Kneejerk Review of 2e box set

Hello again!

The box set has been distributed, and I was able to drop by Atomic Empire in Durham, NC for pick-up. I’ll have more to say about the kneejerk review piece-by-piece, but here’s the opening post of the thread.

First reaction is: this box is heavier than expected. I thought it would be a lite-weight!

The box set has the core rules text in a softcover bound book–good stuff; I’m happy to have another copy. It also includes the softcover book of New Rules New Mission–just as the previous box set. Other similarities to the first box set is:

  • map of the territories
  • GM Screen
  • GM info sheets
  • PC character sheets
  • dice
  • cards

There are two ways to look at this box set. One perspective is that everything is the same with only the rules updates. Another perspective is: I didn’t buy the first box set, so this is all new stuff for me. Oh, did you think there would be a second perspective which applies to you–the reader?! Well, you can look at things in this way: you get to read about it from a perspective of someone who never had the first box set. (I did buy the 1e box set supplement in .pdf format)

I’m pleased to see the dice, but most of my play right now is online. I’m not sure when I’ll get to have a table game group in future. This is a fairly niche game and it can be difficult to get players who take it as seriously as I’d like. Still, just getting folks to give a willing try is worth loads.

I’m pleased to see the cards, and very hopeful that at a table game these physical reminders will serve as the ultimate tool for engagement during Conflicts, and understanding Conditions & Recovery.

I’m pleased to see the map; I always printed a copy which I could use by drawing in red and blue. The red would be the mission critical points from Gwendolyn and the Duties; the blue would be sideline items that might be beneficial for Gwendolyn and the Guard. Having a fine quality map is nice, but I’ll still print a copy for drawing.

I’m pleased to see the PC sheets and GM sheets; I’ve nearly always printed these as a GM, and having players print a copy is entirely rare.

I’m pleased to see the rule book and supplement; these are a nice additional bonus.

I’m pleased to see the GM screen, and I expect this will be an excellent point to discuss further in the kneejerk review.

Please don’t anticipate daily reading updates; I’ll keep up a schedule of posts, but I’m super busy. I doubt I’ll be reading through daily with comments or notes.

I’ve been thinking about the kneejerk reaction, and it’s past time to get an update started.

The first thing on my mind is the fine quality map with glossy finish which folds in center. It is a 10x20 page providing the 1150 map with text. This really is a good rendering on the image, and cartographiles (not a word?) should be pleased to see such a fine quality illustration of the Mouse Territories.

I like it, but I don’t think I’ll use it much. I do like it. I simply like it too much to risk damage by using it at the game table.

Also, I find that a smaller printed map in grayscale with low resolution print setting is entirely too useful as an illustration tool for table games. It makes a really good tool for describing the overall mission, where the patrol is going, where the patrol has been, where the patrol found that one thing or that wild place, etc. It’s simply too useful to have a printed map which can be crumpled, flattened, drawn upon, erased, wetted, dried, and put through any other abuse needed at the game table.

The map presents a number of questions which I find unanswered. Sometimes this is probably best, but other times I’m curious about how to find answers. Here’s one: between 1108 and 1150, how many maps have been made?

Think of that!

How often is a full map of the territories being commissioned by the Matriarch? And what is the sort of cost in time, talent, energy, lives, and other resources that the Guard must pay in order to complete such a monumental task? I’m very curious if there are other maps made between those two known maps. I’m totally comfortable making my own answers, but I’m also very curious about Peterson’s perspective on the territorial map.

Stepping stones to a related topic is the question of how many copies of this map are available for the Guard and for common mice to reference and carry. Can any merchant acquire a map of the territories? Would that be within the business resources, or would most merchants simply be pathfinders by memory and other methods of recall? Can a common mouse get a map for recreational travel? or social travel?

[Saxon is with his father in Oakgrove to watch the puppet theater presenting the tale of Baldwin the Brave, so I’m sure they were travelling that short distance as a family trip–possibly as short as a market journey or festival attendance.]

Here’s another: following the 1108 map, what happened to Venn?

Now, this is less of a curiosity, and more of a question about settlement lifespan. See, I image each settlement has a certain lifespan. In the case of Walnutpeck, Woodruff’s Grove, and Ferndale, there isn’t a certain telling of the founding, but there is a fairly well-known death for those settlements. We find these on the 1108 map and know these are present before that commission, and then later find them fallen into lost territory during the Weasel War (or Winter War) of 1149. As we look at the 1150 map, clearly those settlements were already included or well-known enough to be included in the cartography project; however, rather than restart the image on another surface, the mapping commission (because I imagine a team of multiple cartographers) chose to honor those lost, and the heritage of those settlers, by listing the settlements and striking them from the map.

We do not see such an explanation for Venn. What happened? Has the knowledge of or the size of Venn dramatically reduced such that the cartographers didn’t feel a need to list Venn? We can look at a small, short revelation in Baldwin the Brave and Other Tales. In this volume, a tale regarding Sadie’s parents displays Venn as the location where her parents finally chose to be together–though the origin may have been Port Sumac.

[oh, very important aside for those who want to know: Baldwin the Brave and Other Tales presents a map of 1124 in which Venn, Walnutpeck, Woodruff’s Grove, and Ferndale are all listed, giving a stronger curiosity about the establishment and decline of settlements. I take that map as canon, but it is available in no other format than that book. For those who wish to know more, please PM regarding the map image which I took by screen capture.

Not only that, but a talesmith of Cedarloch is quoted, so we see there are other settlements not available on known maps.]

I find myself also greatly intrigued at the question of what areas of topographic or demographic highlights are available throughout the territories. For example, are there more redfur and tawnyfur mice in and around Rustleaf where they can more easily blend with the brightly colored autumn leaves during critical harvest time? Are there more tawnyfur mice near Sandmason? Would mice living primarily near mining towns of Ironwood, Copperwood, Flintrust, and Blackrock find the shorter mice and slenderer mice tend to get by far better? What is the size of the shale formation which provides for Shaleburrow? How far do the fields of ivy extend surrounding Ivydale? What sort of apples are found near Appleloft? That’s more than enough to make my point.

In modern cartography, topographic and demographic details are frequently key purposes of a map. In fact, as an off-the-wall example, my neighborhood social website helped develop a map of the homes which would provide candy to trick-or-treaters for parents to plan a route. Simple, but a true example of a purposeful map with demographic details included.

While I appreciate the light touch Peterson offers to GMs and players allowing them to inject topographic or demographic lore without friction from canon, I also feel many forum posters and fans have asked for more canon and lore from the artist and storyteller, Dave Peterson. It’s his IP–he originated the realm and populated it according to choice (even leaving out any sort of wild cat such as cougar). So, I think this is a flattering topic of respect for the original spirit of Mouse Guard when fans come asking about whether this sort of info can be included somehow or to get a response that works for both the comics and the game.

I’m also intrigued by the known maps to ask about wilderness details, settlement details, and boundary details. I don’t imagine the scent border is a perfectly exact location. I imagine the frequency of weather and wilderness events will severely impact the formation and maintenance of settlements. I’m confident that wilderness topography is constantly shifting in small ways, yet remaining stable in large ways.

The last topic this brings to mind is the idea of smaller, local maps of a group of settlements, an individual settlement, and neighborhoods within settlements. These are all harder to develop without the topographic and demographic details which are mostly unknowns.

The map is a good inclusion and adds value to the box set purchase. Hopefully, it also serves you as a source of questions, an inspiration for stories, and a centerpiece for adventures.

Does New Rules New Mission stay exactly the same as its previous incarnation? or did it get an update as well as the main rules. I have the 1st box set, and while the new box is pretty to look at, shipping cost to my country will be arrgwh.

Hi all, I’ve probably passed the proper time for making another post in the kneejerk review. With some sheepish apology, I submit the next post in the series.

I’ll respond to the question regarding the box set supplement: New Rules New Missions. The easy answer is that nothing has changed, but that’s not wholly accurate.

Let’s move through together. I’ve purchased (in past) the .pdf copy of the box set supplement from 1e. I won’t make direct one-to-one comparisons, and also will not copy rules text directly. So, dear reader, if you have never seen the 1e box set supplement, hopefully this won’t fail to illuminate the benefit of this purchase; whereas, if you have the 1e box set supplement, I hope my review won’t give you pause to purchase the 2e box set.

New Weapons:
This short chapter provides ‘weapons’ of Journey, Speech, Negotiation, and Fight Animal conflicts. Further, it provides description of Mounts in War conflicts and the Mace weapon for fighting or fighting animals.

The weapons of Journey, Speech, Negotiation, and Fight Animal have not changed from 1e rules. These are exactly as previously written. Similarly, the rules of Mounts in War remain unchanged. The rules of Mace are altered to reflect the change given to armor in the 2e rules. So, as the armor is now absorptive, the mace bypasses this feature. It was a simple change of wording to provide the proper function.

New Towns:
Flintrust, Grasslake, and Sandmason are presented wholly unaltered from the 1e box set supplement except for a few marked changes. In this case, these town write-ups provided Recruitment notes regarding Skills and Traits which would typically come from such settlements. In 1e, the towns of Flintrust and Sandmason offered a selection of one Wise and one Skill; that has now been altered to offer a selection of two Skills. You’ll have to buy a copy (or ask someone else) to get those Skills told.

In the spirit of other content, this is unaltered. If you’ve never seen it, this chapter tells GMs and players what to expect when attempting to acquire a mount in Mouse Guard. It isn’t impossible, but it isn’t easy either. Mounts in War is repeated–I don’t know why.

New Missions:
As seen in the 2e rules text, the new mission have been included with minimal alteration. I did find some text has been improved somewhat, but the general structure, Obstacles, and NPCs stats of the missions has been retained.

Unfortunately, the -wise stats on Sadie was also retained, although others were properly edited to reflect the change in Wises. Oops, a small oversight, but I’ve got to mention it.

Lastly, another new mission has been included written by Doug Brundin. I’m pleased to see another mission, but I super jealous–really super jealous–since I love to write custom missions, yet none of mine were invited for inclusion. I’ll get over myself–really I’ll super get over myself. I’ve played once under Doug Brundin as a GM and once had him play under my GMing, so its kinda neat to know the writer.

Now, I want to call out some valuable notes from the additional mission. First, the pre-gens included have a special line under Goals. For each presented character, the Goal has not been written according to the mission; instead, these have been given a clear statement for players to write a goal related to something. I’ll provide one example: Merry, a Guardmouse from the patrol, has the Goal statement of, “Write a goal about leading the way on this dangerous mission.” This is a beneficial addition for introducing players–the pre-gen hasn’t got a specific goal, but does have a suggestion for a player to make a statement while also providing a clue about the character they are selecting to play.

The other valuable note is that of how the Animal Obstacle is presented to the GM vs the Players. In this case, I must be careful. The description for the GM admits the animal selected doesn’t eat mice, while also reminding the GM that the mice (not players, the mice) don’t know that yet. I like this; because, it offers instruction to a GM about creating a secret and a foreshadow of the confrontation. Players might still be quick to draw weapons against this animal, thus, admitting to GMs that mice don’t realize the lack of predator intent discourages a GM from telling the players to stand down–it actually encourages a GM to let players fly off-the-handle and see what shakes out. Now, of course that’s my opinion in the matter, but I do think the wording is a beneficial treatment for GMs and players in this respect.

Other Notes:
Now, I can’t let this be a kneejerk review without a bit of pontificating from my myopic viewpoint.

I did notice a little bit of text errors–nothing to grievous. I want to mention the Conflict matrix was removed from this booklet; since, it was placed into the primary rules. The booklet is small, and might not feel consequential.

I just kinda wish all–all–of this content had been included in the 2e rules book. I can (1) imagine a whole chapter about Conflict Weapons and Gear, (2) easy inclusion of three settlements in the Territories chapter, (3) additional notes of Mounts in the Denizens chapter [similar to my wish for more Livestock notes], and (4) additional missions in the Sample Missions chapter. That’s not easy! Really, I get that isn’t easy to pitch to a publisher who already knows the fanbase for MG isn’t giant. The purchasers for 2e probably include very few new buyers; having to increase page count would be pretty tough to accept. I just wish for it.

What this could have–might have–opened for the Burning Wheel crew is more space to really pry back the lid on creative ideas for a 2e box supplement. If the 2e rules had included the 1e box set supplement content, then what do you place into a 2e box set supplement?! I’m glad you ask.

Here’s some things I could imagine are lurking behind a creativity-vault-door: (1) NPC Recruitment, (2) Weapon/Gear Design, (3) other new Settlements/Missions, (4) Animal Design, (5) Weather Event guidance, (6) Wilderness Terrain guidance, (7) Historical context for campaigns set in other eras, (8) Weasel Design/Recruitment, (9) Mice of varied speciation [I admit this might imply or infer racism, but I think there is some context for having mice which reflect deer mice, harvest mice, wood mice, cricket mice, etc. which might await behind a creative-vault-door], (10) context for The Black Axe canon/lore in campaigns, (11) reflections or meditations on Seyan and how to include canon/lore of death among mice and other beasts [which is hinted as a topic by way of Legends of the Guard], (12) Setting and Hack guidance or downright inclusion.

Ok, I probably could go on. At that list of 12 imagined topics, I think another lengthy book could be produced to serve as box set supplement. Again, I get the page count and sales pitch is nearly impossible for Archaia/Boom to swallow. That’s a load of new work, art, editing, writing, marketing, and more.

I’ll have to return for more of the kneejerk review before Thanksgiving–otherwise, I’m going to fall behind so far that I lack relevance in the conversation. See you later.

As another short post in the kneejerk review, I’d like to revel in the accessories, namely the player’s deck cards and dice. In this case, I have no previous experience against which I can compare a 1e box set item to a 2e box set item. Unlike the case of the map, I have far less to say about these items and only cautiously rate them highly. I do rate these as a benefit to the box set, but much of my MG play has been online during the past three years. I only rarely have played face-to-face tabletop sessions where these tools would build a sense of atmosphere.

Physical Build:
The dice are quite nice, not sharp-edged, and pleasing in the render of snake, swords, and axe. The ourobouros snake is a nice touch over perhaps a stylized, striking snake. I also like seeing the Black Axe illustrated as a critical success. And I don’t complain about the swords, but I could enjoy sword & shield or sword, staff, & shield.

The cards are fine quality and the double-sided print of Condition and Weapon cards makes those an improved item. Certainly the Action cards are single-sided to allow a player or GM to place these face-down. The artwork is properly fitting of the intended quality. I really do like these cards as a tool for tabletop sessions.

I think I’ve said enough already; these are a finely crafted dice collection especially well made to extend the atmosphere of MG. And while I did mention a potential improvement, I don’t want that to seem as a complaint in my kneejerk review–it’s just a dreamy wish.

Player’s Deck Cards:
Here is a chance to provide a bit of kneejerk responses to the cards. The box set has four boxed sets of cards each containing the same inventory of Conditions, [fighting] Weapons, and [Conflict] Actions. There is quite a set of action cards–far more than needed for a conflict involving two teams and certainly sufficient for a conflict of three teams; considering the change in rules, I don’t imagine three teams will be often seen at tabletop sessions. Now, having four boxes of the same inventory for Conditions is fine–this supports up to four players having a personal reminder of the PC conditions which are currently imposed. I kinda feel similarly about the weapon cards, though I will have a complaint later in this post.

Regarding the action cards, I kinda feel frustrated to see such a large collection. Now, I admit the simplest, and wisest decision was made to permit for no less than 3 of a same action to be included which ensures any volley of actions can be displayed using the available cards. However, this is not needed for each member of a team–only the team wholly needs to have the action cards–especially with the rules instructing for a conflict captain to manage the actions and assigning those actions to conflict team mates. So, again: 4 boxes of a full set of action cards is more than required.

The weapon and armor cards reflect the available listed fighting weapons; this is where I see the greatest disappointment. I–when GMing–don’t tend to permit much stage time for fighting amongst mice and not a great deal more for fighting against animals. To permit players a reference card for conflict ‘weapons’ I’d love a full deck of potential conflict ‘weapons’ for all the other conflict types printed in the rule book and box set supplement. That would be really great. I wouldn’t totally mind if the entire collection of ‘weapons’ were (rather than duplicated) offered as one of the decks. Not everyone needs to see the ‘weapons’ individually–having a full set for a conflict team is sufficient. Likewise, a deck of Conditions with sufficient cards to permit up to 5 players might be a nice benefit, and offering enough for 6 sets allows a GM to hold a set for key NPCs who are suffering Conditions which the Players ought to see. That would be a great toolset. Lastly, a deck of animal denizens could be a nice treat.

So, I just kinda feel the four boxes could have been (1) [Conflict] Action card deck to support four teams (since this is more likely with the 2e rules than 3 teams), (2) [Conflict] Weapon card deck to support each published conflict type’s ‘weapons’, (3) Condition card deck sufficient for 6 characters (3-4 PC, 1-2 NPC), and (4) animal denizen card deck.

Other Notes:
The added accessories are a fine addition and aid for the MG atmosphere and spirit at the table. I look forward to using these at a tabletop session, but I’ll probably need to really see the beauty emerge when a lengthy campaign of regulars gets routine use of the accessories as reference during games and engagement during conflicts.

Later this week, I’ll have a kneejerk review of the GM Screen–which is lovely. The GM screen is lovely; I don’t know how the review will be.

If I spend time on the GM Screen, Character Sheets, and GM Info Sheets, I can make this the final post in the kneejerk review. That’s what I’m going to do here in this post–this is the end of it.

GM Screen:
As a play aid, this is a fairly standard inclusion. As it is unavailable outside the box set, this is a super huge bonus box set item!!! If you were to choose onely one box set accessory (therfor excluding the New Rules New Missions booklet) which could be included in leiu of all others, I would easily grab the GM Screen and not feel badly about missing the cards, dice, character sheets, info sheets, and map.

Happily, no choice is needed!

The GM Screen deserves some time to highlight the really beneficial aspects, but I’ve also got to spend enough time to ensure there are no text errors to be mentioned. So, please bear with me.

The artwork is a good choice. Ok, I’d love to see the artwork of Saxon, Kenzie, Sadie, and Leiam playing MG on the GM Screen. Sure, I’d like that, but the artwork is good.

Opening one folded third, the reader is presented with (beginning on left) a table displaying a summary of all conflict ‘weapons’ to include Fight, Argument, Military (i.e. War), Chase, Journey, Fight Animal, Negotiation, and Speech. Listed below are some notes:

  • it is a summary, so details are sparse–better have read the rules at least once
  • light and heavy armor are not included in the table
  • mounts as ‘weapons’ are not included in the table–better have read the rules from box set supplement

Beneath the table fo conflict gear, there is an included figure to remind how dice are ruled–snakes, swords, and axes or pip-based dice are both displayed. This artwork can be found in the rulebook, pg 13. Next to the figure is a summarized text description of the phases of playing a session: Prologue, GM’s Turn, Player’s Turn, End of Session. It’s a good summary–beware those GMs and players who fail to read the rules even once. This won’t be enough to tell anyone what to do, unless you already have something to be reminded of when looking at this summary.

The outerside (shifting the gaze right) of the folded third presents the reader with a summary of Conflicts. Starting with the Conflict type matrix to indicate the tested skill and Dispo base, and following with the Conflict type/action matrix indicating the tested skill per action type. In the case of Journey Conflicts, Defend and Maneuver offer, “See descri.” while in the case of War Conflicts, Defend and Feint offer, “See descri.” which will require having a book to reference. Finally, the Conflict action/exchange matrix is shown to indicate how actions in the volley interact when played against each other. These tables can be found in the rulebook pgs 105, 113, 111 respectively. The action descriptions are also presented as a summary of what can be found in the rulebook pg 107-109. It is a summary. It is an accurate summary and sufficient to provide reminder for those who have read the rules at least once.

Opening the tri-fold GM Screen presents the reader with two additional pages of good info. The center third presents a table of animal denizens including the Nature (animal) rating and descriptors. In fact, it also includes the page number where the animal is found in the rulebook. Please forgive me that in a kneejerk review, I won’t be checking each of these for exact accuracy. It appears to be the complete list of all published animal denizens. Oddly, the Nature rating for Opossum has been left blank. It is present in the rule book. Maybe I’ll be a heretic by writing-in that numeral, but I’d hate for it to look crappy against the really nice printed text. The Natural Order bulleted list and artwork graph is included on this page also. Lastly, the Season ratings and weather-related pips are included using the artwork as found on pg 135.

The inner side of the third fold presents the reader with Factors and lists the Abilities of Resources and Circles, and Skills to include all 34 skills with summarized factoring categories. It appears accurate. Understandably, Nature, Health, and Will have been left off due to space constraints, but these Abilities are often not used independently. Often these come up as a Tiebreaker test, Recovery test, or Beginner’s Luck attempt. Otherise, these are used in Versus tests such as enduring the hardships of service.

I hope my detailed description illustrates my admiration for the GM Screen. It’s going to be a great tool for play.

Character Sheets:
Included in the box set is a pad of character sheets, and I like this rendering of the sheet. I hope there will be a .pdf developed for printing sheets in future.

Here’s the summary; front side of the sheet has the context details while backside has the numbers.

The front side presents:

  • Name, Age, Fur Color, Guard Rank, Cloak Color, Relationships
  • Rewards, BIGs
  • lite-grey mouse figure for coloring
  • Gear, Contacts

The relationship rules are summarized, a space is made available for Conflict Goal, Actions, Dispo. A reminder of dice successes (swords and axes) and snakes, and a conflict action/interaction matrix are displayed.

The back side presents:

  • Abilities, Wises, Skills, Traits, Conditions
  • Basic Dice Rules, Nature Rules, Advancement Rules, Using Traits and Checks

This is loads of summarized player-needed info and well written reminders. If a player has not read the rules, these summarized reminders might be enough to teach the game at a face-to-face tabletop session.

The character sheets are a very clear benefit in the box set.

GM Info Sheets:
Included is a pad of Mouse Guard GM Sheets, and I really like the rendering of this sheet. I’ve used printed copies of the 1e info sheet in past, so I can compare the newly designed sheets. These are also dual-sided sheets.

The front side presents:

  • 5 slots for Player Name, Character Name, Missed Session/Prologue, Relationships, BIGs, and Home, Specialty blanks

I’d love to also see Fur Color and Cloak Color entries, but this is a solid set of data points about each patrol member.

The back side goes above and beyond:

  • Mission, Compromise in Conflicts, Session Procedure
  • space for Conflict Goal, Actions, Dispo
  • conflict action/interaction matrix
  • Season ratings artwork

Let me provide some additional details about Compromise in Conflicts:

  • Minor Compromise, Compromise, Major Compromise, and Tying are all summarized

Let me provide some additional details about Session Procedure:

  • Declare Weather, Note New Beliefs, Instincts, Prologue, Missing a Session, GM’s Turn, Player’s Turn, Rewards, Losing a Character are all summarized

These are some really awesomely good cheat sheets of info above and beyond the GM screen to support GMs (and/or players). There are page numbers called out for referencing where to read the details. It’s really good as a tool.

That’s it. That’s the kneejerk review. If I had seen the 1e box set, I guess I might have some additional comparative notes, but I didn’t buy that when available. Honestly, I was so pleased by the box set, I actually want to buy a bunch and hoard them to give as gifts for years to come. It’s really good! For any fan of MG RPG, this box set is a fantastic tool for marketing the game to hesitant potentialites. I’m probably going to buy several as gifts in this holiday season.

True, the finer points of playing and running Mouse Guard are difficult to summarize even in the box set. It will still require investment of interest, time, energy, attention, and effort for new players to learn and current players to refine/improve the game.

If you’ve been on-the-fence about buying the box set or the rules book–I’d highly recommend buying the box set for the additional benficial items included. It’s really good.