Archive for March 10th, 2008

Giant Sharks!

2008 Mar 10

The Geiger Counter playtest (number 8, I think) at JiffyCon went really well. There are still some issues that need to get worked out, but it was a stunning validation of a few recent changes, including proving the awesomeness of freeform cartography.

Instead of running the game with separate locations indicated by index cards, I put out a big sheet of paper and the group collectively created a map of the cruise ship over the course of play. As the ship started sinking, we even had the sense of which locations were underwater, and the pawns representing the main characters gradually congregated at the back of the ship, as the front sank. Way cool!

Things That Came Up:

1. The “traitor” rules still don’t work. It seems more important to choose the traitor from the beginning, like we did in some of the early playtests. There was also the suggestion that main characters get assigned secret orthogonal goals at the beginning of play, including “traitor”-style goals. For example, one character might be “incompetent,” always making things worse. There was another suggestion that, instead of or in addition to orthogonal goals, characters could be assigned bad events, that would be triggered when that card was played during the game, like “Someone left the back door open.” Having just played in Nathan’s Annalise playtest, I am drawn to the idea of players generating a bunch of events or orthogonal goals and then shuffling them and dealing them back out, but some of them might be too character-based to really work that way. I’ll have to ponder this some more, clearly.

2. The game needs an incentive for character death. The clearest one would be for some of the advantage dice to only appear on the map or be directly given to surviving characters when another character dies, like how the group gets stronger in Afraid after a PC dies. That makes the PVP aspects of the game more important, since ensuring that other characters die, whether “intentionally” on the character’s part or not, might be necessary for survival. It also brings up issues about character sacrifice. At one point, an elderly couple wanted to swim out into the ocean to distract the sharks, but mechanically it wasn’t possible for them to die from one attack or for their sacrifice to benefit the group at all. So maybe there needs to be a way for voluntary death to occur. Perhaps taking “presumed dead” could generate advantage dice for the group, but those dice might go away if the character decides to reappear? Something like that could be interesting.

3. Beating the menace doesn’t feel like enough of an achievement and the menace itself doesn’t seem that scary when only 4-5 of its traits seems applicable in a given conflict. Seems like we may have to go back to the original menace rules, where you always roll ALL of the menace’s dice in any conflict with the menace. This makes the menace more dangerous, necessitates gathering all the advantage dice, working together with other characters (despite orthogonal goals), and killing off a few main characters. Otherwise, the menace will kill everyone. That feels a lot better, thematically, and makes the game more of a scramble to victory instead of an assured outcome. And the menace is still dangerous at 1-2 dice at the end of the game, because the main characters are very small in number and probably have a bunch of potentially crippling conditions by that point.

4. There was also an issue where advantage dice physically placed on the map were almost always interpreted as physical objects, which made it harder to “stack” them and roll a bunch of them against the menace. For example, it’s hard to use a rope, knife, fire extinguisher, harpoon launcher, and shotgun at the same time, but when you interpret the advantage dice as knowledge about the sharks or relationships with dead characters (“This is for my dad!”), they are much more useful. This leads to the idea that dead characters may generate dice that go straight to the survivors (the ones who are responsible for their death, perhaps, or the ones they have the strongest relationship with) in the form of knowledge, new relationships, or some other abstract thing.

5. We also discussed the possibility of running the game on a progressive map instead of a claustrophobic one where you were stuck in a given area. For example, in many survival movies, like Twister or Dante’s Peak or Pitch Black, the characters are trying to get from dangerous Point A to safe Point B or just keep ahead of the menace. That would probably still work in Geiger Counter, but you might have to institute a “leave no dice behind” policy, since you wouldn’t be likely to return to the same location.

6. A couple of people who came from more of a traditional or non-gaming background mentioned that they weren’t sure how much they were allowed to narrate, both as the scene framer and when they were playing minor or main characters. Folks seemed to jump in and add details constantly, which was really cool, but that didn’t happen uniformly and I probably need some default narration distribution in the rules, which people can violate if they are more comfortable with more freeform narrative styles.

7. Still need a finalized condition list. I keep kicking myself for losing the list we worked up after the GenCon playtests, that Adam Flynn wrote on a index card with a sharpie.

This game ran with 8 players, which is the largest one I’ve ever done. Still worked pretty well, but I’m still not sure what the ideal number of players is. Maybe 6? Still have to play more, I think.

I’m also trying to keep track of all my previous playtests, for my records. I think I might be missing a few, so if you’ve played in a game that’s not listed here, let me know. Actually, if you’ve played in a game that is listed here and can remember some of the other people who were in it, let me know too, because I want to build a complete list of playtesters to send free copies to.

1. Alien Heat Bees, SGBoston ? 2007.
2. Zombie Island Wedding, SGBoston ? 2007.
3. ???, SGBoston ? 2007.
4. Filming Mummy Movie, Housemates’ Earthdawn Crew, ? 2007.
5. Pulp Plant-Monster Island, GenCon 2007.
6. Roanoke, GenCon 2007.
7. Man-Made Military Island With Sharks, SGBoston March 2008.
8. Sinking Cruise Ship With Sharks, JiffyCon March 2008.