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Author Topic: How to Host a Deserted Island  (Read 6389 times)
Le Joueur
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« on: November 18, 2002, 08:44:36 PM »

I've been following the "Desert island" game idea since it was first proposed.  After discussing it with my partner, I'd like to share how we'd do it.

First of all, we'd call it a "Deserted Island" game because, as far as I know, there isn't an island out there that is actually a desert.  (Unless you count the outback in Australia.)

Here's where it started:

Quote from: talysman
Reality RPGs

Not literally, maybe, but something that a non-rpger might enjoy would be a game with good replay value, standalone 2-3 hour sessions, and some kind of simple situational theme. Thing is, it's a role-playing game, but it can be understood without resorting to rpg jargon.

To keep it recognizable, the game would also need to be referee-less (or with shared referee duties) with either a simple game board/pawn setup or a card game setup. There would be an element of conversation and description of imaginary actions; you would be role-playing, but only role-players would recognize this immediately.

So you could make a game called "Desert Island," for example, which would be some kind of resource/teamwork game: you imagine yourself stranded on a desert island, move around the board collecting resources, decide whether to team up or oppose any other player you happen to encounter. There would be a definite win situation (get off the island) and the possibility of multiple winners, but not everyone necessarily wins; you have to make decisions about who to team with.

...For example, the "Desert Island" idea is obviously inspired by "Survivor", but in "Desert Island", you could have an actual "shipwreck" phase, where the ship is sinking but you try to get a handful of useful supplies that will help you in the "island" part of the game.

A fine start by any stretch of the imagination (but perhaps a bit late, I don't know what the current interest/ratings are - I never watched the show).  However, I'm not sure what kind of 'payoff' you could get for a 'shipwreck' game; the classic 'why do you play it' question.  I mean "How to Host a Murder" games give that 'I solved it' moments like in a good murder mystery, except the player does it.  If it were a Survivor-based game, then I could see it; you get that same 'I win' you share with the actual winner of the show by projection.  Who wouldn't enjoy thinking about the prizes the show gives away, after successfully playing such a game.

Quote from: GreatWolf
Your "Desert Island" game is (from a traditional RPG perspective) one scenario.  There's very little left for the GM to have to figure out.  That's a good thing, IMHO.  Normally we say that the wide-open nature of RPGs is one of their strengths.  Could it be that this very strength is a weakness when trying to sell to the non-gamer?  Right now I'm teaching someone how to role-play, and I'm having to remember that sometimes too much freedom is overwhelming.

The same can be true of RPGs.  Isn't the "Great game but what do I do with it?" question asked a lot among gamers?

...Now, what does this sound like?  Did you say, "Host a Murder Party?"  If you did, then we're thinking along the same lines.  These are slowly growing in popularity in the "mainstream", and I'd like to propose that the modularity that I'm discussing is a major reason why.  You buy a "Host a Murder Party" kit, and you are buying one scenario.  That's it.  Everything is there: characters, situation, and "rules" (not many of these).  There's really not much replay value involved here.  The murderer is preset.  Once you know the answer, you can't replay it.  But it works.  To my knowledge there are more of these sorts of packages then generic "Here's how to create your own murder mystery scenario" packages.

It's funny; somehow, every time these games are brought up, I always have a Clue flashback (you would not believe how long it took me to track down a copy of this game as published back in the '70s for my collection) including the movie.  More on this later.

Quote from: talysman
Here are some more thoughts I had about "Desert Island". I may try to develop the idea into a full game.

First, although it could be phrased as either G, N or S, I would start off assuming it will be Gamist. The important part is that whichever mode it is, it's pretty rules-lite, much as the Courtroom RPG you describe. In fact, although there would be rules booklet, charts and summaries for the game would be printed right on the game board.

I'm seeing this game board not as a literal representation of the island, but a representation of possible actions. There would be an area in the center of the board with some kind of "track" with individual squares/spaces (like Aggravation or Trivial Pursuit, but smaller); when a player wants to search the island, they would use the track and would roll dice to see how far they move. Each space would have a symbol on it that, when landed on, gives a bonus to a kind of action... and if your token lands on the same square as another player's token, you can ask to team up, try to steal from them, attack them, whatever.

Also on the board would be an area for FOOD, one for WATER, one for SHELTER, one for TOOLS, one for RESCUE. Each section would have a box to place tokens representing that resource. Also in each area would be a quick rule or two relating to that resource, plus any results table that might be needed for using that resource. thus, once you've read the rules booklet, you no longer need to refer to it; everything you need to know is right in front of you at all times.

As I mentioned before, I would aim for this game to be winnable by one or more players, but perhaps not by all.... The idea is to make it potentially easier to win with impromptu teams, but to also allow winning with an "every man for himself" attitude.

So far, it's very much an ordinary game. There's a tiny bit of role-playing in the sense that the players must talk amongst themselves to make teams and share resources. I would add some kind of "story description" mechanic, however, to get the players more involved in imagining events instead of seeking some rules-driven goal.

...Now let's break down "Desert Island". Being shipwrecked is a familiar movie theme, plus the game is designed to loosely resemble "Survivor" after the shipwreck.

While I really like the idea of a board for the game, I still lean away from the 'shipwreck' game idea.  In keeping with that, I would suggest that resource management would probably not be a good idea; however, I could envision something like the board game Life has, where the above listed resources instead form crises points when a player 'lands on them.'  You could also add spaces for 'breakdowns,' odious personal habit 'flare-ups,' and the like.  More later.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Not that the mythical "average" person can't figure it out; I think they can. But the number of people willing to do anything is proportional to how easy you make it. If you want to attract as many of the "mainstream" as possible, ease of entry is definitely an issue. Your "Desert Island" game seems to head in the right direction, though possibly too far. That is, if I make a game that's got all of the role-playing off monopoly, how am I not just making another board game (your game sounds no more complex than the original Civilization board game)? Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't get anyone doing what most of us would consider Role-playing. Which is what's sought here, after all, isn't it?

Mike's right, a lot of what you've given offers role-play only as an afterthought.  What is really needed is some way to force it into the limelight, a way to make winning or losing hinge upon how people role-play.

What do I have so far?  Base it on Survivor to get the payoff without having to offer prize money.  Something like Clue or Life with spaces that invoke unusual or unpredictable results (to 'push play' obviously).  So here's the idea we discussed.

At the start of the game, each player is dealt a hand of 'foibles.'  These are personality flaws that sound fun to role-play; they'll have to be carefully chosen to avoid things like the 'Porky Pig boycotts' (by stutterers).  Each player will have a list of all foibles (or perhaps the board will), like the prop/scene cards from Clue.  Each player takes turns moving their pawn around the board; what a pawn lands on has to be immediately played out.  'Get into a fight with the player to your right,' 'piss off everyone with odious personal habit,' or whatever, some thought will have to go into these to present problems that are both 'fun' and 'fair.'

What drives the whole game is that throughout each 'round' everyone will be trying to role-play a situation where a player has to reveal a foible card.  At the end of the 'round' the player with the most foibles played is 'voted off the island.'  (There'll have to be a second mechanism for when few foibles are in play or when there is a tie.)  Then, as the 'round' ends, all foibles are returned to the respective hands.  (At this point it takes on some of the concentration game aspects of Clue, where you'll have to remember who had what in hopes of 'forcing them to show it' again.)

The concentration in design will be to make the 'voted off the island part' only occur as a result of role-playing that is predicated by the spaces on the board.  That's what will make it a role-playing game rather than a board game.  (I think.)

So what is the question of this thread?  Do you think this'll work 1) as a game itself, 2) as the 'box next to How to Host a Murder on the shelf' at the Games by James store, and 3) if it was tied to the popularity of a hit television show?  We're over in RPG Theory, because, for as intriguing the design is, I don't have time/interest in developing it.  (That's right folks; steal this idea!)

Fang Langford
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Don Lag
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« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2002, 11:35:26 AM »

Sounds interesting, however a few things make it (potentially) an unattractive game to me.

1) I found the Survivor show uninteresting.
2) By design the game eliminates players in order to go on, so lots of people get stuck watching TV or something. I like games where either few people get shut out of the game and near it's end, or where everyone plays until a winner turns out.
3) I'm not that clear on how the foibles would work, sounds more like you get kicked of the island by pure luck (depending on how many foibles you've landed on) rather than depending on roleplaying.


Ona related note, here's a game I did after watching Battle Royale . In the movie a class of japanese students are sent off to a deserted island and handed out random gear. They must kill each other during 3 days, the survivor egts a ticket off the island. The movie is supposed to be a metaphor for something (jap. society, jap. school system, etc.) but it turns out rather silly. I wrote the game right after seeing the movie focusing mostly on the sillyness factor. It's probably more a beer & pretzels board game than a RPG, but it's still somewhere along the lines you're discussing. I think it would be fun to play, but I haven't cleared up the rules (I mostly just wrote down the ideas as they came to me, and I think there's no mention of a checkerboard which is on what the game would be played) and I've yet to playtest it.

This is where the PDF is.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2002, 09:10:58 PM »

A stupid objection, maybe, but the term "Desert Isle" is just a common phrase to refer to an Atol, or other island made up in large part of sand. The kind of place that people are pictured being marooned on. Your argument is like saying that the term "Candy Apple Red" is not a valid color because apples are not candy.

While "desert isle" is possibly not accurate in some abtruse sense, it's certainly what you want to use here. Especially because "Deserted Isle" makes it sound like the important characteristic of the isle is that there once were people there, but that they've left.

Mike
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2002, 09:50:17 PM »

My understanding is that "desert" is simply an archaic word meaning close to what "deserted" means today (but without the implication of previous inhabitation). That particular usage survived only in the phrase "desert island" (or "...isle"), which has always meant simply an uninhabited (except possibly for the unfortunate protagonists who wash up there) island. It has nothing to do with the island's climate, composition, or size.

- Walt
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2002, 10:16:00 PM »

Quote from: Don Lag
I'm not that clear on how the foibles would work, sounds more like you get kicked of the island by pure luck (depending on how many foibles you've landed on) rather than depending on roleplaying.

No, the Foibles are in your hand, like the cards in Clue.  The board prompts things like bad weather, romantic entanglement, illness, each such space landed upon would require a certain amount of role-playing.  It is during the role-playing that other players try to get you to reveal your Foibles.  (A lot like those points in Clue - that lacks role-play - where you speculate that it was Mrs. White, in the Library, with the Lead Pipe.)  There is a bit of strategy in remembering who has what, to prompt them again and again, every round.

I have a problem with the 'lose a person each round' thing too, I don't see much of a solution.  Part and parcel with lifting the game from a television show; for as popular a tie-in, this is not a franchise I would've chosen to go after.  I was expanding on the idea of 'not your normal role-playing game' from another thread to get away from the 'mostly a board game' that was being suggested.  In defense of the 'lose a person each round' thing, the farther the game goes the more the 'process of elimination' will make the remaining Foibles obvious, quickly shortening the last few rounds.  (Haven't you been numerically elminated in a board game before?)

Fang Langford

p. s. I guess the sandbar atoll idea works as a desert...I never saw it that way, with water so close by.  I always took it as a degeneration from 'deserted island' to 'desert isle,' seagoing vernacular being what it is, arrh!  ;P X
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #5 on: November 25, 2002, 07:28:01 PM »

You can soften the problem of the lose a person each round aspect by giving them something to do.

On the other hand, it seems to me that I've played a card game that works by elimination (I was going to say it was Oh Heck, but that's wrong--in that game, it's the number of cards dealt that decreases), so it isn't entirely out of the question.

--M. J. Young
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talysman
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« Reply #6 on: November 25, 2002, 11:13:56 PM »

why are we losing a person each round, again?

I know Survivor does this, but I would suggest merely seeking inspiration from Survivor, not actually duplicating it. I think of Survivor as an example of public interest in the idea of surviving in the wilderness. people sometimes complain about how complicated life is getting. they also sometimes complain about cities being too crowded. Survivor is a safe way to fantasize about being alone or nearly alone... "no phone! no lights! no motorcars, not a single luxury... like robinson crusoe, as primitive as can be..."

I think the Survivor show uses voting off the island, combined with tasks that require group effort, in order to encourage powerful interpersonal relationships among people who are complete strangers. if you think the game needs this, then go right ahead: use a player elimination tactic. although I would suggest taking Survivor's other "game mechanic" as well, adding tasks that require group effort. then you really force players to make tough decisions.

incidentally, when I mentioned the original "Desert Island" concept to some friends, they pointed out that Knights of the Dinner Table is running a storyline about playing a Survivor-like game right now.
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
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