The Story/Board Game Divide
So I’m bashing my brains out on a cute little deduction game called Tragedy Looper. Weird name but appropriately Engrish-y: it’s an import from Japan about looping through time trying to avert a series of tragedies. Each time you pass through the loop, you pick up more hints about who or what is behind the tragedy. Eventually you either succeed in maneuvering the situation out of the inevitable terrible situation (and no joke, they’re triggery as hell: violence, suicide, etc.), guess all the game-functional roles held by all the characters present, or you just can’t figure it all out in the loops allotted.
As a deduction game, it looks pretty tight. I haven’t played it yet. There are three economies that trigger three different things, and by observing what the Mastermind is doing and the results, you can piece together — hopefully! — what has to not happen, thereby foiling the Mastermind and ending the tragedy.
So the game has these specific rules the Mastermind has to adhere to when executing and discussing the game, right? “You died, start the loop over” is what you say, not “ha, the serial killer got you all!” or whatever. Information control is key!
As you play through a loop, there will be a few Incidents that occur. An Incident might be a murder, or a sudden spike in paranoia, whatever. Every incident has a culprit, who is the personality responsible for the incident. If they’re alive and they’re paranoid (stressed) enough, the incident will take place.
Oho! But then there are things that might happen that make the incident get triggered but not take place. And that flag is important for the deduction game.
That is so fucking weird.
It’s weird because as I’m reading through this game, I’m evaluating it as if it were an RPG or storygame or whatever. Like…what does that look like in the fiction? It took place but nothing happened? What the fuck? And the Mastermind literally cannot say “a murder was attempted but the cop stopped it,” which is a chain of events that can take place in the game but saying so outright undermines the deduction game.
But, like, because it’s a boardgame, it doesn’t matter at all what it looks like in the fiction. It can look like nothing. It can be a logical construct, not a fictional one. The GM could just as easily hold up an “Incident Foiled” card and say nothing at all. The fact of the foiling is what matters in the boardgame, not the reasoning behind it.
And yet Tragedy Looper also flirts with the Mastermind role narrating events just the tiniest bit. But I gotta say, I have no idea what to make of “an incident takes place but nothing happens.” The game is messing with my head in the worst way.
I think about this stuff a lot as folks start adding more boardgame-y elements to their RPGs. The moment the fiction doesn’t matter is the moment I probably stop caring. And yet there’s so much in an RPG that doesn’t look like anything in the fiction: the player receiving a Persona in Burning Wheel did that because they authored their character into a qualifying situation, for example. Or like when my players built a Slave Market in their Mutant: Year Zero game — that has to matter more than just getting some food and warfare bonuses.
Might turn out that I’m making a big deal about nothing. We’re playing tomorrow night, so I’ll see firsthand how it looks/feels to play out this whole “the incident took place but nothing happened” business. Even typing it makes my eyelid twitch.