Okay so today’s #rpgaday #rpgaday2017 thing is something about what game you’ve owned the longest without playing. I’m kind of bored by that! I think my actual answer is my contributor’s copy of Deadlands: Hell on Earth but I totally don’t care if I ever play it. It’s nice to own. I’ve read it. I’ve read lots of games that I have no intention of playing.
But this prompts something I’ve been thinking about for a while that I do want to (over)share, and that is: What keeps a game from getting to your table?
My thought has a couple implications, in case you want to comment with your own stories:
* I’m thinking about games I actually want to play, and
* I’m thinking about the time that has passed.
That second one because I pick up new stuff pretty regularly and I’m all inflamed with passion about it and then squirrel and then I forget why I was even interested.
So my candidates to talk about are a tie, more or less, taking desire and time into account: The Clay That Woke and Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine.
In both cases, the games offer an unfamiliar-sounding experience that I can’t easily map to my existing skill set. Ordinarily that’s not enough to keep me from trying something. I pull apart games all the time. I think the difference depends on the table I’m talking about. At home, I dearly do not want to alienate my players with something so weird that they feel like they’ve wasted their evening (because my standing Tuesday game night does not have “indulge Paul’s insatiable lust for novelty” as a primary goal). At a convention, I’m modestly phobic about looking incompetent.
But even the incompetence thing is only a modest phobia! I mean, gosh, I prefaced my convention pitch for Christian Griffen’s Meridian with a warning that it’d be a learning game and literally unsealed the cards right there at the table. But I’d read the rules and could build a model of how it worked that mapped in some way to my experience.
So “can my experience map how this works?” is the first thing on my mental checklist.
Another part of my personal checklist is “can I imagine what the table experience feels like?” Because that will help me guide my interpretation of the rules. Happily I have a pretty good variety of table experiences in my head and constantly add more as I’m able. What I mean by “table experience” is:
* What does the game design push toward? Feels or hard choices or cinematics or a sense of accomplishment or shared agreement on realism/accuracy? Usually it’s a mix of all of that, so what I think about is apportionment.
* Where are the tension points in play? So I know to set those up for the players.
* What incentive schemes are tugging at the players? I want to be sensitive to the things they’re supposed to be striving toward. This also lets me know if the incentive scheme/reward cycle isn’t actually incenting or rewarding to a player! Sometimes they don’t care about the carrots or the sticks.
* How theme-forward is play? Is its “aboutness” clearly presented and procedurally supported? Is it all about the setting?
So in the case of both The Clay That Woke and Chuubo’s MWGE I’m unable to suss out the desired table experience. There’s some gap between how the designers have presented their answers to these things and my ability to map those answers to what I can relate to.
Despite all that, I still want to run these games at some point. I really do. They haven’t completely alienated me from even wanting to play. In fact I can’t think of many games that would, other than for logistical reasons: multiday blockbuster larps are a no-go because they just don’t fit into my adult obligations, for example. Or if the subject matter was just repellant, like uh RaHoWa or something.