XP: Dust Devils Revenged

8 Jan

I am quite the fan of Dust Devils Revenged.

Using poker hands for a western game is not only a perfect match, but getting away from dice is refreshing. The way the mechanisms work together are elegant, subtle, and effective. But this is not going to be a mechanical analysis of the system. This is a look at our gaming experience from January 3rd, and more specifically how we players interacted with the game to produce the fiction.

Make no mistake; I had my share of fun and laughs at the game this past Tuesday, but still I feel like the game was held back a bit.

We had a rather large turnout, totaling six players. Which is great! We were using the Dealer-less mode of play, so that is six protagonists. Ambitious and starry eyed as we were, DDR is not designed to handle that many protagonists, and this became rather obvious. Maybe, with a Dealer and five protagonists you could make it work, but you would need an ideal situation. Here are the problems we ran into.

DON’T TIP YOUR HAND

There were too many motives, ambitions and such for any one narrator to handle effectively. The result is that about half the table was involved at any one time, and split up so we only got a skin deep look at most of the protagonists, which started a downward spiral of not knowing the protagonists well, leading to confusion, resulting in stretching to make it work, leading to more confusion, and so on.

This also meant that the narration rights only got passed around so much. I narrated only once, and it drove to a conflict pretty quickly, so that was it. Cuttlefiend (I’m using fake names here; tell me where I got them from for bonus points) only had it once or twice, and Zebromega, an RSGpdx newcomer, didn’t get narration rights at all, if I remember correctly. The result is that we never got to explore her character, a thrill seeking card shark, in much depth. Which is unfortunate.

The sum of those two phenomenon meant that the narration passed only between a few players: those of whom we have the clearest understanding, and those whom were in the previous conflict. Which in turn supplied the conditions which allowed this pattern to continue.

PLAY IT CLOSE TO YOUR CHEST

The next major problem is that the chip play got weird. With so many participants in some conflict it really watered down the ability to make wagers, and added more risk to resisting your Devil and Traits. So nobody did much of either, and the result is that once you lose your chips, they are just gone, and you get hammered by cards in conflicts. Thus, this session became the Ballad of Beasly, Cuttlefiend’s character who got beaten, shamed, and driven half to madness pretty quickly, and so he remained. Without chips he couldn’t even fold, and my character, a fool-hardy child with a gun was soon to follow. Conversely, those who were able to hold to some chips seemed to do well in most conflicts, such as Awfulgutbag’s cannibal grave digger and Zebromega’s thrill seeking card shark (both of whom, despite frequent victories, were overshadowed by Shrewwolf and Cuttlefiend’s characters, and to a certain extent Chucksquee’s as well).

I think that the chip play is the most important part of this game, given that they not only have a powerful impact on The End, but on the quasi-metagame conversation that takes place as players decide to earn or spend chips though various actions, which also tend to be character defining moments. The sharp curve the additional players added to this value of chips was felt doubly hard.

THE DEAL, THE CALL

The net effect of these two details was that the fiction drove harder and harder toward a roughly two of the protagonists, made one a whipping boy, and made the rest more or less irrelevant. Far from ideal.

I do think the Dealer-less mode of play offers a more organic experience, but things would have been much improved if we had opted for a Dealer. A savvy Dealer could have spotted these trends and at least tried to do something about them.

Maybe this would be a viable strategy:
Three participants: three players, no Dealer.
Four participants: three or four players, Dealer optional.
Five participants: four players, one Dealer.
Six participants: two three player games, no Dealers (this also offers the possibilities of cross-play).

But don’t take this the wrong way: we still had a hoot. It’s a good thing that the system is so resilient otherwise. I think we would have an even better time with a few adjustments, however.

One thing did go over quite well: Devil escalation. In order to fit the one-shot play, we started all Devil ratings at one. The player with the highest card not played in a conflict would get to say whose Devil grew and how. The rising tension did play into the fiction nicely, though it may have contributed to Beasly’s rapid descent into savagery (though it was entertaining). I think we will definitely be revisiting this house-rule for future one shots.

Enough of my thoughts, those of you that also played, what did you think? What worked, what didn’t? What would you do differently? Was it redemption or damnation at the hands of the devil?

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