*This review has been slightly edited due to a rebuttal article that I feel misrepresented what I thought my point was. But that’s my fault. I’ve edited the article to (hopefully) reflect my position better.
**I would never claim a ttrpg can’t be or isn’t art. I do not like the product/art distinction. I think they are just two things that a Sold Work is at all times.
There’s nothing bad to say about Mausritter. As a guidebook, it has everything you need. The folks at Losing Games and Games Omnivorous have leveraged Kickstarter in such a way that you’ll never be left wanting when you sit down to play Mausritter. They had a simple goal: erase Mouse Guard from everyone’s mind and replace it with something simpler, easier to understand, and more in line with OSR sensibilities. And it worked. As a product, it’s everything you want.
The layout isn’t fancy, but it’s well crafted. The fonts are readable and clean. The art is straightforward and beautiful. The game uses Into the Odd as its base, a game that was designed to be easy-to-use. Chris McDowall, Into the Odd’s creator, once wrote on his blog about how you can make a character in, like, sixty-seconds (I’m paraphrasing here). Combat is quick because you automatically hit and then roll damage. Everything is pared down and pragmatic. An item card fits into your inventory or doesn’t. Durability follows the three-strikes-you’re-out rule. Conditions fill up inventory slots, and so on and so forth.
Of course there’s a “but.” I can’t help but feel like, even if it is a perfect product, that, maybe measuring things only as products isn’t entirely a good thing. We could have a whole discussion about art and its purpose (I don’t think it can or should just have one purpose). Are TTRPGs more art or are they products? Is there a difference or are they both at the same time all the time? I don’t know the answers (and people discuss these things frequently), but I do know that when I read Mausritter, when I think about the book, I feel like there’s something missing.
Mausritter does what’s expected of it beat for beat. It is, in the truest sense of the word, a guidebook. It doesn’t care if you read it as much as it cares that you can find what you need at a moment’s notice. It doesn’t care to wow you or make your imagination run wild. It is the book you pick up *after* you have the thought “I want to play a better Mouse Guard.” It’s the book you grab after your friends watch “The Great Mouse Detective” and decide to recreate it.
There’s nothing bad to say about Mausritter because it’s positioned itself into a spot where it can’t be bad. It is not daring. It is not putting itself out on the ledge. It saw a hole in the road and paved over it. So now, where you would normally drive over it and curse loudly as your car is shaken by a dastardly pot hole, you can drive smoothly.
Mausritter is a product of the Questing Beast design school. Questing Beast being the youtube review/flip-through channel of Ben Milton, the game designer behind Knave (which is mentioned in the acknowledgements of Mausritter.) The Questing Beast design school is all about usability at the table. It demands a rigid set of standards for what qualifies a good book. It’s all about tables, bullet points, and two-page spreads. It demands serviceable art. The reviews themselves make a distinct separation between art and product simply by what it values and devalues, and says that TTRPGs should fall to one side of that, not the other.
These things aren’t bad by any means. But reading Mausritter I can’t stop thinking about Questing Beast and how this book feels like it was designed specifically with it in mind. It’s a factory preset; the default for what makes a Good Guidebook. But it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t tickle my imagination. And it doesn’t take any risks. It’s a child of many parents that has yet to do anything of its own.
In the end, Mausritter is what you get when you take OSR design and make it into a Product. A perfect game. Mausritter succeeds in that. It’s still being supported by the creators with new box sets and new adventures (which is where you can find the risks). You will have a good time playing it and it makes for a great alternative to most corporate TTRPGs that aren’t nearly as well put together or supported.
By John Battle