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Author Topic: [Shooting the Moon]Gen Con: Stalingrad '43  (Read 10169 times)
Emily Care
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« on: August 19, 2006, 09:12:42 AM »

Hello all,

At Gen Con, I got to play Shooting the Moon with Jye and Scott from Australia. We had demo'ed the game earlier in the day and had fun, so picked it up later that evening. This was Friday when the playtest Explosion was going on: Jason was testing out Grey Ranks, Alexander Cherry had Ensemble going on, and I had stolen Clinton from Ron's playtest of a game he has in the works to help me playtest Sign in Stranger earlier in the eveing--which amazingly enough turned out to be touching and hysterical.  I'll do a post about that because I'd love to hear that playgroup's thoughts, but I was still floating on air from that session when I ran into Scott & Jye. Little did I know this would be the best game for me of the con. Perhaps of any con? Right up there with Hare & Hound for me.

Here goes:

Love and War
Shooting the Moon is a love triangle.  Not the menage a trois variety, but a competition for love. Two suitors are in love with the same Beloved, and the Beloved has a goal of their own which may or may not include the two suitors.  I had in mind comedic stories like in the movies the Philadelphia Story and Keeping the Faith, but it turns out the game is also very well suited to tragedy. Lancelot-Arthur-Guinevere come to mind. How suited to tragedy is it? World War II and the cold war seemed to be in the air that night: when we sat down at the table Jye suggested we set the game in Stalingrad beseiged by the Germans in WWII, the longest bloodiest battle of the war, and perhaps of any war. 

In Stalingrad, a love story. What else could it be but tragic?

For the Motherland, for the men
Looking at the setting, who would the characters be? Would it be two Russian soldiers falling for their commander? No, an innocent caught up in the war would be the Beloved. We created Anastasia, a beautiful performer, orphaned, loyal to the party, sweet but willing to fight, and used as a poster girl in the soviet recruiting efforts.  All the soldiers loved her and called her their Anuska. Her Suitors were Commissar Alexi--the political officer, in charge of shooting deserters, and the private Mikhail who turned out to be an ideological traitor: he had been seduced by the lure of the west and carried a copy of the Declaration of Independence with him always.  Alexi loved Anastasia, but his conflict was that he was truly in love with "Anushka", the image of her that the military was using to propel the war effort.  Mikhail loved her truly, but he was just a lowly private, beneath the angelic Anushka. Anastasia was available because she was working to recruit for suicide missions, and saw that they were all ready to die, and the obstacle that confronted her and all of them was the omnipresent war. 

The Suitor players get to choose a Prize: some connection with the Beloved that the Suitors are competing for. Jye and Scott chose that Alexi and Mikhail were competing to be the man in whose arms Anushka spent the last night before the final push and all were killed.  In our alternate world, the Germans take Stalingrad, making it just that much more grim.  Each was seeking to be the man that she chose when their world ended and they all died. 

Anastasia's dream was to be able to live her life and find happiness.

Doomed. We're all doomed.

Sacrifices
Commissar Alexi was Suitor 1, so Jye got the first turn and the scene focused on Alexi's interactions with Anushka.  In each the Suitor's turns, the Beloved's player and that Suitor's player work together, while the player of the other Suitor brings in conflict and complications in the form of a Hurdle. Alexi's scene took place at a recruiting hall. Anushka was doing her job, rallying men to join while a pianist played plodding tunes of Soviet nationalism and proletariat pride.  Alexi steps in, similar to Anastasia he is a type of performer, a musician, and her attention is caught by the change in the music and the stirring tunes he plays. 

Enter the hurdle: his injured hand acts up and his playing suddenly turns sour.  (Scott gets 5 dice to roll, Jye and I have three responses to call on our traits to create a joint pool of dice to roll. If we win, each of us gets a point toward our goals and we get to give ourselves new traits, if he wins, neither of us does and he gets to give each us a new trait instead. 

Jye: My playing goes off, but I keep going, I'm just playing through my injury. I'm proud of it. I won't give up.
Emily: Her heart goes out to you, she has lost her family, everything due to the war. She sees you and admires you for your sacrifice.
Scott: (Aside) Little does she know that he's the one who shot her mother...

We roll and there is a tie--the third result.  This means that I, as the Beloved's player get to give traits to both of the Suitors:  Alexi gets "grit" for keeping on playing despite the pain, and I give Mikhail a twist: "has a future". What kind we don't know, but something that may offer more than the grim spectre of death to Anushka. In a tie or a loss, the Beloved and Suitor players get to get more dice and keep rolling by either bringing in one of their conflicts for 3 dice, or taking a suggestion from the other Suitor's player for 4. And either way one of the characters has to take a new trait that represents the complication introduced.

For his suggestion, Scott pulled in that little tidbit about Alexi having killed Anushka's family.  In his mind he saw the musical pendant he had stolen from her mother and guilt twisted his guts.  Alexi gets the new trait "guilt". We roll again, and don't win. Anushka feels pity, but not love for this monster who loves her, yet killed all she loves.  Perhaps it is a mercy.

Mikhail's scene takes place at a bar he frequents. He chats with Anushka and offers her a cigarette. Enter the hurdle. The cigarettes are smuggled in from Europe, they are strong and strange and scream of western decadence. Anushka takes one and her unwavering loyalty to the party is raised--perhaps Mikhail will spill that he is questioning the wisdom of communism--but no, he is a traitor, not afraid to lie. He instead convinces her that they are brought in by the party, as a reward for the hard-working, -killing and -dying troops. He gets her to talk about her losses and tries to speak of hope for the future, which she does not buy. We win the roll.  Mikhail leaves the scene with the new trait "persuasive", and Anushka gains "melancholy". She is a part of the machine of war, but it is killing her inside as well.

Enter the War
The third scene was mine, the Beloved's scene.  In this type of turn, the Beloved's player is responsible for introducing hurdles for both of the Suitors.  Depending on how much is at stake, the scene can be worth one, two or three points toward the characters' goals.  If one, the Suitors experience some sort of obstacle. If two, they are threatened. If three---all are at risk, including the Beloved.  I went for level three, and the next scene is during a huge surprise onslaught.  Heavy artillery fire begins to take out buildings and troops, and Anushka is trapped in the open with her beloved soldiers.

Both Suitors get to make three responses on  their own now.  They get dice for using their own traits, calling on their own Conflicts, for having chraacters flirt and also for creating hurdles or complications for one another.  They have to match the 9 dice that I get for putting everyone in danger, so both Jye and Scott jumped to gain dice by the final option: sacrificing a trait.  Alexi is hit and his arm is sliced off:  cross off "injured hand" from the sheet and replace it with "missing arm". 

Scott's character Mikhail had a friend listed as his Person (one of the traits you create at the start of play), a small boy named Piotr who looked up to Mikhail and who wanted to be like him.  Little Piotr gets nailed in the onslaught, and Mikhail gains the trait "grief". We see him cradling the small boy's body in his arms. Cut to Anushka, nearby to Alexi when he lost his arm, cradling it in hers.  Jye calls on Alexi's grit and he pulls himself together, putting a tourniquet on the stump, and to protect Anushka with their bodies and their lives. Mikhail has been holding the troops together since a captain was lost and the Commissar injured. He now orders soldiers to escort Anushka to safety.  But Anushka escapes from them and putting down Alexi's arm, she takes up a rifle and charges into the fray.  Scott calls on his character's conflict that Anushka is "above common soldiers" like him, and chases after her into the maelstrom.  He takes the trait "can't watch her walk into the fire".  Commissar Alexi charges after us, and we roll.  Alexi wins the day.  He is a "hero of Stalingrad", revered by the troops and admired by Anushka. But Anushka takes from this exchange that "life is victory".  She is not ready to die, she wants to live. All three characters get a trait here, so Mikhail gains "empowered" for his quick thinking and initiative on the battlefield. 

Chances of Escape?
The next scene between Alexi and Anushka follows up on the dramatic fire fight. Anushka was captured and he is bargaining for her life in an exchange of hostages.  Alexi trades back a german officer, Obersturmfuhrer Victor Krupp. Krupp is an officer Alexi captured, his opposite number for whom he has a grudging respect.  But he is quarrelsome, and Scott has the Commissar bungle the exchange by arguing over the details: which captive will be handed over first, and the scene dissolves into a fire-fight.  The next scene takes place at the ruins of the bar where Mikhail and Anushka met. He again gives her a cigarette, but this time, she sees the copy of the Declaration of Independence he keeps with him, and they bitterly dispute ideology.  She thinks she has him convinced, but he undermines her belief with his dreams of moving to America and finding a new life.  We enter the final scene with her turning towards this tiny spark of hope.

The last Beloved's scene.  We meet in the abandoned church, now party office, behind which is the firing line where Alexi shoots deserters.  The three are together, and the end of the siege is nigh.  No battle, no war, just three people locked together, looking for a moment of love or a hope of life to help them confront the unthinkable.  Scott sacrificed his trait "optimistic" for Alexi and replaces it with pessimistic. Instead of speaking with hope of the future, he speaks of the death of the war, of the losses suffered, by Anushka, by him, by everyone. The Commissar takes out the music box that belonged to her mother, let's the music play and draws her to him.  He gives it back to her, sacrificing that trait and outing himself as a killer, but throwing himself on her mercy and looking to her for love and forgiveness.  Mikhail tears her away and kisses her.

We roll the dice, and I win. Anushka makes her choice for love and life.  She chooses Mikhail and they go away together.

Fading Hopes
After the final scene, we play out the the final resolution of the tale.  For each point we got during out turns, we roll a die and compare.  I had the most dice, five versus Scott's two and Jye's three.  We were expecting, of all things, a happy ending. But, instead, the story ran true and the dice gave Jye the victory.  At first we weren't sure what had happened, and then it became all too clear.

On the night of the final assault, Anushka and Mikhail make a plan to desert together. They choose a rendesvous time and place. But before they can get away, Alexi finds Mikhail in a dark alley way and shoots him dead with a bullet in the back of the head.  Anushk a comes to meet him and finds him dead, all her hopes lost.  She turns to Alexi and he comforts her in her grief.  They take comfort in one another, and she wakes in his arms as dawn breaks and the tanks begin to roll through doomed Stalingrad. 

Long in the future, we speculate, they will build a monument to the warrior maid Anushka, beloved of the troops and Alexi, the hero of Stalingrad. While in an unmarked grave, Mikhail's body lies unmourned.  But in a village not far from there, the grand-child of a cousin of Mikhail lives on in the changing nation of Russia, now newly freed from the Soviet party and the legacy of communist Russia.  He meets a young girl who looks remarkably like Anastasia, and they live that hope of the future that Mikhail represented and the life that Anastasia yearned for. 

Tragedy among us
As I said, there were many games played that night and others that had to do with World War II and the cold war. Games as disparate as  Cold City and Capes brought up themes of the holocaust.  Perhaps we were thinking of Ron and his cold war epic of spy exploration in Spione.  Maybe we were reveling in our abilty to simply play tragedy.  I don't know, but whatever it was I'm grateful.  The story of Anushka, Mikhail and Alexi will haunt me for a long time. I'm so grateful to Jye and Scott for bringing it to the table.   Thank you, thank you!!!!

all the best,
Em
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Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

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Jason Morningstar
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« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2006, 06:56:50 PM »

Holy crap that sounds awesome.  Not cheap awesome like we over-use around here, but truly leaving me filled with awe.  I want to play that game.  My experience with StM has been very light, certainly in your originally intended vein, but now i totally want to use it for some hard-core tragedy. 
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JasperN.
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Posts: 41


« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2006, 12:43:50 AM »

Hi Emily,

this sounds great, indeed. I knew I had to play StM anyway, but now Im even more eager to.

Id be interested in knowing a little more about what went on between you - as players - at the table. Specifically, Id like to know whether there were any awkward or embarrassing moments because of the drama and intensity of it all. I mean, this is heavy stuff. Was that o.k. for everyone at all times, or was someone uncomfortable at some point? Did you talk about the tone and setting before you started the game and established some sort of boundaries, or did that emerge during play? Did you stay in character a lot or/and did you switch to talking "about" the game in order to couch yourselves against the intensity a bit?

I am asking this beacuse Ive noticed dynamics like that in my Breaking the Ice games a lot. Emotionally intense games like these in which you act out a relationship dynamics that is matched by the number of players at the table seem to invite a change of stance now and then.

Best,
Jasper
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2006, 05:57:38 AM »

This not only sounds awesome, it sounds exactly like what Mo and I were trying to do with our White Rose of Stalingrad game. Only, you guys actually managed to do it because you had a system that supported it.

Can't wait to get my hands on Shooting the Moon.
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- Brand Robins
Emily Care
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« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2006, 06:50:16 AM »

Quote from: Jasper
Specifically, Id like to know whether there were any awkward or embarrassing moments because of the drama and intensity of it all. I mean, this is heavy stuff. Was that o.k. for everyone at all times, or was someone uncomfortable at some point? Did you talk about the tone and setting before you started the game and established some sort of boundaries, or did that emerge during play? Did you stay in character a lot or/and did you switch to talking "about" the game in order to couch yourselves against the intensity a bit?
Good question.  It was intense, but for my part, not awkward. I would love to hear how Jye & Scott felt about it. I did have a few moments of stunned amazement, though. I remember feeling that way when they chose the Prize--in a good way.  Like they had raised the bar to an epic degree. And the choice of the setting felt dangerous and exciting, but I think all three of us threw in with it pretty much immediately.  We didn't actually have a talk about boundaries or theme at the start. But we all seemed committed--which play seems to have borne out.  We were playing with out a net.

There were a lot of escalations like that: having Alexi have the music box from Anushka's mom, making Mikhail a traitor and giving him the declaration of independence.   Each of these hit home, and hard, at least for me. Other things that might seem fairly intense--Anushka being an orphan, Alexi's injured, then lost, hand, the loss of little Piotr--but they felt all of a piece with the story when they were introduced. They were natural extensions of the scene and the characters, so didn't prompt a second thought. 

The three of us had played part of game together earlier and had established a good connection and friendship already. Also, the game requires input from everyone--giving opportunities for buy in and modification of pretty much everything that gets introduced, so that may help allow the tone to be mutually agreed upon too. I got to answer their Prize with my Dream for Anushka: hope for life. So both themes were in there.  Which, in the end made it more tragic,  but I got to have that be represented if I wanted it there. Also, there is a lot of the player dynamic I didn't include in the write up: frex, we constantly gave eachother suggestions for traits and events whether they were for or against our characters.  It was even more collaborative than it sounds. It was often not necessarily narrated in character, too, so that may have helped give proper space for each of us to appreciate and not feel overwhelmed by it.

A correction in the blue:
Quote
Jye calls on Alexi's grit and he pulls himself together, putting a tourniquet on the stump, and ordering soldiers to protect Anushka with their bodies and their lives.
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Jye Nicolson
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« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2006, 01:47:12 PM »

Good question. It was intense, but for my part, not awkward. I would love to hear how Jye & Scott felt about it. I did have a few moments of stunned amazement, though. I remember feeling that way when they chose the Prize--in a good way. Like they had raised the bar to an epic degree. And the choice of the setting felt dangerous and exciting, but I think all three of us threw in with it pretty much immediately. We didn't actually have a talk about boundaries or theme at the start. But we all seemed committed--which play seems to have borne out. We were playing with out a net.

I think there was a few things going on that made it pretty "safe":

1.  Scott and I (as much as I can speak for Scott) were probably operating on the somewhat naieve assumption that, since the game was at a con, nobody would bring up anything unfortunate without a lot of prior warning - which is more or less the basic con ettiquette in Australia.  Plus Emily is so nice! :)

2.  The premise, while it brought in a lot of fairly horrific stuff up front, like the awful violence of Stalingrad, also pretty much made bringing other uncomfortable stuff in superflous.  Hence all our escalations made things more poignant or sad, but there would have been no real point introducing anything gratuitously bad, even if we were inclined to (which I certainly was not!).

3.  Shooting the Moon is a very gamey game.  You're hunting out traits from the situation, looking for more traits to put on, assembling pools etc.  It's not at all conducive to immersive play, which suits me just fine!
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Emily Care
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« Reply #6 on: August 24, 2006, 06:59:02 AM »

Good points, Jye! (and thanks : )

Quote
3.  Shooting the Moon is a very gamey game.  You're hunting out traits from the situation, looking for more traits to put on, assembling pools etc.  It's not at all conducive to immersive play, which suits me just fine!
I've always thought that StM would be the easiest for people to play of the three quick games, socially & emotionally speaking.  Competition can make for easier boundaries than cooperation or deep exploration, I think. Which is strange to say.
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Parthenia
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« Reply #7 on: August 24, 2006, 09:57:23 AM »

Wow! Sigh! Amazing! I so want to play StM again!
-Julia
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Jye Nicolson
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« Reply #8 on: August 24, 2006, 07:43:19 PM »

I've always thought that StM would be the easiest for people to play of the three quick games, socially & emotionally speaking.  Competition can make for easier boundaries than cooperation or deep exploration, I think. Which is strange to say.

It makes sense though.  Competition tends to do handly things like implicitly set stakes, and makes the nature of escalation "If I do this, then they WILL respond in kind" rather than "If I do this, I HOPE they'll respond in kind".
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