Archive for January, 2009

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Coming up: Serial Homicide Unit

5 January, 2009

I have been waiting for this game since I heard an interview with the creators a good while ago. Back then the game was only called Serial, and wasn’t entirely finished. Last week it was released in electronic format only, which totally makes sense because the game text, the instructions how to play, are audio files. Serial Homicide Unit is an even less prep no-prep game than usual, because you don’t even have to read the rules before you play – you can literally sit down and play along following the instructions in the audio clips. And that’s one hell of a selling point. You still need to buy the rules, of course.

For a mere $15 you get 14 audio files in mp3-format, 5 PDF files with rules references and help sheets, and a readme file.

SHU is a game about catching a serial killer – no one knows who the killer is beforehand, everything is disclosed via player-created clues from the crime scenes of the killer’s victims. And there is no guarantee the killer will be caught, that’s up to the police work of the SHU. Kat Miller, who wrote the game, is a big fan of CSI – I’m absolutely not, but I’m still very interested in playing this game, and it’s from CSI the inspiration for the details, the clues and the slow build-up of a case against the perpetrator.

Compared to Annalise, which I wrote about yesterday, there are quite a few similarities but SHU is much much simpler. SHU is broadly split into two sections: one section is where the players portray civilians that only have one thing in common: a profile. All these civilians will randomly fall prey to the killer as the game progresses. Every time a round of civilian scenes have been played out, one of their names will be drawn and will be the killer’s latest victim, and this cycle of murder will continue until the killer has been caught or all the civilians are dead. Nasty. I like it.

The game’s other section is the solving of the murders. In this section the players portray elite criminal investigators. There’s only one kind of scene in this section, which is a meeting between the investigators and in which players make up clues from the latest crime scene. So, a player  could simply state, “There’s a smear of blood mixed with Heinz Baked Beans along the corridor all the way to the victim’s feet.” Or simply, “The victime has been shot three times at close range with a small caliber.” Or whatever you fancy. Your inspiration is every cop show or movie or comic or book you have ever come across. All the clues are listed together into chains of evidence that may or may not in the end catch the killer. The more clues in a chain of evidence, the more likely it is to succeed against a suspect when your police force decides to indict someone.

This sounds(!) like it could be a very compelling, emotional and tense game experience, and I can’t wait to try this either. The structure of SHU makes it very easy to adapt to a play-by-post format if anyone out there is interested.

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New games. First up: Annalise.

4 January, 2009

While waiting for the print version of Mouse Guard, and doing some more development on my police adaptation of it, I bought a couple of new games over the holiday period. The first one was Annalise and then I bought Serial Homicide Unit. Let’s take Annalise first.

Now, it’s no secret that I left a certain flavour of roleplaying behind around 2002. The kind of game where the plot and in-game events are predetermined and where one of the players has the role of being “GM” who in the end decides both in-game events and conflict outcomes and has the final say rules-wise, where the GM is a stand-in for “the System”. In short I consider this a deadly, dysfunctional combo able to kill off any joy and pleasure regarding roleplaying. I might add that I used to think this was the only possible way to roleplay, and I played like that for probably 15 years. What has this to do with these two new games? Quite a lot, because both Annalise and Serial operate without any predetermnation of plot, events, characters, and yet they are both game genres where the player group is solving a mystery.

Annalise is written by Nathan D. Paoletta, who also wrote a game called Timestream and the much talked about Carry – A Game About War. Personally I missed completely when Annalise was released, for two specific reasons: it’s written as a vampire-themed game, and I don’t like vampire-themed games. Plus, I think the title of the game is 100% awful, almost enough for me not to want to buy, read or play it. Maybe Annalise sounds slightly more intriguing of you are American, but to me it’s just a bit daft. I’m also not sure why the game is called Annalise at all, I’ll have to assume that it’s the name of a character that propped up during playtest ot whatever. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t recommend naming your game like that. I want the name to give me a clue about the game. Like Carry – A Game About War or Timestream.

But then I came across this rather cool AP report on The Forge. The PDF is only $12, so what the heck.

I’m still digesting the game text, and after one read I don’t feel confident enough to try and get a game going. But basically it’s a game without a GM in a traditional sense. You can play two to four players, and your player characters are protagonists in what Nathan calls “a Vampire story”. Meaning that soemwhere out there, in the life of the protagonists, there’s a vampire who preys on their vulnerabilities. I’m pretty sure that you can use this vampire metaphor for many other things, and that’s what I’m interested in. The players create characters from scratch and narrate setting and othe elements into the fiction, some of which can be “Claimed” by the players and used later. Each scene focuses on one of the player characters while another player is the “scene guide”, managing GM duties for that scene, as in describing surroundings, other characters etc. Who or what the vampire is is not determind from the beginning, but this shady character will slowly emerge as play progresses and the fiction is created.

Annalise runs on a fairly intricate system where the players can influence the fiction and define “Moments” in the game. Right now I haven’t got a clue how it actually works, it’s not that obvious by simply reading the game text, but at the moment I’m curious and interested.