XP: SKEW

22 Aug

SKEW 8 20

Last RSG we game SKEW, the new surreal science fiction story game by Ben Lehman a spin. Two spins, actually, and great spins they were!

I confess that reading the text itself did not leave me super excited to play. I was curious, I like the genre and flavor, and Ben’s games are some of the best anywhere. But, as soon as we sat down to play things really kicked into gear.

SKEW takes place in a sequence of Phases that guide the story into, and possibly out of, misunderstanding. Players take turns narrating what happens to the protagonist and their world (unlike many role playing games, there is only a single protagonist shared by the table in SKEW) in one or two sentence turns. This is very reminiscent of one of Ben’s earlier games, Hot Guys Making Out.

A simple token economy paces the encroaching weirdness, and eventually, one player at a time will speak for the weirdness of this bending reality. The short turns keeps the pace of the game brisk, which accommodates for a large group of players. This also allows for a steady stream of creativity. Since things change so quickly you have to listen attentively to your fellow players. This prompts very functional play, and may be one of the chief reasons we had such a good time.

Our first game took about an hour and a half, and the second took about an hour. The second game was facilitated by one of the players who had no experience with SKEW beyond the first game.

Clearly, SKEW is very accessible. After the game we reflected on our play, and many of the players commented on how this would be a good game to play with non-gamer family members, or in one players case, how it might be used in her classroom.

For our plays the early Phases were the most fun and exciting, and while the later Phases didn’t drag, they were not as poppin’ and the first few. In one of the final Phases the players ask questions of the GM (the player who speaks for the weirdness) as they try and figure out what is going on with reality. Both of our games slowed during this Phase. In our second game we distinguished between asking questions about the details of the established narration, and asking questions about the nature and workings of the weirdness. This was a critical distinction for our play, and is something I will mention in my future plays of SKEW. The text itself isn’t terribly explicit on this, but I feel this approach is likely in the spirit of the rules.

Our first game saw a postal worker attempt to deliver a non-euclidian package to a superspace processed cheese factory only to become a kind of sentient metaphor for certain elements of Greek mythology via a Hero’s Journey quest against a implicitly nihilistic minotaur while on an errand to replace Hermes.

Our second game was the story of Napoleon, a ukulele playing islander who got caught up in a rock ‘n roll battle of the bands with Nordic Gods, Satan and the miserable souls of hell at sea after sounding the lowest pitch possible given the diameter of the physical universe which happened to free an entangled titan. Napoleon successfully (?) re-created God from the kindness in his grandmother’s soul by way of a strange parent-child paradox (“it’s complicated”).

I have no doubt that each player would sum up these games differently, but hey, that’s SKEW. You don’t tell just one story, you tell a spectrum of possible stories, and each is as crazy as the last.

Read more about SKEW here: http://www.tao-games.com/skew/. Enjoy!

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