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Disappeared (heads of state) at Orccon

Started by redivider, February 20, 2007, 08:20:00 PM

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I ran a pick-up/playtest game of Disappeared, one of the nine games in my Heads of State series, at orccon late Saturday night. Disappeared is a gm-less game but since there were eight of us I observed while the other seven played. Thanks to Derek, Don, Judson, Nicholas, Rob, Ryan, and Sarah for their creativity and feedback (especially in linking all the cards & clues as midnight approached.)

(I'm looking for playtesters for this game and the other short dictator games in the series. Download the playtest files at

The players decided that they wanted to set the game in a fictional eastern European nation so they invented Schlepovania, ruled by Supreme General Vlad Jackelinski. They decided that the missing person was a Swiss doctor named Heidi Berger, who was working in Schlepovania on a humanitarian mission. Characters were supposed to be people motivated to find out what had happened to Heidi since she was disappeared. I've misplaced one of the character sheets (apologies to whoever's character I'm leaving out); the remaining six were:

Dr. Rohit Gupta, a fellow doctor with the international NGO Heidi worked for
Tenkl Frnanski, a grocer whose wife Heidi had treated
Marta Berger, Heidi's sister and a reporter for a Swiss paper
Jack Hino, a malpractice attorney who was building a case against Heidi
Josef Wrichter, a local journalist who had been writing an article about Heidi's humanitarian work
Stanley Blithe, who had struck up a close on-line relationship with Heidi

We decided to set up a 25 card grid which had 3 layers, an outer layer of 16 cards, 8 in the middle layer, and then a final card in the center which represented the solution to the mystery. As in the earlier game of Disappeared, players focused mainly on possible motives when flipping over cards and narrating clues. But what I found really cool was that many of the early clues painted the missing person in a negative light—and that some of the players then reinterpreted that information to deflect blame – leading to a card-driven tug of war over whether she was an innocent victim or a schemer who was complicit in a the crimes of the regime.  There was evidence that she was selling drugs intended for orphans and the ill; that she was managing a prostitution ring out of the medical tent city; that she had a gambling problem; that she was romantically involved with one of the Supreme General's top ministers; that she had helped cover up a massacre of patients; even that she was trying to get a lucrative satellite tv franchise off the ground (literally, by helping launch the rocket with the medical facility as cover). There was also a twisting subplot about an online romance with a woman with the handle glove & steel who may well have been her minister boyfriend manipulating Heidi for his own sinister purposes. Another important thread was a range of theories on why police raided the tent city and killed patient there. Some clues pointed to another high government official (the Orwellian titled deputy minister of happiness) leading a high speed chase to the tent city, perhaps because he was trying to save Heidi from her perfidious lover. One clue even postulated that Heidi had a twin sister, and the twin was the one snatched from the tent city just before the massacre.

When turning over a card, players have to incorporate the suit and/or the value plus the clues from any adjacent cards that have already been flipped. This means that cards in the middle layer often had 2 or 3 adjacent clues to link together and the final card has 4 influences. As the game progressed it therefore became a personal challenge to come up with a meaningful clue. And there was also the sense of it being a collective challenge, almost like the players were a team solving a complex puzzle.

The final secret of the center card turned out to be that Heidi had 'disappeared' herself in order to smuggle some orphans out of Schlepovania into Switzerland. Then she had returned to Schlepovania, pretending to be her own sister, to ensure that her ally the deputy minister of happiness wasn't punished for the assistance he had given her. So Sarah's character  Marta was the disappeared person, and was alive and well and (presumably) not a madam, drug-dealer, gambling addict, or international telecom speculator.


This was the second playtest for the game; the first had just three players, so it was nice to see that Disappeared could handle seven.

The core mechanics of card = clues continued to work well to generate a player-created solution to a mystery.

The subsystem by which hands of flipped cards that players accumulate = getting noticed & harassed by the authorities didn't really come into play because players didn't collect enough cards. Luckily we came up some good ideas to improve it.
A. Players should always take the card they flip (under the current rules you can discard it if you use both the suit and value in your narration).
B. If you fail to use suit + value, you should take an extra card in addition to the one you picked.
C. players should be able to pass cards they pick to another player if they reference that player's character in the clue. (This has the added value of bring more connections between players and drawing them into the story the way Marta was placed into the final clue in this game).
D. players should start with a couple of cards.

25 cards is a good number whether there are 3 players or 7. In the current draft I suggest that larger number of players should use a bigger diagram of cards, but 25 worked well. More than 25 would make the game too long, since it takes a lot of thinkin' to come up with clues when it's your turn. A 9 card, two layer game could be the short version, with a four layer 49 card game for puzzle fiends.

The players in this game talked in character more and did a better job than in the first playtest of saying HOW their characters discovered clues.