*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
October 25, 2014, 01:14:06 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 26 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
Pages: [1]
Print
Author Topic: Guy Shalev's The Friendship Game, with mechanics like real friendship  (Read 1266 times)
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2447


WWW
« on: March 07, 2011, 07:35:26 PM »

After a bit of boardgaming this past Saturday a group of us switched to roleplaying with a stab at Guy Shalev's The Friendship Game (v. 2). It was me, Dan, Devin (who previously had only played D&D3e and one round of scenes in a Universalis game), and Thor Hansen.

A session is supposed to be twice around the table. With four players that would have been eight scenes. Well, we only actually got through five of them before Dan had to go. But even so I think the experience has value as a playtest report. We'd have easily played a full session if Dan hadn't had to leave. We were having fun, the scenes moved quickly, and there's nothing so broken as to have caused us to stop. And the game has some fresh properties I like quite a bit.

The situation we came up with was an order of Victorian era British magicians trying to map the corners of the magical arts before upstart nations could develop into improbable and unexpected magical threats. But that global scope largely fell by the wayside with the very first scene. Dan opened the first scene by suggesting that someone was using the magical arts to rig the outcomes of dog breeding competitions, threatening disruption of the breeding and competition betting activities of the aristocracy, a significant issue indeed.

Dan's character was an Inspector General. Devin was a female Texan working as a clandestine dirty tricks operative for the Inspector. I was Lord Richard Ashley, a wealthy aristocratic illusionist whose lie to everyone was that he was routinely visited by an angel named Vangelis. And Thor was my wife, who secretly loved the Inspector (and who was secretly loved by him in return).

Anyway, a few comments/questions/observations before getting into the stuff I like most about the game:

  • The game is sized very well, if that makes sense. From reading the rules it was obvious that a lot of the energy in the game would come from the Secrets. But I was thinking that requiring five tokens would place achieving Catharsis for a Secret out of reach of the first session, and that as a result the first session would lack necessary energy. But I was wrong. Dan hit his Secret love for my wife aggressively, and achieved Catharsis in the fifth scene. I had three tokens on my Vangelis lie by the fifth scene, and two tokens on a new Secret about the other aristocrats thinking I'm preposterous and only tolerating me because I loan them money. So, in short, the token economy and recommended number of scenes for the session seemed tightly balanced. I was on a pace to hit Catharsis about Vangelis by the end of the session, which would have been perfect and dramatic.
  • Someone suggested the game mechanics would be perfect for Bollywood storytelling, and I agree.
  • As is the case with GM-full games that don't police their genre, game events got increasingly gonzo. The fourth scene was a gun battle on the estate of a rogue aristocrat who'd been turning his cattle into champion dogs. The battle featured harpies, a giant white wyrm, and an M-16 conjured from the future.
  • Can Hopes be created at any time? Should one be created during chargen? Or specifically only created during play?
  • The suggested difficulty numbers for Hopes should be even numbers to dispense with the need for rounding down for Light token accrual.
  • We did violate the suggested turn order once. Thor was stumped, so I jumped ahead of him in turn order and did my scene. And then we came back to him.
  • We did have one scene without a conflict. It was fine. But Thor was trying for a conflict, and I think he was disappointed it didn't rise to that level and he missed out on token upside.
  • The game text is right when it says it's easy to get Light tokens. You spend one Light token to initiate a conflict, one to give yourself a bonus die, and if you win you get both of them back. You're out nothing. And if you're using your Dark tokens to pay for your scene framing you could conceivably play out this pattern for quite a while.
  • We had a question about players aiding each other. You can pay a token to get an extra die. Another player can give you a Light token if you're doing something exciting to them, and if they do, you get a Light token in return. It's pretty easy to say that someone who's in a conflict is doing something that's exciting to you. So, when you want to aid someone do you give them a Light token so they can pay for an extra die, and then they get an extra Light token as well? Something seems off about this.
  • Also, if I'm playing an NPC in a scene, because my character isn't there, and I initiate a conflict, do I use my own tokens to pay for it?
  • And we did have one pretty hitchy conflict. I framed my scene to an early morning lovemaking session between my Lord Richard Ashley and his wife, and roleplayed enthusiastically telling her that Vangelis had given me the blessed news that we would conceive a child. Thor roleplayed the weeping, but clammed up about why, and I drove for conflict by insisting that she tell me the truth. But the real truth is that she didn't want a child with me because she's in love with the Inspector. Except that Secret of hers only has three tokens on it at this point. So I'm rolling for her to reveal her Secret two tokens before the mechanics say it can be revealed. This seems like a problem. I won the die roll. We got through the outcome with Thor cleverly roleplaying telling me about the traits of a man who she'd really love and would want to have children with, and those traits were all exactly like the Inspector General and not like Ashley. But with the way the mechanics have players hitting their Secrets again and again for the Dark tokens, putting lots of dramatic emphasis on the Secrets, I think gameplay is probably going to see lots of "tell me your secret" conflicts, so probably it needs to be addressed somehow.

And finally, here are the two (related) things I really like about the game, one of which is hinted in the subject of the thread:

    The central token pool and the way players pull from it by creating new Secrets, hitting their Secrets and Hopes, and impeding the actions of other characters feels a lot like the card game Dominion in play. It's a fun dynamic that I've not seen in another RPG.

    I'm recalling something I read a year or so ago, but not where I read it. There's a cultural custom somewhere that when eating at the table with others, whether they're friends or strangers, everyone offers and pours wine for their neighbor, rather than pouring for themselves. It's a simple gesture that creates an emotional connection. In the Friendship Game when a Secret goes through Catharsis, characters end up with individual copies of a secret they both share. So, when the love Dan's Inspector harbored for Thor's character was reveled, they both got "Inspector General Tristan loves Penelope" Secrets (note: though Penelope did have a Secret that she loved Tristan, it wasn't yet revealed, so the new Secret they both share after the Catharsis of Tristan's Secret isn't "Tristan and Penelope love each other," but "Tristan loves Penelope"). Anyway, then in play when Dan hits his "Tristan loves Penelope" Secret, he naturally reaches into the token pool and gives each of them a Dark token. The same thing happens with the Light tokens when the separate "Tristan Loves Penelope" Secrets are initially created. This is just like pouring wine for your neighbor. It's just like friendship. It's a gift of service that creates an emotional bond between the players. It happens naturally with no rule needed, just by virtue of the player hitting the secret knowing that they should both get tokens. I love it.

Paul
Logged

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
Thunder_God
Member

Posts: 510

Still Here.


WWW
« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2011, 11:15:19 AM »

Thanks for playing the game Paul, that makes me very happy :)
A lot of points to address, some somewhat tangenital, and some seemingly tangenital points in your posts are quite the crux of some of my design decisions.

Quote
But that global scope largely fell by the wayside with the very first scene. Dan opened the first scene by suggesting that someone was using the magical arts to rig the outcomes of dog breeding competitions, threatening disruption of the breeding and competition betting activities of the aristocracy, a significant issue indeed.

One of my main design inspirations for this game was the Sitcom "Friends". I wanted the game to be able to deliver the kind of interaction that is somewhere between that group of friends, and the cast of any big Soap. And well, the situation in most Soaps is an excuse for social interactions. There's a reason the only reason the characters' lives apart from one another is relevant is as an opportunity for Secrets to come up in.

Quote
The game is sized very well, if that makes sense. From reading the rules it was obvious that a lot of the energy in the game would come from the Secrets. But I was thinking that requiring five tokens would place achieving Catharsis for a Secret out of reach of the first session, and that as a result the first session would lack necessary energy.

A thought I had after reading some things regarding Tenra Bansho Zero and other games with "Session"-relevant mechanics, things that occur in the Currency system whenever a session ends/begins, what if a group's session is longer or shorter? A session is not an innucous word here, and should be geared towards getting people with less time to play this game in smaller chunks of time, but if you play 3 cycles of scenes? No sweat. Just like 1 cycle is called a "cycle", a "Session" is first and foremost meant as "Two cycles of scenes", and the other effect is mostly mental, on purpose.

The other point I want to address, especially after you've played. Do you think the Catharsis you hit upon was necessary for the session to maintain energy? I mean, even you nearing catharsis was enough. As we've discussed regarding Georg Simmel's writing, the mere existence of the Secret is what lends things energy. A secret lends things energy, the catharsis just gives the fuel inside the game to delve into another cycle of secrets, and can clear the table some.
I'm not sure if changing the condition for Catharsis to 10 Dark Tokens would be advisable, because even if the mere existence of secrets gives things energy, it helps to feel the secrets are just around the corner. Boiling under the surface.

Quote
As is the case with GM-full games that don't police their genre, game events got increasingly gonzo. The fourth scene was a gun battle on the estate of a rogue aristocrat who'd been turning his cattle into champion dogs. The battle featured harpies, a giant white wyrm, and an M-16 conjured from the future.

I always find this phenomenon very interesting, and somewhat bemusing. It always feels like adlib, when people (including me) just try to see how far they can go. Also, in many games with a setting, there's no real "policing" of the players - they police themselves to adhere to genre/tropes/setting (Middle Earth, say), and thus don't do this kind of thing. But since it's the relation that are the important thing here, I'm not sure how much it matters here.

Quote
Can Hopes be created at any time? Should one be created during chargen? Or specifically only created during play?

I actually don't remember what I originally thought of this issue, hm.
I'd probably say they're like Secrets. If every character has one when gameplay begins, then the game will be more driven. If you make more hopes, then you'll help ensure that things always happen, but you may do so at the cost of Secrets.
Hopes are optional, you can get them anytime, but I think it'd be best to have up to one per character at a time - the immediate next goal your character wants - which they'd be able to pursue rapidly, accomplish, and then move on to the next. A two or three could also work, but it'd be for a more soap-ish series. Most big things are broken down (I give the Prisonbreak example). You can say this keeps characters always accomplishing things, with always their next goal in reach and the reward for it also close in hand.
This is exactly like how people are taught to overcome procrastination, and is not accidental.

Quote
The suggested difficulty numbers for Hopes should be even numbers to dispense with the need for rounding down for Light token accrual.

Well, it's doable, and now I notice all the numbers I gave examples for are odd. There's no mandatory need for it, those numbers are unlikely to go over 9 or so. And well, that it takes another token or not can matter. But it's an issue up to players at the table.

Quote
We did violate the suggested turn order once. Thor was stumped, so I jumped ahead of him in turn order and did my scene. And then we came back to him.

His secret or someone else's did not give him a good direction to head in? And it's always an issue I perceive in shared-narration games, where someone can be put on the spot..

Quote
We had a question about players aiding each other. You can pay a token to get an extra die. Another player can give you a Light token if you're doing something exciting to them, and if they do, you get a Light token in return. It's pretty easy to say that someone who's in a conflict is doing something that's exciting to you. So, when you want to aid someone do you give them a Light token so they can pay for an extra die, and then they get an extra Light token as well? Something seems off about this.

In the end this is about what you "find exciting". It's basically rewarding players for doing, or having their characters do, things you want to see more of. If you want to see more conflicts initiated, or more specific conflicts, or conflicts framed in a specific manner (prose), etc. You can reward players for doing those things. Note, you shouldn't reward a character "just because you want to see them win". I mean, if the option of them succeeding in the conflict is a lot more interesting than them losing, just have them win, and still give them the tokens if it excites you.

Quote
Also, if I'm playing an NPC in a scene, because my character isn't there, and I initiate a conflict, do I use my own tokens to pay for it?
Only player characters can initiate scenes. If you have an NPC in conflict with a PC in the scene, the PC will have to initiate the Conflict and pay the tokens. This is explained, but yeah, not too clearly, under "Competing Characters".

Quote
And we did have one pretty hitchy conflict. I framed my scene to an early morning lovemaking session between my Lord Richard Ashley and his wife, and roleplayed enthusiastically telling her that Vangelis had given me the blessed news that we would conceive a child. Thor roleplayed the weeping, but clammed up about why, and I drove for conflict by insisting that she tell me the truth. But the real truth is that she didn't want a child with me because she's in love with the Inspector. Except that Secret of hers only has three tokens on it at this point. So I'm rolling for her to reveal her Secret two tokens before the mechanics say it can be revealed. This seems like a problem. I won the die roll. We got through the outcome with Thor cleverly roleplaying telling me about the traits of a man who she'd really love and would want to have children with, and those traits were all exactly like the Inspector General and not like Ashley. But with the way the mechanics have players hitting their Secrets again and again for the Dark tokens, putting lots of dramatic emphasis on the Secrets, I think gameplay is probably going to see lots of "tell me your secret" conflicts, so probably it needs to be addressed somehow.

Thor played it right, and it probably does need to be addressed clearly.
This is the genre of the game. Secrets, soap, bollywood, friendships, life. When a Secret has less than 5 Dark Tokens on it, it will not be revealed. This can be addressed by sliding around it, or doing whatever that has the other side not knowing the answer to the secret, and yet knowing more, or less... think how often you try to get a secret out of someone only to fail in getting it out of them.
A secret is revealed when it hits Catharsis. There is no need for a Conflict to get it there, but a conflict confronting someone about their secret can help get it there (it can easily strain relations, after all). You just can't set a conflict where the Stake is for the Secret to be told - you can try to find out more, you can try to cause them guilt over withholding the secret, or try to find out the secret by sending a PI after them... anything up to, but not including, the Secret itself being revealed.

What you Like:
1. I really need to play some Dominion.
2. Very interesting. I never thought about that aspect of board-games, where you take tokens in games and also take enough for the one sitting next to you. Then again, in Monopoly, the Banker has Power and Responsibility.
Logged

Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
d.anderson
Member

Posts: 19


« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2011, 09:34:00 PM »

This is Dan, from the game.  I was wondering if Secrets shouldn't have the same self-decided token value that Hopes do; right now, Secrets are (5 Dark) pays out (3 Light) in Catharsis (roughly half round up), and Hopes pay out at half round down.  Hopes cap out at 1 token per scene, but Secrets can be added to several times (starting or being important to the scene, and then causing complication to a conflict).  I set my Hopes, "Time Alone with Lady Penny" and "Discover the Source of the Black Magics", at 3 and 7 respectively because I thought the pace was right for the theme.

Given that Hopes and Secrets are simply added as they arise in play, rather than their addition being tied to the scene economy, I suppose it's not that big a deal.

The shared narration was noticeable.  I'm not sure how the other players experienced it (though we can lay the harpies, wyrm, and M-16 squarely at Paul's feet, thank you), but framing scenes, who said who was where at what time, establishing the validity and scope of conflicts, trying not to workshop (especially the nature and behavior of opposition), and coping with the afore-mentioned drift in tone all required a bit of effort on my part.  It might have been mitigated if we met the initial conditions for play better (i.e. "Make sure you’re comfortable with one another, get to know one another as players, become friends before you begin in portraying an imaginary group of friends."), but I suspect it is a skill or set of skills that could bear addressing.
Logged
Thunder_God
Member

Posts: 510

Still Here.


WWW
« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2011, 07:48:58 AM »

Hello Dan, thanks for writing :) I am going to try and tackle some of those questions, but a part of it will be done by outlining how this game works, in my mind.

1. The game is quite minimal in some ways with its mechanics. The goal is to have a group of characters who are friends and tell their stories. If you don't hit on any secrets, and it's possible, you'll just have players who sit and chat, and their characters will more or less do the same. It'll be a framework that's almost not there, and well, it could just as easily not be there.
While Light tokens are what drives the game forward, what you get and need to do things, aquiring and using them is easy enough as to not make them mandatory; rather, they make what you might do a bit more procedural, and require you to make a minimal effort to hit some notes, to tell a specific kind of story.

While Light tokens are the how, Secrets have a huge impact on both the what, and most importantly, the why. While you could play without Hopes in the game (see my answer to Paul above regarding being unsure of their places), removing Secrets would make this a completely different game. Secrets make a boundary between "close" and "far", or "Friend" and "not friend". Secrets are the core, and are much more regulated than the Hopes, where the players are given more control over, but also have less effect on the scenes that are set, their resolution (mechanically), and story resolution.

I am unsure how Secrets would be made more like Hopes. Hopes are set at 3 for easy/short-term, 5 for medium, 7 for a complicated/hard task, and can be broken into discrete tasks. Secrets are the whole thing.  I am unsure there's such a thing as a "small" secret - small in its impact, small in regards to what it is, what? It's the existence of the Secret that is the main source of its power, in the boundary it creates.
Also, a Secret is akin to a time-bomb. You'll also note all Secrets begin with one Dark token on them. A Hope can be something you wish for idly and never get around to trying. A Secret, once it exists, is already ticking.

The half rounded down and half rounded up is not as clean, so it's easier to present that when a Secret hits Catharsis it gives 3 Light tokens, like in the Appendix. And yeah, it's not "clean". Maybe Hopes should yield half rounded up... but I'm not sold on it yet.

2. Have you read page 5 in the document? It has the headings "Setting Scenes" and "Secrets and Situations". These did not exist in the original manual, who was admittedly aimed much more at people who were already familiar with "Story Games". You are entirely correct, on both accounts here. Setting scenes is something that takes getting used to, especially the part that everyone does it equally, and that it could use more elaboration in the text itself. Heck, it's something you could easily spend 10 pages of examples on. Maybe this should be done.

As for scope, I gave players the responsibility and control. The player who's setting the scene has more or less complete control over it. And it's also up to the player who's initiating conflict to set the stakes. The other players should use the soft social power they all have, and more, the internal knowledge of what is acceptable held by each player, to keep things where they want to see them. Rights of veto and such, as you've noted, are left outside of the game, and are up to the social group.
In the words of Uncle Ben: "With great power comes great responsibility." ;)

It does seem to be mostly that comes with time, and I think it's less the skill and more the being comfortable with it.

3. A questions from me to you: What did you think, as you played? Did the mechanics make you do things you didn't want to do, did the mechanics help you do what you wanted to do, did the mechanics lead to new and interesting situations? Anything else you want to say, of the game you've played, in particular? And so on, would love to hear more :)

Thanks!
Logged

Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
d.anderson
Member

Posts: 19


« Reply #4 on: March 11, 2011, 09:00:33 AM »

Happy to oblige!

I felt pretty comfortable with the game, in that I had read it and was familiar with both the explicit rules and with the style of shared narration.  I also suspected that, once our group was established (there was some uncertainty about who would be playing), it would behoove me to focus on the others' Secrets as well as my own while establishing my scene.  I ended up pushing pretty hard, both for my own interests and to engage the other players.

I did so by the usual methods (for me) - look at the 'mechanical' bits for traction (Secrets, Hopes, whose scene was next, how many tokens they had); look at their focus or, erm, style of role-play (what are they paying attention to, how do they speak while in action and exposition, how they react); and be entertaining (act, react as though engaged, point out opportunities, as Paul said interact with the paraphernalia).

The mechanical bits were intuitive, for me, but there is always a learning curve, even with a game this simple.  It is not always clear what emergent play will (or is supposed to) look like, but I had a decent assumption based on your text.  There was, I think, a failure on our part procedurally.  We created characters that had strong, volatile relationships, but we did not really make friends!  My opinion, of course, but it made Secrets and conflicts loaded with relationship-destroying possibility - we had 'work' relationships and 'romance' relationships but the trust that underlies 'friendship' relationships (that permits deeper tests of trust) wasn't really there.  I'm not sure how you would address this better than you have!

Like I said, mechanics provide traction for engagement, for me.  There weren't any big surprises with The Friendship Game, since you have been clear about its purpose in the text and it has a pretty simple set of rules.  I played the game I expected to, given the people I played with.
Logged
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2447


WWW
« Reply #5 on: March 11, 2011, 09:26:29 AM »

There was, I think, a failure on our part procedurally.  We created characters that had strong, volatile relationships, but we did not really make friends!  My opinion, of course, but it made Secrets and conflicts loaded with relationship-destroying possibility - we had 'work' relationships and 'romance' relationships but the trust that underlies 'friendship' relationships (that permits deeper tests of trust) wasn't really there.  I'm not sure how you would address this better than you have!

I'm actually thinking the friendship is an emergent property. The shared Secrets after Catharsis are gold.

Paul
Logged

"[My Life with Master] is anything but a safe game to have designed. It has balls, and then some. It is as bold, as fresh, and as incisive  now as it was when it came out." -- Gregor Hutton
Thunder_God
Member

Posts: 510

Still Here.


WWW
« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2011, 07:39:25 AM »

I spent some time musing on the subject and my answers...

I am not surprised by what you say Dan, and I don't think you really did anything wrong. I mean, when you have a topic, which you come out with out loud, such as "Trust", you can either have the game be about trust through trust, or through betrayal. Or, when you think about the topic some more, it's not a binary state, but a continuum that the game focusing on anything on its length creates a game "About" that thing.
I created it as a "positive game", but seeing the impact of Secrets, if you push hard in the game, as many story-gamers do, the game is probably going to yield results that resemble a soap-opera more than anything else. This is because it becomes "all about the secrets!"

To have a game that resembles series like "Friends", you probably need to lay off on the secrets some, and use them to sprinkle the session with. This is more likely when you use the game as a framework to house what you want to tell/do anyway, rather than as the locomotive that drives the game (again, a continuum, not a binary dichotomy).

But it's still a game about Friendship, either way.

And Paul, that's a big issue, regarding all gaming, a chicken-and-egg question. Do you need to be friends in order to play a game with someone, or playing a game with someone makes you friends?
Logged

Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Pages: [1]
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.16 | SMF © 2011, Simple Machines
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!