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I thought I'd try to post about the games I'm playing this year.

We played three games on Saturday: Ocean, Montsegur 1244 and Lady Blackbird.

Ocean by Jake Richmond. This is a GM-less game in which the characters are amnesiacs in an underwater base, stalked by monsters. The aim of the game is to escape whilst trying to discover who the PCs are, what and where the base is and what the monsters are.

Our monsters were called unicorns and we gradually discovered the awful truth about who we were and what had happened to us. It was quite a short game, only just over two hours I think. The mechanic, which is similar to Fourpenny Touch or Sanity in Call of Cthulhu, is a death spiral representing the wear and tear on the PCs as they find out what is going on. This part of the game worked pretty well and on the whole it was a fairly satisfying game. The story made sense, everything was explained and we got into our roles to a certain extent. On the other hand, there wasn't so much depth as say, that other game of amnesiacs, Penny for My Thoughts. The development is mostly focussed on things outside the characters and it all happens so quickly that we were slightly at sea regarding the characters. I don't think anyone felt they got under the skin of them. I think this is partly because you start the game with just three facts and you have to do a lot of work as players to develop things and unless you're all on exactly the same wavelength from the start, it's hesitant.

Montsegur 1244 by Frederik Jensen is a game in which you play heretic Cathars caught in the real siege of Montsegur in 1244. It's a "story game about burning for your beliefs". There are 12 characters which are shared out between the players. Each character has a brief description which includes their position in Montsegur, their relationship to other characters and some questions which the player should seek to answer for that character in the course of play. These characters and the relationships are fixed. There are also four fixed rounds of play during which everyone frames a scene as well as a prologue and epilogue. The player who initiates a scene has narration rights over that scene. As such, it sounds like there's not much scope for play, everything seems fixed. But, obviously, this is not the case.

In some ways this is a similar game to Ocean (and Fourpenny Touch) as in it's almost like a scenario. However, the fact that it's more constrained than Ocean turns out to be a very good thing. The set-up is very rich in areas to explore, most of the characters are in complicated relationships and you couldn't say at the start what is going to happen to each individual even though the overall result is foretold. And there's enough that's already set that you can get right into character without the hesitancy that we had in Ocean. The other part of the mechanic, which adds something of a random element, is cards that allow the introduction of new story elements or taking over the narration. These are quite fun although I'm not sure that they're essential for the success of the game.

And, we had a great time. For me, this game generates the same kind of atmosphere as you get in a good LARP. There was quite a lot of interesting character play, pretty immersive, which I enjoy and just lots of good story.

Lady Blackbird is John Harper's free short game of swashbuckling space fantasy. It's not just a good game but also an excellent design, John being one of the current top bods in that regard. He's produced about 4 or 5 of these short games in the last year or so. In it you play the fugitive noble Lady Blackbird and the crew of the ship, The Owl, transporting her to her marriage with the pirate captain Jethro Flint. The system is basically the Solar System, derived from the Shadow of Yesterday. It's a quick and light system that is particularly suited to swashbuckling as players are encouraged to play to their characters' Keys, which are basically the way in which they can generate experience points. Examples are Key of the Hidden Longing, or Impostor. It's only 15 pages long and much of this is character sheets, each of which has a character write up and the rules. There is a single page of GM instructions which is basically, pick up on what the players are doing, ask them questions and go with the flow. The other duty is to set difficulty levels for tests.

The game starts with the Owl having been captured by an Imperial Cruiser The Hand of Sorrow and it proceeded in a series of scrapes and escapes. With three players and me as the GM, two of the characters were romantically involved so I introduced an NPC as love interest for the third. And it worked very well too. The system sits comfortably in the background, encouraging the players to keep in genre and rewarding them for it, whilst there was ample scope for derring-do and cracking dialogue. It was very enjoyable to run. We ended on the traditional cliffhanger as the owl crashed into the Pirate's hide-out.

Next up is Time & Temp on Wednesday.

Also, note that all these games were attractively produced. LB was in tones of rust with a great picture of the Owl, MS1244 was a medieval brown and Ocean light colours of the sea with cameos of characters exploring the base.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 4th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
"The Owl is owned by none other than the infamous outcast, Cyrus Vance"

Can't he call on President Carter for some favours? :)
Jan. 4th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks for playing Ocean. This is the first time i've actually read about someone playing it, so... thanks.

In hindsight I'm regretting the amnesia thing. I like the idea and like the scenario, but it unfortunately lends itself to the exact same 20 minute sequence at the beginning of each game, and stalls out the actual interesting play. Now I'm feeling that people who can remember who they are, but don't know where they are or how they got to the Station is both more satisfying and allows for the game to get underway faster. It looks like the amnesia is just a roadblock for more interesting play.

Oh well.
Jan. 4th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
I think you're right. The basic idea is good but the amnesia was just a bridge too far - there was too much for us to develop in play.

I like the way that Montsegur and Lady Blackbird (to a greater extent) tell you exactly who you are at the start of the game. Everyone knows what to do with a magical princess and a roguish swashbuckler.

I'm not saying that Ocean should always start with a Commander, Scientist and Security Officer but that some support to create, differentiate and entangle the characters would be good. I know we've got the "help to the right", "hinder beyond that", but at the moment, that's another thing we have to justify and develop in play.

In the end our secrets were that we had volunteered to undergo genetic engineering to be able to survive in this planet's ocean but that a problem with the nuclear reactor had caused an evacuation and an interruption of the process and our loss of memory.

There was also a thing about vitality being drained from prisoners to force the mutation.

The death spiral worked pretty well and we had just about enough dice to explore seven rooms, discover all nine facts and get a couple of items. In the end, two PCs of the four died.

Also, although I was the only one who had any, and limited knowledge of the game, it was pretty easy to run and understand. The only problem we came up against was PvP rolls. Does the most number of successes win, do both sides win if they score any successes and what happens in the case of ties? I might have missed these things.

Edited at 2010-01-04 11:51 pm (UTC)
Jan. 5th, 2010 12:04 am (UTC)
The idea with the amnesia was that it gives you a completely blank slate to play on and the freedom to ignore any back story and just play to what is immediately happening in front of you. Unfortunately, we have a natural tendency to try to answer questions and fill in the blanks (which is what the game is about), and it looks like players can't help but turn the amnesia into a major focus of play.

So in hindsight I can totally see it as an issue. I think it's less of an issue if yo have adequate time to explore the amnesia aspect of the game. The games I've played in taht have lasted 3-5 hours have done this and have always played better and resulted in more satisfying stories.

You know, it's been awhile since I've played the game, and I don't actually remember how PVP works. I'll have to go back and read the rules again.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )