Posted on April 15, 2009 by GRIM
MSG™ Executive Edition is a satirical RPG about what I shall reservedly term ‘Corporate marketing bollocks’ and the rat race. Players take on the roles of company representatives, ‘reps’ and each turn The Company (the role of which shifts between players) tries to crush the players or get them to crush each other. Yes, it’s one of those new-wave poncey indie games under the thick shell of satire and piss-taking. In spite of that, for an indie game, it’s a fairly weighty 130+ pages.
MSG™ Executive Edition is a story-focussed, semi-GMless, resource management and risk assessment oriented indie game. That’s a torrent of buzzwords that wouldn’t be out of place in the game itself. To clarify…
This is a fairly rules-light game thereby focusing more intently on the story and drama, rather than complex rules mechanics.
It’s semi-GMless in that the ‘GM’ role rotates around the table from person to person and the traditional GM arbitration and control role is abrogated by the resource/risk system, leaving the determining of story result – if not context – more up to the individual players.
It’s a resource management game because you’re shepherding your corporate resources and choosing when and where to spend them to the greatest effect on the ongoing game.
It’s a risk assessment game because if you spend your resources in the wrong place or overextend yourself, you’re boned.
It’s an indie game because these are the sorts of themes and systems that turn up in what’s called the ‘indie’ RPG movement, even though anyone who publishes small scale and for themselves is indie really!
The artwork is a mix of photographs and Flash-style reduced images a-la Mirror’s Edge. The art is a lot more successful than the photography but going all out for that corporate flash-site look would have been a big improvement I think, as would have been seriously over-producing the book. I’d love to see a second edition in A5, the corporate equivalent of Mao’s ‘little red book’ or as spiral-bound ‘corporate DNA’.
The writing is best when it’s going into the exposition and setting (such as it is) and reminds me of Doug Naylor’s writing in Incompetence or Fat. This is on the comedic side of the corporate dystopia side of things and could, in many ways, be considered the spiritual successor to Paranoia, if it were a little more accessible to casual play and a touch more conventional in the way the game plays. Otherwise this is an amusing read and worth reading just for itself, without the game part. There may be a frustrated novel in this.
Characters are described by name, a superficial description, status and expertise, more like a job CV than a character sheet per se. Here’s where one of the most important character choices comes in, to be Freelance or an Assett. Freelancers get to play around and cheat outrageously while Assetts get their own benefits having sold their souls – and brains – to the company store. Expertises are your broad job descriptions, though these can be nigh impenetrable, much as anyone’s job description in a corporate environment already is. Perks and relationships round out the character with a little more customisation and RP interactions while each character also has something tragic in their past that has traumatised them, just to make things extra fun. Lastly you get your ‘Unique Selling Point’ which can be an overall summary of what your character is, or can be something frivolous and crazy. Resources – actualy numerical statistics – are distributed between Compassion and Self, the age old dichotomy between selfishness and altruism, confidence and concern.
The group then moves on to create, between them, their corporate brand. Brands are defined by their name, a collection of buzzwords (one for each player), corporate ‘appearance’ (adverts, logos etc), lastly the company gets resources equal to the total of all the player’s resources (11 x Players) to use for its nefarious ends.
Play itself consists of rounds, each player gets to play the company once and set a ‘Situation’ as well as playing the ‘supporting cast’, the reps then work through the situation in the boardroom and in the field and take their risks. Whoever has the most resources after everyone’s been the company wins and gets to narrate their terrible revenge on the rest of the players.
Once the situation is described and set by the rep the remaining players set about trying to formulate/describe a solution to the situation to draw it to a successful conclusion. In order to do so players can invoke perks, trade in relationships, spend compassion and self and roleplay their socks off while, on the opposite side, the company (and the other reps) may do what they can to balls things up for them, so long as they can still get the situation settled. ‘Soap’ which can be used to bolster resources is cashed in by invoking relationships and making the situations more personal. Basically the more self-aggrandising and pompous a rep can be, the more they can make the game about THEM, the better.
After everyone’s bandied for points and settled on their solution they – and the company – all take their risks and, if they win their risk, get to dictate what happens. Whoever risks the most wins and gets back what their opponent risked to their pool. Pools retain their values but Soap vanishes between turns.
Overall the rules are the type of rules that make much more sense in actual play than they do on paper, but this makes it a difficult game to get into on the fly, even though – otherwise – it’s a good game for pick up play once people know how. In that respect it’s a lot like Baron Munchausen or similar.
For a stripped down, rules-light game this is a touch complex and hard to get into, the rules writing isn’t especially clear and the learning curve is fairly steep to start with. Once you get past that this is an excellent filler game for conventions or a good game for when you just can’t be arsed with a full RPG. It could also serve, if played a bit more ‘straight’, as a good way to come up with companies for dystopian cyberpunk games.
* Nice flash-style artwork.
* Very amusing read.
* Biting satire.
* Steep learning curve.
* Photography would have been better replaced with genuine corporate clipart, made sinister.
* Presentation needs to be dialled up to 11.
Review by James ‘Grim’ Desborough