I spent four days in Boulder last week playing a lot — a lot — of elfgames. Too many games? Is that possible? It might be possible. I’m feeling overfilled and sloshy right now.
I posted a dumb thing a second ago mostly to help myself remember what all went down, because I lost my little slip of paper that guided me from slot to slot.
Everything I played was new or new-ish to me, or I was facilitating. And this kind of small event being what it was, there was definitely an eagerness to gnaw on the new and unfinished and not-quite-cooked.
My first game was playing WHFRP 1E, run by Morgan Ellis for reasons that continue to elude me. I went through this with Dungeon Crawl Classics too. There’s a very loud and insistent voice in me that pushes toward sitting down for the very oldest of schools, and thank goodness for friendship and fellowship because I keep not learning my lesson. Bring an epipen because my throat closes up with exposure to nostalgia. Totally me! I loved how aggressively MadJay Brown and Stras Acimovic glommed on and would not let go. (And a third player, damn it I don’t know their last name.) I was also still ramping up to SERIOUS PLAY TIME NOW mode, and my dadding schedule cut my legs out from under me well before we were done playing.
Started a morning facilitating another run through Inheritance. I think the folks with the founding vision behind this house con weren’t totally down with L.A.R.P. type events finding their way in, but luke crane has created the perfect transitional game between crunchy tabletop and freeformy larpy talk-and-feels games. I’ve only run/managed Inheritance, not yet played, but gosh is it neat to see how deeply replayable it is. Terrific mix of lean-in star performances and sit-back support, twists and heartbreaks and hear-a-pin-drop moments. I can’t say enough good things about the design, these players, this event.
Turns out the best part of having me sign up for a table is when I drop out of it. I’m ultraskeptical of PbtA games with more than four players, so my first opportunity to play the ringer (by GTFOing) was to get out of Kit La Touche’s run of Masks and instead run with Alex Roberts’ as-yet-unnamed scarequote-story card game, operating title The Queen’s Retinue (EDIT: it was later renamed For the Queen). She has revealed to me a game format I didn’t know I needed: the feels filler. Maximum feels in the smallest possible footprint. This one is a deck of … I don’t know, 24ish cards? And you can dial it to play in whatever time you’ve got. We ran it for an hour and it was completely satisfying.
This particular feels filler is so very clever! Each player plays a character who loves The Queen, who is unnamed and off-screen, and she’s gathered us to accompany her on a journey to a distant land to broker a treaty with a foreign enemy. That’s it! You have no name or role or aaaanything. Then you start drawing cards and answering questions. And then at some point y’all get jumped on the road and either you stand by your Queen or … not. That’s it. That’s all the rules. But gosh is the question design clever. Like, roles just naturally bubble up from the answers you provide, right? And each time you get another question, your answer typically recontextualizes your previous answers (and reincorporates heavily, if you’re listening and give a shit). It was a very impressive game, my favorite event of the house con.
EDIT because I’m still very tired and I may never recover: another game in the feels category (but not a filler) was Krin Irvine’s WIP, Everyone’s a Suspect. GMless, answer questions about your role, invent/narrate scenes, all fairly conventional in the GMless space (and Krin even calls their game something like “a more structured version of Fiasco,” which is kind of perfect). The twist is in the title: you’re all acting suspicious. Each time you author your piece of an ongoing murder investigation, you play your role as squirrelly and guiltily as possible…right up to the line of confession without ever crossing it. After each round of questions — there are four rounds of scenes, guiding you through the arc of the investigation — you vote on each other’s guiltiness. The higher the suspicion at the end, the more agency you have in declaring whether you were actually guilty or not. I really liked the setting-making, and I super-liked getting to play NPCs in other players’ scenes. It’s gonna be cool!
The other game I ran was Mark Diaz Truman’s Cartel, the latest quickstart version from the Kickstarter going on. He’d run it for me at NewMexicon a year or two ago, and I’ve had ongoing interest in the project. The new version is tighter than the last one! And that tightness has revealed some ummm stuff about the overall structure of the game. A lot of my stumbling around I think was about mastering the tools at hand, but there are still some rough edges — the kind that are only revealed once the rest of it got so polished. (I’m not gonna share specifics except with Mark for now.)
Another morning, Tomer Gurantz busted out his Legos and facilitated The Deep Forest, a fantastical A Quiet Year hack by Avery Alder and Mark Diaz Truman. It was very amusing, particularly using the constraints and prompts of having Legos at hand. The picture I posted is of a magical gateway through which owlbears were invading our fantasy realm. I’ve never played A Quiet Year but I bought it and know how it works in principle. Our monsters (my contribution: “a group of wraiths” haunting The Well of Souls) did their level best to reclaim a haunted magical island but the fucking humans came back anyway and wrecked everything.
Midday game with a tummy full of food and beer and oh man beer at altitude why do I keep forgetting was taking a first run through Kit La Touche’s Arcadia game (his actual name is longer but nobody cares about all the Latin, just Arcadia plskthx). It’s a Regency-era-with-magic thing, very Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Kit and I have been talking about it for a good long time and was so fun and weird to have actual physical artifacts in hand. It felt playtesty/playstormy and that was fun, which is saying something because playtesting is usually not-fun. Love the premise, love where the system is gonna get us, gimme all the dueling wits and battles of manners and maybe the occasional midnight sacrifice in a graveyard.
Since this was my first F2F with Alex Roberts I wanted in on her other Big Thing, which was called Tension and is now called Star Crossed. Is there a hyphen? I don’t remember. It’s a game with a Jenga tower and specific constrained moves. There are two players, and they’re attracted to each other, but for whatever reason are specifically prohibited from acting on their attraction. In our game’s case (me and Kit, Alex’ dance card was filled), we were astronauts on a distant planet participating in some vague and slightly threatening “experiment.” The Jenga tower pulls happen under some circumstances, you just have to touch the tower when you talk, and so on. It’s procedurally very nifty! I’m kind of meh on Dread but, as Alex pointed out, she stole from other games too. 😉 Would very much like to play again. It feels like the kind of game you could get good at, and that is always attractive to me.
Last thing I got to try out was John LeBoeuf-Little and Stras Acimovic’s Scum and Villainy. Probably because it was ninth event and my third night of five-ish hours of sleep, I rolled up on that table with my internal battery blinking red with the little exclamation point. Forged in the Dark games already feel like they’re at the higher end of complexity for where my play brain is at these days, but oh gosh the S&V pages stared at me like I was trying to figure out a commercial jet’s controls. I had fun! Fun-loving criminals are always a blast! And I 100% had to rely on other players’ mastery of the FitD standard procedures and choices and whatnot. That’s a weird place to find myself, and I’m building new sympathy for my players who really just don’t want to have to master a game to have fun with it.
So, yeah. Lots of games, far more play than I ever pack into a more traditionally constructed convention. Honestly? I’m not ever gonna do a monster con like Origins or GenCon or Pax again and now I’m thinking really hard about the tier down from that, the BigBadCons and Dreamations and NewMexicons. Different events serve different needs, and I need to remember that. Not every event I attend needs to be so powerfully concentrated, and in fact it might wear me out faster in the long run!