I have this thing about movies: if the reviews make no sense because half say that the film represents the pinnacle of a true artist’s vision and half say that it’s the worst mess ever committed to film, then there’s a 99.99998% chance that I will love the film. Generally, I find that the sort of piece that inspires such extreme reviews has gotten panned because its viewers don’t want to put in the required work to understand the film. Using the same logic, I decided to order myself a copy of the RPG FreeMarket.  
 
The reviews of FreeMarket are just…bizarre. They’re either wildly enthusiastic, praising the game for being a real breakthrough in narrative storytelling, or they’re bitterly negative, claiming that the game is unplayable and broken.  

 
 

Clearly, I needed to own the collector’s edition.  
 

This is a beautiful package of Stuff. In the glossy, full-color box come five decks of challenge cards and a set of tech cards, each housed in its own cardboard box. A handful of heavy laminated cardboard tokens completes the set of materials needed to play. You also get a handful of full-color sheets for both players and GMs (or users and superusers, in this game,) plus a set of glossy character sheets/histories for the iconic characters mentioned in the rulebook.  

 

 

Although the art for the cards and accessories is futuristically simple, there’s some thoughtful high production here. My favorite detail is that the care deck boxes come glued together at the bottom instead of tucked; that way, the cards slide in neatly when you’re done with your session instead of getting caught on the tab at the bottom off the box. The deck boxes also list what goes in each set, so cleanup won’t take long at the end of a session even if your cards get mixed.  

 

 
 

The non-standard sized rulebook has equally high production value, with glossy and full-color pages. (Given the chipper nature of the utopia that players join in this RPG, one wonders if all the gloss isn’t a thematic choice!) I must admit that the pages are a bit thin, but not unusably so, and the spine allows you to fold the book open flat.  

 
 

 

I haven’t had a chance to read through all the rules yet, but the first few pages left me both impressed…and chuckling a bit. I see why this game would strike some as broken, and I see why not having exactly the right gaming group could spell disaster before you even started to play. Players arrive in a utopia in which almost anything is possible, and it’s up to them to do whatever they like. A player’s responses to a challenge can consist of almost any solution, since the technology in this future can make most things the players dream up into realities. The game stresses negotiation and cooperation (with both NPCs and PCs) instead of competition. All of this adds up to mean that players really must use their imaginations to solve the problems that come their way; the game itself isn’t necessarily designed to suggest a menu of possibilities from which to choose because that would be more limiting than the designers intended.  

 
 

With great roleplaying possibilities come increased responsibilities on the players’ parts; you can’t just sit back and let the GM point you in a direction, roll some dice, and hope that a battlefield full of dead bodies will lead to monetary gain and power. Like most of Luke Crane’s games, this one pushes its players to create their own storylines instead of respond to a GM’s narrative, and for a player who isn’t comfortable creating narrative possibilities on the spot or who is having a bad night, that responsibility can seem overwhelming.  

 
 

I look forward to giving this a more thoughtful review once I’ve finished reading the rulebook. In the meantime, though, I have to report that it’s a box full of truly lovely Stuff, and that I’m pretty sure that I’ll like this as much as I like all those strangely-reviewed films. I’m also hoping I can con someone into believing that the game is as great as I think it might be; after all, you can watch a film by yourself, but playing an RPG by yourself isn’t nearly as fun. Or even possible.  

 

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My Gaming Tweets

Great post

The designer mentions Freemarket on this episode of the Walking Eye podcast.
http://www.thewalkingeye.com/?p=1376

Def worth checking out


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