After a long absence, the third edition of Blue Planet is due to be released in June 2012. There are not many games from the mid-nineties that have had the staying power which the world of Poseidon has continued to have, with a dedicated fanbase still playing long after the original creators have moved on.
So, what has kept the game alive during this time? Firstly, it has a well thought out setting which keeps the moral complexity with new technology in a near future. Instead of having the ‘big change’ that revolutionised the world, it has many different technologies that can be imagined from what is currently available or foreseeable. This gives a range of small changes building a familiar yet different setting. Secondly, the synergy dice system was effective as a light rule system that didn’t weigh the players down and worked with the realistic setting.
As with any loyal fanbase there are disagreements on rules, the setting and devices. With any relaunch a game line is taking a risk that they will improve the game, please the current player, bring back old players and attract new players. With a relaunch after so much time the quality of the product becomes critical to extend the life of the product. In February, blut_und_glas shared his concerns over the direction of the third edition. I found myself on the other side, with a feeling they are doing the right things for the game.
Most of the disagreements between us stem from the character creation and new skill lists and how they may affect game play and usability. Character creation involves packages. So instead of picking skills individually, you choose from life path options that give you points in different skills. ‘Background’ and ‘Origin’, separate types of package under second edition rules, will be merged and optional points introduced for customisation. Since both ‘Background’ and ‘Origin’ packages offered almost the same options, the difference tends to be redundant. The packages will be balanced so all of the options have equal points, instead of being weighted in favour of intellectual skills. Certain choices could give a result of ten plus, which is a problem for a D10 based system. The three tiers of character level have been reduced by one, but with each now having two sub-levels. This gives an even spread of skill levels from ordinary person to elite. In the second edition it was ordinary, exceptional, i.e. top ten percent, then elite, the top one percent.
Blut_und_glas thinks the simplifying and merging will take away from the essence of game. Whereas I found the two package types very similar and would often overlap. The change will bring some customisation during character creation and shouldn’t be an unnecessary burden.
In the second edition, the skills are very specific, many were not used and finding the right one even when it was there, took time. Areas such as practical skills were not included, strange for a game that has one part of the society living in huts and spear fishing. When playing the game with two different groups, the way skills work was definitely negative to the game. In that they would hunt the long list and too often would find no skill directly covering what they wanted to do. In the third edition the skill list has been reduced so they cover more ground. This long list was one of the games unique characteristics and blut_und_glas thinks it works fine the way it is. I think the change is necessary to improve the flow of the game.
In a Blue Planet campaign I played in, the character sheet and skills was altered for the second story arc. The skills were moved around, consolidated and simplified. This made finding the relevant skill simpler and giving them a wider remit made the decision making from player to character sheet to character action much faster. As I’ve already experienced a rules change and saw how this type of streamlining can improve the game, I don’t fear the result. Of course the new edition is being done by someone else, but judging by what has been posted, we view the direction the game should take in a similar way.
Blut_und_glas’s article also discussed the game’s moral complexity and strong political background, which he correctly points out comes from the writing style, instead of the rules. This goes against the current trend of games that seek to marry the game’s writing style with rules that tightly knit them together. It is my guess that the background influences the game master when they are setting up the campaign, working into the fabric of the world presented. It is another topic to discuss the influence of a game background versus the rules, but the mere fact that it stands out from the current crop should be food for thought. Despite this writer’s infatuation with all things new on the forum, the developers kept to the core of the game.
Overall, many of the changes addressed things which were in the back of my head which were crystallised by the updates. It was good to know someone had gone there already and solved the problems for me. They also seem to answer my biggest complaint of the second edition, the lack of overall consistency, in that some parts are explained in detail, while others are very general. By the end of June we should know as blut_und_glas and myself keep our fingers crossed until we can get the third edition in our hands. So as long as the new writers truly understand what makes the game tick they should be able to create a version that brings the game to a new generation.