Kit, Austin, and I sat down to play Dog Eat Dog last night on a whim. I wanted to do something but we didn’t have formal plans, so Kit listed off all the games we’d been meaning to play, and I picked the smallest one. I think all of us were just slightly lower energy than we usually are, which led to a quiet, casual atmosphere. It turns out that’s perfect for Dog Eat Dog.

I expected the game to be more serious. This is a game about colonial oppression, about how the occupation has all the power, and the natives have none. It was more mellow than that. You start out by naming some facts about both sides: the Natives share a proud desert culture, The occupation is technologically superior. Then you start a list of Rules that the occupation has conveyed to the natives, and the first rule must always be the [Native Culture] are inferior to the [Occupation Name]. The game plays in a few hours, and it seems like it’s more or less a one-shot style game.

Sounds intense, yeah? Of course, our first reaction as people when involved with something that intense is to buffer ourselves with humor, distance, and irony. I ended up being the occupation, and the Varangians, as we were known, were out to “fix” the natives. As Kit put it, the things that are true about the natives become traits which the occupation ends up attacking. The natives in our game, known as the Raj, had no discernible gender roles. Our first scene was one in which the scholar Pasho was burning dresses in the marketplace.

One thing the game stresses that I find super important is to push as far ahead into the action as you can. We found that a lot of the game is about what you’re willing to dispute. “I’m burning the occupation’s dresses in the marketplace,” Austin says. “Yeah? Okay.” say I. “I’m going to preach to the people of the marketplace about the evils of the occupation’s treatment of women.” “Then you’re going to get arrested.” Cool. Dice time.

After you roll dice, whoever rolls better gets to say how it all goes down. If anyone has any problems with it, they can have the occupation say how it goes down. Which means, when you’re a native in conflict with the occupation, you have this pressure to come up with something you think will be acceptable to the occupation. I found, though, that as the occupation, you also have pressure to accommodate the conclusions that the native players provide, if you want any sort of legitimacy to your occupation. I found myself negotiating more than proclaiming.

After each scene, the natives confer and make new rules about what they see as the occupation’s stance on things. For instance, in the first scene of the game, the natives decided that the occupation must really not be okay with speaking loudly in public places. This is the one spot of the game where the natives have any real authority and it inspires just the sort of helplessness in the occupation player you’d want. To whit: I was continually frustrated that I couldn’t “make them love me”. Here I was, bringing in roads and they come up with “Varangians have tender feet.”

All in all, the game was exactly the game we wanted that evening. Just enough space and low energy requirements that we could dive in without any real preparation or thought, and enough dramatic moments that the game actually produced a narrative we cared about. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I recommend you give it a try.

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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. []

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.

And Game Tasting Week comes to a close, with Graham Walmsley’s A Taste for Murder. Great fun was had all week.

We played with me, Allie, Kate and Seth. Importantly, we didn’t get to actually finish the game, due to starting late. But the late start was in turn due to watching Gosford Park, so it was worth it. But it did rob us of a chance to experience the full play and dénouement.

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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.

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Sadly, this game didn’t happen. John was due to facilitate it (it’s sort of a two-GM system, so I won’t say “run”), but he was ill, and so we canceled.

I’ll take the opportunity to gather my mental juices and post something else today, though. There have been some thoughts that are more general than a reaction to a specific game that I would like to hash out and write about.

ETA: Here’s today’s real post, Teaching Situation.