[Shady Grove] Worst Game Idea Ever, because Alzheimers isn't FUN. Help!

Started by Sp4m, April 11, 2012, 03:03:23 AM

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I'm not sure what I should do... Should I try to salvage the gameplay, or wipe the board clean and start again?
Are there any ideas out there to make the game mechanics more enjoyable?

*spoiler alert*
The intention of the game is to encourage discussion about the difficult topic of Dementia in family members, to humanize the disease, and to viciously personify it, by having the players make all of the destructive choices.

A competitive puzzle game for 4 players. An unusual twist on common game play, players start the game with little understanding for the reason of play or the meaning of the game. Only through discussion and play are players able to reach informed decisions about the choices they make.

After the game, players are able to tell a unique story about their experience, driven by the choices made during play.

The Shady Grove Narrative Card Game is played once per printing, as the cards are destroyed though play. The purpose of Shady Grove is in part, to uncover the mystery of what story is being told and to encourage discussion. As such, it is only playable once per group, though each player can share it with another group.
Because Shady Grove is a game of discovery, only one player is allowed to know the full text of the game prior to play. To accomplish the managed release of information, the rules of the game are printed on the following pages that are revealed to players as the game plays out.

It sounds kind of intriguing, and the game has a kind of important goal, but I'm really falling short because the experience is lacking.

Play consists of players drawing "memory" cards out of a central deck, and attacking each other by tearing up the memory cards. Players each have a character tied to an identity the Host had as he was growing up: child, teenager, adult, and senior, and these characters each have a Bingo Board of key memories that support the identity.

As play continues, the players all get important memories damaged, and in the process HOPEFULLY discuss and discover the following things:

The players are all pulling from the same memory pile, and are affected by the same things.
     they may all be connected
Recurring characters across multiple personae indicate a narrative connection between the players
The players have the option of stopping any time, if they all choose to pass on their turn.

When the game ends (either by player elimination, or by choice) the players look at the cards that remain, as the only memories left after this host's episode of dementia.

My first play test had players kind of pissed because the game was a downer, and they felt tricked into destroying this man's life. thereafter I introduced a mechanic where players share details from their own lives...
As they destroy the memory of the Doctor losing his first patient, the player tells the group about a time they learned something by making a mistake. Neither group was able to figure out how they were connected during play. (child, teen, adult titles are replaced by surprisingly appropriate ingredients).

Unfortunately, this ends up feeling more like Getting to know you Bingo, as the focus of the game moves from the life you're tearing up, to the experiences of the players around the table.

I think my game is just bad. I had a bad feeling while making it, that approaching the topic of Dementia through a game was...radical. I think there's a reason it isn't usually done, because there's an expectation of a game to be fun, and if the game isn't upsetting, then it feels trite.

Jonathan Walton

Tried to respond to this yesterday and the Forge crashed on me.

Honestly, the game as-is sounds totally interesting and provocative to me, even if it's kind of a downer.  Maybe the folks you were playing with didn't appreciate those kinds of games or just didn't grok what you were trying to do? I mean, I don't know them, so I can't really speculate. Honestly, I would push forward to finish a playtest draft (since there's only 4 days left) and see what the peer-reviewers think.  I think you're in pretty good company, though, sounding reminiscent of Paul Tevis' Penny for My Thoughts (another Game Chef veteran) and other games from that year (when one of the ingredients was "memory," I think).


Those are very encouraging words. Thank you.

I think the game does have a fit with the right kind of audience, and somewhere in there, is a balanced play set that would be fun.
Maybe rather than players sharing their own memories, they should tell a story about the Host's life, that is inspired by theirs?

That could keep people focused on the Host, but opens the door to discussion. "That's interesting, what actually happened?"


You've got an ambitious goal for this game. It is really hard to talk about this kind of thing, but I think it could be really rewarding if you were able to make it easier to do so.

If you want to prevent the "what actually happened" thing, make sure that part of the script is a discussion to not bug folks about that. Or maybe there could be some way that you could elegantly let people talk about this stuff afterward. I don't have a solution. This is hard. Keep trying though. I have high hopes for this game.


I too am excited by the prospects of this game!

I think the "oh, we're all drawing from the same deck, could that have a narrative veneer as well as being very common?" is not very likely to come into play, because, hey, lots of games have everyone drawing from one deck.

If not "fun", exactly, i think this game would be really interesting to play, and i have no issue with wrecking some fictional guy's life, even if i really like him.

Though it may go against your hopes for the game thusfar (that only one player knows the premise and so on), since Mathalus and i live in the same town, we would 90% likely be able to play your game at some point soon (after the competition, sorry) and give you some thoughts on it. Perhaps that could be an inspiration to finish off a version that others could play?
sure of ourselves, aren't we?


Yeah. We'd love to give it a shot. We could record it and it would be like you were right there. In a room. With some dudes talking about Alzheimer's.


This is a lot more support than I was expecting to get for an idea that isn't necessarily fun. Thank you.

Shady Grove, as I understand it, peaks as a discussion focused exploration of a difficult subject. The game has its own merits and would be quite at home prior to an abnormal psychology study session. Some problems in the design is that the game has limited replay, since at present, the only FUN of the game comes from trying to figure out WHY you are playing. This proved to be a bad choice, since play tests revealed that most play groups are quite happy to go on auto-pilot, and even when prompted, didn't have enough information to start a rational theory.

That being said, your offers to play my game are quite generous, and I feel honored.

a few days back I brain stormed other ideas, and I came up with another game with elements I always wanted to combine, but never could.
It's social, and player driven (like mafia). This is a weird concept, so what I mean is the play is more about HOW the player does it than WHAT the player does. The game being "sold" to the players is a simple, semi-cooperative puzzle game. The real game is interpreting the web of alliances that lies beneath the surface.

The game is sold to players as being very different from what it actually is: like with Mafia, player roles are handed out before play, and players believe there is a minority of "spies" (started as coyotes, but narratively it must be spies). Spies are allowed to cheat, but getting caught means scoring will not be kind to you.

The reality is: all players (except the one who brought the game) are spies, and everyone is cheating and pretending (mimic!) to be a doctor.

Last night's play test was very successful, with players improvising clever cheats right at the table, and shredding the cooperative puzzle game I'd written for it. More details to come.


Quote from: Sp4m on April 13, 2012, 01:11:16 AM
Those are very encouraging words. Thank you.

I think the game does have a fit with the right kind of audience, and somewhere in there, is a balanced play set that would be fun.
Maybe rather than players sharing their own memories, they should tell a story about the Host's life, that is inspired by theirs?

That could keep people focused on the Host, but opens the door to discussion. "That's interesting, what actually happened?"

I like the idea of a game being used in a way as therapy. If not for the person with the disease, but for others who have to cope with it.

You know, what if this could be made into a framework that connects memories in a person to others. Just for this example, four players -- no GM. Here's a quick idea.

There is a person full of experiences stated as memories, "I remember when I was 50," says the character trying to remember. The next person says, "And I had my family over for a surprise birthday party." The next person describes the party in voice of the remembering character. The next person brings up a specific detail in character. Then goes back to the rememberer and that person states how meaningful it was. This memory is written down in shorthand by the rememberer and discarded. This continues for 4 turns, which go from Elderly, Adult, Teen, Child to generate 4 fleshed out memories. Then take a break and return. Everyone but the rememberer player character takes a card from the memory deck (randomly). And they play a character associated with the remembering character at that time (Elderly, Adult, Teen, or Child) and respond in a kind of short monologue as to how they remember the spotlight character. Continue until all of the memories have been shared. Rotate the rememberer to another player and continue.



Shady Grove is playable, and may have a noble future. For the sake of this thread I think it would be incomplete without a link.
the game is a .docx instead of a .PDF, because I want people to print and edit as needed. If anyone finds this game useful please let me know.


Since these forums are retiring soon I'll link to my site, where you'll be able to find any updates to this game, if I make them


Thank you for your Support.
My primary for Game Chef is [ A Delicate Operation ] but if I'm allowed two, this did take up fully half my time.