Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

[Unnamed Espionage Project] Playtest

Started by jlester, October 31, 2006, 04:46:09 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


I'm cross posting this over from Story Games for the sake of a wider audience.

So, after having realized that my spy game project was too big to get to any kind of actually final state without fooling around with, I pulled together a riffable manuscript, and wrangled Josh and Mark into play testing with me.  And, all in all, I'm ridiculously excited that I did.

I haven't done much but kvetch about how everyone seems to have my ideas, so let me lay out what we were playing with.  The game is essentially a competitive story game, strongly influenced by Greg Rucka, but also by all the "realistic" spy genre stuff I've been able to absorb.  Honestly, I'm a long way from done on the research for this beast, but the game of it is gelling - slowly.  `

Essentially, each player controls an agency (which the proviso that while I say "agency," you're encouraged to select a revolutionary group, an international crime ring or, most challenging of all, al Queda.)  In actuality, you probably only sketch out an important core or the real, larger group.  To wit: 3 principle agents, and enough of their auxiliaries for everyone else to play.  Names, roles within their agency, and an optional specialty are all you really need each.  Which is good because you wind up creating, as Josh is fond of pointing out, "like, 10 guys!"

Play proceeds through a series of planning turns.  The active player picks a principle, frames a scene, and the other players take on auxiliary roles.  In character narration develops a situation, while a silent negotiation (facilitated by a bunch of little colored chips and boards) establishes what's a stake and how hard it'll be to accomplish.

Planning turns go in rounds, each player picking a principle each time, and the stakes accumulating between rounds.  Once every principle in an agency has come into play, a player can start the actual operation, which is resolved by more open, director-stance narration and card play.  A yoink from <cite>Sorcerer</cite> plays into the card resolution, and players win or lose influence (in the form the chips.)

And on the whole, I think it worked great.  Josh played al Queda, Mark ran the Russian FSB and I grabbed the German BND.  Having deciding on the public image and core values of our agencies (by way of what I think could be a really neat little centering mechanic) and come up with at least names for everybody (which was especially fun, granted that we're not always great at inventing names for single characters), we got started.  Now, this is intended as a long form game, so we cut short a little bit, and only played out all of Josh's planning scenes.  Al Queda wound up with a daring duel pronged scheme that involved decimating the ranks of the FSB by simultaneously inciting Chechen's to assassinate the detachment there, and killing an official in Berlin.  In the meantime, the BND planned to recover embarrassing Russian documents from refugees in Chechnya, and the FSB was attempting to expose the fact that German intelligence knew about 9/11 ahead of time.  In the end, a Turkmen in the employ of the BND recovered some incriminating records, all the al Queda members were arrested or run over, and the Russian leak was quashed by the Berlin police.

Typically, as it stands, it's a little byzantine.  Well, a lot byzantine.  Even I was having trouble remembering what all the squares on the negotiation boards meant, when it was time to pay out.  Simple fix: reduce their numbers by more than a half, and fold their various meanings in on themselves.  Mark caught a problem with being able to load boards at the last minute, but there's a simple fix for that.  The thorniest problem is that what was supposed to be a neat, straightforward resolution system wound up consuming the entire deck of cards.  Well...

Here's the biggest flaw, and I think we dodged a bullet at the last minute.  After all the setup of planning, operations as written come off serially.  And as my intrepid play testers recognized, I really do want to see different agencies acting simultaneously, either in parallel or in conflict.  On reflection, I also want to see how an operation in the offing influences plans in the making.  But as written, neither would happen.  I'd resolve my mission, and then you do yours, and that's exactly what I don't want.

So we wound up playing out resolution as I'd planned, except with all three of us at the same time which consumed the entire deck (and we basically lucked out not needing more cards.)  Resulted in a really cool three way narrative, but all the same we could have done with fewer cards.

So, I'm already settled on reducing the negotiation sheets to 6 boxes from 14, and I'm still fooling with ways to simplify the card play, and ways to draw agents into risk more simply and more reliably.  Oh, and I'm hoping to work in the agency presentation and goals more mechanically.  Hopefully I'll have a more solidified version in a week or two.

Oh, one last thing: Mark made the excellent observation that the feel is something like the film <cite>Syriana</cite> is nature, and we agreed (more important: I feel) that the name ought to be like a cousin to that.  Coversia, maybe.  Something like that.