Friday, 25 July 2014

Week of Synnibarr: Final thoughts

Well, it's been fun working my way through The World of Synnibarr this week. I feel like I've come away with more respect for the game but maybe a little less relentless enthusiasm for it. Over on an RPGnet thread about games that are bad but that you like anyway, I wrote:

No one's got time to be doing any serious self-evaluation when a squadron of wizards, cyborgs and Iron Fist cosplayers on pedal-powered gyrocopters are closing in on a mutant crab man with a laser (excuse me: lazor) gun riding on the back of a giant vampire bat and the death rays and magic arrows and hails of machine-gun fire are flying thick and fast. 
Now, that sounds like an absolute blast, but there's a part of me that wonders whether in fact that scene would be at all fun to run or play or whether it would just be a tedious mathfest.

(And there's another part of me that says "only one way to find out ... ")

In the end, though, I came away with a little more appreciation of Synnibarr and a little less glee in the cruel eviscerations it suffers on the internet. People criticise Synnibarr a lot, but I honestly believe they're looking at it from the wrong perspective. About 50% of the major criticisms are off-base, I think.

  • "The game is unbalanced." I think over the last few years, a lot more people have come to realise that game balance isn't necessarily a high priority in non-competitive games. I'd still rather have a roughly balanced game than not, but I can do without it, balancing on the fly. 
  • "The game's ideas are puerile and not serious." And? 
  • "The system is complex and unwieldy." Yes -- although probably no more complex than many systems of its time. There was a definite vein throughout the 90s of games that were AD&D but with waaaay more mechanics.  
  • "The book is badly written and hard to use." For character creation, certainly. The lack of internal page references is really frustrating. But for most things, I dunno. Powers, which are the heart of the game, seem as well-organised as they can be. 
I hear talk on the internet of a new edition: more streamlined, more balanced, less goofy. I would like two of those things. But as for "less goofy," I feel like all that could do would be make Synnibarr more like every other game. It's not like if you scrape some of the nonsense off this thing it's going to turn into Henry V. It's nonsense all the way down. And that's OK. A diet of nothing but junk food isn't healthy for the body or the brain, but sometimes what the hell. 

So here's to you, Raven c.s. McCracken and Bryce Thelin, wherever you are these days. Your game is dumber than hell, but you didn't half-ass it. You went nerd-dumb on it, and I can respect that. 

I'm going to be taking a break for the next couple of days. But when I get back, I'm going to do a little more retrogaming nostalgia -- but also a nerdy breakdown of a historical game, just to clear the palate. 


  1. The idea of a 'less goofy' edit puts me in mind of Master of Orion III, which consciously removed the 'cheesy sci-fi stereotypes' that were a fundamental part of what people loved about MoO II.

    1. And yet, a self-conscious attempt to play up the wackiness would also be terrible. It's right on that bad game sweet spot.