Fantasy Age is a simple game with a simple, unified core mechanic. It plays fast, is super easy to pick up, and does a great job with progression and the sort of lighter adventure and solve the mission job it sets out to do. I have a slight issue with post-roll stunting and still feel Legend does this better, but it is a good mechanic (with tweaking) and I look forward to Blue Rose's release next year using the same system.
But then again, I still get this feeling that Pathfinder just captures my imagination better. It feels like fantasy to me. The worlds and options presented in its books (both first and the excellent third party supplements) open up infinite worlds of adventure. Despite some of the issue I have with how large the game has gotten and the almost too-many choices now availible, I feel there is still a strong core of fun to be had that a more simple game such as Fantasy Age just can't capture.
Complexity vs. DepthPathfinder has depth, and loads of it. While yes, some of the depth presented has a great deal of complexity to it, you can use as much as you want (as is the case with every game). But as I drill down into Pathfinder's depth, I find a lot of reward for paying the price and using the complexity in my games. The deeper you go, the moer tedious the game becomes, but also there is another deeper and strategically rewarding game at the highest level of complexity.
You can play Pathfinder two ways, the first being an almost a Pathfinder Beginner Box style of game that plays like an action game. Ignore encumbrance, AoOs, and limit actions to something more simple and straightforward. The game becomes an action game, and you get 75% of the reward of playing. Nothing stops you from house-ruling in PBB as the way you play and keeping things simple, so it's all good.
The second way of playing the game is by drilling down to a level of complexity you enjoy, and playing at that level. For some, that means playing 100% by the rules, using all the tactical combat rules, encumbrance, and playing the game almost as a fantasy combat simulator. It is admittedly a more difficult game, becuase something as simple as what loot you choose to pick up could be a matter of life or death later as you are fleeing an encounter. I like this level of detail, and while it slows things down, it gives players more choices during a play session other than "where do I swing my sword next?" Action-gaming is fun and great, but sometimes I like to see how a group of players gets together and deals with a world hostile to their presence in it, and watching them make decisions and survive in a rules-set that is unforgiving and applied with a firm hand.
It is the same reward you feel when you beat a video-game on its hardest mode. You get this real sense of accomplishment and feeling of mastery that a more simple game just does not provide.
Simple for the Right Reasons
If this is a game about romance and I purposefully want the rules to get out of the way (such as in Blue Rose's case), I am also more apt to prefer a simple game that gets out of the way so we can focus on the drama and relationships. I perhaps could play romance-style games with Pathfinder, but the urge to drill down into full-simulation and combat mode is there, and I prefer players at the table to not focus on those aspects of the game.
I could bring up D&D 5 here because it relates to the discussion. D&D 5 at its current state just feels like it captures a more basic dungeon-ing experience centered on the brand's core worlds. It feels like a Fantasy Age in a way where the game is streamlined and simplified, and that is a good thing for playing stories focused on the conflicts and characters in those worlds. But again, for me and my groups, it feels like there is something missing, and it feels like the Fantasy Age thing again. I like depth. D&D 5 is early in its run, where Pathfinder is settled in and comfortable.
Sometimes, I want and I crave depth. It's not an all-the-time thing, as I love my pick-up-and-play games too, and also the simple and focused experiences. I like for my games to dive in and give me those complicated character design choices. I like for options to be fiddly and force you to learn. Gaming is never a One Ring thing where one game rules all; as gamers, I feel it is cool to have different games for different moods.
Depth BudgetingDepth is also a thing you budget, just like complexity. You an put depth in different places, but you need to pick and choose what areas of your game you desire a deeper experience, and which areas should be simplified and kept streamlined. Where and how much complexity and depth is one of those game design choices you can plan out, or stumble into - but you need to plan this out to have a game that feels like it has a balance of simplified areas and complex ones that deliver a great and deep play experience.
So Pathfinder still calls to me in a way as it sits there in all its refined and voluminous glory. I like the game, and I like the world. Is it simple and fast-to-play? No, it is clearly not a fast food sort of game for fast food sorts of moods. But it does have depth and a complexity I can appreciate and embrace for what it does. It is a classic version of a classic game, and it does a good job on a couple of levels, both simple and complex, and it has the weight of both first and third party support that is second to none.
Fantasy Age, by contrast, is also a young game with support to be seen. I look forward to the refinement that may come out in future games, and I love the core 3d6 mechanic. It is a fun ice-breaker game with simple rules and quick options, and it is focused on storytelling - not survival and character building. It does what it sets out to do well, and is an interesting option to the Dragon Age game (or an upgrade of it, if seen another way). It does not have the depth of a more mature game, and I don't feel it needs it for what it sets out to do, so there is that to consider.
But what strikes me here is how depth can be seen two ways, as complexity that should be simplified (as D&D 5's direction went in), or as something to be enjoyed and savored and as a feature of the game that reflects maturity and something more to consider than just story-based action gaming. You worry about more from everything to character design to in-game choices, but you are rewarded more for maing the correct decisions based on the moment in time you make them.