I think it was That Guy With the Glasses dot com’s veteran weird games reviewer Benzaie who said “no matter how edgy you think you are being the Japanese are way ahead of you.”
The sheer guts of Maid is at once both admirable and disturbing. Here is a game that is not afraid to tackle such issues as gender roles, abuse of power by employers, physical and psychological torture, abusive manipulation of so called love, sexuality and even *shock horror* disturbed children with odd obsessions.
Even more ballsy, it does so not with the grimdark seriousness and pretentiousness of the likes of White Wolf but with a jokey, surreal, farcical style focused on mocking both the dark side of Anime and Western perception of it.
A comedy approach may seem tasteless but personally I much prefer it over moping. Why? Because by mocking something you are dis-empowering it. Serious takes on controversial subjects are often very poignant and emotional but a sarcastic calling out is a much better way of getting across that this, whatever this is, is fucking crazy and we should be ashamed of ourselves.
Anyway enough of that, let’s have a look at this supposedly “offensive” sucker.
Maid isn’t so much a Setting as a genre mocking toolbox. The genre in question is the Magic Maid sub genre of Manga and Anime.
Yes I was surprised too, there is not only a trope for Magic Maids but a whole sub genre of them.
We in the west (particularly the English speaking bits) seem to have a fad exchange program with Japan. They sent us such populist tat as Pokémon and Pogs and we in return sent them some of our inexplicably popular mediocre literature like the works of that Certain Litigious Fantasy Author I mocked so mercilessly in Wizkid: The Cheapening.
The stuff that inspired this sub genre explosion however was of a much more prestigious vintage and indeed quality. 19th Century classic Emma and others featuring Maids as the heroine seem to have really gripped Japan and inspired them to put their own creative spin on it.
Thus we have Magic Maids. Manga and Anime that explores the romance and power dynamic in the Master-Maid relationship whilst adding the usual random demons, vampires, furries and robots we have all come to know through Anime saturation.
You can put your Maids’ Mansion wherever you like in time and space and it really changes next to nothing. Wherever you are random hijinks will ensue!
Oh and don’t worry about your personal knowledge of the source material. I’m not saying Maid has an exhaustive background chapter because frankly there is next to fuck all but the spirit of the genre is conveyed in rules text and the Replays (samples of play.)
One of the preconceptions I had of this game from others was TOO MANY TABLES!
Well yes there are a lot of them but have a bit of perspective here. This is perhaps one of, if not the most gonzo and random genres out there. Of course there will be a lot of tables. Random setting, random game, random system!
If you really have a problem with things like Random Character Generation you can easily hack in a bit of a pick and choose but some games NEED to be random to work properly. This is only the third game (the first two being WFRP and Invaderz) I’ve seen that can really claim this but I’m sure there are others!
Anyway the tables aren’t the be all and end all of the system. Once you have a Character and begin play what you have is a mostly rules light free-form game where you gather Favour from the Master (and each other if you’re using Seduction rules) which is a both a Resource Statistic as I have used in Courtesans and a kind of Mana/Energy/Willpower thingy that can be spent in game for added affect. This includes calling up a disastrous Random Event whenever you get bored.
As well as this vague objective/temptation and the modular nature of the rules set (in Japanese it was 3 short books) you have an attribute based system involving multiplying a d6 by your attribute and comparing it against an opposing force of some kind. All nice and simple on the surface but the presentation, even with its extensive Replays lacks a little clarity and polish. As enthusiastic as Kamiya is about his, it has to be said, unique system he’s not very good at putting it across.
Like much of the humour in the game there is a certain amount of self awareness about this. However I personally think if you are making jokes about your rules being confusing you’re probably doing something wrong. Yes have a laugh but make it playable for Christ’s sake it’s supposed to be a game!
Overall the mechanics are, though a little badly laid out, sound enough and fully reflect the random insanity of the genre as it is conveyed by what Background there is.
Again preconceptions come into play and as I will go into later the cover doesn’t help much here.
The general popular view of Maid amongst the sort of alarmists who attack anything that looks like it may conflict with their “standards” of fun is that it is “sexist”, “creepy” or “perverted.” I’ll admit that the last two crossed my mind occasionally but I’m getting sick and bloody tired of the first. It is not sexist for a male author to write female Characters. They may be shit compared to those of a female author but they are not just his “sick fantasies” if he is any good and Kamiya certainly is.
The game is about power and domination in the Master-Maid relationship and in the relationships between the Maids themselves. Yes girl on girl is fully encouraged here. Whoopdefuckingdo! Mind you only the crazies on the “it’s sexist” crowd of Neo-Victorians would object to that being a theme.
What most would naturally be concerned with is the combination of sex and domination. Fears are allayed on this issue at the very start. Believe it or not this is a “PG 13” game. The genre has about as much sexual content as a Carry On film i.e. it relies on innuendo and “thank God you’re here she’s crazy!” This combined with the fact that the issue of consent is a non issue due to the fact every roll is resisted (though the target PC chooses the Statistic she wishes to use) and it is not what the Player wants to happen it’s what the Character does. One look at an average Maid Character Sheet can tell you these are some fucked up in the head young madams who can easily fall prey to each other manipulating their feelings. Is this unethical? Certainly but it isn’t as bad as it has been made out to be by some. After all Seducing Maid is normally as much a victim as her desired beau. It is creepy at times but it is also heartbreakingly tragic and uncomfortably hilarious simultaneously.
If there was one thing about the atmosphere that freaked me out it was the “Lolita Type Issue.” One of the available Maid types is Lolita. The introduction hand waves this a bit by saying the original Japanese term means “young looking” and that your Character’s age is totally your decision.
Then it pisses all over our good will. The second Sample Maid has the Types Sexy and Lolita and the Womaniser Trait. Okay but how… 11? Jesus! 11? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? Since Wizkid I have established a policy of “no sexy characters under the UK age of consent (16, yes even in settings like Georgian England where the age was 3 years younger!)” This guy has no such scruples. He has an 11 year old psychotically infatuated blonde running around in most of his Replays. As I said even if you think he’s a complete sicko you have to admire the sheer guts of this guy!
Anyway as the little madam’s attempts at seducing her “big sis” are all a farcical shambles we are spared any issue of kiddy fiddling. Phew!
As a “house rule” I’d apply my 16+ rule to this game if I were to run it myself and I would SERIOUSLY have to question why anyone else wouldn’t do something similar.
Aside from this gripe the farcical, gonzo slapstick atmosphere with a bit of innuendo is most enjoyable.
The art is all in genre and by eyes all good quality stuff. Surprisingly enough it’s all pretty SFW and tame too. In fact a joke is made in the afterward about this being deceptive. Leading people to believe this is a good clean fun game when it clearly isn’t anything of the sort.
I don’t see that myself. As I hinted before the cover was really disturbing for me. Something about the wide eyed stare of little Yugami. Errrrgh! Anyhow the Artwork does the job in conveying that this is an Anime game even if some of it conveys a squeaky clean image that is really not deserved.
Maid is a wonderfully imaginative and daring game. Yes it’s more than a little creepy at times but it is clearly taking the piss out of our prejudices and perceptions surrounding said issues. It’s probably not a game I’ll be running any time soon if only because I’m still getting my head round all the mechanics but I’m glad to have read it and I do hope that more games like it are made. I have noticed something of a humourless “Offence Culture” permeates this industry particularly in the American market and I am glad there are games like Maid that dare to challenge it and call it out for how stupid it is!