We recently played How We Came to Live Here—a game about playing in a myth derived from the cultures of various Pueblo peoples. When I first picked up the game, I had concerns. One was about the appropriateness of my taking a role in a Native American myth, but that’s a post for another day. The RPG takes pains to be sensitive to these issues and goes out of its way to build a bridge for someone like myself to be involved. I believe in the good intentions of the work, and it communicates respect for Native American culture in every paragraph.

But in doing so, it remains quiet on gender issues that I think ought to be addressed.

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Sometimes, I think about game development in a computer-game-y way. Particularly, I divide system—procedures, rules, crunch, etc.—from assets—the pre-provided things you use to engage with those systems.

As I’ve been working on Et in Arcadia Ego, and particularly thinking about how to make room for continuing content, I’ve realized that the continuing content has to be an asset, though not all assets have to be that pluggable. I’ve also realized that making assets is a very different skill from making systems, and engages people differently.

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I’ll be at Metatopia the weekend of November 4th, in Morrisotwn, NJ, representing Transneptune Games. I’ll bring Et in Arcadia Ego to play in its current form, and I’ll be officially running it at 8pm-midnight on Friday and 3pm-7pm on Sunday. If you’re there, come say hi!

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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.

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Thursday night was Annalise, a near-perfect game of Gothic horror. This was the best game I’ve played since Apocalypse World, with which it shares some ancestry.

The game says that it’s “written in the tradition of role-playing games, but works in different ways”, and that’s true. It’s pretty deep in post-Forge indie-brain-damage land,[1] but if you’re the audience for that—and we are—it delivers a play experience you won’t want to let stop.

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  1. Which means that it’s a great game to play with your non-gamer friends; it’s very accessible and probably interesting to people who don’t want to get near D&D. []
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I was excited to play Lady Blackbird after the years and years of hearing people talk about it. Secrets! Airships! Magic! I was also curious how a game who’s core rules can fit on half a page would work given that the best rules section I’ve ever read was the very lengthy rules and commentary section in Apocalypse World. Anyway, let’s get to it.

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So, when we were unable to muster the energy to play Misspent Youth, we decided to try out the board game Doom. At first, I had confused it with the game Frag—a frantic, devil-may-care interpretation of death-match style play. But Doom is more of the “first-person mode” interpretation. It’s from the same family lineage as Descent, and while I consider that game to be tedious and boring, Doom does many things differently. (Odd, since Descent came later, but then, that’s progress.) All told, we had a good time, and would have a better time, changing just a few things around.

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Edited to add: I don’t much talk about the mechanics of the game in this post. If you want, I can expand in the comments. It’s pretty short and sweet.

Last night, we played Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, by Daniel Solis. It was a blast.

Earlier that day, Daniel had tweeted saying that Do isn’t a role-playing game. And he is exactly right. It’s what it says on the cover: a collaborative storytelling game. And it makes that clear, and does it well. The game shows the kind of elegant simplicity that is the result of the years of work that have gone into it. The basic randomizing mechanic gives you a constrained choice in a larger choice-space, with enough factors going into it that it can be interesting, but enough of them deferred or non-obvious that it doesn’t slow you down. The story emerges from that randomness and the strong initial situation[1] well. There’s a little learning curve to pace the story right, and it requires the willingness to bend things occasionally, and you can get a little flatness out of getting in trouble right before the end, but it’s strong.

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  1. The choose-a-letter-to-respond-to thing is fantastic. It tells you where you start, and what to do subsequently. I’m increasingly feeling that “what do I do now” and “what do I do first” are different questions. []

On Tuesday night, we went to play Misspent Youth, but didn’t succeed. There were a number of lessons we drew from this.

The first was simply a logistical one. Game tasting needs a day of rest, somewhere in the itinerary. The prospect of 5 days of unbroken gaming is fine, but when you stay up until 1 or 2am afterwards, engaged in a thorough and extensive dissection of the game, it is both mentally and physically exhausting. Last time, we ended up not playing How We Came to Live Here, this time, Misspent Youth.

The second was a lesson about Misspent Youth particularly: the game has a structure that asks you to do one of the hardest parts on your own, at the beginning, with almost no scaffolding. It asks you to make a dystopia that enrages you, with only a few questions about it and some categories you need to be sure to answer.

That’s hard. That’s what none of us had the energy to do. But it’s not necessarily bad. It’s a kind of gatekeeper. If you don’t have the wherewithal to say “fuck yes, that makes me fucking angry” about something at the outset, you probably don’t have the wherewithal to play the game in the spirit intended. So, that’s kinda cool.

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So, you might recall the game tasting we did a bit ago. We’re going to do it again this week! On the menu are:

As before, the discussion and dissection should be up the next day.