There are a few consistent things I’ve looked for in games over the years, and a few things that have changed. Probably the most important is a setting that hooks me. Dungeons & Dragons came along during a fantasy period in my reading, so it grabbed me. James Bond movies were always favorites, so that game and Top Secret were a draw. Space: 1889 remains one of the best settings for a game I’ve played, and all of the copycat “steampunk” with the fantasy elements, like Castle Falkenstein or Victoriana (most editions of which, in the interest of openness, I’ve have worked on) don’t quite match. for a while, a lot of the games I bought were licensed properties: there was DC Heroes and Marvel, The Babylon ProjectStar Trek (both LUG and Decipher), Star Wars (d6, period), Serenity and Battlestar Galactica… There’s more but you get the point: I like to play in universes that I like, but to me honest, I think I can do better with.

I wanted systems that gave a certain level of verisimilitude, but weren’t too complicated. James Bond, for the longest time, was the sine qua non for that: clean, fun rules; you could built your characters — none of this chance thing (and really Traveller, you can die in character creation?) The amorphous quality of FASRIP Marvel was initially attractive, but I preferred the order of DC Heroes, and we played the hell out of it. Star Wars d6 was simplicity incarnate and managed to really capture the flavor of the movies. It also won me over to game systems that are not overly complicated.

Fate seemed like it would be right up my alley, but I found the lightness of the system detracted from some illusion of realism, and I really didn’t like the “taken out” concept when applied to combat. (By that time, I’d been in the military.) However, the same ability to built what you wanted, have their weaknesses and strengths of personality count for something, and have a mechanic where the math “felt right” and which fostered good storytelling came with the Cortex system in Serenity, and made better in Battlestar Galactica.

Recent trends in RPGs have actually put me off trying new games. These massive 400+ page tomes with flashy design that is distracting (if pretty), typefaces that are hard to read, and text that is too verbose and not nearly clear enough to grasp the core mechanics (looking at you, Mödiphiüs!), all costing $60 or more — I don’t want to drop that kind of dough, and I don’t want to wade through that much material to learn a game. This is one of the reasons Tales From the Loop was so refreshing: clean layouts, short and clear technical writing for the rules, nice creative writing for the interstitial material I also don’t want to buy a game and have to buy several other books to get the full rules. Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars and the multiple corebooks and/or proprietary dice trend is an immediate turnoff because its so obviously an attempt to relieve you of more of your money than the play requires. Mödiphiüs is doing this too with Star Trek.

It is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit.

It’s so offputting I bought the old d6 Star Wars rules.

What I look for now (and try to create with the Black Campbell Entertainment products): clean, professional layouts and typefacing; good art, but not a coffee table book with shitty rules badly written. Good mechanics that help me play. And a great setting (again, Tales From the Loop, but also its cousin Mutant Zero.)