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Last week I mentioned a game that I was working on in PuzzleScript. There was a link to the game in progress.
To-day, there is a link to the game which is done: Aperture Science Sokoban Testing Initiative.
It’s Portal, told as best as I can through the game engine. Which, honestly, came out pretty great, given that my last experience attempting to code a game happened on a TI-83+ graphing calculator.
I’m quite proud of myself. For designing levels which people have found challenging but possible, for punching out bugs wherever I discovered them, and for writing which, in my mind, serves as a pastiche of what made the Portal series so entertaining, without simply hitting identical beats; in the same way that Portal 2 featured some callbacks to the initial game (companion cube, cake, etc.) without simply repeating the bits which had become memetically entertaining.
I gave myself a challenge to do something relatively new with “cake,” and I honestly think I achieved it. But that’s a spoiler, technically, and this isn’t a post-mortem analysis. This is an announcement that a thing has been completed!
Go, play Aperture Science Sokoban Testing Initiative! Push some crates, fling some portals, eat some cake, and enjoy!
Hey there folks; it seems like it’s been a dog’s age since I last mentioned Synanthropes. Let’s me fix that.
It’s been a while, but I finally started working on the game again; you’ll note that the versions in the sidebar have been UPDATED.
With Synanthropes Lite, I didn’t have too much to do; I changed some of the wording, I altered the Roach’s attitude toward the Artifact to encourage a bit more fussing, and I dropped the timer down to ten minutes, which is a bit more reasonable than fifteen for pure arguing. There’s a semblance of mechanics there as well; indeed, I’m pretty sure I’ve created the world’s simplest game engine: you can do anything that you say you can do, unless someone says you can’t do that, in which case… you can’t.
(I’m sure I’m not the originator of this game engine, which owes a lot to the third grade “Nuh uh, ’cause I have a laser shield” brand of narrative construction).
I think one of the advantages of not looking at this game at all for almost two months is that it allowed be to clear away some of the assumptions that I had been making, and instead throw a fresh pair of eyes into the problems. Before, players had a Career; it gave them a bonus which they could use once per floor, allowing them to either re-roll a failed roll OR allow another player to re-roll a failed roll, if that roll had some sort of relationship to their career. It’s… it’s fine enough, I guess. It’s really useful, at times! It does some of what it needs to do: gives players a meaningful way to work together AND to have a sense of self-identity not tied solely into their species. Plus, it seemed like a great idea when I made it, which was at a time when characters were nothing more than their species.
Also, it was a fiddly thing to track. It wasn’t commonly used. It was often unhelpful. In playtests, I would make an effort to use it every floor, and other players would… not often remember it existed. Sometimes they would take advantage of it, usually because I prodded them. It may have been useful, but it wasn’t memorable and it wasn’t FUN, so it wasn’t used. I had to have a bit of a think about why that was, and that think happened subconsciously over the course of October, springing forth the instant I clapped eyes on it this week.
“If I am a soldier,” I thought to myself, “I can use this re-roll when I fail when I’m fighting. But, if I’m fighting, shouldn’t I… not fail? Shouldn’t being a ‘soldier’ be something that helps me do well, not something that fixes it when I don’t do well?”
Consider it an issue of emotional beats. If you haven’t read Ryan Macklin’s commentary on this, well, you should, but the hyper-brief summary is this: every action you take produces an emotion, and you should ensure that the emotions created by the mechanics are able to work with the emotions created by the fiction. Career dice were producing a toxic situation here.
In the fiction, I set up to do a difficult task, attempt it, and (hopefully) succeed because I had the skills and resources. Call that the narrative progression. Mechanically, I gather my pool (which re-enforces the idea of marshaling my resources, a positive or at least appropriate emotional beat). I roll the dice and count the successes (it’s an analysis moment, so it disrupts the emotion but only very briefly… call it almost neutral). I see I have sufficient successes, and accomplished the thing (hooray, I did well) or I do not, and I failed (oh no, what goes wrong?), either way my reaction as a player to the roll of the dice matches and re-enforces my reaction as a character to the situation.
But with career dice in play, there’s an extra step: I fail, and I have to ask myself if I can use my career here, if I have already used it, if the situation is important enough TO use it, so on and so forth. Emotionally, I am already disappointed by my failure, and the flow of the narrative is even more disrupted by another round of the “what resources do I have” game, with a resource that is more rare and finite than Artifacts, allies or even hoard points. Even if I do re-roll and succeed, I succeed having already been irked by my failure earlier; emotionally, it becomes a toxic moment, destroys the flow of the game, makes me dislike thinking about my career, and does not bring the fun.
Damn! No wonder everyone ignored their career dice! If anything, being a soldier and trying to do soldier-ish things is actively DETRIMENTAL to feeling like you’re good at stuff. Not only are your odds of success only slightly improved, but often those successes don’t FEEL good.
So what do I do? I get rid of it. Oh, there’s still a career die, but now it gets put in your pool like everything else; simplicity, consistancy, and now the awareness that “hey, this is the sort of action I’m trained for” is a part of that marshaling of resources which is where I want it to be!
As for giving someone else a boost with your career, that’s been folded into Hoard points. Again, one less thing to track (now, the only mechanically-limited resources you have are your hoard points, which you can track easily). You can’t re-roll for yourself (which means that for the actual roller of the dice, there isn’t an additional hiccup), but you CAN offer your career-based boost to other players; this is a different emotional response. For one thing, it means that, in a situation in which you are otherwise outside of the roll, you can still be invested in it and participatory in it. For another, the emotional journey of “Oh no, I failed! Wait, Seneca is here to help me? Huzzah!” MAKES SENSE; it’s a case in which the mechanics track with the fiction, instead of fighting against them, while simultaneously re-enforcing the theme of working together (or attempting to work together) which flows through the piece. At the same time, if it’s tied to Hoard points, it still remains a relatively valuable commodity (which means I might need to consider awarding Hoard points more often, in light of their increased value and necessity).
The question is whether this will make careers more useful; my gut says that it will mean players can have a greater investment in their careers, which will translate into an increased tendency to show them off. Whether that is true or not, time will tell.
PuzzleScript is not a game. It is, indeed, an engine for creating games, but here I am, treating it as IF it were a game, and porting it into my Game Mechanic of the Week.
(There’s a huge discussion to be made with respect to “What is a game?” and frankly, it’s a kettle of fish I don’t want to get into, but you know. Maybe it is a game. Whatever.)
If you’re not familiar with PuzzleScript, it is an open-source scripting language for creating Sokoban-style puzzle games; that is to say, it’s turn-based, tile-based, and naturally structures itself around requiring players to move crates onto targets without getting them boxed into corners. You can create different kinds of crates, different kind of targets, and different kinds of walls, but the game, as an engine, is really made for that simple sort of interaction.
But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s simplistic. I don’t just mean with respect to the complexity of the puzzles… Sokoban can be tricky when it wants to be. I mean… well, here’s what I mean. Today’s mechanic is a rule that loads up as soon as you open the editor to the fresh template:
[ > Player | Crate ] -> [ > Player | > Crate]
The language is a series of cells and arrows. The cells represent tiles, if they’re bracketed together, they’re adjacent. The “>” indicates intended motion, so ” > Player” means “The player character is attempting to move in this direction.” The “-> ” is an order for the game engine; it says “Whenever you see the situation on the left side of this arrow, turn it into the one on the right of the arrow.”
Taken together, it’s like this: “Whenever the player character is next to a crate, and attempts to move into the crate, try to move the crate in the direction they’re pushing.”
What do I love about this? I love how simple it is. I love how intuitive it is. I love, love, love how intensely VISUAL it is.
Look at it! Of course that’s what it means! How could it mean anything else? There’s a player next to a crate, you can tell because he’s NEXT to it. He moves toward it, so he gets a little arrow moving TOWARD it. If you want a player to pull crates as well, it looks exactly as you might expect:
[ < Player | Crate ] -> [ < Player | < Crate]
If you want players to crush crates against walls, then you just need to define a few extra things:
[ > Player | Crate | Wall ] -> [ | Player | Wall ]
Three tiles in a row, with an empty cell that means, well, “empty that cell, PuzzleScript.” But honestly, did I need to tell you that? If I say
[ > Player | Crate] -> [ Crate | Player ]
isn’t it clear right off the bat what that means? You can come up with any number of ways to interact with crates.
PuzzleScript, to me (that is to say, someone who does not code things for a living or for funsies) exists in a perfect point between “easy enough to be approachable” and “complex enough to get things done.” Certainly, I’m limited to a handful of 5-by-5 pixel objects, and rules regarding where they exist on a square grid, and exactly one action button, but within those limitations not only can I decide what happens, I can lay things out in a perfectly clear and comprehensible sort of way. If I don’t understand why the player and the crate keep switching places, I just have to look at the cells when I mention them, and realize that, oh hey. That’s what’s going on there.
Of course, it can be used to create complex interactions, with hundreds of little rules, and all sorts of crazy additional twists, but even at its most convoluted, the game boils down to looking at groups of tiles, and changing them to other groups. Even at its worst, you can go through the rules and SEE what’s going on.
Anyway, a week ago I sat down to try and make a game about a princess escaping from a tower, and then I figured out how to let her toss fireballs, and then things sort of fell apart and the long and the short of it is that I more-or-less accidentally recreated Portal as a sokoban-style puzzle game.
Here, check it out, why don’t you?
Let’s talk about Overlord.
Well, more specifically, let’s talk about Overlord II, which is what I’ve been playing lately. It’s the sequel to the original, one which improves upon its progenitor in numerous ways, sharing enough of the original’s DNA to be What We Liked, but containing sufficient nuances in play to be But Different, which is pretty much what sequels are supposed to be. For those unfamiliar, the protagonist of the Overlord series is, well, an Overlord, one in a series of Overlords who rule over hives of Minions–small, gremlin-like creatures with vague elemental attunements–and in so doing amass evil empires. Yes, evil. Intensely, parodically, self-aware evil. It’s a game about being evil, which is right up my alley. And the most important thing is that… oh wait, let’s me put this in traditional Game Mechanic of the Week bold italics, the rule from the manual itself:
To Send an individual Minion, use [the left mouse button].
You see, you are always surrounded by minions. Well, not always, there are a few plot points where the poor Overlord is alone, and you can lose all your little friends through severe mismanagement but the BASE state of being an overlord is being surrounded by twenty to fifty little monsters. And when you face a thing, and you press the Button, and one shoots off and goes to interact with the thing. If you hold the Button, then minions will flow off of you, toward the thing you want to interact with. You can send them all off into a frenzy of destruction, if you want.
Why is this interesting? Well, for one thing, I can never get over the primacy of the Button; I’ve yammered about it before, and the way that keying a particular action to the left mouse button (on a PC) or a trigger or the bottommost face button (on a controller) is an effective way to tell the player that THIS is the most important interaction of the game. Whatever the player will be most naturally inclined to do, whatever the most convenient point of interaction is, that’s the Button. When you pull the trigger to shoot the gun, then this is a game in which shooting guns is your most important skill. When the Button jumps, then it’s a game about jumping. Certainly, there is a hierarchy here… on a PC, I would say that the second most important action is whatever is bound to space, for instance (in this case, that is bound to swinging your weapon, because this is just That Sort of Game). But there’s a Button, and for the Overlord, that means your primary way of interacting with the world is by making something else interact with it for you.
This, coupled with the fact that the minions move much, much faster than the Overlord, has an interesting side effect. See, Overlord is far from the only game in which there are crates to break and chests to open because they contain potions and loot. That’s… that’s like an entire genre: games with loot in crates. But your speed is slow, and trundling over to crates takes a while, and since minions will break open crates and grab their goodies for you, if you send them forth, the player is less-inclined to have the Overlord walk over and grab the loot himself, and more likely to stand in a central place in this loot-filled room and direct minions to get to work.
This is great. Unlike in battles, where using minions is essential (they do piddling damage individually, but can gang up on enemies and succeed by being to numerous to effectively attack, or by sweeping around and getting enemies from behind), this isn’t a necessity, but it is a natural reaction; it’s easier, and players will tend to do things the easy way unless they have a good reason not to. And that’s fine and dandy.
But why do I love it? Because it means that my Overlord strides imperiously into a room, raises his arms, and sends minions to destroy everything! That’s what the game is about, not just being evil but being in command of a force! A force–and this is the important distinction between Overlord and, say, an RTS where I send tanks against my enemies–a force which I use for entirely petty ends as well. It sells you on your power as an Overlord, as a leader of these creatures: they do anything and everything for you, and you take advantage of that. Without thinking, it becomes nature to make the minions do it, not just when it’s necessary, but when it’s convenient. It’s a game, in other words, which mechanically encourages you to take advantage of those in your command for entirely selfish reasons, which, given that being an imperious and evil ruler is rather the point, is absolutely perfect.
Plus, there’s something wonderfully evil about being so evil that you don’t even smash things anymore, you just have people to smash things, while you stride forth, calm as the breeze. It makes for a beautiful moment.
Licensed games have a… checkered reputation, to be sure. No getting around it, regardless of the strength of the creator, the love and devotion put in, the objective quality of the final product, the very nature of the project means that folks will think of it as being a shameless, hopeless, cash-grab. Certainly, when I sat down to play The Walking Dead: The Board Game I was… cautious? Despite being told that it was pretty okay, I still had my reservations, not the least of which being that this was the sort of game which lives and dies on theme, but I had never seen the show and I, like so many in the world, am beginning to find zombies teetering on the edge of “overplayed.”
I had a good time, though. And it did at least one thing I thought was keen enough to look into. Page three of the rule book:
Whenever you move, place a zombie token in the space you were on, as long as it is now empty.
Interesting, indeed. Especially given that at the beginning of the game, the board is cleared of zombies.
That’s strange, isn’t it? The board is fairly large, about 250 hexes, almost entirely open but for the barriers around Atlanta in the dead center, and no zombies anywhere. It seems counterintuitive for a game about traversing a zombie-filled wasteland… sure, they can appear when drawn by cards, but you still have these vast, untouched swathes of zombieless real-estate.
But when you start to move–and this is really a game about exploration, so lots of movement is necessary–they appear, a Tron-lightcylcle-wave of them left wherever you go (augmented by circular pileups when you fire your weapons and they come running from all angles). The narrative explanation is that your movement throughout the area is causing them to grow active; as I’m not familiar with the source material, I cannot say for sure how canonical it is to have zombies existing in a semi-dormant fashion until folk breeze past them, but from a player’s perspective I can say that this sells me on two messages, both alike in dignity:
1) Things are getting worse. I’ll level with you: dropping a zombie token every time I move? That’s really fiddly. It takes waaaaay more tokens than I want to deal with on the regular. It futzes with the pace of play. But it means that this beautiful, open, unsullied land starts turning to hell before your eyes, and that can create wonderful moments when two or three players pile up in an area which transitions, with a surprising speed, from an open world to a barely-navigable hellscape. Suddenly you have to ask yourself if it’s worth a hard slog to get where you need to go, or if it’s more effective to take a wide berth where it’s still clearish, or if you should just bugger on out of there. When it works, it works well.
2) You gotta keep moving. I think there are other aspects of the game which make it a less-than-perfect example of an exploration game… the lack of justification for the resource scouting, the arbitrariness of the location scouting, things of that nature. But by gum, is it a game that tells you from turn one that once you leave a place, you don’t want to have to come back there. But even better: you CAN go back there. Going home is never NOT an option, because saying that you can’t revisit a hex you left is the absolute worst sort of arbitrary rulesmanship. But you shouldn’t, not just because this is a game about moving to new places, but because this is a game about attempting to escape a dangerous situation… nominally, you are seeking out a safehouse, after all. What the game lacks, or which might be interesting, is a more purposeful benefit to moving back… not just to cross your trail or get more resources, but to re-scout a location you’ve already obtained. Its set up this nice worrying situation, in which going back isn’t fatal, but it is unwise… and then it doesn’t really give you a lot of cause to GO back, because it’s never not unwise. On the whole, it’s a mechanical interaction which I feel starts to go a great place but doesn’t quite get there.
But still, I had fun. I blew up some zombies pretty good, and the genre isn’t QUITE saturated just yet, so… good times.
It’s that time again! Time for another Game Mechanic of the Week!
What’s on the docket this week? Well…
… good question. What with one thing and another, this is the week of Transitions, when I’m working three jobs simultaneously, and haven’t had a lot of spare time for games and game-related activities. Indeed.
So, does that mean there’s no game mechanic this week? No, just that it’s a brief-ish digression on a brief-ish game. Well, a not even a game, a demo. It’s time for Superhot.
SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT.
This is a rule that doesn’t even get explained, but boy howdy is it a useful one. I’ll make up the terminology myself.
Right-click to ditch your gun.
Superhot exists in a fantastic space, and if you haven’t played it yet, do so right now. Seriously, even if you just take in the first level, you need to understand the style.
And boy, it’s all about style. It’s a first-person shooter; at the moment, an incredibly simple one, with little in terms of narrative besides the need to kill all the dudes trying to kill you and the last chapter which… well… is odd. But it exudes style, from the grey and red template to the core mechanism that makes the game function at all: time only moves when you do.
On the whole, it makes you a frightening berzerker, and it’s easy to come up with several options for what it’s actually simulating here… are you somehow supernatural, a thing literally unstuck in time? Is this an approximation of the thought-processes of the dangerously hypercompetent? Is this, as the last level indicates, indicative of some sort of crazy mind-control in action? Or is it just keen, a neat thing by virtue of being a neat thing without greater “story” attached to it?
(Me, I never accept the latter option, but what do I know?)
Regardless, you are an entity killing dudes, and though it’s too lo-fi to be brutal, it’s clear that you are a terrifying thing. Weaving between slow-motion bullets, reacting nigh-instantly to the sudden appearance of bad guys, and not stopping till everyone is dead. And ditching your gun.
Y’see, you pick up a gun, and it has six bullets, and once you fire them all, you’re out. Pick up a new one from where one of your victims dropped it. Or, if you’re getting low on ammo, just ditch your gun to grab a new one, or to go all melee on the mean men in sunglasses. Why do I love this? Because it sells me on the danger of the protagonist, whatever his (her, its) nature may be. You are unarmed and unprepared, logistically, for this battle. No weapon, no ammo, you take what you can get from the surroundings, and you don’t even have an option to reload. And then you proceed to unleash hell.
Obviously, Super Hot is not the first game to have its players take supplies from fallen opponents, but the lack of a starting weapon, the lack of ammo, and the frankly beautiful slow-motion arc of a disposed gun all combine to enhance the frenetic pace, which is a really interesting descriptor for a game which spends much of its time not moving. The ability to ditch a gun before it runs out of ammo is an implicit encouragement to take part in this dance as well… you’ll lose your gun automatically if you try to fire it when you’re out, but that means you click one more time than you need to. It’s a minor punishment, at best, but it can mean the difference between shooting a dude and getting shot, and when one hit is instant death, that can be important. Better, more effective a use of your resources (bullets and time) to keep flinging half-used guns, picking up fresh ones wherever they fall, and making sure that your litany of murders is capped off by plenty of littering.
It’s that time.
Game Mechanic of the Week!
This week: Lasers. Feelings. Together they are: Lasers and Feelings!
It’s a very light, very friendly game of space operatic adventure from John Harper of One Seven Design. If you haven’t looked at it yet, go do so! Don’t even read it if you don’t want to, just take in the design, which is beautiful and makes me wish I could make a thing that looks so lovely. Then read it, because it’s only a page, alright.
Characters come together basically instantly… pick a style, pick a role, set your stat (you only have the one, which represents your relative aptitude at Lasers and, conversely, Feelings), name yourself and you are out, onto the ship, ready shoot aliens in the face or, alternately, diplomacy aliens in the face.
But not precisely what I want to chat about today. No, what I want to talk about is a bout conflict resolution, which is to say, dice rolling.
When you do something risky, roll 1d6 to find out hos it goes. Roll +1d if you’re prepared and +1d if you’re an expert.
Specifically, right there in the middle. Roll an extra die if you’re prepared.
Dang! Daaaaang, wowie zowie and YES, this is such a small thing but it’s so great. Obviously, with a one-page RPG, every rule has to be as small as possible, as broad as possible, as open-ended as possible. Everything has to be squeezed down to its purest essence, if it can’t be ignored entirely.
(And a lot is ignored entirely! There are, for instance, no rules about taking injuries, or performing injuries. No guidance for interstellar navigation times. No tables listing the difference between a polearm and a glaive. No enchantment system. All of which are essential for ANY game, obviously.)
+1d if you’re prepared covers so much space, though. Off the top of my head, the presence or absence of that die can used to represent:
- Being surprised or ambushed in a combat situation.
- Being on your own ship, rather than a completely alien vessel.
- If you’re an alien, interactions with your own culture.
- Setting-up complex maneuvers.
- Tactical decisions made by leaders, either “on-screen” (the players have been planning) or off (we should logically have been prepared for this sort of maneuver).
- Having your hyperspanner with you, versus jury-rigigng a repair with a laser-decoupler and a paperclip.
- Teamwork. That is to say, knowing what others will do in a given situation.
- Making a moving, emotional speech before your charge off into certain death.
And so on and so forth. All of those could be read as some sort of version of “prepared” or “unprepared,” and there are plenty more besides.
What really tickles me, however, is the fact that this is a system where you can get two situation bonus dice (well, plus some more if you have assistance, but that’s not important right now), AND where your character has two broad descriptors (style and role), but the two don’r relate one-to-one. It would have been so easy to say “+1d if your style is relevant, and +1d if you are working within your role.” But that’s not the way it works here.
Style and role are relevant, sure, but both of them would arguably contribute more to whether you are an expert or not; role, especially, but styles like “Sexy” or “Dangerous” have an obvious place in determining expertise as well. Being “prepared” attaches to the narrative more so than the character, which I like, because it encourages players to branch out, if just a bit, from only doing things that their characters are prone to do. You’re a doctor, sure, if if you can grab the appropriate manuals then you are arguably prepared to realign the engines before the ship explodes. And you can succeed at it as well!
And that’s a really nice touch, something that sells, more than anything else, the space opera aesthetic of, say, Next Generation. Anyone on the ensemble can do just about anything. It might be hard indeed for Troi to repair an engine (because she’s all about feelings, not lasers) but she can do it, because she’s an amazing person, a hero, superhuman. She just needs a little time to prep, a little help if possible, and a bit of luck.
And that’s Troi. I don’t even LIKE Troi, but if danger was about I’d trust that she could handle it. Because preparation can let you handle ANYTHING. Even lasers. Even feelings. Even laser feelings.
Hey you lot; it’s been an EXCITING week. Just found employment at the local community college, teaching English composition, rocking out. Escaping from the Halls of Retail. It’s a sweet gig, so I spent yesterday celebrating, but that’s no excuse to not come out with a Game Mechanic of the Week, now is it?
Today, it’s from a little game called The Quiet Year by Joe Mcdaldno. I know, I know, I did one about the Quiet Year before, in which I lauded the game’s economy of contempt tokens and the way it reflected the difficulty for a community to come to a collective decision. Now I’m going to talk about a different clever mechanic, but I’m really only using it as a springboard into a hack I’d like to try out.
Quiet year. Chapter 3, the mechanic holding my interest today:
The basic unit of play in The Quiet Year is the week.
Every turn one player draws a card, and it reflects the events of that week. Then they decide what else happens that week, whether it’s discovery, discussion, or the beginning of a project. Point it, it’s a game about the passage of time as reflected through weeks.
Pacing is a difficult thing indeed; it’s something I have been struggling with while working on Synanthropes, but it’s something that the Quiet Year does a fine job with, because it’s able to make that pacing absolute. Every turn, one card, one week. There’s only so much you are able to do in a turn, there’s only so long it can last, and the arrival of the Frost Shepherds is on the horizon, and time is moving implacably forward. Sometimes it seems too long, sometimes it seems too short, but it never actually changes pace. It’s really effective, and works, well, just like actual time in that fashion, ticking along at one second per second but never quite seeming like it is.
But tell me then, because I like to think about these things… imagine if we changed nothing else about the Quiet Year, but altered that basic unit of play.
The basic unit of play in The Quiet Century is the year.
(Well, the Quiet Half-Century, but who’s counting cards, right?)
A minor change, which makes the game last fifty times longer in terms of narrative, while covering the same time in the real world. Suddenly, change happens quickly, society rises and falls in a blink, and people can be children at the beginning of the game and dead at the end without it being a tragedy. True, the Quiet Year doesn’t really do characters, per se, but it is common to have a list of figures who become relevant and recurring, names that keep popping up, often attached to specific modes of thought. It’s useful to keep track of, for instance, that charismatic young girl who causes so much fuss, because she may be related to other causes of fuss later on.
The Quiet Century? Well, the next time you see her, she might be thirty years older. Or the matriarch of an entire clan or rebel group. That’s interesting. That’s one way in which we fit in a LOT of change in the same two- to three-minute turns (because remember, we’re changing nothing else. Yeah, that means seasons last thirteen years wherever we are. I don’t know, it works for Game of Thrones, so deal. Or just call them metaphorical seasons, that works too).
Of course, filling in the blanks is what The Quiet Year is about, metaphorically AND literally, but these year-long gaps will mean the blanks are MUCH larger, so filling them in becomes really, really important. Every event has to be notable… it’s not just some guy who goes missing, it’s that fellow who everybody knows for some reason, maybe he’s the richest man in town, or the mayor. He’s all everyone seems to talk about that year. Every discovery must be huge, because that was the only thing worth discovering for an entire year! Every discussion is going to be of massive import, because it signifies a year in which nothing happened except argument (imagine the horror of spending all year to talk about what to do about those folks in the next town over, only to realize that we were all in agreement the entire time!). And every project, well, instead of being something that takes weeks to occur, it’s something that takes years. Every project is, thus, an Undertaking. We’re not talking about repairing the old truck, we’re talking about erecting viaducts, constructing entire villages, inventing new technologies from scratch.
Scarcities too take on more power, because if we’ve been scarce on food for a few turns, we’ve been hungry for years! That’s not just a lack of food as a physical thing on our plates, it means there is a huge logistical problem in supplying our people with what they need. The longer it goes unaddressed, the more people are suffering, for YEARS.
At the same time, you lose a lot of the little interactions. It’s really easy for discoveries to get lost in the shuffle. The other community on the map? In a turn’s time they could be extinct, they could be indoctrinated, they could be the first leg of the empire. The world becomes divided into the extremely short-lived and the extremely long-lasting, because of the scale of the thing. And of course, though you might be suffering from scarcities, you would lose that sense of life on the edge… no matter how much things suck right now, we know society is stable enough to keep trucking for a few more years at least.
(That said, you can put in a lot of civil unrest, coups, instability on the personal level. We’ll just know that SOMETHING will continue, even if it is much changed over the course of a decade.)
If I were to play the Quiet Century, I’d probably be tempted to give folks an extra activity every turn… I know, I know, this is violating my “only change the basic unit of play” rule but… well. I’m spitballing. Roll with me. It would be “Check in on a situation.” Checking in is like discovering something new, except instead of putting an actual new thing on the map, you alter something that is already there to reflect the passage of time. It keeps the world from being too darn static, it happens after the card is drawn but before the action for that year.
The money question is this: Will this function as a game? Will it be FUN?
Answer: I don’t know. I’d like to try it. I don’t think it would take any real manipulation of the standard Quiet Year cards to be a viable game, either… a little creative interpretation as necessary, but even then, only a little, mostly come winter when events start feeling a bit immediate. Even then, only a bit.
I think if nothing else, it would be nice to give it a try.
(Those of you who follow me on the Twitter, @EddlyT, will likely know that hacking Quiet Year has been on my mind of late. Keep your eyes peeled for more on this topic in the near future.)