Reading Montsegur 1244 – a story game about burning for your belief by Frederik J. Jensen

Montsegur 1244 has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I bought it when it was all the rage, and then saw that you had to ‘assemble’ the game, build cards and stuff. I had other games that had a lower threshold for getting started so it was sort of forgotten about.

Anders and I are discussing which games to bring to conventions under 2011 under the Nordnordost umbrella, and next weekend we’ll have a minicon to test games to see what they’re like in actual play. Montsegur 1244 has been scheduled, so it is time to read up on it.

Montsegur 1244 cover

Montsegur 1244 cover

The book
What you get when you buy Montsegur 1244 is a 64 page book, that book sort of contains the game. And sort of it does not, you have to go online and get various cards and a board, print and assemble them. Most of the material is included in the book, if the Montsegur 1244 site goes the way of the dodo, you could piece the a set together by what’s in the book. You can’t just cut the pieces out of the book (heretic!), even if you want, due to the way the cards are taking up both sides of page.

Most of the 64 pages are cards and other stuff needed to play the game, the game text is short, laid out to be easy to read, but I had to read through the book a few times to get the hang of it. There are illustrations by both the author and Brian Rasmussen.

The setting
The year is 1244 and in the fortress Montsegur in southern France a group of Cathars are under siege. The game will end with defeat and the defeated will have to renounce their faith or burn at the stake, the question is why do they chose one or the other? The game is about answering that question.

A brief introduction to the Cathar faith and the Albigenesian crusade is provided in the game text.

The rules
There are rules to govern the distribution of narration privileges and not much more. The 12 pregen characters are distributed among the players, who then take turns setting scenes in a prologue, four acts and an epilogue. The scenes are based on randomly drawn cards, thus the order of the cards will change between games and add replay value. The players also have cards to interrupt the narration privileges from a player and take over.

In the epilogue the players themselves decide what happens to their characters, with the limitations that at least one character must burn on the stake, and at most one character can escape. Remaining characters renounce their faith.

The form
Not much to add besides what was said in the rules. No GM, the players take turns setting scenes. Everyone plays at least two characters, keeping one as their main, and the other(s) as a sort of NPC.

There are short sections with advice on coming up with scenes, and how to set them.

The setting is weak. There might be enough for play in the book, but I found it lacking and went online to read up on the Cathars and the crusade against them. What I read made the game seem more interesting, however if all that information were to be included in the game the amount of information needed to be conveyed to the other players by the facilitator would go up. I guess there is some sort of balance to be found here.

The rules are ok. No conflict resolution, no dice, no nothing. The game is all about playing the characters and narrating the events around them, and the rules for that are clearly explained.

The form is good. It is clearly explained how to play the game, and how to move the narration privileges around the table through the use of the cards.

Will I play it?
Yes, next weekend. Would I have if I hadn’t read about the Cathars? And had pressure on me to actually assemble the game? I doubt it. I get a feeling that there is a strong element of emergent play here, that I fail to see when just reading the game. I hope I’ll find reason to get back to this game with a ‘Playing Montsegur 1244’ post. – Official Montsegur 1244 page at Thoughtful games. This is where you can download the stuff needed to play the game.

1 Comment

  1. January 5, 2011 at 06:20

    […] few days. NordNordOst are going there to host an indie gaming lounge. It all started when we played Montsegur 1244 before Christmas. It was an awesome session, but we felt it was a bother having the material […]

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