2014

Last year was one of really great games. This year was far less dramatic in terms of big, high-impact brand new designs. There were a number of interesting new games but one of the big trends this year was the vast oversupply of games.

The games not played

So many people produced games that it was impossible to keep up with what was coming out let alone play them all. When you add in playsets, skins and hacks then the abundance of options becomes truly overwhelming. I played two Monsterhearts sessions dedicated to the Second Skins which consist of six of seven skins and even then, due to a mix up I ended playing a new Skin that is not actually in the official Second Skins set. To get to know each one of the Second Skins well would require significantly more playing time.

Vincent Baker made this point best in his blog post about games that don't take off. Games need a tremendous amount of excitement and word of mouth initially to find any traction in regular play. You see the same thing in the Indiemeet 2014 games played stats that shows a tremendous long tail of games that were only played once.

The tremendous profusion of games is great for gamers, up to a point. It means there are a few games are generally known and therefore likely to be played because people understand their proposition, which actually makes for conformity. Let's play Fiasco or a Powered by the Apocalypse game rather than something we haven't heard of or something where someone mis-judges the pitch. You see this at Games on Demand events where the "brand" of the game seems to trump the kind of game experience that people are looking for.

It also means that a lot of playtest games don't get enough rotations to develop to their fullest potential. It is legitimate to ask why are we creating new games when we haven't really got to grips with the existing ones?

Finally the abundance of games means that someone has to curate them as it is now almost impossible to look through every story game that is released. The structure of that curation is still to be determined and is not trivial.

Structured freeform with cards

There were a number of structured freeforms during the year the first I can distinctly remember was Death of the Gilded Age which relied a lot on player inventiveness to create a suitable Gatsby-esque story.

The same issue of relying on players to put together a puzzle of random elements can be levelled at Protocol Games. I don't think it is entirely justified, one of the clever things the Protocol playsets do is shape the game by framing the scenario and how it starts and end. While some of the locations might end up repetitive the scene themes are general also well-chosen to drive the overall themes of the story.

Protocol doesn't overlook the game aspects of storytelling games either. A simple token mechanism allows players to trade their agency to either control the story now or during the concluding scenes.

The Protocol games provide a focussed two to three hours of freeform gaming that explore their themes in engaging ways. The random element is part of the zero-prep aspect of the system and as a player has encouraged me to do some creative thinking to resolve the elements and incorporate the suggestions from the cards. Protocol delivered some of the most satisfying storygaming experiences I've had.

Two-player games

I'm not going to say that 2014 was the year of the two-player game but there was a pronounced uptick in the number of games exploring a shorter, more intense game-playing experience using two people. Two-player games are hard work, there's less time to sit back and relax, if you're not involved in creating the story then you have to listen and participate in what the other person is doing much more.

As a result they tend to be shorter, perhaps closer to the hour mark. This allows you to either get a couple of games in or alternatively enjoy a perfectly, formed gaming experience.

I suspect that we are going to see more two-player games in future and that the nature of their designs is going to inform how three to five player games work. Two-player games eliminate the spotlight issue and also open up situations where the implicit group dynamic in most games is unnecessary. It's going to be exciting to see where they go.

What I played

So thanks to the power of RPGGeek it is possible to get very accurate stats on what you've actually played during the year. If you remember to actually fill in your session though... doh!

So my games of the year were Warhammer, Kingdom, Vast and Starlit, slightly unusually Remember Tomorrow and the Protocol series (although at the moment one play across four playsets).

The rest of my games were a long tail of single plays.

Warhammer might stand out a bit but I attended WimCon this year and also did a guest star bit in a regular Warhammer campaign so the plays racked up a bit.

Protocol wasn't a surprise either as it was one of my favourite systems of the year. Ditto Kingdom. Vast and Starlit is an ongoing favourite of mine (I'm already planning on pitching it this year), its that perfect mix of structure and freeform, that for me is even better than Lady Blackbird.

I also love Remember Tomorrow and feel it is an overlooked gem that pioneered a lot of modern game mechanics. Shared and held characters, swapping characters and mechanic-led storytelling.

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