We’re nearly at the end, folks. Let’s do this.

Last night was Gregor Hutton’s 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars, a game of space marine bug-killing action and self-psychologizing flashbacks. I’ve been interested in playing this game for years, but have only now gotten the chance. I’ll be straight: it didn’t work for me, largely because of the setting. But I’ll do my best to give it a fair analysis. The others—Austin, who ran it, John, Dan and Thaddaeus, all, I think it’s fair to say, straight-up enjoyed it.

It was very clear that a lot of the game happens in the progression of missions, which we weren’t able to do with a tasting. With only one session, the interesting effects of promotion and conflicting orders for the various ranks couldn’t become apparent. Each character could get no more than one Flashback, and thus very little development beyond their initial reputation. But we could feel all that lurking under the surface, for use in future play.

So what did the game do, as a one-shot? It turned into a lot of grenades, a lot of bravado, and surprisingly, a lot of world-building. There is enough detail in the setting-as-given to work from, and enough space to make up your own things. Of course, the book explicitly says that you should make up weird things that your power-armor has,[1] but there was room beyond that, too. But more generally, we felt entitled to make up many details about how, say, the spaceships and other vehicles worked, how the chain of command worked, etc. This was one of the windows into the Flashback system, really: that system is basically a big red “make things up about the setting and your character” button.

The crunch was, of course, very simple, but more than that, it felt fast-and-loose, which worked well. John felt that it particularly encouraged bravado. I am inclined to agree, but there were some funny parts where our old narrative-positioning instincts kicked in, and we tried to do clever things to get an advantage. The rules as written quite simply have no place for those sorts of rightward-pointing arrows, but Austin just ignored those rules when convenient and did some things by fiat and some others by spur-of-the-moment making shit up, and it worked. It actually felt right that he should be, as it were, ignoring the field manual in the face of heat-of-the-moment necessities.

I think I might enjoy it more with a different setting, like a zombie apocalypse as done in Left 4:16 Dead. But on reflection, I think it’s not just the setting that would make me like that more: it’s also the ways in which it would make clearer how to deal with downtime between fighting. Because that was what I needed for contrast. There was too much constant-high-octane, and no time to reflect, recollect, worry what’s around the corner, ask ourselves why the hell we’re doing this, and such.

Austin acknowledged that he didn’t leave much time to regroup, but said that it was hard to figure out how to do that meaningfully in a game where the only crunch centers on fighting. I think that that’s an interesting challenge for a game like this: you want it to focus the mechanics on fighting, so that the rest can be freely narrated, but at the same time, by making all the crunch focus on the fighting, you valorize it and make the rest feel kinda like “not playing the game”. The book does say to have such downtime, but compared to the amount of the book dedicated to killing aliens and the trappings thereof, it’s just a blip. That’s a hard situation to avoid.

Tomorrow, our final game of the week: Graham Walmsley’s A Taste for Murder.

  1. And we did! Some highlights included windshield wipers, an automatic comb, an herbicide dispenser, pec enhancers,  and chest-mounted thrusters, a.k.a. the retreat button. []
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  • One more point – we started at something like 9 PM with two people who could only stay a few hours, so there wasn’t much time for introspection.

  •  Yeaaah … you really gotta play this game for a while for it to work.

  • AD 316 and Carnage Amongst the Tribes were both supposed to have some of that between-fights gameplay in them. But neither looks like it’s gonna be published anytime soon.

    Sucks, too, because I think the AD 316 concept will probably clear up most of the setting issues you have. (I’m bad at sci-fi myself, too. Because when you show me something and say “This is sci-fi,” I have a tendency to overthink it and rapidly run into problems of scale.)

    — Alex