MUTANT: YEAR ZERO moulds itself into the realm of robots, with the next (complementary but also standalone) element of the MUTANT world slipping seamlessly into its place in the MYZ universe, giving us another dimension that takes the same stuff, and super charges it all over again.
First there were mutants in the Ark, grappling to understand where they came from and what their future might hold: struggling to survive in a bitter and dust-ridden world that would gnaw, batter, irradiate or starve you to death.
Then there were the animals in ‘Paradise Valley’, experiments with their genetics leaving them intelligent and only too aware of their predicament, with a complex of laboratory robots and sinister Watchers waiting to experiment upon them leading only to a terrible and inevitable fate.
And now there are the robots, ordered to build, build, build in a decaying under-water complex by their human masters who left long ago. But over the years some have grown beyond their A.I. limits and sparked into intelligent self-awareness. But their intelligences are young, and they struggle to cope with the new world they can suddenly see and understand, struggle to learn what they must to survive, struggle to keep their awareness hidden from those robots who would see them as nothing more than a malfunctioning unit, needing repair and memory wipe – by force if necessary.
I fell in love with MYZ in 2015 the minute I opened what was a total – and I mean total as I knew nothing about the game – impulse buy. When it came up I immediately kicked-in for Genlab Alpha, and had no hesitation doing the same for Mechatron. And here we are, with the Mechatron Alpha sitting on my iPad and just tempting me in, although I didn’t need much tempting…
Obviously, if you’ve played MYZ or Genlab Alpha this game is gonna feel very familiar. It uses the same dice and lots of the same mechanics, and is designed to dove-tail seamlessly with its forebears. But there are differences – albeit some of them are pretty cosmetic – that give Mechatron a new feel and adds a new dimension to the wider Mutant world.
First and foremost, you have the setting. Yes, it’s very familiar. Yes, it fits perfectly with the other Mutant worlds out there. And yes, it has the concept of the Ark but with a little twist. But that’s not the only twist. Let’s explore these for a moment:
Twist Number 1: you have the Collective, known as Mechatron 7 in the campaign in the Alpha rulebook, and this is a bit like the Ark. But the set up is different: the Collective has been going for years, once ruled by humans but they left to fight their wars on the surface, leaving you robots behind to “build us what we need to win”. The Collective is breaking down, and even with all the Work Orders you and the other robots can push through it’s getting worse. In MYZ you build your Ark, improving, enhancing, developing towards a better future: in Mechatron the Collective is decaying, and it’s only a matter of time before you have to find the way out;
Twist Number 2: MYZ is about survival; Genlab Alpha is about escape; Mechatron is about learning, about awareness, about identity – and what you, as an individual, do with these gifts that have been handed to you;
Twist Number 3: your fellow robots may think your strange behaviour, driven by your new awareness and curiosity and a sudden desire to question orders, is a sign you’re malfunctioning. With all the best intentions these intelligent but non-aware robots may try to “fix” you, and repair your malfunctions, wiping your memory and killing the emerging intelligence that is you. Your Collective friends and allies may – inadvertently – be your worst enemies…
So what does that all mean?
GAME MECHANICS (GAME “MECHATRONICS” – sorry…)
It means that Mutant: Mechatron has a bunch of new ideas in an established setting. One of these is the mechanism for creating characters.
You have your usual approach to MYZ-style character archetypes, namely Battle Robot, Cleaning Robot, Companion Robot, Co-ordination Robot, Industrial Robot, Protocol Robot (OMG, not Threepio…), Security Robot and a Scrap Robot (a nice idea of a robot that is in the Collective, but for some reason isn’t part of the Collective…).
But rather than a straight allocation of “x” number of points to decide your attribute scores, in Mechatron you put your robot together piece by piece. Each robot has a basic “chassis” with space for a head part, a torso part and what they call the robot’s under-carriage. For each of these there are 8 options, each one adding different scores to your robot’s attributes. But not only this, each option also offers Armour and a number of Module slots (modules are, in effect, Mutations in MYZ and Animal Powers in Genlab Alpha). So, you’re doing the same thing in allocating points, but just doing it in a slightly different, and interesting, way.
By doing all this you’ll build your attributes, called Servo (aka Strength in MYZ), Stability (Agility), Processor (Wits) and Network (Empathy, or Instinct in Genlab Alpha). You’ll also work out the programs you have installed (aka skills) and Secondary Functions (MYZ archetype talents).
The key resource for your robot is ENERGY POINTS (EP). You can only ever have a max of 10 of these, although you can try and find batteries to hoard extra EP, but that’s a pretty bad show if other robots in the Collective find out you’re doing it (it’s not called the Collective for nothing!). EP is used for loads of stuff, and is a really important currency between robots: you’ll use them to power up your modules (like Mutations); they can be recharged or swapped between robots for help or as currency to pay for stuff; in extremis you can “over-heat” to generate more EP but that risks damaging yourself.
On top of that robots stick to a strict heirarchy – robots take orders from other robots higher in the heirarchy. But if you’re an intelligent, conscious and thinking robot you might not want to follow the orders of some cleaning bot, or security bot, regardless of how high in the heirarchy they might be. That’s fine – you’re better than them (aren’t you?) – and you know better. But they might not see it the way you do.
And that might lead to Logic Conflicts. Robots aren’t stupid, even the unconscious ones. And fighting is stupid, unless absolutely necessary, so why not defeat your opponent with unassailable logic first? And that’s where Logic Conflicts come in. Similar in principle to Intrigues in the Song of Ice and Fire RPG (but not as complex to run and manage), you can blast your enemy with logic and move on unscathed – Spock would be so proud.
The Collective is like the Ark in MYZ but with a different dynamic, and is the centrepiece of the setting. But where your MYZ Ark is measured by its four development levels of Food, Culture, Technology and Warfare, the Collective is measured by a different four: by its Energy, Production, Defence and Information. And all of those scores are going to slowly go down and down, no matter how many work orders you and your robot allies get through.
The Alpha also references the “Ghost in the Machine” campaign, and offers one scenario as a teaser – ‘Work Order 1: Dockyard Divergence’. No spoilers here, but it’s a good little scenario and an excellent taster of the kind of thing you should expect as part of the wider “Ghost in the Machine” campaign.
SO WHAT DON’T I LIKE?
- I’m not sure there’s anything I really don’t like about this, but if you know much about Mutant: Year Zero or Genlab Alpha there’s a lot that’s the same;
- Although I will say that Mechatron as a game on its own might not have the under-carriage to carry it a long way without its predecessors;
OK, SO WHAT DO I LIKE?
- Carrying on the spinside of that last thought, it feels that the “robot-only” Ghosts campaign will be excellent to run through as part of learning how to play a robot, even if the real experience will be once the robots hit the sunlight;
- The Mechatron spin on character generation;
- Energy Points as both the oil to grease the wheels of your abilities and the dosh to pay the bills;
- Adding a Logic Conflict mechanic and heirarchy, rather than just a robot version of Fast Talk;
- These rules let you easily introduce a robot character into an existing campaign (for example, it would be cool to run either a robot Watcher in Genlab Alpha who becomes self-aware and sides with the animals, or any enemy robot in MYZ could be played under these rules, and one could decide to pitch-in with the Mutants in the Ark, or maybe some enterprising Gearhead makes one…);
- The admirable aspiration to make a Mechatron campaign about revelation, identity, learning what it means to be alive and how you – as a character – can handle it;
- And, of course, the usual Fria Ligan high standards of writing, production and game design.
It’s a great addition to the expanding Mutant world, and one that will enrich that world in spades. I’d buy it, if I hadn’t already kickstarted it in the first place.