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Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a crisp and relatively printer-friendly two-column standard, with artworks first representing the DIY-sketch-like nature seen on the cover artwork, becoming concrete when the setting materials do. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks.
Sam Stewart, building on Jay Little’s original design, with additional development by Max Brooke, Tim Cox, Sterling Hershey, Tim Huckelbery, Jay Little, Jason Marker, Katrina Ostrander, Daniel Lovat Clark and Andrew Fischer, have created a system that actually manages to succeed at presenting a fun and easy to use “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” (lit: egg-laying wool-milk-pig), in English, a kind of jack-of-all-trades that is not necessarily as dilettantish in the details as the latter term implies. Not necessarily.
That’s the big caveat. I can definitely see this system being amazing for you, provided you can stomach the need to get the unique, proprietary dice, which even Dungeon/Mutant Crawl Classics groups will not own. However, it does not deliver, perhaps partially system-immanently, on the promise of being a truly universal. You see, the book wastes precious page-count on recounting basics of diverse settings and their tropes, pages that would have been better served by expanding the help for the GM.
Don’t get me wrong, the book provides a rather impressive amount of guidelines for the GM, explains etiquette at the table (still, alas, something that we unfortunately need…) and endeavors to make the game understandable, provide guidelines for running the game, etc.. At the same time, I can’t imagine the material herein truly sufficing for novice GMs to craft a new setting. The general GM tools provided are nice, but lack depth; similarly, and that may be intentional, once you start to look at the details of the respective settings, you can’t help but wonder for whom these guidelines were written. Veterans will be bored by the recounting of tropes in their favorite genre that they’re already more than familiar with. On the other hand, novices will have what looks like a feasible starting point, but building exclusively on the material herein does not yield the level of satisfaction we’d want from the game. Once more, the lack of depth points, obviously, in a way, to the respective “proper” setting supplements.
The book, as a whole, feels once we get past the BRILLIANT basic system, like it attempts to be at once universally applicable and provide a starting venue, but also makes the experience of lack for each playstyle very much palpable. It explains, in detail, and admirably so, many components, but does not lay open the balancing guidelines needed for informed design decisions.
In a way, Genesys is a phenomenal toolkit for writing Hacks, i.e. modifications of the system. You could expand the material herein and run a Cthulhu game. You could expand it and run a scifi-game. You can make inspired hacks. Once you attempt to base a game of pretty much any theme solely on the book, though, you’ll quickly notice that this is not an option, but a requirement to get the most out of this book. And while worldbuilding is something I adore, I can’t shake the feeling that these omissions are intentional. Experienced designers and GMs have a cornucopia of options here, a vast amount of ground covered in a way that is easy to grasp and modify. At the same time, mechanically and mathematically less gifted and/or experienced groups may well end up feeling ripped off by this book, by the lack of depth in the details required for informed design- and homebrewing choices.
As a reviewer, this leaves me in a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, I can see this working as a phenomenal baseline for creative folks out there. I love the system and how it plays. It does a ton of things I want from a system right. On the other hand, I can see this fall horribly flat of the promise it has. While, as a private person, I adore this book, I have to take these potential shortcomings into account. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars. Since I did love the underlying system, though, I will add my seal of approval to this – contingent on the fact that you’re reading this with a similar perspective. If you, on the other hand, want a RPG-system that you can seamlessly apply to various genres without having to work, then this may not be for you.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.