Game Tasting 2 closed out with How We Came to Live Here. It underscored the theme of this game tasting week, which is that expectations need to be managed.
We went into it having not noticed quite how long set-up could take. After two hours of making characters and making the village, we were spent. Had we realized it could take that long, we might have prepped partial pregens or just gone into it with an appropriate budget for our energy. Absorbing new information takes energy, and we had to both learn a new system and an unfamiliar setting.
But we got through that. The setup itself, while not particularly interesting—there were few “oh, man, I have to take that option!” moments—did lead to very good play. The game has a lot of familiar pieces: rotating scene-framing authority, conflict resolution systems, and freeform traits. It also has some things that are rather different from what you expect to see in an indie RPG: races (clans) and classes (kiva societies). As with anything, familiar parts don’t tell you how good it’ll be. A lot of the quality is in the execution, and this game delivered.
It was particularly interesting for me, in that the game has similar problems to what I have to deal with as I work on Et in Arcadia Ego. Particularly, the game has to communicate to the players the details of an unfamiliar social system, to let them act naturally within it. However, how the game orients towards that social system is very different. While in Et in Arcadia Ego you are bound, constrained, and hampered by the rules of society, and can only break out of them through magic, in How We Came to Live Here, you are bound and constrained by the rules of society, and can and must surpass those rules.
We didn’t get to play many scenes, and I feel like it’s a long-term slow-burn game. I’d like to get the chance to see how it works over many sessions. I imagine that ti’d be a bit like Barry Lopez’s Crow and Weasel, one of my favorite books as a child.
Finally, there’s a whole other post we will write on issues of gender roles and portrayal of an unfamiliar culture in games. John’s working on that, look for it in the coming days.