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Freemarket

Freemarket

When Jared Sorenson and Luke Crane make a game together I do not find it that surprising that the result is Freemarket.

It is a game that combines a contemporary social commentary with a set of complex intermeshing mechanics that reward a particular style of play.

The setting a post-human, post-scarcity sci-fi space station in orbit around Saturn. Forget the sci-fi aspect. The most important aspect of the setting is that it is post-scarcity. None of the characters will go hungry, naked or even die permanently. Given the lack of physical deprivation the question the game poses is what do people without want need?

Getting with the program

Getting our heads around the game proved difficult. The traditional roleplaying framework is still killing things and taking their stuff. Your characters start at the bottom of the social heap and through conflict rise up it.

In Freemarket you are still at the bottom of the heap, your material needs are all cared for but you are sharing a cargo container with your friends.

Killing people doesn’t matter and as for taking their stuff you can just copy it with a matter printer. Death and stuff don’t make any difference to your material circumstances.

Hell is other people

In fact the mechanics of the game means that what you need to do is entertain and please other people. If you create something on your matter printer and use it it costs you resources. If you create something and give it to someone else then the station’s central algorithm rewards you with more resources.

Essentially climbing the greasy pole of success means creating things and providing services that the other people in the station want to use. The more useful you are the more resources you get given.

This insight is essentially the thing that makes Freemarket unique as a game and such a challenge to play.

We are artists!

During our game we created a cadre of confrontational performance artists. This made our difficulties in playing the game double as our characters wanted to provoke the other station occupants and make them question society. However to be successful we needed to provoke them in a way that entertained them and made them glad that they had been shaken out of their complacency.

Through iterations of avant-garde noise band musicians, experimental film makers and party organisers we finally found the rhythm of the game.

The rules (so far)

People on the station are constantly making things. They are rewarded for you using what they make so take advantage of this. Remember the game is post-scarcity so your character can leave their container and grab a new set of clothes each day, go to the station gardens and get fresh fruit and vegetables, pick up a computer and a resonator guitar along with a pet micro-pig. The character can possess whatever anyone on the station makes.

However consuming makes everyone else richer in resources so to advance your cause what you need to do is get people to want what your character does.

There are some simple crafting rules that allow you to pick up small amounts of resources. For example, modifying and enhancing an item you got from someone else allows you to pass it on to someone else. Recycling things your character has used also gives them resources back.

However ultimately your character needs to find the big need in the station and fulfil that need. Now what this is is going to vary from game to game and GM to GM but in our case the parties seemed a good need as people wanted to socialise and have a good time but in our section of the station their dwellings were too small.

So one burned out section of the ring, a light projection system, some newly composed music and a lot of newly minted drugs later we finally started to claw back more social credit than we were spending.

But was it really art?

Memories and learning

Another fascinating aspect of the game is the fact that art can be used to encode feelings and memories (things that themselves can be sold for resources, one player in our game managed to sell the memory of having a daughter with a former partner and then had to babysit this mysterious child). The creation of art is a contest between the GM and the player, the more successful the player is then the more they get to define what the art means.

Once the art is performed everyone witnessing it is able to take the memory generated, either using it for themselves, selling it or more intriguingly using it for experience.

One trick I had by the end of our campaign is to make sure that I had performed a work of art each session that allowed me to increase my skills in the next.

Systems

Freemarket is full of clever systems that make you act in certain ways. It is a real pinnacle of Sorenson/Crane design and it is also fragile as every rule needs to be applied correctly for the whole game to work. You need to understand how the rules work and the interactions between the systems if you really want to fly. Expect a serious learning curve for the first few sessions and for misunderstood rules to have more impact than normal in a game.

Play Freemarket

Freemarket’s outrageous hype and price tag meant it took a while for me to buy it (in fact I bought it, paid duty on it and then it showed up in Leisure Games a month or two later). It also meant that I was really motivated to get some value out of the game.

When we did finally play the game I thought it was brilliant. Very demanding, totally different to anything else in roleplaying, indie or mainstream.

By turning the conventions of gaming on its head it also provides a critique of those conventions and for that insight alone it is worth trying a couple of sessions.

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