Monday, 24 August 2009

E.G.G. A Penny For My Thoughts

The final game I played in my trip to the EGG this month (apart from the catch-planes-on-time game) was A Penny For My Thoughts. This indie games darling of 2009 has received a lot of press since its release date was announced, probably because the Evil Hat crew have honed their skills in marketing over the years, and also because the author, the editor and the layout-er (?) all have podcasts and significant web presence. In other words, if you followed the American indie games scene at all in 2009, you know about A Penny For My Thoughts. You couldn't miss it.

I went into the game with a little trepidation, fearing that it might be over-hyped, and came out the other side with good news. The experience I had playing this game was unforgettable and left me wanting to play again, though not immediately. Read on to understand why.

The game mechanisms are simple, and they effectively allow the players to take key points of the plot and connect them in creative ways. They also drive the game directly to the narrative, rather than being mired in the paraphrenalia of the game itself. Because of this I, as a player, wasn't distracted by the gaming artefacts and could get involved in the story.

The game experience managed to engender a sense of wonder and curiosity, partially because I was interested in understanding this new game, and also because the game immediately places the players into the fiction. As a GM who plays mostly convention style games I've often had to start a session by explaining the rules. Conversely, in Penny, this is written to be part of the game and means that I had the sense of being in the fiction (a patient being treated for memory loss) straight away.

I think that the group I was with didn't quite do justice to the first of the three recollections: Recall a pleasant memory. We followed the rules of the game well, but during the first part of the turn, the leading questions (followed by the "Yes, and...") were almost all dark or sad. I don't think that we, as players, stepped up to the task properly and created a pleasant memory out of those facts. The end result was that all the stories in our group featured empty-souled delusions and depressions, or were more at home on Jerry Springer's "Worst of Springer." Herein lies the challenge of the game for me as a roleplayer (GM and player). Learn to take the ingredients from other players and turn them into something more than the sum of parts, to turn them into a story. This dialectic is the challenge that I experience when I run Don't Rest Your Head, and is the technique I most need to work on. A Penny For My Thoughts is a good workout.

So, where to from here? As a group we discussed it afterwards and concluded that the vanilla Facts and Reassurances document could go in dangerous directions, and that before playing the game some boundaries should be set between players to identify topics which should be excluded. By "dangerous" I mean that the game could stir deep emotional traumas in the players, and that bringing them to the surface in pseudo-therapy could do more harm than good.

I want to play this game again, with different Facts and Reassurances and also with the question that was implied in the recent episode of Narrative Control: "Was I there too?" Or perhaps, pointing to another player, "Was she there too?"

If you like your roleplaying game to spend most of its time in the fiction, and you like the challenge of weaving diverse and disconnected story elements into a single narrative, then you will enjoy A Penny For My Thoughts.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Nobles Sent

I mentioned before that Nobles was ready to be published. This little study in game design helped me to appreciate more about games and gaming. Perhaps the best lesson I learnt from this is to know what the boundaries of a game are, and to make sure that the game owns that space.

It's like knowing that chess is a battlefield strategy game, and that it's not a game about building train routes. Chess has its focus and should stay there. Even one famous alteration to chess still ensures that it's a battlefield strategy game.

If you want to see Nobles in print, you'll have to wait for the next issue of Here Be Gamers Extra and then print it yourself. Sometime in the future I'll make it available as a standalone PDF too.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Gencon Indy - Occupancy Rate

Over at the indie games on demand News page, I sometimes update the figures for occupancy of our events. The last time I checked it was around 18%. With 5 weeks to go, I thought that this was a reasonably good rate. By the time Gencon Oz started in 2008, we were booked solid.

For the sake of comparison, I went to the Gencon Indy site and browsed around. Courtesy of the event guide in CSV format, I ran the same numbers for the whole convention. Here is some interesting information for you.

Maximum number of tickets for events: 140,235
Number of hours of gaming: 17,830.5

That's a lot of gaming.

And then I found the "Tickets Available" column and ran a quick calculation.

Number of tickets still available: 90,455

So the occupancy for the whole of Gencon Indy at the time the CSV file was last generated on the day that the convention opened is 35%.

Even with such a large convention, there are still a lot of people waiting until the last minute to get into a game. The 18% for indie games on demand looks even better than I had previously thought.

Friday, 7 August 2009

E.G.G. Zombie Cinema

The second game for the EGG day was Zombie Cinema. A lot has already been said and written about the neat packaging of this game (a VHS box) so I'm only going to say that holding it in my hands was a great experience. It's quite the artifact, but I think I had hoped for some more zombies on the cover.

The game itself is clever for a lot of reasons. First, it's easy to learn. I think it only took 5 minutes to explain the rules. Second, it's highly narrative. The words of the narrative determine the rules which are called into play and it's through the narrative that players get involved. The dice and tokens are (principally) a secondary concern, being led by the narrative. Thirdly, it's clever because it blurs the line between the characters and the audience, with decisions to be made at the level of the character and the level of the player/audience.

The simplicity of this game make it a great little pickup game, and a game that I could easily play with non-gamers. I think this one might join my game collection.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

E.G.G. Spirit of the Century

In my last post I said that I ran a game of SOTC for the E.G.G. August meetup. These are my reflections on it.

I used the session to test the adventure I'll have on offer for indie games on demand. It's a clever little adventure, playing around the numerical significance of January 1st, 1901. I brought some partially generated characters to the table, the same ones I've used for SOTC cons in the past, with phases 4 and 5 of character creation left undone so that the players get the opportunity to try out character creation. This, as usual, worked OK. For Gencon I plan to bring new characters, and also to leave only phase 5 incomplete. This ought to give more time for play, without eliminating the experience of character creation. Also, the new characters are going to have a distinctly Australian feel to them, since the adventure is set in Australia. If you want to know more, register for Gencon and for indie games on demand. The end result was the classic SOTC kind of game, over the top, with zany narration and plenty of scope for the genre to shine.

Special thanks to Nathan and Jason for taking the time at the end of the session to give me feedback on what they enjoyed and what they didn't. There's nothing quite like constructive feedback to help a GM. Nice one guys! See you at Gencon. Go register for it!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Every Gamer? That's me!

I finally managed to reach the Every Gamers Guild meeting. Fantastic! Courtesy of some smarter travel arrangements than my previous failed attempt, I made it there and back in one piece. And because of Nathan Russell, I had a place to stay.

Ostensibly, the reason I went there was to see a local piece of architecture. At Gencon Oz 2008 the Novacastrians raved about it as the shining glory of their town planning. It stood proudly (prodly?) on the shoreline, fully exposed to visitors and locals alike. A quick look below (thanks to a Wikipedia photo file) reveals the artificial construct in question.

File:Newcastle view.jpg

But enough dicking around...

The game day itself was fantastic. I think I'll split some detailed thoughts into other posts throughout this week. It started with a game of Spirit Of The Century, a request from Riley. I ran through some ideas from the adventure I'll offer at the indie games on demand tables at Gencon this year. Second was my first game of Zombie Cinema in which I played a Russian housewife. Dodgy accents are fun. The gaming finished with a game of A Penny For My Thoughts, which stirred the same response from me as Grey Ranks.

And of course it was great to catch up with some familiar faces, as well as some new ones. Seems to me that Newcastle is a contender to become the gaming capital of Australia.