2012 Finals

After carefully reviewing all eleven finalists from the 2012 competition, original Master Chef Mike Holmes and I are proud to announce the winner(s) and offer our thoughts on the games that this year’s chefs collectively judged to be the best. I’m going to let Mike take point on most of these reviews, but we were surprisingly of similar minds about many of this year’s finalists.

Overall, none of the finalists stood out as feeling more “finished,” which isn’t entirely unexpected. Some years, one or two Game Chef drafts feel more “done” than others, but all of these need some work, at least in making their texts and intentions clearer, though most are solid enough for initial playtesting.

I encourage the authors to put the games through their paces, but view this as the beginning of a process and not the end. Maybe you end up developing this game further and maybe it’s more of a learning experience that prepares you for future design work. Either way, do yourself (and us) the favor of at least playing it once, so you can see this thing you’ve created in action.

Solid First Drafts

L’Ombra del Cambiamento [The Shadow of Change] by Luca Ricci [English version]

Mike says: In comparison to most of the games this year, this one is relatively traditional. Good to know the design community hasn’t gone completely over to larps, plays, and rituals, and can still do something more familiar. That said, the game has a very interesting cyclical sort of process that seems pretty unique. One player who finishes the first game ends up being the GM for the next, incorporating things that happened in the last game into the fiction of the new game.

What’s even more interesting (and goes unstated) is that the new GM doesn’t have to let it be known that this is how things work, so that passing on the game can be an unusual surprise. On the other hand, you might want to make that clear up front to potential players if you’re not sure they’re the type to take this legacy seriously. If they do not pass it on, the cycle dies with them, and the histories are lost.

The framework for play is a bit vague, and should probably be considerably expanded in future editions to give a better idea of how to make play proceed. There is some uncertainty as to how the wardens win, or if they even can win, or if an anchor can be threatened or destroyed. You would think that “threatened” would have to happen first, only to be destroyed later, but the text seems to make it so you can go straight to destroyed. If the wardens can win… what happens then? Does the old world sheet just get passed on? With new legacies, or the same old ones?

The game is nearly complete, and one could make assumptions about the vague parts easily enough to play. The whole cyclical part makes me think that it would be great for passing around at conventions, playing it really fast, and seeing how many cycles it could go through, how many players you could expose, what the world would look like at the end, and who you should blame for the changes. That’s a pretty interesting vision for play.

Jonathan says:    I don’t have much to add to Mike’s excellent review. The core this game is the clever replay mechanic, where playing the game sets up future play by a different set of players. This is buttressed by some decent mechanics, but ideally I would have liked to see something that was more evocative of the central premise—a fantasy game about searching for lost treasures from the past, especially since the treasures are created by the previous folks to play the game. On the whole, though, a solid first draft and plenty of interesting ideas to build on going forward, if the author is interested.

Lies of Passage by Lucas ‘Tor’ Garczewski

Mike says: We actually get to pretend to be Native Americans in this one, even to the extent of putting feathers in our hair and such. Per the comments in my review of Liam’s Big Chiefs, anyone who is considering playing this game ought to think about Liam’s message before doing so. That’s not me condemning or condoning it, just suggesting that people give it some thought first.

The mechanics of the game seem pretty interesting and functional. You have participants responsible for telling a wild collaborative story, you have a guide who helps them out on a meta-level, and you have another guide who makes it all stick together, maintains a veneer of plausibility, and challenges the players to do better. It sounds like this should work pretty well. There are a few artificialities in the rules, such as saying that a player can only play once. The idea is interesting, but unenforceable outside of a given community of players. As such, not really the strongest use of the “Last Chance” theme. Does mimicking animals count as roleplaying? Or is the meta-level of being individuals telling a story make it a RPG? I won’t comment, but it’s pretty clever in it’s own way, all definitions aside.

Given that the story of stealing fire is part of many cultures (Prometheus, anyone?), it should be easy enough to create a version of this game that doesn’t hit on Native American cultural memes directly. Maybe the participants are sprites telling their tale to Oberon with the help of Puck. Do that, and I think this could be something interesting to do with the kids out camping.

Jonathan says:    An interesting group-storytelling game in the vein of Baron Munchausen, but much more cooperative. Overall, the game is not very highly structured but probably enough to go on. The author’s mention of the possible death of the characters comes across as a bit shocking, since that doesn’t seem like the kinds of stories people are likely to tell, given the set-up. I’m also not sure you need both the “shaman” and “old man” roles, which could potentially be combined, but it’s also possible I’m just not clear what the “shaman” role is supposed to include. The pseudo-Native American stuff is potentially problematic, but the artist who collaborated on this game is amazing; I love the overall style and expressiveness of the art. In general, the text is well-written and clear, and in general I think the game could be very successful with slightly more work.

A Small Piece of the Sun (+ sheet + supplement) by Keith Stetson

Mike says: In Game Chef, it’s always interesting to see the very different implementations of similar premises. In this particular game we have secret information that lends the game it’s “Last Chance”-ness, though it’s more like “One Chance.” On the other hand, I think that approaching games as one-shots is something that has a lot of potential mileage, so I encourage folks to design more like these.

The game concept as a whole seems pretty interesting. The rules use randomization mechanics such as those found in ancient games like Liubo, but leave some questions. For instance, who decides if harm is on the line (and if this requires one or two skulls to be included in the draw)? Can Coyote really petition for anything at all? Even the flame? How are the obstacles decided? What if the “Totems” can’t agree on one (which I think might be common)? Playtesting will reveal more needed clarifications, I think. That all said, the overall process is all very clear, with the flowchart detailing all of the content of play. That is pretty neat, since usually you just get a resolution sub-system in such a flowchart. One could definitely play this game as written using just a few applied techniques.

The really interesting thing about the game, however, is the implied interplay between the Totems and Coyote. The Totems will likely try to jockey to create obstacles that will have Coyote playing up to that Totem specifically (they don’t have to, but I’d think it would just happen). For Coyote’s part, it will be important to play up to the individual totems, trying to guess what their boons and banes are so that the results of petitions end up not only with success, but restoring Wisdom. This is similar to a lot of larp set-up mechanisms, but I think it also has some unique factors that make it quite original.

Jonathan says:    Fairly interesting and well-written game for a single protagonist and several players who take turns presenting obstacles. I do worry that most of the players won’t have much to do most of the time, which can be a problem with some “1 PC + multiple GMs” setups. Despite the Native American influence here, this seems slightly less problematic that some of the other games, since it focuses just on Coyote and the natural world for the most part (“Totems” strikes me as a potentially problematic name for a central concept, but I’m don’t know enough to say for certain). Still, something to think about if the author continues to develop it.

Epistolary: A Game of Monsters and Letters (+ supplement) by Ed Turner

Mike says: Delivering rules in epistolary form is something that I’m usually pretty ambivalent about—it can be good for conveying style and color, but can make for difficult reading, comprehension, and reference. That said, the contents of this game tips the balance, so that it is a very appropriate presentation. Aside from ambiance, this approach gives players an idea of how their actual play is going to feel. So unlike Castle Falkenstein where the writers have already played out the game, instead we’re just left at the doorstep, ready to pass within. The presentation could, in fact, be altered to present the players with only the things specific to them—not the shopping list, for instance—with real paper documents of the various letters, which the players pass around as the GM prepares your end of things, like taking the aces out and shuffling. After all, at some point the characters might theoretically split up and go their own ways, and then the game could be played in actual epistolary format, like De Profundis.

I have to mention that this game bears some similarity to material in Blood in the Mist (another beta that Ed and friends are working on), as well as the aforementioned De Profundis. That said, it has some mechanics that are held secret from the players and a GM who knows what’s going on, so it seems substantively different from each of these. These mechanics seem sound and effective, if nothing really new, and the game looks playable as is. If you go with the current semi-immersive version of the game, you might want to have reference cards with the rules, so the players don’t have to refer to Ms Lansbury’s letter and that of Perry Charles.

There are a few questions I have pertaining to the cards, but I won’t spoil them here. I’m sure an edited revision will solve these problems (and look really nifty all laid out as letters).

Jonathan says:    There is a fascinating but strange structure to both the game and the text here, with the latter written in-character. Like one of the example writers in the text, I worry about the turn-taking aspect of a game that takes place in real-time (rather than as a PBeM or other textual format), since most of the players may not be actively engaged in any given moment, but I suppose the exception for dialog makes it feasible. While I find the overall setup to be structurally interesting, it is somewhat harder to imagine how resolution and prop cards work, though they seem to allow the non-active players to help structure the narrative (resolving some of my concerns). All in all, it’s very praiseworthy that this author attempted a new, hybrid playstyle and I would be excited to see it in action at the table, especially to find out if the unusual aspects would become more comfortable over time.

Monsters of Glam by Matthew Sullivan-Barrett

Mike says: Shades of Ziggy Stardust are thrust into our consciousness right from the beginning, since this game is about the last chance for a band to make a difference, taking us through the end leg of their final tour. The game seems like fairly complete treatment of the subject matter.

Some of the styles seem a tad vague on effects, and there's no effect listed for the artiste's "pioneer" style at all, but an expanded edition could cover these in more detail. I didn't analyze every style incorporated, but the ones I looked at seemed functional, though some are obviously far more potent than others. That might not be an issue in play as it's not really a play-to-win sort of game.

In general the text could use a lot of sprucing up, more subsections and headings to increase clarity and readability. From what I can tell,the quality of play will really depend on player creativity. Some players may get hung up on the lack of elements to use in framing play. For example, nothing much is mentioned about the recurring NPCs listed on the character sheets. All that said, the subject matter is likely to be really entertaining. The whole thing has a bit of a This is Spinal Tap quality to it, though I’m guessing it’ll play better straight than as a parody. The temptation to ridicule may be great, however.

I understand the part about personalizing the book with the band name, and I suppose it doesn’t hurt to leave the old traits in (these aren’t used by the next band, are they?), but I don’t understand crossing out styles when you are done. Is this trying to reinforce the “Last Chance” theme by destroying the book? If so, you’ll get at least three plays out of it, and players who really want to keep on using the same book will just ignore this notion (or even if they are scratched off, they can still use them). Still, a “Last Chance” is what the whole game is about anyhow, so mission accomplished. The rest seems unnecessary. As for the ingredients, “coyote” and “doctor” seemed a bit forced, so the author may want to rewrite or retitle those on revision. The random threads used were more compelling. All this criticism aside, I think there’s a solid core for a game there. Rock on!

Jonathan says:    This game is structurally and thematically amazing—who doesn’t want to play through the sad story of a glam band on their final tour?—but it’s somewhat less potent in terms of resolution. Additionally, the simple alteration between different types of scenes followed by a final endgame seems somewhat tame and predictable, especially for self-obsessed and volatile rock star “monsters.” Ideally, I would want some way for the outcomes of scenes to be immediately consequential (toothy!) and lead to new opportunities and challenges. Still, with some revisions and more interesting choices, wow! This could be really potent. I hope I get the chance to play it at some point.

Liminal by Robert Bruce

Mike says: Coyote has more than one interesting meaning—where was my Coyote Ugly RPG?—but, on the other hand, now we might have to worry about portraying Mexican immigrants. At least Robert seems cognizant of this and makes a mention to be careful. The core ingredient is the “mimic” here, obviously, a really strong use. In a vein similar to Khaotic or Everybody is John, this game messes with normal standards of character control, though this one is quite unique in that the character played by multiple players is mostly absent. I wonder if, in fact, the book The Host was an influence here. If not, it might make a good addition to the bibliography.

The text needs an editor, though it seems to be all there and is generally understandable. But there seems to be a lot missing, too. What’s the goal of play? It feels like a short-form RPG, but it’s presented as completely open-ended. What is “your true mimic identity”? Does this have anything to do with the stuff on the character sheet? As the mimic we start out “lost.” But we can “cross” at any time. Why are we wanting to do that? Or anything in particular? It’s suggested that we’re trying to take over the world, so are there more mimics? If so, are there any rules for them coming into play? If we are not on the space marked “suspicious,” but lower than that on the scale, are we suspicious? Or only if our marker is right on that spot? And the part on the Mimic’s character sheet about the five minute scenes with the other players…I do not understand that part at all. You play yourself and the other players?

Most importantly, other than trying to wedge this together in terms of the ingredients, is there some specific reason to link this all to the whole illegal immigrant question? If the answer is that there’s some sort of allegory or parallelism going on that I’m not getting, that’s fine; maybe it’ll come out in play. But usually I’d expect to sort of have at least a glimmer of that up front. I think this is a fascinating idea, and possibly would be quite compelling to play, but the text needs some work to get it into a more comprehensible shape. I think one could play it, but one might well get lost too. Hopefully that’ll all get straightened out.

Jonathan says:    This game seems potentially really powerful and awesome, just needing a bit of work, specifically regarding scene framing and the content created by the non-mimic characters. At first it seemed like a crazy combination of illegal immigrants and the D&D monster (also kind of a double pun on “alien”), but given all the weird fantasies people have about the American Southwest (everything from Roswell to John Carter), it’s relatively easy to imagine this as a actual movie. I like that the game specifically suggests making the characters realistic people and not just stereotypes, but some of the choices on the character sheet lean towards stereotypes, so I think it’d be better if there was more support for defying them. I also have the impulse to play this just to see how the moves will work out, since they are are semi-Apocalypse-World-inspired but have pretty different ranges for results. If certain sections of this draft were easier to parse (I agree with Mike that the mimic playing other characters needs to be explained more clearly), I think we would be considering this with a handful of others as a possible winner. Hopefully the author is still interested enough to make this really work.

The Eleventh Hour (+ characters + cults) by Mike Olson

Mike says: For one player, it’s your last chance to stop a cult before they end the world; for the other three, it’s the only chance this millennium to end the world. The “competition” between cultists as rivals feels a bit like Acts of Evil. I’m not sure what sort of story players will push for, though. They may push together or against each other, or for one sort of result for their character and other results for other characters.

It took me a while to figure out that the “challenge rating” of a scene is equal to the rating assigned to the attachment present in the scene, which thus limits the range of possible difficulties to three. I wonder if that range couldn’t be expanded somewhat to maintain a bit more mystery as to the actual level of the rating. The selections could even have somewhat wild values and still be interesting, I think. This could be a fun way for players to really attempt to impact the game’s endgame, even if they can’t be absolutely certain of what the effects of their selected ratings are going to be.

It’s really pretty fascinating, and it will be fun to read playtest results, I’m sure. The game seems very complete, without being rudimentary, and I’m sure it can be played as is. The use of the ingredients is pretty good, if somewhat indirect at times. With editing, and maybe some expansion, this could be a great deal of fun.

Jonathan says:    A relatively simple, fun, and somewhat depressing or maybe ironic game, something of a cross between Fiasco and My Life with Master (I have an ashcan of Acts of Evil somewhere, I think, but it’s been a while since I looked at it). I would definitely play it, and there’s some good stuff here, but I think the mechanics could be a bit tighter and more evocative. Still, very strong and unusual, which has been par for the course for Mike Olson, here making his third consecutive appearance in the Game Chef finals.

Special Commendations

Several finalists stood out as being particularly ambitious or well-executed, so we wanted to call them out specifically. Mike was leaning towards naming games as second- and third-place finishers, but my intuition suggests that it’s better to just list them as a group, since it’s hard to separate them based on individual merits. These were the games that really surprised us, made us think, and made us excited about what games can accomplish.

Big Chiefs by Liam Burke

Mike says: I owe a debt to Liam here for creating an opportunity to address the issue of the introduction of “coyote” as one of this year’s ingredients. It has been proposed that doing so was not well thought out, because it would necessarily lead to a number of games about Native Americans or at least games that use the iconography or myths of the Native American spirit of the same name. It’s easy to see in hindsight that this would happen, of course, since it is actually what happened. Should that have been obvious from the start?

To make a potentially very long argument short: I would not recommend that future Game Chef organizers agonize any more than they already do (and they do) about what ingredients to incorporate. It is up to the individual chefs to make good games, and that includes using the ingredients in manners that are sensitive to the possibility of issues like appropriation. In fact, perhaps I was in error in the early days introducing ingredients that were as bland as those I did, and maybe we should be putting in more interesting ingredients that might make for more powerful or even controversial games. RPGs very often are escapist, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that. But they can be educational and instructive as well. Perhaps we should angle for more of that. We’ve certainly had plenty of whitewashed fantasy.

Liam’s game points out how we often make the same sorts of mistakes that Hollywood and other media do in terms of patronizing and appropriating. True, this game is unlikely to see extensive actual play or be published for profit. The mechanics are OK, but not great. It’s theoretically complete to be played. But the power of the game is less in it being played, I think, than in being read and understood for the parody that it is, and the message it sends. I hope that if anyone ever plays it, it’s done ironically, critically, and to smash its message into your head. The message is the important part.

Jonathan says:    This is a pretty solid indictment of these kinds of stories, though I admit that I was somewhat surprised that there are multiple white or non-native PCs. All of the fiction I can think of along these lines—starting with The Last of the Mohicans (1826), perhaps—are about a single white protagonist. Also, what I really want to be able to do, when I play a game about a really problematic kind of fiction, is actively deconstruct it and reveal its ridiculousness as we play. This game, while really clever in exposing various issues, doesn’t really allow you to do that so much. It tells a very problematic story, hopefully an obviously problematic one, but it mostly relies on its audience being aware of how messed up everything is, and just the fact that fiction like this exists is an indication that popular culture is often fine with these types of stories. Basically, I want a reason to really dig in and play this game: I want to be able to get something out of it aside from reveling in a really terrible story, sacrificing the natives in order to win (oh man, bad flashbacks to The Last Samurai). Right now, it almost seems like the only way to really win—at least in the manner the game hopes—is to say, “This is really messed up,” and stop playing. That’s pretty cool in its own right, but, as Mike points out above, it makes the game more like a piece of conceptual art than something you engage as a game. Maybe there’s a way to revel in its ugliness without condoning it, as players do when they play Poison’d or something else similarly problematic. If so, I hope the author makes that clearer if he continues to work on this game. All in all, though, an ambitious and valiant attempt at tackling some core issues that continue to be a problem in gaming and “geek” culture more broadly.

Last Chance to Tell the Tale of Coyote and Medicine Man by Bryan Hansel

Mike says: This is an ambitious idea, since a physical staging of this literal sort is not seen in RPGs [J says: aside from the Rocky & Bullwinkle RPG!], and not even in larp where you usually don’t stage things for an outside audience.The general thrust of the game is clear enough. The system is completely random, and seems to exist solely to randomize the outcome. The result is something like an improvized play with a very fixed structure. The game seems complete and will produce what I think it intends. For those who enjoy straight improv, it’ll probably be quite a bit of fun. The preparations are extensive, but if staged correctly, should make for interesting presentation. However there’s a good chance that some elements won’t work well, or that people will prove to be less than capable puppeteers. I really can’t comment as I have no practice in the form at all, at least as an adult. Somebody should give it a try, and report back how it works, though. It would be interesting to hear about.

The text of this game has some ambiguities that need to be cleaned up in future editions. I suspect that some of the text may have been cut, in fact, to meet the word limit. What’s somewhat more troubling is that I’m not sure that the framework will produce interesting themes, as they’re all decided randomly, and it’s up to the player to decide what’s going on and make it interesting. Again, I think only play will tell with this one.

As a “Last Chance” game, it’s supposedly set at the end of time, but it recounts the beginning of time? Hmmm, it’s basically the opposite of the theme: that’s some chutzpah there. Notably, we are asked to make up stereotypical Native American names, though it seems easy enough to remove the Native American bits if you like, since nearly every culture has a story explaining how the world was created.

Jonathan says:    As a game, this is imaginative and wondrous. So many good things worth talking about here: using primordial creation myths as a genre of play, having everyone collaborate in creating crazy pseudo-mythological characters, the whole shadow puppet thing as the narrative form, the involvement of an audience. All of these are great. Among the bigger issues is the pseudo-Native American stuff, but I’m not sure how best to resolve it because people will naturally reach for some cultural touchstones if asked to make this stuff up or act it out. I worry that will make it difficult to engage with without it becoming problematic, unless the “mythology” created is such a mish-mash that it’s hard to identify anything. Maybe there could be oracles or something for generating the character content? Or just no specific cultural background that the meta-structure draws on? The other potential issue I see is that very little actually seems to be determined in play. Once you generate characters, everything that happens is mostly determined or random, and you’re just asking it out. Perhaps it’s interesting to explore how these things occur, but in that case there might need to be more emphasis on that. Overall, this game is well-written and clearly organized. I agree with Mike that the best word for this game is “ambitious.” Major props for trying to push the medium in exciting directions.

The Simurg by Chris Edwards

Mike says: Very much modeled as a vision-quest for the gamer, this game leads us on a search for childish wonder. One thing that is implied by the text, but not made clear early in the game is that one player does the reading of the book and is considered the “guide.” This is not a GM role per se (they play their own character too), but it does have special prerogatives. This is confounded by the term “guide” also meaning, I think, the person who holds the lantern and currently narrates. This could probably use some clarification in future editions.

Several other things in the text are quite vague. The voting mechanism, for instance, though it would not be hard to figure out a mechanism. Also not clear is if the guide’s character is present in the valleys they narrate. I would assume so, but the text tends to suggest otherwise. The game leaves us challenged as players to come up with good stuff, with only some principles and some cards to aid us, but I think that’s probably a good balance between support and the sort of challenge that the game is supposed to represent. Make it too easy, and how do you judge who wins? The mixture of everyone’s various elements in the valleys seems jarring, but I’m not willing to dismiss it right away. After all, we’re all in each valley (I think), but will the elements work together?

Vagaries aside, the game seems complete enough to play and will likely prove to be powerful, to the extent that the participants do their parts to keep it solemn. I think a lot of players will find it uncomfortable and devolve into silliness as a defense. But I’m not sure that a game of this sort could be devised in such a way as to deal with that. There isn’t much to the mechanics, but that’s in keeping with the tone of the game, and the mechanics that do exist are thematically interesting. The “Last Chance” theme is well embodied (it may not be what folks think!) in a very subtle way. The lantern ingredient is very prominent, as a ritualistic feature. Two of the threads used as ingredients were also very well incorporated, and the third thread was at least touched on somewhat.

Jonathan says:    This is a very strong “spiritual journey” game that I would definitely play. Only a few issues come to mind: prep and the intro portion seem to be relatively long and involved, such that by the time I got to the actual rules of the game, I had forgotten what all the special tokens and abilities did. However, that’s probably clearer when you’re actually handed them as they are explained, instead of just trying to keep them all clear in your head while reading the text. Also, voting for the winner was a bit unclear, perhaps because I didn’t see an example voting ballot in the text or detailed instructions on carrying that out. Ideally, voting is secret and you can’t vote for yourself. Otherwise, this game seems terrific and only likely to get better with play, as interactions with real people illuminate places where additional instructions or content would be helpful.

The Winner

Congratulations to the unanimous overall winner of Game Chef 2012. It’s especially notable that this game caught both judges’ attention as being among the most moving, complete, and ready-to-play right now, despite being originally written in Italian and hastily translated by our counterparts in the Old World. It certainly speaks to the growing internationalization of independent, player-centric, and experimental RPG design, as well as heralding great things for the future of Game Chef under Joe Mcdaldno and his successors. Woohoo!

Novanta minuti [Ninety Minutes] by Matteo Turini [English version]

Mike says: The intro is a hard slap to the face: this is going to be a serious game. I immediately felt a “Jeepform” vibe. This was confirmed later when players are told that they can insert real-life stuff into the game, understanding that nobody will likely be the wiser, if they wish to use the game to deal with it a little. The players create scenes that are memories and draw the right tokens for the right things. These advance the clock properly, which tells us if we get a final scene between the father and son. This all happens under a certain tension that looks like a clock, but is more about how the pair react to each other. I find it a little disconcerting that violence can help the son reach the father in time for them to reunite for a moment before death. Am I missing something here? Still, very interesting.

A thought occurred to me: what if, instead of getting to talk all you want during the last scene (assuming you get one at all), instead the players get exactly the time remaining to talk, in real minutes, with “Time” holding a stopwatch? When the clock runs out, Time silences the father’s player, indicating that father has died. The son may go on if he wishes, but it is understood that he is speaking to his dead father.

I would think that with a little polish—a revised draft with editing, after playtesting finds any unforeseen bugs—this would make a great one-page PDF that can be printed and cut up, with the principles and goals on the parts for the son and father and part to hand to Time. If you cut the parts out and and pack them with a matchbook inside the mug, and you can probably just carry that little packet around and be ready for play instantly.

A pretty intense and tight little game. This game is definitely about a “Last Chance,” the sort that can happen in real life. Extra points for separating himself from the crowd on this one.

Jonathan says:    A short and moving game for three players somewhere in the vein of Penny for My Thoughts, A Flower for Mara, Silver & White, or other games about memories and the emotional impact they have on us. There are a few clever things happening here. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the guidelines for the third player (“Time”) seem to be structured similarly to the MC role in Apocalypse World, which is the first time I’ve seen that in more emotional and experimental game like this. Additionally, Time’s player is instructed to drive the characters apart by emphasizing the issues that inevitably crop up between fathers and sons. Considering that this game was written in Italian, there’s nothing here that feels like it couldn’t easily take place in the United States or many other places in the world (as long as hospitals and cars are relatively normal things).

Another interesting aspect is that the mechanical triggers for both father and son involve one thing each player can do on their own and one thing they can drive the other player to do, which reinforces the interactive nature of play. It’s hard to comment too much on the numbers for the endgame, where you see whether the son has enough time to reach his father before he dies, without repeatedly testing the game to see if the numbers hold up and the son has a fighting chance to make it—but can also easily fail. However, even when the son fails he gets to say something over his father’s dead body, while the father’s player can’t say anything, which is just exquisite; very sharp design.

I only have a few negative reactions or places of confusion. First, the note about violence was pretty surprising to me, perhaps because I’ve never had a violent experience with my own father, though I realize that many people do. I wonder if including this section with specific rules for violence biases the game towards including it. I do like that violence automatically ends the scene, which is something of a counter-incentive, but I also wonder if violence can’t just be considered a standard part of the scene, and therefore doesn’t need special rules or attention. Secondly, I’m a bit confused about how Time’s player actually tracks time. The instructions say that the player marks off notches on a sheet by 5s (0, 5, 10, 15, etc.), but time doesn’t always advance by 5s. Plus, the maximum time is circled, but it can go up during play, and yet the numbers greater than 90 are also written on a sheet. In any event, I’m having a difficult time visualizing this bit of record-keeping. Seems like you only need to track 2 numbers: the current time and the maximum time. That seems much easier. Maybe the son could track current time while father tracks the max? That seems intuitive, and leaves Time’s player to focus on their other duties, but maybe not what the author wants.

Overall, great game, very moving, and I’m definitely interested in playing it sometime. If the author is interested in developing it further, the obvious choice seems to be to expand the character options to include mothers and daughters (also allowing mixtures, like a daughter-and-father or son-and-mother). Maybe one or more female game designers could help collaborate on those roles? I feel like you really nailed the male roles, so it’d be great if there were female ones that were equally evocative. Since part of the game seems to be about both sides living up to certain gender and authority roles, I don’t think there necessarily needs to be special rules for relationships that violate cultural expectations (a strict army dad and his gay son, a mother and her transgendered daughter); the normal rules should be able to handle those kinds of complexities nicely, though perhaps in emotionally difficult ways. But, then, creating an emotional situation is the core of what this game is about!

And That’s a Wrap!

Congratulations to all participants and finalists, and major thanks to our Italian partners for making this the biggest and most international Game Chef yet! I hope everyone continues to make games and manages to play a game they’ve created by the time Game Chef rolls around again. I’ll probably still run smaller game design events here and there, but I’m sure Game Chef will be in good hands with Joe Mcdaldno.

The Game Chef blog will continue to post interviews with past participants over the next month or so, since I have a big stack of them that have yet to be posted, so keep you eye out for those!

5 responses to “2012 Finals

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