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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 77 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: The Chef Examines the Dish: Stars Over Africa  (Read 3090 times)

Posts: 2233

My name is Raven.

« on: October 18, 2002, 09:56:52 AM »

Stars Over Africa was my submission to the recent Iron Game Chef competition here at the Forge, and the game in its entirety can be found here.

The judge, Mike Holmes, commented thusly on the design.

Exploring the mist-shrouded, ancient Africa of imagination was the initial idea I started with for my "color" -- what I intended the game feel like, and the idea a group of players could use to draw on for imagery and the feel of the game.  Other major inspirations were the movies "Congo" and "King Solomon's Mines," for wildly varying reasons.

Initially, I wanted to base the mechanics somehow on Numerology -- I failed miserably. Except that the roll to determine Goals is numerologically-oriented: each of the Goal Events listed is a distillation of the numerological meaning of that specific number, as it could be interpreted and used in the context of the game's mechanics.

Now, looking back on the design (while in the shower this morning I thought over a number of Mike's comments and my setup of the game), I realize a number of flaws I might have avoided, and things I might have expanded on to make the game a little more robust and cohesive.

Originally, the design was included the traditional idea of having a GM, but part-way through writing it all up, I realized I could create the game to work effectively without one. Throwing the alternate "GM rule" in there at the end was mostly a result of running out of time and trying to juggle a daughter who refused to go to sleep with finishing the game for the deadline.

But what I realized this morning is that the player with the high Control score, the one normally declaring the keyword, could instead use their Control score as a "pool" of modifiers for the step, secretly splitting it among the various abilities the Jungle uses to oppose the other player. The player trying to resolve the step then declares the keyword.

This also leads to possible uses of the abilities or Control in order to wrest keyword-naming from the other individual (opposed by the naming player's Harmony), but that's an afterthought at this point -- mostly this returns the game to the GM-less game I'd been striving for.

I am still trying to balance such a mechanic so that neither side has a greater amount of control over the possible results than the other -- though perhaps it balances itself. If you know the player will likely choose the keyword related to the score he has the most bonuses in, then you can put the majority of your bonuses (or all of them) in the related score for the Jungle.

Now, Mike calls the game a lite Narrativist design, but I believe he is wrong when he does so. Stars lacks a Premise, and more importantly, any real moral/ethical choice in the course of action undertaken -- the game effectively limits every player to attempt the goal(s) consigned to them by the dice, or according to the needs of a city (which are likewise random), and how you get there doesn't matter as long as you do.

Use of Control and gain of Harmony are more player-concerns than character..."Do I screw my fellow player?" is the question, and doesn't really concern the character or have any in-game tie to their actions.

On the other hand, Mike is correct in that there is not much strategy involved in play -- right now the only moment of strategy of real importance is when one assigns numbers to Harmony and Control, since these scores will affect your play. Thus the ability to use the mechanics to one's advantage is not apparent, and may not really exist.

In my opinion, the game is perhaps best described as a tight Simulation: almost a cheap wargame, with focus on Exploration of Situation or Color.

Honestly, I think Stars is best suited as a game within a game, or a meta-game running on top of a more straightforward RPG. Which leads to the other problem I had when designing the game: I didn't want this to be a game of chess, there had to be some role-playing involved, some character-association by each player.

I tried to achieve that by making use of an Avatar (the nobleman) and narration, as well as including the "Getting Deeper" rules for non-Goal-based play. I'm not completely happy with how it turned out, however, and am considering adding more to those rules to flesh things out for characters and provide more tactical options: equipment lists, backgrounds, some setting and so forth.

I also want to tie the idea of Harmony as "good" and Control as "seductive" into the design more, but currently I don't have any specific ideas for doing so.

Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
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