception after this review has been somewhat negative. I think that's a testament to the fact that the things you love or are willing to overlook will also cause a lot of people to bounce off of the game.

As someone who really struggled to see the narrative in early games due to the density of rules, once I'd mostly internalised them, the narrative elements did come front and center and I started to become surprised and delighted by how individual games played out. I still sometimes struggle to see the narrative during the game but when I think back and reflect afterwards I start to identify the key characters, locations and pivotal moments with big swings in fate.

I think the notebook included with the game is not just a random tchotchke - having the victor fill it in afterwards will really enhance the experience in a non-contrived way. You don't even have to go full RPG with it, a few sentences describing how the match played out should be enough. To my previous point on post-game reflection, taking a few minutes to fill it in afterwards will solidify the narrative for everyone, even if it's just one perspective (which is a fun parallel to real history too!).
Last edit: 01 Dec 2020 06:26 by sornars.
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