Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vote for roguelike of the year 2013

It's that time of the year again: the roguelike of the year competition has arrived! Please consider voting for Kerkerkruip if you like the game. (Note: you can vote for as many games as you like.)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Ludorama #2: "Fiasco" by Jason Morningstar

Title: Fiasco
Author: Jason Morningstar
Year: 2009
Price: 12$ pdf, 25$ book+pdf, link
Size: 130 pages

Genre: black comedy; slapstick; crime
Themes: great ambitions and poor impulse control; big dreams and flawed execution; lives that get fucked up by gigantic stupidity

Number of players: 3-5
Player roles: no differentiation; everyone plays one character
Preparation: none
Length of game: 2-3 hours

Rules complexity: low (but you need some big tables)
Resolution: specified number of successful and unsuccessful scenes; player's choose which scenes will be which
Online playability: medium/high

Capsule overview: An easy to understand, quick game about people with big ambitions and poor impulse control. You will go from a tense situation full of potential to an absolute mess in a very short time, as the characters get themselves and each other into more and more trouble. Do not expect happy endings, but glory in the absolute train-wreck that it all will become. The playsets and tilt do a lot to stimulate your creativity, and help you get and keep the game up to speed. Highly recommended. (Based on playing the game twice.)

Detailed overview: A game of Fiasco starts by choosing a playset and creating a situation. A playset is a set of four tables, each detailing 36 items organised in 6 categories of 6 items. One table has relationships, like "Family - grandparent/grandchild" or "Romance - former spouses". One table has needs, like "To get even - with this town, for what is has turned you into" or "To get rich - through tricking a handicapped guy." The third and fourth table define objects and places, respectively.

As a group, you roll a big pile of dice, and then take turns using these dice to assign relationships, needs, objects and places to the characters. On my turn, I might write down the relationship category "Friendship" between your character and mine. I would then take a 3 from the pile of dice, because this playset indicates that "Friendship" is category 3. If there are no 3's left, I can't choose this category. Then you might use a 5 to add the specific relationship "Friends with benefits," which is number 5 in category 3. Again, you can only do this if there is a 5 left.

This way, you'll end up with a situation that is partly chosen by the players and partly determined by the dice. You then flesh out the characters and what they want, and once everybody has an idea about what's going on, you start playing.

Play consists of discrete scenes focussing on one active character. That character's player can either choose to start the scene -- telling what his character is up to -- or end the scene -- choosing a black or white die from the pool in the middle of the table, which indicate failure or success respectively. (Dice are never rolled during scenes, they act only as black/white tokens.) The other players get to do the other thing. Obviously, if you choose to determine how the scene ends, they'll generally narrate how your character is involved in a really stupid plan that you probably don't even want to succeed.

Halfway through the game, two surprising events are determined using the Tilt Table. Some examples of tilts are "Betrayed by friends," "Something precious is on fire" and "The wrong guy gets busted." These events are then worked into the next scenes.

At the end of the game everyone rolls the dice they have collected. You count up the white and the black dice, then subtract the smaller from the larger number. The closer you get to 0, the worse you are off. ("You are probably dead. Other people, probably innocent people, are as well. There is no justice, there is no mercy, everything is utterly, painfully screwed and it is all -- all of it -- your fault." Rolling 0 is even worse.) Happy endings for a character are possible, but somewhat unlikely. Everybody gets to establish the fate of their own character by narrating a couple of short vignettes.

Context: Jason Morningstar is a prolific game designer, as can be seen here. His best known games, apart from Fiasco, might be The Shab al-Hiri Roach, a 2006 game about backstabbing academics and a mind-controlling roach (link); Grey Ranks, a 2007 game about young Polish partisans in the 1944 Warsaw uprising (link); and Durance, a 2012 game about a penal colony in space (link).

More good-humoured than Fiasco, but just as much given to slapstick, is Jared A. Sorensen's Inspectres. Just as bloody, but with even less rules, shorter and a distinct party-game feel is Great Ork Gods by Jack Aidley.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Ludorama #1: "Mars Colony" by Tim C. Koppang

The Ludorama is a new feature at the Gaming Philosopher where I present a tabletop roleplaying game. The first instalment is about Mars Colony by Tim C. Koppang, a game that I recently had the pleasure of playing online with Remko van der Pluijm.

I'll start by giving you the "vital statistics" of the game, and then go on to give a fuller description of the game. Since this is the first instalment, and I'm just trying things out, let me know what you would like to see in the vital statistics. (P.S. I've added several things since the first publication.)

Title: Mars Colony
Author: Tim C. Koppang
Year: 2010
Price: 6$ PDF, 12$ book, link
Size: 52 small pages

Genre: social science fiction
Themes: the toughness of social problems; inability to meet your own and others' expectations; the temptation of using deception

Number of players: 2
Player roles: one "Savior" and one "Governor" (see below)
Preparation: none
Length of game: 2-4 hours

Rules complexity: low
Resolution: some scenes are resolved using one or more rolls of 2d6
Online playability: high

Capsule overview: A short game for two players who are interested in exploring serious social problems, political struggle, and the moral and personal problems of a well-meaning politician who wants to set everything right but probably cannot succeed. Well-presented and easy to like, though I expect the stories will become rather repetitive if you play it often. (Based on playing the game once.)

Detailed overview: Mars Colony is a game for exactly two players. It tells the story of how Kelly Perkins -- who can be either male or female -- attempts to solve the problems of the failing human colony on Mars. One player (the "Savior") plays Kelly, sent to Mars by the Earth Coalition, whereas the other player (the "Governor") controls the other characters and the environment.

The game consists of three stages: preparation, play, and the endgame. During preparation, the players collaborate to set the fictional stage. They choose several real-world political parties to serve as inspiration for the political parties on Mars; they create NPCs on Mars, most of them important to the colony, one of them closely linked to Kelly and in trouble; and they choose the problems that the colony is dealing with. These can range from "radiation" to "terrorism," and from "population" to "funding."

The game proper consists of discrete scenes. The Governor and the Savior take turns framing scenes, which have to fall into one of three categories. Personal scenes are about Kelly's personal life and struggles; opposition scenes are about setting up trouble for the colony; progress scenes are the scenes in which Kelly attempts to solve these problems. Only the Governor can start opposition scenes, and only the Savior can start progress scenes.

Personal and opposition scenes are played out without any mechanical resolution. Progress scenes, however, involve the Savior rolling two dice. The sum total of these dice indicate the amount of progress the Savior is making towards solving the problem. The Savior can continue rolling dice as many times as she wants, thus making more and more progress ... but if a die ever comes up 1, the scene ends in disaster and she loses all progress she has made in that scene.

Unless she uses deception, that is. Kelly always has the option to cover up her failures by deception, in which case her progress is not lost. This progress is, however, marked as "lies." Lies can help the colony. But they can also come back to haunt Kelly. If the dice ever fall particularly unfavourable -- an outcome that becomes more probable when deception is used more often -- the deceptions are uncovered, Kelly is completely disgraced, and all Lie points are lost.

It is very unlikely that you will be able to get the colony completely on track without using deception. It is still pretty unlikely even when you do use deception. So Kelly's story will almost always involve an element of getting to grips with her own failures; with her own inability to meet the very high expectations that the people of Mars have of her, and the need to confront their growing disillusionment and contempt. Whether this involves humility, browbeating or high-stakes deception is up to the player.

When nine progress scenes have been played, the game ends. The Governor describes the state of the colony, based on the amount of progress Kelly has made. The Savior describes the situation from Kelly's point of view, and that's the end.

Context: Tim C. Koppang has published three other games. Persona, a "just in time" roleplaying game written in 2003 and available for free here. Clank, an extremely brief game about finding a stranger in your appartment, freely available here (2013). And, more substantially, Hero's Banner: the Fury of Free Will, a 2006 game about a fantasy hero who must choose which goals to reach and which to abandon (more information here).

For those who are eager to explore more social science fiction, there is Joshua A. C. Newman's Shock: Social Science Fiction.