I just listened to the episode, and I was going to actually say something similar.
I really have to ask whether Burning Wheel is a good game, or whether the game books are well-written but it is an over-hyped game.
Honestly, for every hype-up I see of Burning Wheel, I see two hype-downs. And it's sad to admit, but I do my share of lurking around large rpg blogs and forums, so, while my sample isn't perfect, it's probably pretty good. There are people who are ardent about rule-changes on the first read-through before they've even played it just like there are people whose minds are blown in the same time-frame. But there are also people who have mastered it and have problems with what it does for their group, just like there are people who have mastered it and it continues to take them to new heights.
Simply because it's such a deep system, you're going to get a full range of these responses - something that is very uncommon with rpg's in general, good or bad. Which is where I think the perceived hype comes from: people talk about it a lot even if they don't play it or enjoy it (usually for reasons different from why people do the same with, say, 4e).
As to whether or not it's a good game, it depends entirely on the experience you seek and/or expect. I have no question in my mind that it produces the experience for which it is designed. If that experience is not to your taste or you're expecting something else, then your mileage may vary.
I remember a Podge Cast episode long ago when you guys were discussing KtNG, and said something like 'now that we're 12 or 13 sessions in, we're finally starting to get the hang of Burning Wheel'. I remember thinking WTF. That's around, what, 40 hours of play? To just start getting the hang of the game?
For us, it was definitely an issue of experiencing the artha cycle. It's not something for which you can easily prepare people. Once we felt the rhythm of the game, we started to understand what we weren't doing well - such as writing Beliefs. Nobody experienced taught us the game, we just jumped right in. So, we got
it and enjoyed it, but it didn't truly sing until later. In my experience, most games never sing at all.
At a certain point, BW begins to seem like a Rube-Goldberg machine. I say this as someone who really enjoyed reading the game books, and has run the game more than once. I've seen new players totally paralyzed by the system and experienced gamers, having read the books, with no idea of how to actually run the game.
Maybe BW is kind of like old-school D&D - what it has is a strong culture around it, and a lot of enthusiastic players who delve into it, and learn it's baroque intricacies.
I think that it is a game designed to be complex, and then to be it's own tutorial.
I also think that at the time, BW was an amazing game, deserving of the 'new hotness' shine it had among indy games. To me, though, it's easy to see how Mouse Guard took Burning Wheel and fixed it. It took a Rube-Goldberg machine and replaced it with something that does it's job without so much wasted movement.
At this point, from my own experience, I have to take it on faith that somehow, other people out there get this game to work for them the way they want. It just feels like you need a degree in Burning Wheel to do so, and I'm not sure demanding that is something I associate with a good game. Certainly, neither elegant nor efficient.
I agree that MG definitely streamlines BW in a lot of right ways, but it's ultimately designed for a different feel, as well.
What I don't agree with is the Rube-Goldberg analysis. The basic game can be awfully different from what a lot of people are used to playing, so that's an obvious resistance to the criticism that experienced gamers don't quickly grasp it. In fact, I think most experienced gamers approach new games like they can master them without having played at all. There's an arrogance that one can hold the whole machine in his head. And that's the mistake that people make - they treat it like it's just D&D with a different advancement system and arguing. I'm not saying you or anyone else here is doing that, but I've read a wealth of criticisms of BW and most are from this approach. And if the criticism, over and over, is that it's overly complex and that you need a degree to play, it's not unreasonable for me to think you're trying to choke down more of it at once than you should or than the book recommends.
Have you ever played a fighting video game? Or chess? The basic moves in every situation are finite. You can play almost immediately. It's only when you attempt complex things that the game becomes complex. Ultimately, the core game is pretty damn simple. It just has more
stuff that you can choose to play with or without. The things these additional levels rely on is the core game, not linked strangely to each other - which is what I'd say is a requirement for the Rube-Goldberg criticism.
In a lot of ways, I'd say that old D&D is the opposite of BW. OD&D has no engaging system to speak of, no intricacies, no constraints. It also has tons of arbitrary rules. One ability is percentage, while another is a 1 or a 2 on a d6? Zero consistency. For every fiddly bit in BW, there's a lot of consistency and basically every rule is aimed towards the heart of the game.
That's not to say the game doesn't have imperfections. I just find that the criticisms laid out here mostly boil down to, "I don't have fun when I'm playing it." Which is valid to the moon and back, but there's nothing to discuss. It's the attempts to vaguely explain why that fun isn't happening that I usually find to be flimsy. People tend to pick explanations that sound correct more often than ones that truly are correct.