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RPG Review: Best Friends

Deviating a bit from my normal “actual play” writeups to do a bit of RPG book reviewing. I haven’t played this game yet, but I want to. I have read the book, which is part of the Bundle of Holding’s Indie Bundle, available until April 27, 2014.

BOX0002-front150Best Friends by Gregor Hutton is an amusing RPG with a simple premise: you play one of 5 best “frenemies” who are, indeed, both best friends as well as bitter enemies. Character stats are things like “pretty” and “tough” and “cool” and “rich,” but you don’t get to decide how pretty or rich you are. The other players vote on it. So if everyone decides you are super-cool, then you’ll have a “5” in “cool,” which means you have celebrity levels of coolness…. but you’ll be dumb, ugly, poor, and weak. Kind of like a broke version of Kim Kardashian.

Some of the things I like about this game book:

  • Everyone plays a female character. I like this, if only because it plays into the deep dynamic of female-female relationships.
  • Character creation is simple and is out of your hands. On the one hand, players like to control who they play in a game, and I don’t think Best Friends would lend itself to long-campaign style play. But for a one-shot, it’s delicious. I especially like this for reasons noted below.
  • The push mechanic lets you do something beyond your skills, doesn’t require any randomizer, and is essentially a way to give “fan mail” in a game. “Fan mail” mechanics (where players give other players some type of boost) is always welcome at my table.
  • My main complaint is that it’s written for groups of 6, including a GM, and it would be easy to adapt this to a GMless game. Fortunately, Gregor has provided an Appendix for exactly that adaptation.

One thing about the character creation process being driven by the other players is that it highlights something that does happen in female groups, especially as we’re growing up. The friends around you help identify and strengthen your identity. If Melissa is always the “tomboy,” then she pretty much needs to move to another state to stop wearing overalls and start wearing makeup, or her friends will all look at her funny.

I remember, vividly, the handful of young women who I grew up with who genuinely shed their former “selves” and remade themselves overnight– not just appearance, which happened almost weekly. But their interests, activities, and demeanor. It was always striking, and their friends rarely adapted well. The hardcore punk girl who grew out her mohawk and joined the cheerleaders was probably shunned more by her former gothpunk friends than she had ever been shunned by anyone else. We were baffled and could not figure out where it came from. And yet– obviously, she was passionate about this enough to buck everything we knew about her and become someone else.

That did not happen often– most of the time, if you were “the smart one” in your group, you were not also “the pretty one.” And your friends reinforced your role rather stringently, sometimes by abandoning you if you decided to become “the pretty one.”

Some of the things I thought were weak in the game book:

  • This game focuses, heavily, on the negative aspects of girlfriendship, which is not the driving dynamic in most of my female-female friendships. That’s fine– it’s a game, after all– but it leaves out the possibilities for helping each other, supporting, etc. In an example in the appendix, there is a better example of a third player helping someone in a conflict, but that mechanic is presented as a sidebar only in the Conflicts section of the book.
  • The Example of Play section is disjointed– it seems to take an example from several scenes in a game session; personally, I would rather see a full scene played out  from framing through end, to give more context.

Those criticisms aside, this looks like a good, fun game to run. I can see it being popular with people who dislike dice-rolling and random elements in gaming. If you like games like Microscope and Our Last Best Hope, this would be a really good pick for your game group.

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