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Author Topic: [Young Turks at the Cafe] An unofficial review  (Read 1171 times)
Dan Maruschak
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Posts: 128


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« on: April 27, 2012, 03:26:58 PM »

I wasn't officially assigned to review Young Turks at the Cafe by Zachary Donovan but I wanted to post one anyway.

This is an interesting premise for a game, since there's certainly plenty of room for small-scale drama in the situation of politically-engaged but socially privileged people, and plenty of room for observation and commentary about discourse and the value of detached political theorizing. Some games might approach the idea of using gaming to hold a political discussion obliquely, but this game goes head-on in asking you to roleplay people having a political discussion. I think the game does a good job in never telling the players what to think, since making up your own mind about how you feel about the discussed issues seems to be the big payoff in the game. I worry that it might be tough to generate enough content in the first scene from a cold start, but it seems like the game ought to roll along nicely once you get some momentum.

The game does some interesting things in calling out the differing roles that reasoned argument and appeals to emotion play in political discussions. It also encourages players to acknowledge that there are limits to what they know or can say with certainty by allowing players to “consign details to the Fruitful Void”. While subtle, this mechanic seems to be cleverly designed to make discussions directional, creating a microcosm where conclusions ought to flow from knowledge about the true state of the world rather than from the all-defining worldviews of the debaters (which will hopefully make the discussion differ from the kind of bickering that people usually associate with talking heads on television). I'm a little uncomfortable with the way the game uses the term Fruitful Void since Forge jargon causes enough confusion without people intentionally adopting the term to mean something very different.

I like the idea of Fruitful Void items feeding into individual Lantern scenes, but I'm a little concerned that the Lantern scenes don't seem to feed back into play (does playing the scene even take the item out of the Fruitful Void?). I'm especially concerned about the dice mechanic in that respect, since it just seems to be working like a possible countdown mechanic rather than something that resolves anything in the Lantern scene, which may lead people to think that the Lantern scenes are pointless. I'm also slightly torn about the Coyote's ability during Lantern scenes. On the one hand, it seems like a good way to combat the human tendency toward reasonableness to inject the possibility of  actual negative human behavior into the fiction, but on the other hand I can imagine the power being abused to cartoonishly villainize people in the fictional situation.

That leads me to my biggest concern about the game, which is whether it's “tolerant” of players bringing conflicting approaches to the game. If one player approaches it with the intent of genuinely engaging with a difficult issue and another player just wants to do an over-the-top caricature of a political POV, does the game break down? And if it does, does it do so before acrimony can set in? Does the game seek to establish a “safe space” for people with genuine differences of opinion (say Joe Tea Party and Sally Occupy) to work some things out, or does it require the players to mostly be on the same page before delving into an issue? I'm not sure, and I want the game to tell me that kind of stuff. I think it's interesting to try to bring political discussions into a gaming context, but there's a reason that a lot of people try to keep politics and religion out of their socializing, so it's probably worth giving some thought and advice about how to navigate these potentially treacherous waters.

The game has an intriguing premise. I'm not sure if I'd ever be comfortable trying to engage with these sorts of issues in a gaming context or if I'd be engaged by the experience of having fictional discussions, but I think it's interesting that someone would want to try. And, of course, there's the meta-commentary that the process of playing the game would actually turn the players into people idly sitting around a table discussing politics – I'm not sure if that says anything substantive, but it's interesting to think about.
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AsthmaticHamster
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2012, 04:48:51 PM »

Hi Dan,

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this unofficial review! It seems like you're getting a lot of where I'm coming from.

I worry that it might be tough to generate enough content in the first scene from a cold start, but it seems like the game ought to roll along nicely once you get some momentum.

I have this concern as well; I decided not to focus too much on it, since I didn't have a chance to playtest it, and there are many excellent sources of inspiration for generating additional starting circumstances which could easily be layered on to this structure - after all, the game doesn't even include any character generation techniques!

The game does some interesting things in calling out the differing roles that reasoned argument and appeals to emotion play in political discussions. It also encourages players to acknowledge that there are limits to what they know or can say with certainty by allowing players to “consign details to the Fruitful Void”. While subtle, this mechanic seems to be cleverly designed to make discussions directional, creating a microcosm where conclusions ought to flow from knowledge about the true state of the world rather than from the all-defining worldviews of the debaters (which will hopefully make the discussion differ from the kind of bickering that people usually associate with talking heads on television). I'm a little uncomfortable with the way the game uses the term Fruitful Void since Forge jargon causes enough confusion without people intentionally adopting the term to mean something very different.

Yay! I like being called subtle and clever. :)

I agree about the Forge Jargon. I will probably change the name of that mechanic; in writing the game, I simply chose the obvious option (since it was on my mind).

I like the idea of Fruitful Void items feeding into individual Lantern scenes, but I'm a little concerned that the Lantern scenes don't seem to feed back into play (does playing the scene even take the item out of the Fruitful Void?).

Yes, it does. This appears to be an error of omission from the current document. The final step of a lantern scene should be to strike the item from the sheet.

I'm especially concerned about the dice mechanic in that respect, since it just seems to be working like a possible countdown mechanic rather than something that resolves anything in the Lantern scene, which may lead people to think that the Lantern scenes are pointless.

Laura Simpson, in her review over here said something similar - she said that for the die mechanics, "meaningfulness seemed unrelated to the flow of play."

In light of your reaction and hers, I'm going to seriously reconsider including the dice at all; I really shoehorned them in primarily as an attempt to use as many ingredients as possible. If I keep them at all, it will be after serious testing, and with extensive commentary to make sure that they do what I want them to do.

I'm also slightly torn about the Coyote's ability during Lantern scenes. On the one hand, it seems like a good way to combat the human tendency toward reasonableness to inject the possibility of actual negative human behavior into the fiction, but on the other hand I can imagine the power being abused to cartoonishly villainize people in the fictional situation.

That leads me to my biggest concern about the game, which is whether it's “tolerant” of players bringing conflicting approaches to the game. If one player approaches it with the intent of genuinely engaging with a difficult issue and another player just wants to do an over-the-top caricature of a political POV, does the game break down? And if it does, does it do so before acrimony can set in? Does the game seek to establish a “safe space” for people with genuine differences of opinion (say Joe Tea Party and Sally Occupy) to work some things out, or does it require the players to mostly be on the same page before delving into an issue? I'm not sure, and I want the game to tell me that kind of stuff. I think it's interesting to try to bring political discussions into a gaming context, but there's a reason that a lot of people try to keep politics and religion out of their socializing, so it's probably worth giving some thought and advice about how to navigate these potentially treacherous waters.

I would chalk these concerns up to the fact that this is a Game Chef document - lacking in desirable features like play advice, examples, and commentary. For me, the Coyote is a terrifyingly potent role, and should not be taken lightly. I expect the Coyote role will usually fall to the host or facilitator of the game, because a very delicate balance must be struck between forcing players out of the comfortable and the rational and the expected into the unwelcome.

On the other hand, I think that for experienced players, the intertextual nature of the Coyote will mitigate this problem. Yes, the Coyote player is stepping into roles and inciting you, baiting you, challenging you, but you as a player are also aware of the presence of the Coyote. They are messing with you, and they are supposed to mess with you, and you know that. I think this will provide interesting growth and exploratory opportunities for both players.

That said, it will of course require intensive testing and examination.

The game has an intriguing premise. I'm not sure if I'd ever be comfortable trying to engage with these sorts of issues in a gaming context or if I'd be engaged by the experience of having fictional discussions, but I think it's interesting that someone would want to try. And, of course, there's the meta-commentary that the process of playing the game would actually turn the players into people idly sitting around a table discussing politics – I'm not sure if that says anything substantive, but it's interesting to think about.

I really appreciate your taking the time to put so much thought and consideration into this game. Maybe we'll even have a chance to cross paths and play it some day!
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