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[Black Cadillacs] - Three Games at GenCon

Started by Darcy Burgess, August 27, 2008, 04:58:20 PM

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Darcy Burgess


Black Cadillacs saw play three times at GenCon.  Two of the games were scheduled through the IGE (quick shout-out to Mike Holmes: thanks for making this happen!)  Sandwiched between the two IGE games, on Friday evening, I wrestled together some players for a pickup game at the Embassy Suites.

I'll lead off by thanking Adam, Andrea, Elizabeth, Jason, John, Lisa, Paul, Sarah, Scott, and Timo for their enthusiasm and time.  This was a huge deal for me -- getting to play the game with new folk is wonderful.

Our three settings were:
Friday, IGE: The Winter War against the Soviet Union.  Finnish Infantry.
Friday Evening: The Great War, specifically the opening days of the war, as the Germans push into Belgium following the Siege of Liège.  German Cavalry.
Saturday, IGE: The occupation of Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese war.  Chinese infantry.

In addition to some wonderful gaming, I was thrilled when an emergent property I had long been hoping for showed up during Saturday's game.  The comment went something like this:

"Y'know, I like the way that I feel like I have to work with [my fellow players] against the [GM].  It's a nice parallel to how the characters have to work together."

That's always something that I've wanted.  The system demands that you grab it, learn it (it isn't immediately intuitive, and it is fiddly,) and wrestle with it.  Friday evening, Jason pointed out that there is a great deal that I can do to streamline the information design of the play aids.  His second suggestion of "trying to make the first (teaching) game feel more like the second game" is spot-on.  But, I need to do this in such a way that the players have to work together and help each other out at each and every step of the way.

In closing, some favourite fictional moments:

  • A nail-biting sniper hunt that ends when the Captain panics, orders the men to fire at will on a hedgerow, and miraculously doesn't kill his own scouts.  The Russians get away...
  • A muddy faceplant from horseback onto a pitchfork.  That gangrenous shoulder is gonna be a bitch.
  • Low, deadly words uttered in the dark, at knifepoint, "We'll take them something that a man your age no longer needs."

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Darcy Burgess

Hi again,

I can't believe that I didn't bring this up before!

So, it's the Friday evening game (Great War, German Cavalry).  That's the game that was (at least to my ego!) the roughest of the 3 games at GenCon.  I alluded to it in my opening post, but didn't spell it out: Black Cadillacs has a lot of knobs and dials to twiddle (points of contact), and I think that most of the players would have been happier with fewer.

Regardless, something wonderful and unexpected happened at the table.  I'm pretty sure that Elizabeth, Jason, Paul and Sarah didn't know that it was wonderful and unexpected -- why would they?

The important groundwork
1) During play, narrative authority is parceled out as follows:

  • Scene Frame: The Foe (GM) hold the authority.
  • Free Play: whoever's talking right now, although there is a turn structure and rules limiting how much you do in a turn.
  • Conflict Play: whoever's turn is right now, maybe.  Or, maybe it's the Foe.  Those conditionals are based on the whims of the dice.
  • Scene Wrap: Allies (non-Foe players.)  This authority is distinct from the other 3, however.  During the Wrap, the Foe is literally gagged.  She must not speak, not eve to offer suggestions.

2) We had a colourful, inspiring jumping-off point.  A a squad of tough, mean cavalry officers looking for action.  An abusive and universally hated CO who redefined "misanthrope."  Men who had less food than their horses.  Shitty, muddy weather.  And of course, the forts at Liege had just been turned to rubble.  This was a situation begging for blood.

3) I opened the first scene in media res as the Troopers descend on a Belgian village, with orders to pillage it for pack animals in preparation for the assault on Bruges.  As free play ensued, the situation rapidly evolved.  We had a young Belgian girl nearly trampled to death as she (or did she?) attempted to raise the alarm.  Belgian partisans sniped at the cavalrymen from a bell-tower.  The aforementioned pitchfork impalement (yuuuuch!)  All of this culminated in the Troopers losing the pivotal conflict over "Can Sarah's Trooper (Oh yeah, Sarah's Trooper was the shat-upon son of the CO) look good in her old man's eyes? "

The answer, most definitively was NO, as the Belgians settled in for an ugly siege.  There was no clean military operation here.  The crack Prussian Cavalry were outsmarted by fucking peasants.  Shutters were slammed, murder-holes smashed through windows, and rifle-barrels glinted in the mist.

The Wonderful, Unexpected Thing
So, what's important here is that as soon as I saw the way the conflict was going, I flipped on the auto-pilot.  "Self," said I, "This is perfect.  You don't have to worry about what to do with the next scene.  Scene Two: Breaking the Siege.  Relax, and enjoy the ride."


During the Ally-controlled scene wrap, the farm was razed.  To ashes.  The Belgians were murdered to a man, and the young girl was orphaned.

It probably happened within the blink of an eye, but I was terrified.  I panicked.  Oh shit!  What about my neat little siege?  Crap!  Now I have to think!  Ohshitohshitohshit...

It was great.  It was better than great.  The Allies stepped right up, grabbed the rules, and did exactly what I wanted them to do.  Steer the next scene.  They made it abundantly clear that they wanted to tell a story about the girl.  Not about the farm.  I mean, good god, the shit that poor girl went through...

Like I said, I can't believe that I didn't start with this.  It was faboo.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Jason Morningstar

Hey Darcy,

So your game parceled out authority to the players to say what we thought was interesting, and we did?  That's just good, engaged, fun play, right?  It's great that the game allowed us to make this choice, but why is it surprising?

Darcy Burgess

Hey Jason,

The surprise (on my part) came entirely from the fact that y'all just jumped right over stuff that the folks I normally roll with would have gone for.

It's a case of mixing it up with new blood, and seeing what comes out.

In other words, it's surprising (at an immediate, personal level, as an active participant in the game), but not unexpected (as the designer).  It's also really satisfying, which is why I wanted to highlight it.

Make sense?
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.