Sunday, October 21, 2012

Myrna Goes to the Post Office

As your humble host has indicated in prior posts, Martin Wixted imbued his game – Year of the Phoenix – with a considerable amount of flavor. Of course, this is commendable; however, if there can ever be too much of a good thing, that adage may well apply to what Wixted provides in Phoenix.

The Training Manual is a 48 page book providing details about character creation as well as an overview of game mechanics.  It is meant to be perused by players; as such, it maintains the pretense that the game is about 'space commandos' in 1997.  There is nothing to suggest that the game takes place in a post-apocalyptic future.  Unlike the Gamemaster Screen, the equipment list does not mention any guns made after 1997.  All of the examples and flavor text relate to the pre-generated characters as they undergo training for Space Command - Project Phoenix.  This is all well and good; however, there are superfluous details.  The 'centerspread' for the book consists of schematics for the Space Shuttle.  The back cover is a diagram of a space station – an apparently genuine NASA proposal circa 1986.  This is good stuff for the 'space commando' game that doesn't really exist.  The actual Phoenix game has no use for these 'props.'  Wixted could have substituted useful information (such as the Quality Results Table, a combat flowchart, character sheet template, etc.) without compromising the 'surprise' twist central to the game.

In a prior post, we discussed the flavor text related to the cataclysm; now we look at the other flavor text.  Page 2 of the Adventure Guide is a memo from 'Major Chernanko' to 'Colonel General Sadenjo' at headquarters.  (Wixted tells us on page 16 that a General Colonel is the Soviet equivalent of a Lieutenant General; perhaps that is Sadenjo's rank.)  The first part deals with an unidentified airship that crashed in the ocean.  (This is the Phoenix Shuttle.)  The major is concerned because the airship “demonstrates equipment possibly equal to, or slightly better than, that which we currently possess.”  (Technology has not yet resumed its pre-cataclysm level.)  The second part of the memo regards “difficulties” with the local populace.  “Executions were carried out, to little effect,” writes the major.  Because the executions were not effective, the major “has ordered the bombing of one of the larger villages.”  We are able to read the memo in English because a postscript (“Translated by Hugh Beaumont of the Dixies”) suggests it was intercepted by the resistance.

Page 10 of the Adventure Guide is a narrative about an average citizen named Myrna Greenwich.  We follow Myrna as she goes about her day, suffering the indignities imposed by communism.  First, she wakes in the midst of a power outage.  For the sake of exposition, she thinks about the frequency of such interruptions in service and she contemplates listing to her contraband radio.  At the Post Office, she must bribe a clerk to retrieve her mail.  Sadly, she has been denied a travel permit which would have allowed her to gain better employment.  Despondent, she imagines she is being followed by an operative of the CIA which, in this setting, is a subsidiary of the KGB.  She recalls that her brother disappeared after helping the rebels.  Her conversation with Henry the grocer takes place on two levels:  a loud, innocent discussion intended to fool 'agents' and an under-their-breath, covert discussion commiserating their fate under the oppressive yoke of communism.  When Myrna returns home to her building, she finds police officers ransacking a first floor apartment, the residents crying in a corner.  One of the police demands to see Myrna's papers and the contents of her bag.  He questions how she was able to obtain chocolate with a blue ration card.  This allows for an expository recollection of another police officer who took her ration card as well as her rubles.

One gets the feeling that Wixted didn't care much for communism.  In any event, he was successful at conveying a mood.  Unfortunately, the only audience was the gamemaster.  Yes, any half-way decent gamemaster would utilize the material in an attempt to convey that mood to the players but, in so doing, Wixted's enthusiasm is wasted.  With the bait-and-switch nature of the setting, Wixted tried to instil Phoenix with excitement – that was the selling point.  Sadly, the resultant, focused setting is the reason the game languishes in obscurity.  Given another setting, without the bait-and-switch, Wixted could have given us a lasting, viable game fueled by Wixted's passion for his creation.


  1. Replies
    1. Wow. That is seriously deep. It almost inspires me to start a blog about spambot philosophy.

      Regardless, I shall leave this important message available for all of my readers that may have a need or desire to travel to Malawi.

  2. Dear Beloved,

    This is very helpful blog post! I would just like to say, it help me very much! I will tell others of quality blog you have. Myrna change my life!

    Actually, this is good. The bait and switch is central I guess, but as players you would quickly get over this and it would be helpful to them to have some more info on the actual setting. Yeah, it could all come out in play, etc., but given his passion for the setting it would have been better for the players to have a more solid understanding of what the game was really about. After all, some guys might have been psyched to be cosmic commandoes, and then really bummed to find it was post-holocaust.

    You give good blog!