Who wants to give my Game Chef alpha a first read with comments? I think it’s ready for folks to point out obvious problems. It’s a party game, kind of. GMless and freeformy and it handles up to 12.
I’m mostly not around for the contest duration so I did up something quick. Hopefully it’s also pretty good! Lord knows my design focus has sharpened up a lot in the past year. Good ingredients this time around, too.
Anyway, hit me up privately and I’ll send what I’ve got. And, as always, I’m always happy to reciprocate.
I’m now so obsessed with this ridiculous thing that I’m playing hardcore hooky from my adult responsibilities just to play it more. Yesterday’s doomed RPG day started at 10 am with my unemployed friend coming over to tackle the last big spicy meatball of High Frontier: the Endgame module.
The Endgame module introduces Futures, these elaborate sets of conditions you fulfill to earn both a really huge windfall of points and bring the game to an end. With the Endgame module in play, the game cannot end until at least players-1 Futures have been fulfilled.
High Frontier is an entirely different game when you’re chasing Futures. They’re on the “promoted” backs of freighter, colonist, and gigawatt thruster cards. You “promote” you cards to their purple backs by bringing them to Labs. A Lab is an industrialized site with a little microscope, either built on a trans-Neptunian object (way way the hell out in the deepest reaches of spaaaaace) or serving as a dirtside facility for your Bernal space station in orbit overhead. Bring the card to a lab, spend an action, flip it to its purple side. Badass!
This now requires that, as you shop your cards, you have to take their purple backs into consideration as well. The fronts might actually be useless to you, but get ’em promoted and now you’re chasing big, big goals.
The Future I was pursuing was the New Venus Future: I brought my Calypso Society hippie explorers to my space lab and promoted them. Surprise, hippies! Now you’re artificially intelligent nanobots, you little fuckers. And they want to terraform Venus into a new Earth. Well to do that I need to haul a terawatt thruster (which is the promoted side of a gigawatt thruster) out to a synodic comet — which, by the way, is only even reachable on the map one-third of the time — and decommission it there. Then in 12 years, that decommissioned ultrathruster will drive the comet into Venus and, voila, Venus now has shittons of water.
Just to be clear here! Without the Endgame module, the game is over when you’ve built a total of players x 2 factories. Just the two of us so four factories, whatevs. We had that shit built under 2 hours. We then spent the next five hours pursuing our Futures. Me, I had to first fabricate my gigawatt thruster, which meant building a factory at a “D” spectral class body (D for “Dark,” not really sure what the real-world factors are… oh wait, Wikipedia to the rescue! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D-type_asteroid). Okay anyway. To do: get a factory built on a D body, which are uniformly super-tiny and hard to prospect in the first place.
Well so I’ve got the Calypso Society, and they give me a bonus for prospecting Ds. And I’ve got an awesome refinery I can fabricate at a V factory, which will give me another bonus for prospecting Ds. Fine fine, I’ll prospect and industrialize a V. Then I haul that refinery (some kind of algae farm that digests regolith, I shit you not) and my colonists out to a D, which is also a synodic comet because I’m already thinking literally 50 years ahead, set up shop, and fabricate my gigawatt thruster. Oh and it just so happens that the Calypso Society makes my D factories labs. Fucking sweet, let’s promote that thruster into its terawatt version, then convert the hippies into nanobots.
All that up there represents about 25 turns/years and maybe 4 hours of play.
Meanwhile, my opponent is busy industrializing asteroids in both the Greek and Trojan camps of the Jovian Trojans. Once he has that, he’ll fulfill the SETI Future, which is setting up deep-space telescopes. I wasn’t even paying attention to what it took to get that easy-ass Future but I know he had to promote his colonists to get it. And he did that by pretty much heading straight to fucking Jupiter and industrializing Ganymede and Europa, which are rich in science sites. Bold, bold move and he never bothered going back to Earth.
We were both pretty content to just bop along for a while until we had Futures in hand that we could actually execute. It took much, much longer to piece together a game plan to get those Futures to become achievable than we expected, much like the basics of setting up just dumb prospecting missions. Those are pretty easy now, and thank goodness because it’s gonna be a while, I think, before we even know what’s possible in terms of pursuing Futures.
We both kind of had our lightbulb moments around how to build our Futures at the same time, and the game returned to race mode. Very stressful! And my early inefficiencies meant I was probably a decade behind my opponent in pursuing my goals. I was two years away from reassembling a mission with everything in hand to shoot a different synodic comet into Venus. Meanwhile, he actually pulled the trigger in two Futures as well as grabbed a Glory card and wrested political power for the European Space Agency. I got smoked so so bad.
The other thing we did was to flip our normal Glory (goal) cards from their basic side to their Colonization side. Guess I didn’t notice that that was a thing when we started adding Colonization modules. Well jeez, those are pretty neat as well, and give you some very cool bennies in addition to victory points. For example, you can build a space elevator from Mars to Phobos whaaaat? There’s a bunch of those.
Winning the game in a purposeful way is still beyond my grasp. I get how to get a business up and running in space. I get how to put together missions on the map. I’m even feeling out some themes among certain rocket builds and their limitations. But it’s just too many moving parts, balancing your map work with chasing Glory and Future cards. It feels more grab-ass than I have to imagine actual space exploration and exoglobalization would be, but maybe not! Maybe the opportunism of the game is exactly right.
We decided to shut down our campaign of Space Wurm vs Moonicorn last night.
It had been 3 weeks since we played last, and before that we’d gone through another 3-week break. The breaks, combined with the demands of adult life, meant the stoke had escaped. I rely on their stoke more than they rely on mine, I think. I was ready and prepped — see the new and revised situation map (my new term! R-maps are yesterday’s tech, S-maps or smaps are tomorrow’s!) — but before we started, I talked with each player about how into the game they were feeling. Every one of them had some variation on “I could take it or leave it.”
I confess I was a little heartbroken, but I’m a service-minded GM and I can’t see asking a roomful of adults to participate in something they could take or leave, whatever, coin toss.
Honestly I probably could have gotten them engaged again. And then next week’s July 4 long weekend, we’d take another break, and then try to get it up and running again. Too much, too much, too much. Which is probably the theme of the game itself: it’s Too Much … unless you can recruit committed players who are ready to work hard and keep a lot of really weird shit in their head.
I’ll share my final takeaways about Space Wurm vs Moonicorn now, in stream of consciousness bullet form for your confusing bathroom reading:
* I’d totally run this again right now, new setup, and I’ll happily bring and run the one-shot to any convention. It pushes a lot of my aesthetic buttons just right and the tornado of grabby bits the game creates is maybe unique in my experience. I also have a huge, deep, abiding love for serious space opera — think Dune, not Flash Gordon — and that can carry me lots of places.
I was asked at NewMexicon why Space Wurm vs Moonicorn succeeds and I had too many small answers. My big answer is that it’s a tornado of grabby bits wrapped in irresistible colors.
* I have a new and serious respect for Dungeon World. I don’t really enjoy D&D style play, but I understand it. DW is a very happy midway point for my traditionally minded players to meet me way over in indieland.
The common move structure, other than the utter lack of support of PvP social tension, is an excellent match for SWvM. It gave me the affordances to easily nudge the game back into action/travel/discovery territory. It could have so easily wallowed in, well…PvP social tension. As much as I wish there were something procedural in place to introduce uncertainty when The Lover and Space Wurm (frex) have a dynamic, passionate quarrel, that absence meant that the game would quickly return to the creative space sketched out by the DW common moves.
I was wrong about Dungeon World. Now I’m thinking it’d be a gas to get in on one of the Chaos World settings at some point.
* Only one friction point between me and SWvM, and that’s the competitive superstructure of the game. Lots of parts to this bullet.
The non-star players agreed that their characters were largely reactive to whatever Space Wurm or Moonicorn were up to. This is by design, since the whole game is paced to the stars’ struggles. Like, the Lover could pursue her own agenda: in our game she’d been granted power over the Transport Guild. Bandwidth-wise there was just not enough air at the table for her to set up and execute the Ceremony to change the guild from clan control to a free market model. Some of that is having to learn how to apply the Ceremony rule well — it’s basically a faction-level version of Apocalypse World’s Workshop rules. And the Other playbook is, I think by design, designed more to wander wide-eyed and chaotic through the world rather than pursuing any internal needs. The lack of internal motivation wasn’t a showstopper, but it kept those players from fully investing.
Then there’s the Victory in Battle move, which is necessarily abstract and detached from the fiction. It’s a notable exception to the PbtA orthodoxy of fiction-first move triggers. Yes, literally the fiction of having defeated a Front’s Danger has to have occurred to trigger the move. But it’s not a discrete player moment; it’s not driven by a player decision. Rather, the GM has to decide if the danger has been defeated. Usually it’s pretty apparent in the fiction when that’s happened but I constantly felt insecure about when and how to make the call. In fact at one point it seemed like Space Wurm might have defeated a danger, but my brain warred between the “was that really the danger?” and “is it too soon?” impulses, and I withdrew my nod.
Victory in Battle also generates a necessarily abstract result: Space Wurm takes over the Front, and Moonicorn is free from the Front’s hunters. So there’s a lot of hand-waving between 1) defeating the space god’s avatar haunting the world lost inside the hypervoid, 2) pulling the world into normal space, thereby curing the Space Madness, and 3) ta-da, Space Wurm is now in charge of all interstellar travel! I’ve been well-trained by other highly abstract pacing games like Burning Empires so I’m okay with disconnects like this. It’s no big deal. It’s like the break between seasons of a TV show. Time passes, here’s a new situation. I think my play-the-day habits of old are in there pretty deep, though.
* The staggering array of questions Metzger throws at you for every Front and Danger can feel overwhelming, and it’s on you to put your foot down when you think you have enough material. On the other hand, you might not know if you really have enough! I forgot to pursue some of the drill-downs on one of our Fronts, and it showed like 3 turns in. You can see the blanks on my revised smap (start practicing now, folks, you’ll be hearing smap at next year’s con panels) where we hadn’t really drilled very deep, then time passed, and then they were on to focusing on a different front.
Now that I’ve run a mostly complete game, I think I would spread the attention around the Fronts more and work on integrating the materials more firmly across all the Fronts. The Religion and Interstellar Travel Fronts/Dangers were very well connected, and it was great! And the Spice stuff was definitely present — there was an important weird-psychedelic-drugs subtext to the game — but I could do better. It was the kind of thing that wouldn’t be apparent unless you’d run a Fronts-heavy game of Dungeon World I think. I don’t really use ’em formally in other PbtA games but Fronts are formally required in SWvM.
Don’t know that I have a lot more to add here. Very, very fun game, I have a new appreciation for a different game I thought I didn’t like, and I’m sad/disappointed that Space Wurm vs Moonicorn demanded more from its players than we could provide.
I’ve been in the deepest funk about RPGs lately. Some of it is that our Space Wurm vs Moonicorn game is on its third week of getting skipped, which is a week past my usual play-by date but fingers crossed we’ll get on it tomorrow. But mostly it’s not that.
I’d typically get stoked for BigBadCon around now but I just can’t make myself give a shit about going.
Last spring I was seriously considering trying to make the BBC-Metatopia-Dreamation circuit coming up to hawk one or more of my betas but I’m so not feeling that now.
I’d typically be navel-gazing right about now about some bit of indie gaming marginalia but I feel my defenses slamming into place well before I’ve even finished a draft of something. I’ve thrown away five or six longish posts because I just cannot even with the intellectual dueling and uncharitable counterattacks smoldering just beneath the surface of every reply.
I just don’t feel like defending my gaming bona fides day in and day out. Or constantly reassuring offended sensibilities that, no, just because I didn’t specifically mention a/your thing or thoroughly and rigorously construct an off-the-cuff comment does not mean I was targeting you.
I’m too old for this shit. How is everyone not already too old for this shit? Whatever, it must be a thrilling side-project for folks who thrive on drama.
Whenever I feel like this it’s a good sign I need a break. So I’m taking one. The Indie Game Reading Club will go off the air for a while and I’ll see how I feel when I start gaming again. Which, fingers crossed, should be tomorrow! I will probably not have anything especially insightful to say anyway, and even if I did I’ll be damned if I want to get sucked into a vortex of definition wars and pre-emptive counterattacks in the face of imagined slights.
(Here’s me pre-emptively shutting down what I’m sure will be someone’s speculations and questions: Nothing specifically prompted this. There is no simmering drive-by drama awaiting you if only you had the secret handshake. This isn’t about you, for absolutely all values of “you.”)
Had a free afternoon and an unemployed friend, so we snuck in a quick two player go: same rules as before (everything but Warfare and Endgame), but just the two of us — the most experienced of us, too — meant the game would be over fast.
I ran with NASA and he went with B13, which starts in power, a political thing we weren’t sure about ’til it mattered then oh wow we’re in trouble.
My initial set of cards aimed me pretty squarely at the asteroid belt and his was a total fluke draw that supported industrialization of Mars. There’s like 1 set of cards that makes Mars not-suck and even though he drew it, it was still pretty dicey.
Now that I’ve got a half-dozen games under my belt, mission planning is getting pretty easy as long as we don’t go any further than the asteroids. I know how to get everywhere, and I’m smart enough to know nothing else in space is as profitable as the asteroids in almost all cases.
I was sailing toward an easy win when my missions were plagued by glitches and space debris and every other fuckin’ thing. I had forgotten to account for my final mission’s reactor, which has a solar component and therefore is sensitive to distance from the sun. Well, asteroids are pretty far away! So I had made the trip out there and then discovered I didn’t have enough thrust to land safely with my fuel-efficient engine and not enough fuel for the high-thrust guzzler I also had along (it’s part of the NASA crew card). That’s one weird thing about the game: you’re prone to player errors that are hard to imagine happening when there are billions of dollars on the line and years of preparation.
I was able to assemble a rescue mission of sorts, setting up a piece of my thruster and its required generator to head to one of my other factories in the area, grab some fuel, and bring it back to the main mission. I had some money in the bank so I was very happy to spend it on the “Failure is Not an Option” option rather than rolling a die to see if I could survive the emergency landing (a thing you can do to/from factories — I think they assume there’s some kind of mass driver on hand to fling shit into space).
Meanwhile, my Iranian refugee engineers hired by NASA died in a freak space debris disaster, cutting my available actions in half. Sorry engineers! You will be remembered.
So the following year/turn, I engorged the remote lander with shittons of fuel, more than enough to make a safe landing at a prepped site, build a factory, and win the game. Then the generator on the lander glitched out, because there weren’t any humans there (humans in your stack of cards protect you from glitches). Remember what I said about Murphy?
Meanwhile, B13 has slowly, slowly industrialized Mars and flown its Bernal station into LMO, where it could start receiving the factories’ products in orbit and ship them back to Earth for mad money. He had had a similar stretch of bad luck but had returned human astronauts from Mars, which is one of the victory point card things. (Nobody cares if your human crew comes back from the flipping asteroid belt, I guess. >:( ) He was sure he’d lost the game, but now saw he had a five or six year window in which he could drop one more factory on Mars while I fumbled around building a rescue mission.
NASA’s human crew was stranded at the outer edge of the asteroid belt, not only unable to fly anywhere but unable to be just shut down. Only the PRC can decommission its crew card straight up murder-style. I mean that was the crux of the whole thing! I couldn’t just forget about the crew, which was babysitting the factory equipment. I couldn’t get fuel up to them. So everything I owned got turned into outposts and I built a brand new rocket out of spare parts back on Earth.
Depressing final few years of the game was B13 triumphantly slamming down the last factory while I did nothing but scrape together reaction mass back home to save my poor astronauts.
Still, we were only 1 point apart! I had a more varied array of factory locations and had surveyed more spots, while he had really nailed down Mars but didn’t diversify.
I think we’re both ready for the Endgame events, which are super elaborate but also give the game enough time to breathe. The two of us cranked through the game in about 2.5 hours (last time 3 of us played it was more than 8 hours).
The Twitter game design advice meme, curated by Jason Pitre, a Gauntlet podcast about the 200 word RPG challenge, Ralph Lovegrove’s interview with the designers of Beyond the Wall on the fictoplasm podcast, breaking consent in RPGs by Kate Bullock, a playtest for Kids on Bikes by Jon Gilmour and Doug Levandowski; Kickstarters for Robin Laws’ The Yellow King and Hannah Shaffer’s Damn the Man; John Harper’s Star Force for everybody, new character sheets and characters for Jason Morningstar’s The Skeletons, Fast & Furious tribute games by Grant Howitt and Jason Morningstar, another Lasers & Feelings hack, and Peter Frain’s 80’s game Movie Night.