It’s Complicated playtest #3, part one

30 11 2007

We got most of an It’s Complicated playtest done last night, with tweaks to the last rules tweaks, and trying out a rough new shape of the board. While I was tweaking the board, I had people who’d played before explain the rules to people who hadn’t played, just to see if the game makes sense without me explaining it; other than getting some terminology swapped, that went really well. It took a little longer to unpack the rules due to the semantics issues, but once we got to playing, I think it went pretty well. I’m thinking this is going to be the playtest we take past one session, and see how it cooks.

Things we learned:

  • Char was spot on with her suggestion that everyone start having declared one stat, not two. (I chose Dysfunction, since that’s the outward manifestation of an inward issue; Oddities would make more sense from a metagame standpoint, but you kind of need to have the ability to manifest your internal issue in order to play.)
  • Having a more detailed setting is always better. This time we played quirky people spending the night in a haunted house in order to get a deceased man’s inheritance.
  • “Oddities” being internal and “Dysfunctions” being external is kind of confusing to some people. I can see where Dysfunctions being internal might make more sense on the surface, but a lot of what can be classified as Oddities are not dysfunctional per se; you wouldn’t call Superman’s X-Ray vision a dysfunction. It’s a weird secret; an oddity. Dysfunctions are outward things that people see and go “Oh, he’s kind of broken.”
  • JR realized that there’s a certain amount of tactical thinking to the game board; we moved his Oddity during his turn, because he said “Oh crap, I did not realize that this means someone is going to have to share the ‘Cursed’ Oddity just to declare a relationship with me!” I think having to keep that kind of thing in mind is sort of cool.

So there you go! I’ll probably write up the new rules sometime this weekend; my main focus right now is Retrospective, because I have to crank it out by the 6th. It’s hard not to keep poking at It’s Complicated, though, because I’m too excited that it’s fun and actually kinda playable.

EDIT: this recent “Overheard in New York” is a great example of the feel I think of, when I think of this game.

Cashier: How are you?
Customer: Do you want the honest answer?
Cashier: Yes.
Customer: I feel like the business end of a donkey. I am extremely hungover and did a mountain of cocaine last night. Now I have to make dinner for a 68-year-old gay artist who is trying to fuck me.
Cashier: I’m… sorry.
Customer: And the woman I love is in another state pregnant with her ex-boyfriend’s baby, and I wish the baby was mine. And I’m sleeping with a dominatrix. And it’s all true.

–Whole Foods

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A Modernist sensibility

27 11 2007

So Modernism, as we (I) think of Modernism, is not really something that meshes well with the idea of a documentary-style game. It covers a pretty broad swath of movements, most of which revolve around the ideas of bucking tradition and structure. Trying to embrace Jackson Pollock in the rules of this game would be.. well, it’d end up looking like the board after a long game of It’s Complicated. So I’d better pick and choose.

So the bit of Modernism I’m grabbing for this game– tentatively titled Retrospective— is from the very beginning of the movement, before it went into the hyper-real or lost its subtlety. Impressionism and Henri Bergson’s theory on Duration are the big influences here.

The theory with Impressionism is that people don’t see objects; they see light. Bergson believed that no two people could ever experience the same moment, and even in remembering something, you could never experience the same moment twice; it’s more complex than that, but you get the idea.

What this means for the game

Our most important experiences– the things which really shape us as human beings– are not marked with eidetic memory; no matter how keen our thought processes, when something changes who we are or the world around us, it is impossible for us to divorce our emotions from the events. Not that we should! Ignoring how the events make us feel is also changing the experience– basically, the point is this: four people, in the same small space, sharing the same pivotal experience, will in fact, experience it in four completely different ways. And that’s what this game is about.

In the beginning of the game, players decide what they will be reflecting on. This could be anything– they could be war buddies reminiscing about Viet Nam, or high school football players talking at their 10 year reunion, or a rock band on Behind the Music, whatever. The important thing is that what they’ll be discussing is an event, or series of events, which shaped who they are today. There is an outsider present; a Narrator– this is essentially half a GM, more of a facilitator than a storyteller. The Narrator is filming a documentary, or getting a story for the local paper, or is the child or grandchild or spouse of one of the players. The stories are being told to the Narrator, for his benefit.

There are two different kinds of scenes: interviews and flashbacks. In interviews, the Narrator asks questions of a player to set up the flashback; we’ll have rules for these questions once the game itself has rules. Interviews are clever ways to give cues to the other players, about who will be in the flashback scene, what the flashback means to the interviewee, etc.

Once in that player’s flashback scene, the other players must play their characters as explained by the interviewee; motivations and personalities and actions mirror what the interviewee remembers, and not what the players have decided their characters truly are. At the end of a flashback, another character interrupts; “Wait, you got that wrong.” or “You missed something.” Or “Here’s what really happened.”

The Narrator interviews that character, and a new flashback starts.