Before Christmas last year I played While the World Ends and posted about it, that post was mostly about the mechanics in the world building phase of the game. Two days ago I played in a great game at SävCon, and thought I’d share a bit about the play phase of the game this time.
To put the story into context let’s have a look at the setting as generated in the first phase.
- Strict music boarding schools – The Wagner Institute
- Cyborgs – Performance office 4
- The soil is sick – Sonata, a new residential area
- A child has turned 5 – 10 Note Road
- A clef society – Fuga Bicycle Factory
The society in the story was based around some perverted classical musicians dream. A strict class society, called Clef society, with three grades of citizens G clef (administrators, foremen, managares), C clef (qualified, white collar labor) and F clef (blue collar), all ruled by a master class of Tenors.
All children were taken away from their parents at the age of 5 and put into schools, that had a focus on making them good citizens and finding their place in society. Honing their skills in that area.
All citizens were supervised, and those that were not up to standard were modified using cybertech to bring them up to level.
The society also had enormous problems with pollution, the very soil beneath their feet was poisoned. All food was grown in greenhouses, only artificial grass in the gardens etc.
We decided that the story was in fact a BBC low budget production from the 80’s, the kind where you wrap lamp posts in aluminum foil to make them more futuristic. The bicycle factory was there for budget reasons, a more fancy factory had been cut from the script to keep the budget down. Cybertech was invisible. All scenes were shot using too much blue, making everything look cold and lonely.
The society faced a rebellion ‘The Dissonance’, rebellious music teachers in the schools that taught false teachings to their most brilliant pupils in order to change society from within. Ideas of free expression and improvisation were starting to spread. The two different outcomes of this rebellion was ‘Success, society becomes a kinder place and we shot the epilogues with warmer colors.’ and ‘Failure, even stricter censorship is put in place at all levels of society killing the last sources of joy.’.
- Synthia (-), a student at the Wagner Institute. Brilliant pianist and Tenor material. Her goal was to get away from her tutor Serena, a rebel, who she thought was corrupting her perfect piano playing skills. Her fear was that Serena would indeed succeed and that it would spoil her chances after graduation.
- Michael G (-), a foreman at the construction site on the new Sonata area. His goal was to form a duo (marry) with Katherine G, a shift manager at the Fuga Bicycle Factory. His fear was that the soil he had been exposed to had given him cancer.
- Mary F (+), the mother of Thomas, a student at the Wagner Institute. Her goal was to get her beloved son back. Her fear was that the sick soil and lacking maintenance of the institute would make her son sick, and kill him.
- Samuel Tenor (+), an evaluator at Performance office 4, spending his days deciding which citizens that were substandard and in need of adjustment. His goal was to find the joy in music he had felt as a child, and he feared that his last adjustment had been insufficient to make him good enough to keep his position at the office.
A full recollection of the game would be the length of a book or movie script. But the scenes that follow were some of my favourites.
- Michael G in his intro. Pacing the office preparing to make a call to his love Katherine G, practicing what to say. Picking up the phone, starting to dial, chickening out. Practicing some more, and then really making the call.
Rolling the dice to see if the call would be successful, failing, and just as he touched the phone have it ring. The hospital calling him to tell him to come in for further testing.
- Mary F, meeting her son at the Institute. Giving him a cake that has used her entire sugar ration to prepare. And then in a subsequent scene we see him and his friends, hyper active from the sugar after sharing the cake, play in the gymnasium. One crashing into a wall, making a small crack, through which the poisonous soil slowly starts to seep into the hall.
- Samuel Tenor, watching a class of piano students through a false mirror. And after hearing Synthia being forced into playing wrong by her rebellious piano teacher, accepting sponsorship of her. The piano teacher became a favorite character of mine, and I played her in all her scenes.
- Synthia and Serena playing four handed after Synthia had called her sister on the outside to raise the alarm about how Serena was ruining her. Serena had been forced to give up her exclusive mentoring of Synthia and share it with a more traditional teacher.
They played Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies together, with doctored sheet music that only showed the notes and nothing else. And I managed to touch the player’s heart with my description of the sadness and despair in Serena’s playing.
- Samuel Tenor attending an by-invitation-only concert with his protege in the Fuga Bicycle Factory, after hours. And hearing her battle against Serenas manipulation of the music on the piano.
- Mary F kidnapping her son from the institute after he has fallen ill. Taking him home with her and hiding him from the authorities.
- Michael G, finally in the epilogue, gathering courage to ask for Katherine G’s hand, only to have her swept away by Samuel Tenor right before his eyes. That hates-relation that I drew during setup really showed itself to be true.
In the end Mary F managed to win the victory to the rebel piano teachers with her struggle to bring her son home. The blue tinted filter was removed, and the epilogues were shot in brilliant colors. Everyone reached their goals, except Michael G who saw the love of his life kiss his old nemesis.
About points of view
While the World Ends can be played in two different ways.
You can play it as a tactical board game, looking for the optimal relation to add next, setting your scenes carefully to rob your opponent of advances where he is strong. Then the game gives you the scenes to show how those events came to be.
Or, you can play it as a story game, narrating scenes that you think are the logical consequence of what has already happened, and use the board to keep track of the events and relations introduced. Then the game will tell you where your story is going.
Both ways are just as valid and fun to play. And the game does not break down if different players around the table select to play differently. The game is balanced (read random) enough that the story gamers still can win. Like they did in this game.
Roll in the epilogues
This is a new rule that I have been testing in the last few games. It is not in the book, but if I ever get around to making a revised edition it will be.
Once the victorious side has been decided and winners have narrated the change, players that want to can make a roll each for reaching their goals during their epilogues. Set the scenes as usual, they can roll even if there are no change tokens left in the location.
This way more of the main characters’ stories reach a conclusion.
The roll is optional, if a player is satisfied with the story as it is without reaching either goal or fear then don’t roll any dice. Just tell his or her epilogue like usual.
www.lulu.com/product/paperback/while-the-world-ends/13659977 – WTWE page on Lulu.