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Author Topic: [Conquer the Horizon] Godfria, Mars  (Read 3357 times)
Josh Roby
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« on: October 15, 2005, 09:00:09 PM »

Got to play Conquer the Horizon for a second time last night, and was highly satisfied with the results.

Players were: myself (27), my brother (22) and his wife (27), all of whom had played the game the first run through, and my wife (27) who had not played before.  We all have some extensive gaming experience, everyone with GURPS as well as White Wolf for my wife and I.

Unlike the previous game which was incredibly silly and drew from very eclectic sources like ewoks and a giant refrigerator worshipped as a god, last night's game was played pretty straight and stuck to a coherent theme and genre.  I can say without hesitation that this was due to the worldbuilding step, in which we determined "The Old World uses Steampunk Technology," "The Old World governments assemble teams with psychic powers to perform operations," "The New World is Mars," "The New World has prancing unicorns," and "Indiana Jones is lost somewhere in the New World."  Now while Indiana Jones is deiselpunk, he is close enough to steampunk that all of the world statements worked together.  Instead of "Facts" about the Old and New Worlds, the statements in worldbuilding have been changed to Facts about the Old World and Speculations about the New World.  This helped clarify things a great deal, and we never did find Indiana Jones.  No one seemed bothered by this.  We had a rather fantastic, Burroughs-esque setting where steampunk technology transported us to a world where incredible things were common.

In short: we flew our ethership to Mars, found a martian city that served as a commerce hub where they were selling unicorns festooned with garlands.  The garlands, it turned out, were hallucinogenic and used to enslave the unicorns.  The Martians try to abduct one of the expedition, and the rest of the expedition quickly takes over the city for their own protection.  The humans and the unicorns establish an alliance, and the expeditionary forces go around the nearby lands, liberating the unicorns from their labor camps.  The displaced native races, deprived of their slave labor, join together and storm the human/unicorn colony.  As half of the expedition conducts the unicorn ambassador back to earth, the other half successfully defeats the triad of former oppressors and wins freedom for all the races of Mars.

As far as characters went, we had my brother play the Governor (Competencies of Talks to People, Natural Mechanical Genius), his wife played the Merchant (Ballet Dancer, Telekinesis), my wife played the Naturalist (Talks to Animals, Superior Swordswoman), and I played the General (Inside Knowledge from Prior Expedition, Gambling).  I was struck by how much the Roles being played determine the content and flavor of the game.  In the last game the presence of the Missionary meant that the religion of the natives was an important feature of the game; in this game where we had the General instead, there was tons of warfare and no mention of the natives' beliefs at all.

We played an entire game, exhausting the Supplies pool.  The endgame works pretty well -- the Merchant and Naturalist needed to get home to score, and the Governor and General did not.  Them getting home (and us trying to prevent it) proved to be the primary focus of the last third or so of the game.  We discovered that a good strategy for those roles that need to go home is to attempt to discover the way home early in the game -- even if they get stuck with poison pill qualifications, they can still use the 'failed return' discovery in their later narration to discover the way home and actually get there, this time.

My brother, playing the Governor, started right out of the gate playing very aggressively, and he paid for it.  Because his Discoveries and Qualifications were all patently self-serving, he was repeatedly rejected, and came out at the end of the game with the fewest Discoveries (around four) and two Exploitations, for a total score of ten.  I scored twelve, and I won't analyze my own game play because it was pretty mediocre since I was watching everyone else play the game.

The girls, on the other hand, kicked our asses.  I watched in amazement as both my wife and my brother's wife started bending and tweaking the simple procedures of play to employ strategies that I had never even considered before.  My wife would add in Qualifications that offered the Discoverer further opportunities and forwarded her own agenda very slightly or not at all -- but the Discoveries went down on her sheet, and she could use them for further Discoveries and Qualifications further down the road.  The girls paired up the Naturalist and the Merchant roles to exploit all of the Naturalist's organic discoveries as marketable commodities, and then absolutely muscled the two of us out of their final Return Voyage discovery.  Their final scores were fourteen (Merchant) and sixteen (Naturalist).

We also played around a bit with scene framing, which is incredibly freeform in CtH, including in some of the discoveries things like "Ten years pass and..." and "While you're doing that, I'm doing this."  There were also stumbles -- my brother complained that his character was "stuck" in the ship while the others were outside, and had to be reminded that all he needed to do was narrate any reason to leave or be called out and into the action.  In terms of the successes, however, one of the wars was narrated as a montage of disparate scenes through the war's years-long scope.  In the final Discovery of the game, the girls making their Return, entailed a monologue of the Naturalist giving a lecture on Earth describing the strengths and sacrifices of the colonists and unicorns, superimposed with those colonists and unicorns on Mars fighting off the evil triad of martians.

I asked a few questions after the game was over, and everyone reported having fun, even my brother who got "stuck," rejected, and had difficulty getting back into the action.  My wife suggested a new Role of "Child Drug Along With Parents" to let people play characters like Wesley Crusher or... pick any coming-of-age story, really.  The game took a little over three hours and we started with what I thought was a rather modest Supplies Pool (perhaps thirty dice).  There were around twelve Discoveries total.  We also saw a failed Discovery, which I wasn't sure could even happen, but my wife decided she didn't want her Discovery (she rolled 14) if she had to take the Qualification backed up by a roll of 31.

Anybody see anything of interest, or have questions about what went down?
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2005, 11:22:13 AM »

Why do you think your brother got "stuck" when it seems there was a pretty straightforward out? Did he employ it right away after you mentioned it to him, or did he wait a bit (or did you tell him only after he'd gotten unstuck)? Do you think he felt like some of the framing stuff was "cheating" to use this way to his advantage?

Mike
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2005, 07:27:20 PM »

Oh, it was entirely a stance familiarity thing, Mike.  It wasn't so much that narrating an aide to call him out of the spaceship would have been "cheating", he simply didn't think along those lines.  He only voiced his concerns after the game was over, so there was no immediate fix available.  We had at least one other similar issue where my brother's wife was confused on whether or not she "could" do something, which was cleared up en medea res when we all told her that she could propose anything and whether or not it happened would determine if it really happened.
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Ice Cream Emperor
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« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2005, 08:20:40 PM »

We had at least one other similar issue where my brother's wife was confused on whether or not she "could" do something, which was cleared up en medea res when we all told her that she could propose anything and whether or not it happened would determine if it really happened.

For some reason this made me think of the following exchange:

Player 1: So, then my PC befriends the unicorn princess and she leads him to a hidden glade full of extremely fascinating flowers.

Player 2: I add the Qualification: "But it was only a dream."

Would they still get the discovery, if they accepted this qualification? Also, what happens if a player narrates something completely 'unrealistic' -- i.e. totally outside the bounds of the game world up to that point, or even contradictory to it -- as part of their discovery. For example, if the General defeats an entire army of Indians by shooting them with his laser eyes, in a game that had previously been a historically accurate Europe/America sort of deal.

Are these new elements automatically incorporated into the SIS if the discovery is successful? (Oh, the general has laser eyes now, cool!) Is it the responsibility of the other players to add so many Qualifications that these sorts of proposals just don't make it?


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~ Daniel
Josh Roby
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« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2005, 08:44:51 AM »

ICE, if the unicorn Discovery is accepted with the dream Qualification, yes, it qualifies as a Discovery and gets written down on the character sheet(s).  In the case of an Exploitation, however, it may not count towards a character's points if it gets one of these "poison pill" Qualifications.  If your Player 1 was the naturalist looking for those fascinating flowers, they would not get points for them if it was only a dream.  The thing is, there's nothing stopping the player from attempting an Exploitation on her next turn and incorporating the dream Discovery into her narration to get a die bonus ("Following the mystical dream-guidance that the Unicorn Council had sent me, I find the fascinating flowers in the real world..."), hopefully enough to overcome any poison pills that get proposed this time.

Similarily, anybody who decides to give their General Custer "laser eyes" can have Qualifications thrown at them like "And when you say laser eyes, you mean your Colt "Laser Eye" .45, bought from the Sears catalog" or even your "But it was only a dream."  If that player overcomes any of those Qualifications (and unless he's so significantly in the lead in dice, he'll have to accept somebody's Qualification), then yes, "laser eyes" are ratified and the articulation of the imagined content is accepted.  Later Discoveries by other players can mitigate this breach of what they consider acceptable, and the medium for the expression of this discontent is embedded in the ruleset.

Normally the decision of what is acceptable and what is not is up to GM fiat, so while there is less absolute control over game scope in CtH than in most games, what controls there are are distributed among the players and given mechanics to negotiate between them.
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Roger
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« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2005, 09:28:49 AM »

Normally the decision of what is acceptable and what is not is up to GM fiat

I just wanted to suggest that this statement might not be as innocuous as it may appear.  Discussion, if any, is probably best moved out of Actual Play, though.


Cheers,
Roger

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Josh Roby
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2005, 11:54:27 AM »

Roger, I realize that there are lots of games where the determination of scope is not placed in the GM's hands.  I like these games; I even prefer these games, this is why I design these games, but I realize that they are not by any means common or normal.  Similarily, I understand that, in the end, the players collectively determine what is and is not acceptable by the players' eternal ability to stand up from the table and walk away -- but again, players exercising that ability and not just leaving it up to the GM is neither common nor normal.

Point being: in most games, scope is left in the GM's hands, and she exercises this by fiat (ie, no mechanical constraints).  In CtH, scope is distributed among the players, who have some mechanical tools with which to arbitrate disagreements.  In fact scope is a strategic element in CtH -- the Missionary, General, Anthropologist, and Native Guide want natives to be included; the Merchant, Governor, and Naturalist do not.
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Roger
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« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2005, 01:40:09 PM »

(Again, I feel I must apologize for taking up space in Actual Play with this.  Joshua, it's your game and your thread, so if you want to spin this off to Game Design or something else, I'll follow along.)

Joshua, I think I'm at risk of misunderstanding you.  I think I know what you mean by scope in your answer above, but I'm not entirely sure.  Would you please explain further?  I read over your first playtest thread and your design thread, but I'm still not sure I've got it.


Cheers,
Roger
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #8 on: October 17, 2005, 03:22:19 PM »

Calved off the 'scope' discussion to Scope & what I mean by it.
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