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Author Topic: [Spione] A successful, thought-provoking first go  (Read 2903 times)
MikeSands
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« on: February 27, 2008, 10:06:16 PM »

Last night, me and a few others had a first game of Spione. Overall the game went very well - we had a lot of fun and I feel like we created a good story.

I'm starting the thread to discuss things that came up in the game.

The first thing is that I was surprised by the effectiveness of the Trespasses. There was some discomfort from at least some of us about the mechanic, but it turned out well. The destruction of the unused Trespasses seemed to relieve the tension. But more than that, the knowledge that some of them were in play added an edge to the story, and really seemed to produce the fiction about real things that Ron intended.

The character generation went pretty smoothly, with a fair amount of input into each spy/guy from everyone at the table, although a bit more came from their players.

Then we went into maneuvers, which started slowly but I feel like we all got into the swing of things pretty quickly. In the stories of both spy/guys there seemed to be an emphasis on colleagues and their networks in these scenes, rather than solely personal or family relationships. This was partly due to the guys picked - one a divorcee and the other unmarried - but even so there were two or three supporting cast who never even appeared in a scene (note: we didn't actually complete the stories due to running out of time - more on this below).

Another item I found interesting was that both spies were motivated by a twisted kind of loyalty to their countries. However, there was absolutely no concern on their parts as to the reason that they were spying (in both cases on their compatriots). This isolation from the motives for what they were doing was a fairly evocative theme in the stories, for me - at least in hindsight.

Unfortunately it got too late to continue before we completed both spy/guys stories. However, it seemed that the trajectory for each was well established by this point. We decided to quickly describe what ended up happening to the principals based on what had occured in the game, which was a fairly satisfying end. It strikes me now that we ought to have done the same for the supporting cast (especially poor old Armin, the talentless writer, last seen being menaced by an armed man in a photo shown to his best friend in an interrogation room). Actually, that scene did cover fairly well what happened to *that* guys supporting cast... they all appeared on threatening photos. All in all we had three flashpoints, as I recall, likely with one more for one principal before their story was over and probably two or three for the other.

In terms of the people at the table, we had a mixed group in terms of familiarity with Spione (me, Steve and Malcolm), with the actual history of the cold war (Malcolm and Ed), and the fiction (me and Ed, possibly Malcolm?). Aaron I don't think was especially familiar with any of those (correct me if I'm wrong, Aaron). Despite this, we quickly generated a good ... working relationship? something like that ... to build the story. The maneuvers went quickly, with lots of suggestions (many coming in to the story) from everyone. I also really enjoyed the moments when those of us without a principal obviously had a really good idea for putting a principal further into the Cold. The principals' players seemed to really be dreading those by the end.
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Malcolm Craig
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« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2008, 02:17:07 AM »

Thought provoking indeed.

Throughout the story, I didn't think about why the spies/guys were doing what they were doing. The fear, desperation and increasing realisation that they were very insignificant to the people that were controlling them were the real core of what was coming out of play.

As I commented in an email earlier today, in the case of Baum I thought it interesting that almost everyone he interacted with (bar his son),were from his own sphere: writers or associated with writers. His son and wife only came into it in a very tangential manner. It was all about the writers and their story. I got the feeling that the character of Hoffstader (the American literary agent) was, in many ways, the protagonist in that story, because all the other people orbited around him: he was the man all the writers wanted to see, he was the one Baum became close to, he was the CIA plant in the writers group. The core of the story was really about Hoffstader. And then he dies.

Interesting stuff.

Around the table there seemed to be a strong desire (perhaps a read it wrong, guys?) to bring in elements of Berlin that were familiar to us from our own experiences. So, the Wall as a backdrop came in very early on. The smoky jazz club that seems indelibly associated with the city. Damp weather and the Berlin Zoo. The Tiergarten and so on. I should also that, out of Ed, Mike and myself, I was probably the one with the least familiarity with Cold War spy fiction. History is more my forte and, although stuff like that would get drawn upon in the game, I made a conscious effort not to drive for historical accuracy in what was an exercise in creating Cold War spy fiction.

More thoughts as they percolate through my brain.

Cheers
Malcolm

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Malcolm Craig
Contested Ground Studios
www.contestedground.co.uk
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2008, 05:49:10 AM »

Cool!

Spione is designed to be played in two or three sessions - or rather, I think it reaches its strongest play when spread out just a little. The main reasons include a bit of reflection on under-used Supporting Cast, the possibility of looking up details on historical or intelligence stuff that's come into the story, perhaps time for emotional re-positioning about Trespasses in play, and the opportunity for reviewing what all the agencies are up to, or seem to be up to, without the pressure of being in play at the moment. Oh yeah, and also the ability to relax in terms of story-time, having the chance to see characters do normal things as well as cope with the urgencies. Single-session Spione tends to be more like a movie in which a character appears but is not developed before being eliminated, or in which agencies like the KGB loom into view without secondary material that makes them interesting or surprising.

It reads to me as if there were some constraint that enforced a single session upon you. Is that right? If so, that's a minor shame, because clearly the group began a great experience. The good news is that you enjoyed yourselves, and that makes me happy as the author, but I'm definitely interested in what you could do with it over a couple of evenings.

What agencies and principals were involved?

Best, Ron
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MikeSands
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« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2008, 10:32:07 AM »

We played a single session just as an opportunity to play Spione with a group who were interested in it, to see how it went. I'll plan for 2-3 sessions for any future games. I'm not sure how possible it will be to get exactly the same group back together - especially as Malcolm is leaving Wellington soon to continue his travels.

The principals were
- Thomas Baum, working for the Stasi and infiltrating a West Berlin writer's group that included several East German expats (played by Malcolm).
- Fiona Summers, working for the CIA to get at the British NATO offices (played by Steve).

Summers in particular had an interesting rationale for spying for the Americans on her own compatriots - Steve (I think) decided to play on the distrust of the British organisation by the CIA, and had Summers working for them because they are more reliable than her own national agencies.
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Malcolm Craig
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« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2008, 08:49:17 PM »

Baums' motivations were vague, tied up with his escape from Danzig as a child and the formative experiences of his younger years. Everyone round the table really ran with the the statement early on from Baum that "I'm just a writer!" and sent some really hard choices his way: betrayal of old friends (indeed, his oldest friend), estrangement from his son, revealing new depths of treachery and willingness to give himself over to the system. To be honest, I'm not sure if Baum ever really knew why he was doing this, in any deep sense. Perhaps we might never have discovered. But that's second-guessing.

I'd like to play it again at some point, over a longer series of sessions, just to see how it panned out. There were certainly lots of options still left open to us by the end of our time, many relationships as yet untouched or only barely touched.

Cheers
Malcolm
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Malcolm Craig
Contested Ground Studios
www.contestedground.co.uk
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: February 29, 2008, 06:24:17 AM »

Hiya,

I really like the choices about the Guy and Spy sheets. "Spying on one's own" is a huge issue, and Malcolm, I think it's actually better not to get very focused on characters' motivations. "Urges" is probably a better concept, as intuited and non-reflectively created during play itself.

I'm basing that point on the source literature, which includes both fiction and non-fiction (often hard to tell apart). Quite a few CIA guys offer the most trenchant, penetrating criticisms of their own agency, but when asked "why did you do it, then?" can only say, "Ummm ... because I did." And those are the officers, the trained ideologues/patriots. Ask it of a spy, i.e. someone they recruited, and you'll get desperate answers because the person made multiple desperate decisions. A lot of the references in the Spione Wiki that are categorized as Insiders and Biography criss-cross and struggle with these issues, as do a number of the Spy vs. Guy novels that are also Insiders.

What I'm saying is that I really like your summary of Baum's motivations that stops at the point, "I'm not sure if Baum ever really knew why he was doing this." That seems to be accurate both in terms of fiction/drama, and in terms of history.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: February 29, 2008, 06:26:08 AM »

Oh yeah!

In the brilliant German novel and film Mephisto, the lead character says at one point, "What do they want with me? I'm just an actor!"

I really recommend seeing it, if you haven't - it holds multiple corresponding bits and themes to your story, I think.

Best, Ron
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hix
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Posts: 568

Steve Hickey


« Reply #7 on: February 29, 2008, 05:57:52 PM »

Here are some of my initial thoughts about the game:

I decided to choose my Spy and Guy Sheets based purely on enthusiasm.  I found the idea of the CIA spying on the British NATO offices (Operation Beartrap) fascinating.  I simply could not grab my head around it - and although we spent a bit of time before the game started trying to figure out motivations, eventually I made the call that we would just sort it out through play.

Next, I chose Fiona Summers as my Guy.  Again, the idea of an older woman placed in the position of stealing documents from NATO fascinated me.

There were some reversals of attitude going on throughout all this.  Initially, we as a group were disappointed to get the 1980s as our decade, preferring (perhaps) a more distant historical period.  But after reading through the situation sheet and realising there were drug-dealing CIA agents, KGB gangsters, and Thatcher as Prime Minister, I really got into the idea of playing an historical period that was just on the periphery of my awareness as I was growing up.  Polar Star and Gorky Park are two significant novels for me, and we were throwing around joking references to Firefox and other 1980s movies for a little while trying to get a feel for the time period.

My choosing of Operation Beartrap was also a little bit of a challenge to myself.  I had gone into the game expecting to play West versus East.  The idea of West versus West had never occurred to me, and I thought that might spice things up.

So we began to play and right from the start, Baum's story was hitting strong dramatic beats based off his personal relationships. Fiona's story, however, was always more distant - I realised early on that I wanted to focus around administration and bureaucracy (sort of like The Wire). That meant that, initially, I was a little concerned that the events around my principal were a little less gripping.

However, around the time I disclosed my Trespass it became clear that this was a story about the CIA's operation being blown. Our manoeuvers started focusing around MI6's surveillance of Fiona, and the way they gradually started moving up through my network towards the Americans in charge. As a group we all worked together to achieve this, and it felt fantastically like spy fiction - the small person surrounded by, and trying to outthink, the enormous counter-intelligence apparatus that's surrounding her.

Ron, I agree with your observation about stretching out story.  In our first round of manoeuvers, it took a long time to enter into or commit to flashpoints. However, that first round really fleshed out a lot about Baum's character and situation. Being able to take that time consistently, over a few sessions, would strengthen the game.
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Cheers,
Steve

Find out more about Left Coast (a game about writers, inspired by the life of Philip K. Dick) on Twitter: @leftcoastrpg
MikeSands
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« Reply #8 on: February 29, 2008, 07:42:05 PM »

Hey Steve,

I didn't find that Fiona's story was less gripping in any way. It was certainly less emotional, at first, with her dealing with workmates and informants but the story still built tension pretty fast (especially as her operation began to collapse and her brother started his well-intentioned meddling - that is what put MI6 onto her).
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hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2008, 12:06:43 PM »

A couple of other things I remembered:

By the time we stopped playing, the lives of everyone around Fiona had been damaged and in many cases destroyed, and almost all of my supporting cast had been eliminated.  I had a card number of 5, and because I had pushed for disclosure (of my Trespass) about halfway through the game I was eliminating at least one supporting cast member per flashpoint.

Afterwards, I said how much I liked that Fiona was so toxic to everyone around her. It was only later I realised this is probably an intentional feature of the design.  I don't have the rules in front of me but if I'm remembering right it's the removal of all the supporting cast that determines when a spy's story ends.

Also, I'm usually a little bit cautious about providing adversity for myself in a scene but it works brilliantly in Spione.  I was able to choose and describe seeds of potential conflict, and rely on my collaborators to draw its awfulness out into the game.  For instance, I described Fiona stealing from her brother's chequebook and forging his signature, which immediately led to her brother (a Senior Private Secretary to a Cabinet Minister) calling in MI6 out of concern.
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Cheers,
Steve

Find out more about Left Coast (a game about writers, inspired by the life of Philip K. Dick) on Twitter: @leftcoastrpg
eddee
Member

Posts: 3


« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2008, 02:54:57 PM »


Just to add from the email discussion after the game this came up:

Mike said:

> I thought it was interesting that neither the principals or we as
> players ever investigated why they were spying on the people they were
> spying on. The lack of interest in any purpose to what is going on,
> aside from the fact that both had a kind of rationale for who they were
> working for... well, I'm not sure exactly what it means, but it seems
> significant.

I replied:

Looking back on it today I had a nagging feeling about this - If this was a spy novel I would feel cheated I never knew why the CIA were spying on British delegation at Nato, though I felt the writer's group who sometimes assisted getting writers out of the east and who maybe, in part, funded by the CIA, seem ripe for being spied on by the east germans - so I didn't feel investigation was needed there.

I really enjoyed the game and very much like steve (... or was it Malc's) idea of running a 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s series of evenings with each possibly slowly interlinking.


Now - looking at all that it occurs to me the idea of a series of different decade sessions, with occasional interlinking characters, one could do really nice things - such as: implications of what had happened to a character (eg rise/fall in fortunes, had kids, ) in the decade between sessions and even have characters presumed to be dead or working for one agency turn out to be alive or doubles in another session hence shedding a different light on the events of a previous evening!
-ed
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