Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Other Game

Here are some things I've written in the past about this other game I'm writing. I'm just throwing these up rather than going into detail so that I can get the boring stuff over with and get to what I really want to talk about.

The game is an exploration of power and whether there is an ethical use of it, or, having power, whether one can ethically not use it. The game puts the player's characters in the position of being immensely powerful people in a world where the normal power structure is crumbling. The system is mostly freeform in the "you say what your character does, the GM says what happens" sense of the word. What stops that from being sucky is this system where players can choose to invoke their character's power to change the world, to basically have their say. The powers are tied to particular "flavours" I guess, so you never just get what you want, your character achieves what they want through the use of a particular power - guns, for example, or lies, or sex, or whatever. There's also a whole intricate system that makes the characters organically change as they use their power.

Each player has a little stck of coins that represent their character's powers. Each side of each coin can either be blank, or have a coloured sticker on it. You "cast" the coins before play starts, tossing them onto the table. During play, you can spend coins from the table to change the world, and to change what the GM has just narrated. If you spend a coin showing a blank face, then you're limited to what's humanly possible. If you spend a coin with a coloured sticker, then you use a power associated with the colour of that sticker - one of the four powers chosen at the start of the game. These powers are also associated with the compass points of the setting, so that the powers are integral to the world, and as you travel towards those compass points, the relevant power grows more influential to the people there. Once you've spent all your coins, you switch the GM around, and cast again. There's a whole economy of gaining and losing coins, and gaining stickers, which underpins the game, but I needn't go into that now. Basically, what the mechanics do is put you in situations where you're faced with a choice between using your godlike powers, or using more human means. Sometimes, the choice is to use your power or to accept what the GM has described.

Read that? Ok.

Where the game is at now: I've playtested it a bunch of times with a bunch of different people, and I've made minor tweaks here and there, and refined my understanding of how to play the game and what each player is doing in the game. The game works ok, in the sense that there aren't major problems with the economy of the powers, and they more-or-less have the effect in play that I want them to.

But, it's not quite fun yet. It's not quite at a point where it naturally drives you toward interesting situations. It's also kind of exhausting to play, partly because I've mostly played it with two people, and also because there are no dice so everything that happens at the table is the result of a choice you've made, and that's really intense and powerful, but also hard work. There's just something a little wrong with it, and I can't figure out what it is. The design is kind of an organic, closed system, which makes it very hard to tweak. Every part has a function that feeds into another part of the system. It's hard to change one part without changing others.

I think the problem is that I'm too close to the thing. I can't see the big changes that need to be made. I think it'd really benefit from some outside playtest, but I'm not sure I can communicate the issues I'm concerned about well enough to highlight that to playtesters, and I'm not sure that playtest would necessarily pick up these problems.

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