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Subject: Opinion on presentation and theme with brief game play notes rss

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Utopia Engine is a recently released solitaire dice game. I have only played it once and therefore will say only that I had fun and leave the in depth review of game play and mechanics to others.

Game Play Overview

Your task as the artificer Isodoros is to assemble and activate the Utopia Engine, a lost artifact of an ancient race, in a desperate attempt to save the world. There are numerous sub-tasks that must be accomplished first. These tasks are attempted by rolling dice and using the values where they will do the most good. While the luck of the roll is important, the game seems to be designed so that most dice rolls can be helpful if the values are used correctly. The game takes place in two locations, your workshop and the wilderness. Wilderness tasks include searching for artifacts and components while defending yourself from enemies. In your workshop, you will attempt to activate the artifacts you’ve recovered, link them together and hopefully fire up the Engine itself.

Theme and Presentation
This is what I really wanted to talk about. Even though the illustrations are line drawn in black and white, Utopia Engine shines. The play sheets are intuitive, attractive and make it easy to keep up with the bookkeeping inherent in these types of solitaire games. The rule book is attractively laid out and draws you into the story by mixing simple rules expositions with flavor text and quotes from important people of the world you are trying to save.

The rule book manages to give you the sense that there is much more going on in this world than what you are shown. While it’s easy to assume that the end result of your quest will have the desired effect, there is enough ambiguity in the story to make you wonder. For example, a ranking member of your guild tells you that the assembled Utopia Engine is the last hope of the world. Even the founder of your guild states that “Recovering the Utopia Engine is the single most important endeavor of our lives.” And yet there are naysayers. Albedas of the Order of Silver, is of the opinion “Doomsday is inevitable. Nothing can stop it. Not your errand boy Isodoros, not your archaic machines!” Is he right? Surely the portion of the rulebook that breaks the fourth wall and speaks to us, the players, will tell us how everything plays out? As it turns out, the rulebook usually limits itself to statements like “It is believed...” and “Your guild believes...”. And while the rule book does make the occasional definitive statement like “Doomsday is inevitable...”, I wonder if we are hearing reflections of common assumptions in this world, instead of the objective, outside-looking-in, authority of a rulebook. Especially when you consider this: One of the end of game conditions is failure to activate the Engine before Doomsday; however failure to activate it is not, by itself, specifically stated as a condition of death. One would think Doomsday brings obvious consequences, but there is room for doubt.

And what of the Engine itself? The characters quoted in the rule book offer tantalizing hints: “...it will create a perfect society...” etc. Even the rule book says that at one time it “sustained an idyllic society”. Yet doubt is cast here also. Artificer Myrrine asks a very good question: “If the Utopia Engine truly protected their society, how did their reign end?”. The rulebook is vague as well. Regarding what happens when you succeed in activating the Engine, the rules state: “...the Utopia Engine bursts to life in a blinding flash! The game ends immediately”. That’s it. No epilogue that ensures a happy resolution.

Of course one could assume that everything works as advertised, but rest assured, there is more to the story of the Utopia Engine than meets the eye.

Generally solitaire games have a known end. You lose, win or beat your score and the thematic consequences are obvious. There is little sense of wonder, no twist, no surprise or ambiguity. (The Doctor Who solitaire story game being a notable exception). Everything is spelled out on the paper in front of you. I could be reading WAY too much into Utopia Engine, but I think that a solitaire game that leaves you hanging, even when you win, should elicit praise of the highest order. My thanks to the designer and contributors for dragging me into the story. My only question is what’s going to happen next? Will you please email me the rest of the story if I manage to succeed in activating the Engine? Actually I’d be even more interested to see what happens when I lose. Does Albedas’s incorporeal transference procedure save him, or anyone else? Is he right about the futility of my attempt to find the Engine? Is Doomsday everything I expect and fear?

Per the merits mentioned above, I give the presentation and theme of this game an enthusiastic thumbs up.
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This Guy
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Thanks for drawing attention to this. Really looking forward to trying it out.
 
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Kenny VenOsdel
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Your request for more information about the end of the story gave me an interesting idea though I don't know if it can be implemented correctly. On the drop page there is an online version. I think it would be interesting if it could record people's scores and then, if you reach a high enough score that is preset, it gives you access to the rest of the story line or something. Kind of like those video games with alternate endings depending on what you do through out it.
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Nick Hayes
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As I mentioned in the end of the rulebook, I will continue exploring this storyline in my upcoming re-theme of Sheamus Parke's Utopian Rummy. I had been working on that game long before I ever came up with the idea for Utopia Engine. In fact, Utopia Engine's entire premise came about when I thought it would be fun to place this game within the story I had already developed for the Utopian Rummy re-theme.

My Utopian Rummy re-theme will take place before Doomsday is an imminent threat. The Guild of Ancient Technology is still focused on recovering information on the Utopia Engine. So it's not going to answer many of the questions posed in Noun's article. It will add more pieces to the puzzle from which you may draw your own conclusions, and I kind of like it that way.

I think the story of Utopia Engine is integral to the game. I wanted the player to feel pressed to complete his task, but also pushed along almost unwillingly. Are you reconstructing the Utopia Engine because it is the completion of your life's work? Because your superiors are pushing you to do so? There is a sense that you are expected to complete this task at the risk of your own life, that you are only as important as your ability to find the six Artifacts. The fate of the world literally rests upon your shoulders and you are running downhill towards an unknown but inevitable outcome.

Of course the game could be played without the story, but would it be as compelling?

As the game's designer, the hardest part is not spilling out all the answers to those questions! I would like nothing more than to reveal all the secrets, since I think the story is so interesting. But then what? Would the game be as interesting after you know the answers? So I have decided to leave them unanswered.

Utopia Engine is a game about duty in the face of uncertainty. I worked hard to develop and refine that narrative within the game, and I am really pleased that it has sparked enough interest in at least one person to go out and ask those questions. The story is integral to the game and I wouldn't have it any other way.
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Troy Nies
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I really enjoy the theme/artwork. The artwork in particular is very 'Erol Etos-ian'. I just printed it out and am going to give it a whirl - looks great!
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