The winners of this year’s competition have been announced: they are All’s Well That Ends As You Like It, and Forsooth. Congratulations to their designers! I hope to soon provide reviews of all the finalists to throw more feedback at the deserving, but for the moment, just the winners:
AWTEAYLI is a kind of weird combination of Cluedo and a LARP, where you act out a dramatic scene (and maybe have a stat comparison roll-off) but who is in that scene and where it takes place depends totally on who walks into what room, which is determined by rolling D6. This is okay because the board – yes, a literal board – is a kind of squished-together Shakespeare-land, with a beach, a forest, a throne room, a chapel and so forth all a few moves away from each other. Like a LARP everyone has a distinct character to play, although these are just archetypes (the Identical Twins, the Rightful Ruler, the Virtuous Innocent etc) with unique powers and goals to achieve, one tragic and one comic (Get Married or Die, Reclaim Your Throne, Marry Someone Who Hasn’t Woo’ed You) and cool mechanics for influence (wooing and duelling) and magic items (which can be switched with another mechanic for nicking stuff).
A LARP with a board is certainly an interesting concept, one that kind of flies in the face of traditional LARPing (which is fine – face-flying is always good for design, even if it might not get people to play it). Likewise I think it would break people’s brains at first to be in what is ostensibly an RPG but be unable to say “I go to the Chapel and talk to the Priest” and instead having to wait for a die roll to get them there…assuming the Priest doesn’t roll in the meantime and shuffle off to the Beach. The connected nature of the map means you can usually catch the person you want, but not always WHERE you want – which can be a huge deal as only some rooms have Arrases for spying, some rooms make duelling much harder on the instigator and you can only get married in the Church. I like the idea of randomness in outcome and story generation coming from a board, even if I’m not sure this one would work perfectly. Half of LARPing is generally getting you and character X in the “Quiet Corner” to discuss your secrets. It’d be kind of fun (and potentially infuriating) if you couldn’t control who you were talking to at any one moment. Definitely worth developing!
Forsooth is similar to lots of the entries in that it’s a guided improv session with some Shakespearian rules. People take on 1 or more characters, each with a level of narrative import. Like in many entries (again this is probably an indie trait I’ve only just stumbled on) one player sets the scene and this role passes clockwise. Unlike some others I reviewed, Forsooth resists the temptation of making complex rules of who can enter and when and how. It’s just “play the scene” – but it also provides some structure to that. It reminds you of how to not negate in improv, if you get stuck you can ask others for a Line, and the best actor in a scene can get an Applause chip.It also provides the important support of idea lists – random selections of character traits, scenes to choose from and messages to arrive, to keep the ideas churning.
If there is a conflict, highest narrative importance wins or the scene-setter breaks ties. If you want to guarantee killing somebody, you can do it once, with a soliloquy. If you want to negate something somebody else said about the plot, you can do it once, with an aside. Clever shakespearean names for clever rules that deal with the actual nature of improv play. Combined with the random events, this feels like a very good and very complete improv game. You could hand it to an improv troupe for a fun evening OR for a way to build a whole show around Shakespeare (not the only way, of course). Because it also has a “character sheet” with goals and numbers on it, it might even lure people from roleplaying into improv. It requires a lot from the players, but it provides a lot to help them in just a tiny word count.
For my money, Forsooth is the best of all I’ve read – it’s Shakespearean, it’s complete and it’s robust. Ultimately it does little beyond say “put a few characters in scenes and make them either marry or die by the end, now improv it” but it adds just enough to make that seem less daunting and a blank page without drowning it in unncessary complications. However, it does rely on its target audience being pretty well versed in improvisational technique, even if it still has a tiny resolution mechanic. Now this is fine because improv and roleplaying overlap a LOT – but it leaves a lot of the less-improvy types out in the cold. Sometimes, specific games risk losing general appeal.
Of course, not everyone is going to want to play a game of robot prostitutes, but one thing I tried to do with Daughters is allow it to accommodate a whole range of play styles. But more on that later…