Game Chef

So Brent Newhall submitted a video for Game Chef: Uneven Wings. 

Very interesting idea! And I totally cannot learn how to play this RPG from a video. I’ve never tried so I was curious. 

But…yup. Impossible for me. I’m sitting here watching and he’s explaining it so, so clearly. And it’s bouncing off my brain. 

I think there’s some kind of aggression/defense bidding thing that happens. Is there a premise? I don’t…think so. I think it’s an engine. Shit, I’m gonna try again — it’s only 3 and a half minutes long.

The production is nice! There are some simple instructional graphics, a music track for crying out loud, and that weird harsh b/w filter over the whole thing.

Okay, second go. One player picks “a crisis” that motivates your story, fine, okay. Super open-ended but it’s basically storygame 101. Okay, the characters have a “dream” related to the crisis. It never comes up again.

Looks like the other players (one plays “the crisis” and everyone else is characters) divvy up 10 tokens among “aggression” and “defense,” as basically two stats. You’re secretly bidding those tokens. And then if you win you win (do you spend the tokens? I think you must, otherwise you’d just bid ’em all every time, right?), but if you lose you switch sides — aggression tokens go to the defense side, defense tokens vice versa. And one of them gets scraped off into a side pool. No idea what happens to that pool. I guess they’re just gone.

(Side thought: use the Dream to pull those dead tokens back into your economy? Maybe set it up so that every crisis is followed by a Dream phase, just make it very gentle to get the tokens back into circulation?)

So…it looks like a 300-ish word game narrated into 3.5 minutes in a format that I had to write down to get it into my head. But now I’m super interested: can you design an RPG that can explicitly only be taught visually? And more specifically, via video? Interesting challenge. 

Cool idea, Brent Newhall! I’m glad you turned me on to this.

Game Chef Talk

Whenever I read someone’s screed about things they’d do different about Game Chef, one inevitable topic is that 90% of what gets submitted is unplayably rough. That the bar isn’t high enough. Which, you know, fair point. Really fair. Hell, MadJay Brown and I experienced the horror of playing Gregor Hutton’s 3:16 from a Game Chef draft and, yup, unplayable. (The final game is a whole different story, but you wouldn’t know that if you’d dismissed the contest draft.)

I think there’s a problem with expectations amongst some of the participants, but what I reeeeeally think is going on is that a lot of people want to see more like…an invitational. A closed, tight, very high-end competition that’s maybe judged by a small committee rather than random strangers who may or may not have any shared aesthetics. Or the deep critical background required to understand what a game may be trying to accomplish, whether it’s something you’d “like” or not.

Lots of entangled issues here of course. There’s not much formal game design critique out there, and the informal stuff tends to be incredibly subjective. And then there’s the epic sprawl of game design itself. But I think those can be set aside (honest!). 

Is that something folks would like to see? Let me be clear: I am not actively proposing I do this or anything like it. I’m just talking. For now. 

Or have I completely misread the “why isn’t there a higher bar?” thread of GC talk?

Side note: I’m also super-aware that there are other objections to the contest format that have nothing to do with quality control. Totally get that the contest part of the “contest” is overblown, that people (me included) get bad-neurotic about elements of that, that the quality of feedback is commonly somewhere between iffy and useless (with the occasional shining gem). This thread isn’t about those topics.

Game Chef
Late Entry

This is the freeform larp I should have submitted. Guess I’ll hold off ’til Fastaval.

Title: Daddy Loves Cake

Content warnings: child abuse, privation, cake

This larp is played out in three acts. It is for a father and his daughter. Any two participants may play the game, but those are the roles.

Act 1: The Decision

Instructions for the father: go to the fridge and look for the last piece of cake. Now decide: do you eat it or not?

Additional considerations: 

* Your daughter is not home
* There is nobody else in the house
* There are actually one and a half pieces left, but that pan is taking up an awful lot of room. And that half-piece is so very small.


If you eat the cake, proceed to Act 2. If you do not, pat yourself on the back, you’re a better dad than me.

Act 2: The Eating

Instructions for the father: Eat the hell out of that cake.

Additional considerations:

* The cake is slightly stale
* You weren’t actually hungry
* That half-piece is just a little bit too much to eat.

Act 3: The Betrayal

Instructions for the daughter: go to the fridge and look for the last piece of cake. Of course you won’t see any. Now decide: accept a lesser dessert or wage endless war?

Additional considerations:

* That was the best cake you’ve ever tasted. EVER.
* It is gone forever.
* Daddy doesn’t even care that this is the worst day of your life.


* If the daughter agrees to a lesser dessert, everyone wins
* If the daughter does not agree to a lesser dessert, everyone loses

Game Chef Talk

Here’s an interesting one from Steve Hickey: The Empty City. (

One PDF with a flowchart. No rulebook. Looks like you start in the very middle and follow the instructions as you proceed. Another Twitter game? Hey yeah it is, the first instruction you have to follow is that you tweet something and use the #theemptycity  hashtag. Neat!

Now, I’m not completely new to this kind of game so I can sorta suss out what he’s going for. I think maybe a tiny bit more guidance on what to do would be useful. Also: the flowchart is baffling as hell. Maybe numbers marking the order of play? Like, there are things that link into the flowchart from “outside” the flowchart that, I suppose, you need to do at some point. Order of operations is guessable but it could be clearer.

So it looks like the whole game is kind of an exploration of a weird nightmarish dreamscape. And it looks like you’re meant to follow the hashtag inside the Twitter and work with other players in real-time. There are places where you have to see if someone has used the hashtag inside a certain period of time, and then “ask the hashtag” to provide inputs. Also interesting.

Really neat! Really confusing to follow right now! But I could totally see this getting polished up and being a fun thing to get some Twitter friends in on. One thing that occurs to me: Twitter I think is mostly a smartphone thing, yes? Like, don’t you/we mostly engage with it on little devices? That makes me think the spreadsheet is a) a tough form factor and b) you could probably build a very simple app and/or linked web pages to “run” the game.

Game Chef Talk

I’m gonna start looking at entries that interest me by people who interest me. First one on the list: Larry Spiel’s Dear Deliverance. (

First GC entry? Maybe? It’s a two player game you play over the Twitter! So: infinite audience, I suppose. 

I hate the Twitter.

So the conceit is that one of the players is a “confidant,” and is there to provide advice. The other is a “stranger” looking for advice. It’s an advice column game! Well alrighty then.

Setup is way-undercooked right now. The confidant starts by picking 3-5 “elements” in two categories: issues the stranger is facing, and why the stranger is alone. Issues are issues, anything from substance abuse to codependency, really anything you might see in an advice column. But it looks like the confidant does it absent the stranger’s input, guessing at what might be the lines in play. (For safety reasons it might be necessary to negotiate around the lines previous to the confidant’s setup step.)

The stranger runs with whatever the confidant puts out there, doodles up their fucked-up life in private. Then they decide what pushed them to ask the confidant for advice.

So: I do like that the game leverages the Twitterness of Twitter. It’s meant to be dumped into in tiny dribbles, then disappear, then reappear down the road. Not sure it’d actually work on the Plus! 

Something that jumps out at me is that once play has started, it’s pretty much the confidant providing advice and the stranger expanding on their problems. I like the safety measures baked into the game (the players can tag their posts with stuff like #redlight  to make play stop, or #yellowlight  if you need it to slow down). That’s good, because the prospect of becoming an advice columnist feels dicey.

I think it’d be way fun to play the stranger: it’s basically Fiasco for one, right? It’s also possibly cruel misery tourism. Like, the very first person who came to mind as a stranger is my mom, who is masterful at dragging people into her bullshit and then reweaving and reincorporating her endless problems.

Looks like Larry came up with a similar conclusion: a game he wrote that’s not for him. 

I think the only solid advice I’d have going forward would be to build out the safety tools (like drawing lines ahead of the confidant’s input), and man…thinking long and hard about who you’d actually want playing as a confidant. Now, I also think you could turn it into something more entertaining, something Fiasco like but played out between Twitter handles — the stranger’s goal being to weave ever more implausible awfulness, the confidant’s goal being to provide terrible advice that the stranger actually takes.

Game Chef Talk

Just got my assignments. Some really interesting stuff. 

I thought my design was kind of out-there but no way, there’s some really interesting thinking happening a good ways out of the box. Stuff that jumped out at me from my four assigned games:

* A QR code that launched me into a game document. It’s a very short document! But the interaction of code, phone and then engaging with the game got me thinking.

* Some interesting guided improv — freeform larp is all up in Game Chef’s grill. I really wish I had better grounding in that creative space. A topic to revisit down the road.

* A pure boardgame but with a narrative ending. Interesting. I wonder what my boardgame friends would think of that? 

Anyway, interesting stuff. Really varied. 

EDIT: And out of morbid curiosity, I looked up who’s reading Dragon, Fly. Aaaaaallll freeform larps. Welp.

I can’t think of a better gamer compatibility test than asking “what would you use to run X?” Where X is something about which you have no strong opinions, but is clear enough that anyone will understand the reference. So: a popular genre, a recent movie or book, a common trope.

Imperial Assault

First off: I’m writing this in a Starbucks on my swanky new laptop so now I’m a real blogger. Shit, wait, I don’t have a blog. Um…social media micro nano femtopersonality. 

Couldn’t pull MYZ together last night (summer is rough, everyone’s got family shit going on, how dare they) so I spun up Imperial Assault in campaign mode. There are, basically, two complete games in the box: a PvP skirmish game where each side builds an army and a deck of cards, and a campaign game where one player is the Empire and everyone else is a Rebel hero, with their own advancements and gear and other trad-as-it-is-understood-today RPGish stuff. 

We started on the tutorial and I completely effed up most of it. In fact I think we ran it twice and I effed it up both times. I’d like to blame FFG’s notoriously terrible rulebook but I kind of have to own this one: I got key concepts like hero and player tangled up in my own head.

Honestly the game is not hard, especially if you’ve played Descent (this is basically version 3.0). A rebel player goes and does a couple actions (move, fight, rest, interact or “special”), then the Imperial player activates a card — either a badass individual or a group of mooks — then another Rebel player goes and so on until everyone’s gone. In campaign mode, there are some additional twists: the Imperial player builds his “threat,” based on the campaign stage you’re on, and spends it to spawn new mooks. And maybe other effects, we haven’t gotten that far. 

Since we’re playing with fewer than the default four heroes, they all have a “heroic” benefit, which means they can trade around a fourth activation token each turn. It’s neat, very clever way to scale the game up. It’s also the source of my confusion: each activation gives you two actions. I has a dumb.

So! The play is good. Tiny map, as you can see in the picture, and that’s both weird and good: building the map for a scenario is terrible. Truly, it is awful. The game comes with, I think, 50 little map bits and you have to review every one of them every time to build the map. Some folks at BGG have attempted solutions, like making little uh…menus, I guess, of common shapes and their associated numbers, so you can sort by size/shape at the very least. I saw someone else subdivide their bits by first number (there are 0x, 1x, 2x and 3x pieces); might try that myself. Because I think the intended play is that you get through two or three missions at a sitting (assuming about 1-1.5 hours per mission), but the form factor doesn’t really facilitate that.

Once we got the rules hashed out, the game is pretty tightly balanced. The heroes all have their own little tricks and tweaks, and those just continue to evolve through play. No sign of really terrible field commandering, either: like that terribad Alien Uprising I kickstartered last year, each toon has so very much shit to track that I think field commandering is kind of hard. There’s still strategizing! And that’s good; I would not want everyone to be nose-down in their stuff and completely oblivious to everyone else. It’s probably not avoidable forever, especially when the field commander-prone player(s) finally twig to all the rules. But for now it’s okie-dokie.

The scenarios work very much like short little trad-RPG fight scenes: here are some secret notes, here are some secret triggers, now play balls-out against each other while interpreting the secret stuff in good faith. There’s not a lot of interpretation required but it’s still there. Like, in the introduction to the campaign there’s a mention of “terminals” at an Imperial base but no instructions on what exactly to do. So the first thing they tried was an ‘interact” action. Well…the scenario book doesn’t really say if anything happens, and they haaaated that they’d just wasted a precious action doing nothing. There’s probably a formalistic answer in the rules, something like “well duh, interact only works on doors and crates” or someshit. I just shrugged and recommended they look at their other action choices. 

What I really like is the semi-open-ish campaign structure that spools out. After the introduction, everyone gets XPs (including the Imperial player: you choose one of three Imperial “characters” and develop them throughout the campaign) which which to improve their character out of a deck of options. They also get some money and a random assortment of gear. Then the heroes start their “face-up mission” stack by pulling a couple side mission cards from a deck they built based on the characters in play, plus some player choices, plus some random draws. 

As the campaign goes on, it tells you whether you’re about to do a side mission or a story mission. You typically have two side mission choices at all times, although the Imperial player can buy “agendas,” some of which are crappy side-missions the heroes don’t want to have to do (and if they pass them up, the Imperial player gets a bennie). The Imperial player actually develops a whole suite of interesting gotchas and ongoing effects. I build my Agenda deck pretty much by picking pictures and narrative that I liked, not necessarily by shopping for nasty synergies and optimal pathways.

Anyway, it’s pretty cool. Everyone’s got a little investment in their toons even after their first mission. They have to decide which of two side missions they’ll do next. They’re thinking about their level-ups. It’s neat and very easy (other than the map-building thing). 

Games like this make me wish I had a second night to game. One night for srsbsns, one night for pewpew and guiltless murder.