Reading 44 – A Game of Automatic Fear by Matt Snyder

It’s Christmas Day, all presents have been opened and everyone here is relaxing. I decided to dive into the folder with PDF games I have acquired during the last year and see if I could find any gems for next year’s gaming. First, I read 44 by Matt Snyder.

The book
44 is 37 pages in the usual 6×9 format.44 cover The text is formated in a single column, but very heavy with rules terms, it took longer than expected to get through. There are a few small pictures in the margins.

The setting
The game’s setting is the US in the fifties, and one by one Section 44 is replacing the people with robot replicas. The PCs stumble across the truth and are targeted for replacement, and the game takes it’s beginning.

The rules
The rules are focused on tracking the struggle between the PCs (trying to survive) and the Director (trying to replace the PCs with robots). PCs have dice pools for Resolve, Contact and Material, and roll them against the Director’s pools to resolve conflicts. The system covers allies and friends, called Bonds, that the PCs can draw help from in the form of bonus dice. But doing so exposes them to danger, and they risk being converted to robots in service of the Director. Everything is geared towards promoting paranoia and fear.

The form
The game has a GM (The Director) to play the opposition to the PCs. Play goes through a fixed number of scenes during which the PCs try to avoid being replaced by robots. Any players who fail, proceed to play their robotic counterpart and work on the GM’s side to convert the remaining PCs. Any PCs that remain human at the end of the game have won.

The setting is weak, besides the basic premise of a shady conspiracy that replace people with robots in the fifties there isn’t much setting in the game. However, if the players are willing to fill in the gaps along the way, it shouldn’t be a problem.
The rules are good, are focused and seem to model the PCs’ struggle well.
The form is good. Clear instructions are given to both the GM and the players. The GM is even given a ‘character sheet’ of his own to track his resources during play.

Will I play it?
Maybe. I think that the general paranoia feel of the game is awesome, and I’m a fan of similar fiction with movies such as The Faculty and The Invasion, and the brilliant Iron Empires comics.

On the other hand I wonder how relevant the GM really is to the game, at first glance it looks like we have a Vestigal GM on our hands. I.e. 44 might be a game where so much of the GM’s role has been automated and handed out to the other players, that it might as well be played as a GM-less game. Only very small adjustments are needed to play the game in the style of Polaris, with the GM’s tasks rotating among the players. – The official 44 page

A better end of the world this Epimas

And now Christmas Eve is here, and Epiclaus has delivered the gaming gifts. I hope you’ll have a good time playing your new games with friends and family.

Epidiah and Emily are celebrating Epimas, and we’re invited. It’s all about gaming and giving games on the day before Christmas, which for them means Dec 24. Over here Santa come with presents a day earlier, on Christmas Eve, still a good day to give and get games.

Presently there are ten different PDF games listed on the site that you can buy for just $2.22 each. When you buy a gift for a friend, you get a free copy for yourself as well. If you order in time, the game will be sent out on Dec 24.

For the occasion I have created a special Revised edition of my game While the World Ends. It’s still the same game, but I have worked some of the rules tweaks that I have mentioned here on the blog into the text, so that everything will be in one place. The game has also been reformatted into US-Letter for easier printing. If you already have the game, there’s no real need to upgrade, but maybe it’s time to share it with a friend as an Epimas present?

Playing with multiple tracks

I had decided to do some multi track recording when I noticed that my LEM RDX 82u mixer feeds back the sound from the computer into the recorded track. This lead to a Matryoshka doll of recording, where the fourth track contained the third, which contained the second track, which contained the first track. The track also contained the second track, which contained the first track. And the first track, all mixed together with increasing delays. This was not what I had hoped for.

I ended up buying an M-Audio Fast Track Pro, which should work in Linux, both with custom drivers in Debian, and as a plain old USB-audio device under any OS.

However, it didn’t work that well with my Ubuntu 11.11 machine. Actually,it didn’t work at all at first. It took a lot of trial’n’error and searching the interwebs for me to figure out how to get it running.

Techno mumble follows…

In the end I managed to get the board running with the following command line start of jackd.

jackd -v -R -d alsa -C hw:0,1 -P hw:0,0 -H -s -r44100

Note that I use different subdevices for input and output (this should be configurable within QJackCtl, but it seemed to me like the settings never really propagated from the GUI to jackd. I found that some audio applications didn’t work with any other sound card than the first one (the 0 card), so I hacked /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf to allow snd-usb-audio to take the position as the first sound card.

I did a proof of concept recording this evening. It’s mostly random key mashing over an arpeggiator track, and all tracks but one were done on the Yamaha CS1x. The last one is the viola da gamba (the drone track in the back of the mix).

Download: No bubbles here.mp3

Reading Silver and white by Jackson Tegu

Yesterday I stumbled across Jackson Tegu’s game Silver and white, and I can’t get it out of my mind. Let me share my thoughts on this game with you all.

The book
The game comes in a 36 page PDF, formatted to be printed into a small booklet. The text is single column and easy to read, the wording is poetic at times. Almost half the book consists of handouts to be cut out before play, so it is a very quick read.

Silver and white
The setting
The game’s intro reads as follows:

Four suburban teenagers encounter the mystery that
will shape their lives. They explore, and each time they
touch, we players exchange cards. For them a few days,
for us a few hours. We make up a story together, our
invented truths springing from the cards we hold; and
they step into the unknown, pausing at every awkward
touch, hopeful despite everything to come.

The game is about four teenagers who stumble across a dead man and a mystery, and the relationships between them.

The rules
The game comes with four semi-pre gen characters, the players pick one and make some minor tweaks to it before going into play. There are no rules for task or conflict resolution, only a card driven mechanic for directing the interactions between the characters.

The form
The game is GM less, and steps have been taken to make it as facilitator less as possible. The players read the rules together as part of the shared prep before the session. Every player controls an aspect of the setting, and as the cards trade hands during the interactions between the characters, that control also shifts among the players.

The setting is good, there isn’t much setting material in the game, but what there is is very evocative. The players will do a lot of filling in the blanks during play.
The rules are OK, I think. Trading cards during the character interactions, possibly trying to get a card with a good epilogue on it, feels a bit contrived. But there could be an emergent quality to the mechanism that I fail to see just in the read through.
The form is excellent, the game demonstrates excellent pedagogy of play. The GM/facilitator less setup makes me think I could put this on a table, and then send in a group of players to experience the game by themselves with only the briefest of introductions.

Will I play it?
Yes. The fixed requirement of four players may mean that it will take a while before I get a good opportunity to do so, but this is presently the number one game on my to-play list. I sense that the game would benefit from a translation into Swedish before play, to remove the distractions of constant translations, but it should be playable in the original English. – The official site, where the game can be downloaded.

Reading Breaking the Ice – A game about Love, for Two by Emily Care Boss

Recently I have been thinking a lot about games with friendly themes. Games without any combat mechanics, and maybe even without conflict mechanics, set in friendly settings. I have known about Emily Care Boss’ game Breaking the Ice for quite some time, but never really looked into it. But this weekend I got the opportunity to do so.

Breaking the Ice
The book
My copy is a 42 page PDF, I think it is supposed to be a 9×6 book, or maybe slightly smaller. There is some nice cartoon style artwork by Barry Deutsch. The text is laid out in a single readable column, but something about the editing confused me, and I had to read through the game twice in order to get it. Since it’s a rather short game that wasn’t a big issue.

The setting
The game has no setting as such, but it is always a story about two people going on three dates. There is a section in the book with suggestions for how to decide on a setting before playing.

The rules
The rules in Breaking the Ice are tightly focused on the growing attraction between the lovers. By rolling and re-rolling pools of D6s the players learn how the dates are going, and how the lovers find common interests that will strengthen the bond between them. Character generation involves collaborative mind map drawing starting with the character’s favorite color in the center, and then playing a game of word association from there to find the character’s traits.

The form
The game is one of the rare two player games. The players take turns being the active player and the story guide, however both roles involve mostly stuff usually associated with GM’ing. Not quite a player less game, but almost. The many examples in the game show play as being done in third person, in a rather abstract birds eye view of the story. In the end the players answer three questions about the dates and decide if the relationship grew into something steady.

The setting is OK, there’s not much there but the game gives enough information to guide the players while they decide on a setting of their own.
The rules are good, very focused on the subject of simulating dating.
The form is good, there are clear instructions in the game for what what the players should do at all stages. There’s a section on sex in games, good reading for players previously unfamiliar with lines and veils.

Will I play it?
Maybe. It’s a two player game, I only have few of those. I think one could vary the style of play in accordance with how familiar the two players are, allowing for more intimate story telling with close friends, to backing off a bit and playing it with more distance for playing with strangers at cons. I see the potential for both comedies and great drama in the game, depending on what setting is chosen. – The official site for the game.

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