Archive | May, 2013

XP: Spione

27 May

Having read nothing more than the woefully inadequate blub by the designer on the game’s website, I really had no idea what to expect from Spione.

I get the sense that the game text supplies a lot of context and background information that I, personally, would have been glad to have. I haven’t played in many spy fiction games, and part of the reason for that is that I struggle with the genre. I just don’t know what to say or how to say it sometimes. I would be happy to play Spione again, and probably in more than one session, but I’d like to read that book first and soak up as much detail as possible.

One of the neatest features of the game is the way scenes are handled. Players may chose to continue and old scene or begin a new one for their principal character (if they have one) or for another player’s principal. This cycle is interrupted by Flashpoint, which is essentially the conflict resolution system for when interests conflict.

This paces out the story in a very organic manner. You cut back and forth with the interests of the group and bring all stories to a boil at the same time. It’s very cinematic and its super easy to follow.

Flashpoint uses a deck of cards to determine who gets to say what when and how far they can go with it when there are competing elements in the story. Just like the scene cycle, this is a very transparent way of doing business.

The strengths of this game are in being simple, clean and flexible. The weaknesses in this game are when the game is not those things.

When developing the principal characters, who are spies, a player must sort through what felt like dozens of sheets of identities and organizations, and then whip up a connecting tissue of background data.

Those sheets were extremely hard to follow. I never did get how to read the organization sheet (a flowchart of concentric boxes with no instructions on how to read the diagram), and the identity sheets were very poorly laid out for such simple information. I felt like I needed to do something with all of that information, but had no idea what it meant, nor any inkling of how or even why I should use it. Starting the game was very disorienting and I think this could have been avoided if this information was presented in a readable and non-overwhelming way. It would be an easy fix.

Worth a look see!


XP: Love in the Time of Sied

25 May


Love in the Time of Sied is a gentle refocusing of Archipelago for a Nordic/Viking epic saga. My infatuation for Archipelago is, by this point, well documented, and frankly, LitToS makes no improvement on Archipelago. The text includes some odd statements and presentation at points, which was a little perplexing. But, it comes with a ready to play scenario that is reasonable easy to jump into. So, if you are looking for Archipelago without needing to do quite as much set up, this would be a fantastic choice.

For the most part, the strengths of LoiToS are the same as Archipelago. The game gets out of your way and gives you only the tools you need to tell an awesome story in a functional way. It’s easy to shoot from the hip and get awesome results each time. The weakness of the text are generally non-existant once you get to actually playing.

We had kind of a situation on our hands when we started: we had only three players instead of five. This is not ideal, and required some careful juggling of the other roles in order to optimize our results (King, Knight and Siedkona is what we went with and it worked sooo well). We opted to take some time to a history building and Key Phrase introduction exercise since we had so few players. I was a little unsure of this at first (feeling that the one reason I would play LitToS is so we didn’t have to do this), but we had time, so why not?

This included one player asking another a kind of leading questions about this history of the realm. While the player answered we used the Key Phrases to fine tune it to  our tastes. This was done in a kind of narration style and not a role-playing style. We ended up with a synopsis of the history and an outline of their mythology.

And the way it intersected with our play was brilliant. It was so easy to make intuitive and consequential moves in the narrative. Our game only lasted six scenes, but they were super tight, brought major developments each time, and honored the previously established fiction so thoroughly that we were surprised again and again how beautifully interwoven or story was. It was a peak experience and possibly the most satisfying game I’ve played at RSG ever.

It’s really tough to pinoint what makes these peak experiences happen. The game was flexible and builds in calibration of tone and expectations. All three of us were on our game as storytellers and gamers. It was noisy. We started pretty late and had a long break. We were down two players. The text is weird. Only one of us was any kind of familiar with the culture in question.

I’m inclined to say that a light dusting of complication as we had helped to keep us alert, on our toes and focused on making it a good experience. When you have to take every opening in the story in order to make it a good experience, well, you keep a better eye out for those openings, and you take them. Whatever it was, we had a simply amazing game.

XP: Dirty Secrets

23 May


I was really skeptical of being able to have a positive gaming experience with Dirty Secrets.

I had to read the text three times just to be able to order all of the information in my brain. There is so much paraphernalia. The mechanics are anything but transparent.

But, despite all that, the game rocked.

Many of the procedural conventions which may seem a little arcane at first dove tail quite nicely into the other mechanics and this in turn helps to establish a sense of genre. In particular, I’m thinking of the first person narration and the witness grid (though, the witness grid will be hard to work with if you neglect the first person narration).

The liars dice resolution system is a very fun was to emulate the experience of solving a crime, and it lends strongly to the feel of the game, but the players will need to be prepped on how to play that effectively. Also, the Advisors have got to be contributing to the fiction – the Investigator and their opponent will have their hands full with statistics and trying to bluff and call bluffs.

One of the strength of this game, which takes just a little bit of faith, is the function of the witness grid. The witness grid ultimately determines the pacing and conclusion to the story. But, in the meanwhile, the events get very convoluted as it asks you to connect dots farther and farther apart. But this is a great boon, even if its not clear from the get go; we would not have had a story about the stolen remains of a mass grave any other way. Every player gets to have the experience of discovering the details of the mystery as the game progresses. This is not often so well achieved in a table-top game.

I find that I have less to say about my positive gaming experiences. All of the game components are much more invisible when they aren’t clashing with each other, the fiction or the players. In any case, Dirty Secrets is definatley worth your time if you enjoy the crime genre at all.

Open Play 45: Spione, NanoWorld, Microscope, Monsterhearts

20 May

6pm – 10pm

Tuesday, May 21

Guardian Games

303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St

The Breakdown

6:00pm – Chit chat, socialize, make merry.
6:10pm – Introduce the games and facilitators, facilitators will have the sign up sheets.
6:15pm – Game on!
10:00pm – Any and and all who wish go out for drinks and/or banter, at one of the nearby establishments. Let’s talk about it.

And for the games!

It’s pronounced “shpee-OH-nuh” and means “spies” in German. It’s a book about spies in Berlin during the Cold War. It also presents Story Now, a new way to author and enjoy spy-fiction.

NanoWorld is a game about clones on the day things go wrong.

You are one among Nano’s vast workforce. You are a clone; will you discover yourself in the dystopian world of Nano?

NanoWorld is one of the new wave of nano ga-es and is based upon the Apocalypse World game system.

Humanity spreads to the stars and forges a galactic civilization…

Fledgling nations arise from the ruins of the empire…

An ancient line of dragon-kings dies out as magic fades from the realm…

These are all examples of Microscope games. Want to explore an epic history of your own creation, hundreds or thousands of years long, all in an afternoon? That’s Microscope.

You won’t play the game in chronological order. You can defy the limits of time and space, jumping backward or forward to explore the parts of the history that interest you. Want to leap a thousand years into the future and see how an institution shaped society? Want to jump back to the childhood of the king you just saw assassinated and find out what made him such a hated ruler? That’s normal in Microscope.

You have vast power to create… and to destroy. Build beautiful, tranquil jewels of civilization and then consume them with nuclear fire. Zoom out to watch the majestic tide of history wash across empires, then zoom in and explore the lives of the people who endured it.

Mock chronological order.
Defy time and space.
Build worlds and destroy them.

Monsterhearts lets you and your friends create stories about sexy monsters, teenage angst, personal horror, and secret love triangles. When you play, you explore the terror and confusion that comes both with growing up and feeling like a monster.

Based on the Apocalypse World engine, this is a game with emergent story, messy relationships, a structured MC role, and a focus on hard choices.

It’s designed to evoke stories like True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ginger Snaps or The Twilight Saga. If you like supernatural romances, or stories of monstrosity and personal horror, or if you just like watching sexy people ruin their lives, then you’ll love this game.

Ready, Set, Game PDX is brought to you by Play Out Loud. Play Out Loud serves Portland with spontaneous shared storytelling activities featuring non-mainstream games. Learn more at

XP: They Became Flesh

9 May


I have very mixed feeling and experiences about this game. And you guys are probably getting the feeling that the majority of our gaming experiences at RSG are disappointing. I swear this isn’t the case!


I had an awesome play of this game with Elizabeth Sampat at Gamestorm. And it felt intuitive and obvious and it clicked and sang. I went away feeling like I knew exactly how it worked.


Then I read the text. And it almost seemed like a different game. And our play felt like a different game.


Alright, I gotta get some things off my chest.


Elizabeth, WHY are the online character sheets a kickstarter backer only resource? What the crackling hell is that about?


Why aren’t Revelations explained in the text? A reader could almost miss that, but it’s one of God’s main tools. Not to mention, any advise on how to use them effectively. Or any advise on how any of the players do anything effectively.


This text lacks a discussion on play style and approach. It appears to assume that a certain style is obvious. This kind of assumption is a cardinal sin of game texts. And seriously, the game is only thirty pages long. It would have been no issue to add in even five pages of discussion on this.


Every role needs more assistance from the text in terms of how they apply pressure and how that influences the other players. Every players needs more guidance in regards to how the conversation and story is built.


As a result, our game played out backwards. In retrospect, it began with the climax and moved towards the opposition. Even after having an excellent model from my own experience to draw on, at the table I felt powerless to mediate the relationship between the players, the game and the fiction. This was one of the most unusual experiences I’ve had at the game table.


Further, because the game is so open ended to various approaches, it suffers from a certain kind of incoherence as players all pull in different directions. The social atmosphere became somewhat polluted.


I really want to like They Became Flesh. I think I love the game it means to be. But this text is woefully incomplete and fails to do justice to the absolutely stellar concepts within. Much like many older story games, this game will not be widely accessible until there is some public wisdom about how one actually plays this game.


XP: Under the Bed

8 May


Under the Bed is a light weight story game about the trials of childhood. Those of you that know me know that this subject is right up my alley. Our enthusiasm was really strong, which is good, because that was the primary thing that carried us through. Though our play was overall positive, there were a few things that we noticed that kept our game from being Great instead of just Good.


The text is not quite clear in some parts, and there were a few typos that require you to abandon some sentences all together. The order in which the text presents the information leaves the reader feeling lost at points, but the text is so short that this is quickly overcome. However, the biggest shortcoming of the text is that it doesn’t convey what play looks like very well.


For our play, this came down to two issues.


First, the conversation of the game takes place between only two people at a time. This can be a little frustrating, since other plays may be sitting around for a while before they get a chance to speak. The Favoritism mechanic, while interesting and effective for its purpose in Conflicts, exasperates the conversation issue, and makes it even more unbalanced. The only immediate alternative is for each player to say only a sentence or two each time and keep it snappy. However, this strains the story as the Child is confronted with a constant stream of Conflicts.


Second, our group felt like there was not enough guidance for how the Child acts through the collective will of the group. Are Conflicts all symbolic, and taking place in their imagination? Or, does the Child actually use the toys in his real life to face his Conflicts? I suspect the answer is somewhere in between, flowing between the real world and imagination (or an imaginary edit of the real world), but we never struck a comfortable rhythm for this.


The best part of the game was definitely the creative toys – Obsolete Microwave and Single Plastic French Fry both stuck out to me – but it was too bad new toys had only a 50% survival rate.


Unfortunately, most of this report is fairly tepid. I really like the premise and the weight of the game, but the pace and content of the conversation was a little unwieldy. Were I to play this again, I would play with perhaps four players, and I would have to makes some tweaks (though I’m not sure what I’d do at this point). We had fun, but it came mostly from the personality of the players and their toys rather than from the engineering of the game itself.

Ladies’ Night – May!

7 May
5:45pm – 10pm
Wednesday, May 15
A&L Sports Pub
5933 Ne Glisan St
Welcome to a local gaming event organized and run BY women! If you identify as female, genderqueer, gender fluid, or as a gender minority, you are welcome to join our inclusive story-gaming community for Ladies’ Game Night events! All experience levels are more than welcome, from first time gamers to seasoned storytellers and roleplayers. If you are intrigued by RPGs and/or story games, but have had your doubts about jumping in to an established group or felt uncomfortable going to another organized gaming event, you are SUPER DUPER EXTRA welcome.

Story games are a little bit like board games, and a lot like grown-up versions of the “let’s pretend” games you probably played as a child. Above all, they are about TELLING A STORY TOGETHER. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s not about making the best character or mastering the rules, it’s about CREATING something together and HAVING FUN. These games take no more than a few minutes to learn, play within a couple of hours, and focus on story rather than rules. Come check it out! We’re always looking for more ladies to help facilitate, so shoot me a message or post below if you have a game you’d like to share!

Let’s drink good beer, eat good food, enjoy each others’ company, and play quick, easy-to-learn, story-based role playing games in a welcoming female-centered environment. The games don’t usually begin until 6:15 but feel free to join us for drinks and witty banter before hand. We’re at a 21+ venue this time.

What games are in store? Fi will be bringing four fun (and easy to learn and play) GM-less games to share: The Quiet Year, GxG, Project Ninja Panda Taco, and Hot Guys Making Out; more details on each of these to be posted below.

If you want more information on our policies and expectations, please read our Mission Statement here:

PS: If you got this invite and it’s not applicable to you, please do us a favor and tell all of your friends who might be interested in this event! Thanks!

Open Play 44: Serpent’s Tooth, Love in the time of Seid, Dread

6 May

6pm – 10pm

Tuesday, May 7

Guardian Games

303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St

The Breakdown
6:00pm – Chit chat, socialize, make merry, be humans at each other.
6:10pm – Introduce the games and facilitators, facilitators will have the sign up sheets.
6:15pm – Game on!
10:00pm – Any and and all who wish go out for drinks and/or banter, probably at the Green Dragon.

The Games

Here is how this works:
6:00pm – Chit chat, socialize, make merry.
6:10pm – Introduce the games and facilitators, facilitators will have the sign up sheets.
6:15pm – Game on!
10:00pm – Any and and all who wish go out for drinks and/or banter, probably at the Green Dragon.


Serpent’s Tooth:
A dying monarch…a star quarterback…the CEO of a dot-com empire…

Serpent’s Tooth is a tabletop game where you and your friends create a story about a King in the twilight of his rule. One of you plays the King, who wields vast power over the Kingdom. The rest of you play members of the King’s court. Each with their own hidden nature, and each with the ability to seize the King’s power for their own. Through play you discover the fate of the King, the Kingdom, and what power does to the powerful.

Love in the Time of Seid
Love in the Time of Seið:
Love in the Time of Seið is a low-prep, quick playing story game. This game provides very strong situation and guidance. There are five tightly-interconnected characters, compelling locations and events, and everything you need to get to the good stuff immediately. In a Norse-themed fantasy kingdom on the brink of ruin, who will gain power and who will win love? What price will they pay, and what other plans does fate have in store?ð/

Dread is a game of horror and suspense. Those who play it participate in a mutual telling of an original macabre tale. The goal of the game is to sustain the delicate atmosphere that is necessary to produce the hand quivering emotion that lends Dread its name. The thrill lies within the tension between desire and loss. You will take on the role of someone trapped in a story that is only as compelling as it is hostile–someone who will find themselves making the sorts of decisions we hope never to face in real life.

Dread uses a unique questionnaire method of character creation. The character questionnaire provides the skeleton of a character, suitable for the story or campaign, while the player gets to add the flesh when they answer the questions, thus creating the character they want to play. In this way, characters are guaranteed to fit into the story, and yet players are invested in the characters, lending weight to the decisions they make.

In play, dice, cards, or other more-traditional randomizers are replaced by a tower of blocks, such as the Jenga® game. When a character attempts a task beyond their capabilities, the tower determines their success–they can succeed by pulling a block, or choose to fail by not pulling. But if the tower falls, their character is removed from the game, never to return. Their fate might be death, insanity, cowardice, imprisonment, possession, or something else, as the story dictates. Players prone to martyrdom can mollify this somewhat by deliberately knocking over the tower, resulting in a heroic or dramatic success, despite their character exiting the game.

Ready, Set, Game PDX is brought to you by Play Out Loud. Play Out Loud serves Portland with spontaneous shared storytelling activities featuring non-mainstream games. Learn more at