Crazy Fun With Microscope, or Crow, Eagle and the Legacy of the Wurm

One of the key parts of RPGs and storygames is the interaction between diagesis – the story as it is told – and exegesis – the story that emerges from the telling. In most traditional narratives, the two are indistinguishable, but that changes as soon as you have achronological devices like time travel, retrospectives or flashbacks, or unreliable or non-omniscient narrators, or multiple viewpoint characters or countless other literary trickery. In most traditional RPGs (and most games, too), the two are close to indistinguishable, and certainly operate in parallel and simultaneously. And yet even there, as soon as we have the tellers and the avatars as separate concepts in the same body, there is an interesting friction between these things, where all sorts of fun metagaming issues reside. In recent times, more and more games have enjoyed playing with this friction in explicit and mechanical ways, but few in such an extreme way as Microscope.

Microscope’s name comes from the game’s ability to shift focus. The overarching goal is to produce a history perhaps millions or billions of years long, but players can zoom in on slices of that time to find key events, and then zoom even further to pure moments, of dialogue and interaction. For what is history but a series of moments?

But in writing up the game, I find myself in a quandary as the nature of the game is to record for posterity the exegetic narrative, the history created, but it is the experience of its telling, the diagetic creation, that has the most wonder, seeing how it formed so achronologically and so strangely. I will endeavour to give some sense of the diagesis first, so you can see the madness before the final creation, lest you think we somehow planned it or built it in logical stages. You might be tempted to think that because event B comes after event A that A caused B, but other times, knowing that B must happen, we would rather create an A that might be a due instigator. As the rules of Microscope say you cannot change the future, but the past is yet unwritten.

We began with a pitch: I envisioned a town in the USA in the modern day with a strange and chequered past, perhaps as violent and tragic as the city of Pawnee in Parks and Recreation, and definitely with as much strangeness and curious magic as the city of Night Vale from the eponymous podcast. I said that perhaps in modern day there might be touches of Wysteria from Desperate Housewives and Royston Vasey from the League of Gentlemen. I had also taken the liberty of providing the initial framework of the chronology, which is done by defining the first and last Periods (the largest unit of history) such that nothing can happen before or after. To leave our beginning blank, I’d labelled that “Ancient Aeons Ago”. To fix the end in a world of modern day US politics with a dash of satire and fear of the unknown, I dubbed the final Period “After Obamacare”.

Next we moved onto the Palette, an excellent naming advice useful for any shared creation: each player could add an element they would like to see in the history (but was not mandatory) or something they definitely did NOT want to see (and thus could never appear), to give us our palette of elements to work with. Our Yes list was: Family generations, Animism, Secrets and Dragons, and our No list was simply Lovecraft (too overused) and Parody (we wanted it to take itself seriously).

From here on in it becomes harder to tell this story because as I say, the end recording is of the exegesis. And if I tell you that story, from beginning to end, you’ll think I’m telling you the story of Eagle, Crow and the Green Dragon Legacy. Which was where we ended, but only at the very end did we know that. Although be the end of the first pass we did know that 1880 was the height of the Green Dragon’s Rule, and that at one point, ancient aeons ago, Animals Walked As Men. And then it got so much more strange, in the most wondrous sense of the word.

Chronologically in the diagesis, I can only list each of our Lenses, and the Legacies. Each round every player gets to add a Period, an Event in a Period or set up a Scene in an Event, but all of that stems from the Lens dictated by the head player (who also gets more additions), called a Focus. (Note: I have swapped the terms Lens and Focus here as they are written in the book because we liked to think of the Lens as being the lens through which we were viewing history, that made more sense on the day. And I encouraged everyone to think like historians.) After our first pass suggested the rulership of some over others, our first Lens was “Peasant Uprisings”. This cemented much about the noble families, so our second lens was “The Two Great Dynasties”. A throw-away comment in a scene in that round suggested we had robot automotons so our third lens was “The Robocracy of the Greater US”. Our last two Lensed brought us back to our theme, and the nature of Crow, with “Disruption Leads to Change” and “Towards the New Abyss We March”.

Legacies are determined by the player to the right of the Focus, and represent emerging themes, ideas, concepts, bloodlines, groups or aspects of history that are interesting and worth pursuing in the future – perhaps. The Legacy maker gets a scene about their Legacy (or another’s after the first) as well, to finish each round. Our Legacies were “The Preservation of Knowledge”, “The Ghost In the Machine”, “Knowledge versus its Application” and “Shadowy Badger At Work”.

And now: history – Periods in All Caps, Events within below, Scenes in brackets. Periods and Events are given Tones which determines roughly how they feel – but it’s up to interpretation.

ANCIENT AEONS AGO (Tone: Light)
– Animals Walked As Men (Dark) (in which Crow bargained with Thunderlizard so that Crow could make the Builders at the cost of Dodo)
– The Great Wyrm Rises From the Abyss (Dark)
– The First True Folk Are Formed To Till the Gardens of Paradise (Light)
– Eagle Pulls the Prophecy From the Abyss (Dark)

NOBLES HOARD THE SECRET OF FLIGHT (Dark)
– Invention and Production of Aerial Artillery Begins (Light)
– The Worm Vandykr Starts The Cult of the Knowledge Eater (Light)
– The Builders Turn to Worship of the Knowledge Waster (Dark)
– The Destruction of the Abyss Leads to War (Dark)

THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE BUILDERS (Light)
– Sparrow* creates the Chessmaster Armies from Abyss-Ash (Dark)
– The Difference Engine Defeats a Chess Grandmaster (Light)
– The Builders Sell Their Secrets to the World (Dark)
– Badger Teaches All The Animals How To Build Cities (Light)

*-was supposed to be Starling, but I got it wrong. It’s Sparrow now. In errattae veritas.

1680: THE HOUSE OF VAN DEKKER FOUNDS THE CITY BENEATH NO STAR (Dark)
– The Others Found the Great Library for the Common Man (Light)

THE RISE OF “UNCLE SAM” THE PRESIDENT MACHINE (Light)
– The First 100 Days (Dark) (In which reporters reveal Crow has meddled with Uncle Sam’s perfect programming to prevent war with the South, according, Crow says, to make the Prophecy become true)
– Uncle Sam Unveils the World Tree Broadcasting System (Light)

THE GOLD RUSH YEARS (Light)
– Wyrm and Raptor, the Two Bloodlines, Agree to Shimmer As Men (Light) (and in agreeing to do so, Mr Wyrm and his bankers bought control over the Pinkertons and the Town, much to the distress of Ms Starling)
– The Tutelage of the Green Dragon Begins (Light) (and Crow and the Green Dragon become enemies over whether information should be stored in books and studied forever to understand the prophecy, or if knowledge should be created by great men like Green Dragon)

1880: (THE PEAK OF) THE RULE OF GREEN DRAGON (Light)

– The Failed Rebellion of Crow (Dark)
– The Plague of a Thousand Hands (Dark) (which began when Crow took the Last Book from the Great Library to begin knowledge anew)

1913-1946: THE READING OF THE LAST BOOK (Dark)
– The Civil War Overthrows Green Dragon’s Control Of Midnight Meadows (Dark)

THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT COMES TO MIDNIGHT MEADOWS (Dark)

– The Council of 12 Bans Secrets, Ruling That All May Know The Truth (Light) (in which Widdershins Starling unleashes the Emancipation Virus, despite this revealing she was bald as a cueball)
– The World Tree Is Destroyed In A Nuclear Blast (Dark) (sneakily launched by Crow, when Uncle Sam is distracted by a wish to end his own reign, now he is a freebot)
– The Witchhunts Begin: Wyrms Blamed For Allowing Secrets of Nuclear Technology to Go Free (Dark)

RAPTORS SEIZE POWER IN AMERICA: ALL GLORY TO PRESIDENT EAGLE (Dark)

– The Prophecy, At Last, Is Fulfilled (Light)
– Crow is Imprisoned (Light)
– Badger Chooses The Worthy To Join Him (Dark)

AFTER OBAMACARE (Dark)

– Age of Obamacare begins when Hackers Release the Obamacare Virus – then Lose Control Of It (Dark)
– The Hacker Known As “CROW.BAR” Leaks the Town’s Secrets, Ending All Government (Dark)
– Leaving the World Behind, Crow Seeks His Destiny In the Abyss (Light)

That’s it as it stands. The write-up below is my interpretation of it.

This is the story of Eagle, Crow and the Legacy of the Wurm. But it is also the history of the town of Midnight Meadows, the rise and fall of the great United Robotic States of America around that town and the wars that shook it, and indeed, the history of the whole world

Ancient aeons ago, there were animals as there are now, but they walked and spoke like men. And since they had arisen from the Abyss, they had known only two things: The Hunger, which the Abyss had taught them, and the Food, where they were forced to feed upon each other to quell the terrible Hunger. But then one day, Crow – clever, dangerous Crow – called a meeting with an idea. Present was foolish Dodo, terrible great Thunderlizard, cranky, shadowy Badger, wise Eagle and as always, the ever present voice of the Abyss itself.  Crow told those assembled that he had a plan, an idea to end the Hunger: to build a thing he called his First Children, who would make a great Garden of Paradise, and from it draw forth endless Food so there would be no hunger. Eagle feared change and warned against it – as always. Dodo said he longed for Food for without he and his wife could never have an egg. Badger wondered where the tea was, if it ever had been. They argued, but the Abyss warned that it knew all fates, forward and back, and that if Crow’s idea happened, one of those present would not live to see it finished, and would descend again into the Abyss. Crow knew this, knowing it would be the price of the others’ agreement – especially when Thunderlizard, as always, cared only for bargains. Roaring loudly he told Crow he may proceed with his project backed by Thunderlizard if, when Crow condemned one to the Abyss, Crow would help Thunderlizard bring one back. Crow made the compact. Quick as a flash, Thunderlizard snatched Dodo and threw him into the Abyss. True to his bargain, Crow designed his Children, and they tilled the fields and ended the Hunger.

True to his word also, Crow helped Thunderlizard free the great Wurm from the Abyss. Wurm was the last of creatures, whom the Abyss had kept from the earth because of Wurm’s great pride and vision – and hunger. Wurm was like an Abyss made flesh, and although Crow’s children produced food for all, the Wurm’s hunger continued and led him to feast upon all the creatures of the earth. Fearing the world’s destruction, and knowing of the Abyss’ great wisdom and foresight, Eagle did what no creature has ever done before or since: he descended into the Abyss and rose again from within. And in his beak he carried the Prophecy, ripped from the walls of the Abyss itself. And that is the day the laws began and time began to pass.

The Children – now known as Builders – and the Animals were so amazed by Eagle they sought to make him their king or god, and Eagle was raised up as a noble. Of course Dragon’s fearsome power and appetite had already caused many to worship it likewise. So it was that there began a great rivalry between the two great dynasties – Raptor and Dragon. But because Eagle had descended into the Abyss, he was immortal, so although Dragon passed his lineage down through countless children, Eagle’s children always gained the wisdom of him in person.

At this point, only Raptors and Dragons could fly, and intent on keeping their power equal to each other (and over the others), the noble bloodlines hoarded the power of flight and left all other animals on the ground. Thus Raptor and Dragon soon came to be prideful and arrogant. The solution came from the Builders who created the first aerial artillery allowing the common folk to threaten the noble houses. To keep the peace with the common folk and lore-loving Raptors, an olive branch was extended when the great wurm Vandykr formed the church of the Knowledge Eater, the cult that understood truth should be written down, like the great prophecy. However, as is so often the way with faiths, there was soon a counter-faith that rejected the Knowledge Eater. Most of this cult were Builders who felt the Prophecy and things like it were dangerous because they inhibited development. It was enough to invent new things, and then copy or improve those things. Kept knowledge – trapped knowledge, unused knowledge – was madness that could only hurt progress. Crow, we suspect, sided with the Builders in their love of the Waster and brought many to its fold, even Raptors that had once marveled at Eagle’s rescued prophecy. Eventually, the Wasters were so afraid of a second prophecy they destroyed the Abyss itself, an act that led to a terrible religious war.

But from the flames of war came a better age – or at least a stabler, more egalitarian one. The Builders blamed Dragon and Eagle for the division and war, so threw down the animal races and set up their rule. In this time technology was granted to all – although it meant many animals found themselves in lower positions, or cast out because of their faiths. Sparrow and some rogue Builders built the Chessmaster Armies with Builder tech and sought to destroy the Builder Equanimity, and it seemed like they would until the first Difference Engine was created – a Builder-built machine that could think and build as good as any Builder, and able to out think and out manoeuvre the terrible Chess Grandmasters. Content that they were no longer needed, the Builders became indolent and corrupt, selling the secrets of their designs to the whole world. Not all of Crow’s First People had been Builders, and they now covered the world, and with all the Builder technology they came to dominate it in massive numbers. The animals, used to depending on the Builders without money, were once again bereft. And if it hadn’t been for Badger teaching them how to build cities, they might have vanished from the earth altogether at that point.

Europe descended into a world of war, as men fought men over their religious schism using the Builder’s terrible weapons, and men fought animals out of general xenophobia. In the face of such strife, many looked to leave and found new cities across the sea. So it was that the foreign settlement of what would one day become the United States began when the worm Van Dekker and his house build the City of No Star. The name came from the lack of any constellations anywhere above the town which the wurm took as a good omen, knowing that it would prevent prognostication and prophecy – things, like writing, that were forbidden in the City. But the new land would soon incur the same troubles as the old as Biblioids fled the religious pogroms of the Knowledge Wasters and formed the Great Library also on that far continent, a shining monument to free knowledge for all.

Soon the land was full of men, and the two great houses of Raptor and Wurm came to dominate also in this far land. The City of No Star changed its name to Midnight Meadows as it expanded, and became the capital. The nation was split by political strife as the South which held the Great Library fought with the north which believed in the destruction of Knowledge. Eventually, the Builders presented a solution: a perfect robot creation in the shape of Eagle and programmed to do exactly what it was elected to do – or so they claimed. We know now that even before the election was over, Crow had sabotaged – or edited, as his supporters claimed – the programming of the bot, to follow Crow’s will and bring about the prophecy – and, no doubt, save the Library from destruction. Even with the execution of several reporters this scandal eventually broke destroying the Robot Uncle Sam’s credibility in his early days. As an olive branch he announced a great plan to convert the Library into spoken knowledge, expounded through the World Tree, his thousand-mile-high broadcasting system. Thus the knowledge would be transient, emancipated from books, but not destroyed. Although of course once a book was spoken it would be destroyed forever. It was not a system which the South would tolerate, but before war could break out, the Gold Rush arrived.

It was in this time that modern America began to be forged. Fearing that a time of beasts was done, Wurm and Raptor signed a great pact in Midnight Meadows that they would Shimmer as men from now on. However, the Raptor family (then under the head of Mrs Aguila Starling) that dragon magic still works when shimmering, allowing the wurms to easily control all the gold, a fortune they used to take control of the Pinkertons and from there much of the entire architecture of the United States Government. Green Dragon was born at this time, and he and his tiny cousin White Dragon were the last dragons to appear in their true form, hence they were known by their appearance. Green Dragon would be perhaps the greatest of all the Dragon line, deciding as a young man that he truly believed in the Knowledge Waster, that knowledge kept was knowledge of no purpose. He believed knowledge could only be made through great action by great men like himself, and hammered the point home by marrying Crow’s wife, Amelia Starling. By 1880, Green Dragon was the power behind the Presidency and working to destroy all knowledge in the United Robotic States. Crow tried valiantly to launch a rebellion with the biblioids but it was doomed to fail. Even the last High Librarian was killed, in the ashes of the Great Library, due to the treachery of the Rat Catcher, Dragon’s spy. Crow took the last book and fled. Desperate to save the last book, Crow visited upon the people the Plague of a Thousand Hands, forcing people to copy the book out again and again, but this too was doomed to fail. Eventually the last book was captured and destroyed, being slowly read out over the World Tree.

With Crow’s rebellions leading to the destruction of all books so quickly, the Southern Compromise no longer could stand, and the Civil War broke out between the States. Uncle Sam blamed Green Dragon for this outcome, and worked to remove his control over the capital and the country. A new government body was installed called the Council of Twelve to advise Uncle Sam. Meanwhile, the war led to much greater outcomes, as it soon became to turn on the issue of Roborepresentation. The head and driving force of the movement was the plucky young Widdershins Starling, who believed that all robots should be free, and was willing to break the Rule of Silence to make it so. (With all knowledge now solely oral, secrets were closely guarded, including the Emancipation Virus, a secret which would give all robots free will.) Ms Widdershins campaigned vigorously on the Council of Twelve to end all secrets, quelling the fears her opponents raised that the robots would rise up and destroy the country. To prove to the Council she could bear any secrets to be told she revealed to them that she was born bald and since then, social justice campaigners have typically shaved their heads in her honour. Such a bold gesture convinced the Council, and the Virus was released.

It has no greater effect than that on Uncle Sam, who, now gifted with free will decided he wished to step down from his weighty office, especially as the Civil War grew into a threat of nuclear armageddon. How could he, one man, decide the fate of millions by launching a nuclear strike? How could anyone? He begged Green Dragon to advise him, begged his Chief of Staff to take over for him, or even asked the man with his hand on the button to decide. A great philosophical debate about action began, while Crow pressed the button. The World Tree burned in the attack, and thus began the fulfillment of the prophecy. The country blamed Green Dragon for the war and its grisly outcome and for causing the nuclear arms race with their emphasis on knowledge application and building. So it was that wurms were hunted down (regardless of Shimmer) in a giant wych-hunt. Into the vacuum left by the departing President and the destruction of the other great dynasty came the return of the Raptors. Eagle himself took the throne, and taking revenge upon wurmkind for disposing his bloodline with an age of brutal paranoia and oppression. Crow explained to Eagle that this was the prophecy coming true, that it was written that Eagle would return Wurm to the Abyss where he belonged. Eagle had Crow imprisoned for daring to suggest that Crow had planned this all along. But Crow’s – and Badger’s – plans could not be so easily stopped. Badger had already dug the second Abyss, and echoed the division of the nation as he chose which animals would join him in returning to it.

Under the dark cyberrule of the Raptors, political rebellion happened online, most notably when hackers threatened the reign of President Eagle with the release of the Obamacare Virus, designed to give health care to all, even wurms and non-raptors. But they lost control of it and it evolved to grant health to humans – and death to animals. It was then that the hacker nicknamed “Crow.bar” revealed that that too was his plan, and released all the remaining secrets of Midnight Meadows. When people realized that almost all politics had been manipulated by Crow to fufill the prophecy at the appointed time (and the other parts were just Raptor and Wurm fighting), they abandoned the concept of the state and formed anarcho-syndicalist self-governing micro-societies. With no more nobles, and no more robots in charge, and with the animals now descending into the new Abyss and the religions of Wurm vanished, Crow saw his work was done, his creation of humanity was truly free, and he flew into the Abyss to seek his next destiny. Eagle sat alone and immortal on a throne that had no subjects and never would again.

And White Dragon, being bored, chased his tail in the corner, as he was wont to do.

Microscope and its expansion can be obtained here. But your mileage may vary, we had some really creative people on this.

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Go Play Con: The Mini-Con Ascendant?

For those not stalking me, I’ve recently moved to Sydney, a thousand or so kilometers from my erstwhile home of Brisbane which is, as I’ve remarked often, the most gamingest city on the planet. When I had a chance to return for a friend’s wedding I almost didn’t stay the extra few days to coincide with our biannual convention, Go Play Brisbane, but I’m very glad I did because it works really well. In fact, it’s consistently the best convention I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to conventions all over the world. Well, it ranks with Gen Con Indy and DragonCon, anyway. In the top three, in other words.

I could do a listicle about why but that would imply they are things other cons can learn from and that’s not really the case. For example, it’s wonderful that GPB is free because it means there’s so many things we don’t have to organize and you never have to worry about giving value for money. But it’s free because it’s small which allows us to use free venues. Door prices put pressure on attendees and organizers alike but they exist for a very valid reason: stuff costs money. Smallness also means organizing it is much simpler and easier so it’s less of a chore and more a labour of love, which keeps everyone going and reduces burn-out. And that’s kept us in the hands of some amazing people who’ve made it sing. And they in turn have attracted some amazing people to run games and support it. So let’s do some goddamn shout outs to those people also:gp7

The Loot Room came out and offered free board games for drop ins! I tried to do that a few times but these guys have waaay more stuff and can write it off as a work expense and frees me up to do MESSAGE stuff. They have a new game cafe in Beenleigh which is wonderful and the second in Brisbane (depending on how you count). They also provided prizes for the MESSAGE which is so lovely.

gp1

Another company promoting stuff but also playtesting was Jack Ford Morgan with Starblammo (left). This RPG-cum-card game is GMless and involves developing characters, space ships, galaxies and stories by the drawing of cards and rolling dice. In thgp2e afternoon I played a similarly-GMless, build as you go game of chronology called Microscope which we’ll talk about in a full write-up in the next post. Microscope (right) is very rules light and as such is a game that depends heavily on the creativity of the players. Luckily Go Play keeps attracting really creative, amazing people who are keen to experiment with new and exciting things (while also having plenty of old classics like D&D, Feng Shui and Fate).

And speaking of experimental, my morning session was Jack McNamee’s Mystery Solving Teens (below). This was an actual game, where we had twenty turns to solve a mystery using our own player abilities, something that, as a fan of the reader-solve mystery genre, I adore. Added to the mix was the fact that Jack had constructed a massive three dimensional town entirely out of cardboard, and the clues were hidden amongst, under or inside these structures. The 3D reality of the town immersed us in the game while the sifting through clues as we actually would submersed us. This was also a first playtest which is to say it will only get better. I don’t know if it could ever be sold but it’s not always about markets. It’s about coming together and sharing experiences. Which we can do in our houses but we can do in differentt and larger ways at cons. gp3

And that’s what good cons are about, and that’s what Go Play has always delivered. People say over and over again that they’ve never had a bad experience at GPB, and never even had a bad game. Maybe it’s because we keep pulling the same people over and over again, and there’s too few of us to suck. Maybe big cons can’t do that. On the other hand, maybe if we ran smaller and smaller cons, this could be reproducible elsewhere. Maybe there’s room for a third tier of gaming between the massive hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands of people cons, and playing in your basement. Maybe the time of the mini-con is ascendant. It’s like a game cafe, but with social mixing, which is what I feel too many cafes lack. And fair enough, some times you just want to go hang out with your friends. And sometimes you want to do something bigger, more cross-pollinated, with afficianados – but not thousands of them. The mini-con. Is it a thing? Let’s find out.

The Hard Six Problem in Gaming

Tennis is ruled by the Rule of Three and Five, which states that whenever you try to organize a game of tennis, you will inevitably have three or five people, ie the wrong number. American Doubles (2 vs 3) was invented to try and fix this problem but it’s one of those solutions that instead of solving anything just highlights how prevalent the problem is.

Whist, Bridge, 500 and other four-player card games have the same issue, and similar poor fixes. 3-handed and 5-handed 500 are terrible alternatives. Luckily, there are whole genres of 3 player games using a standard card deck (“solo” games, they are called), and alternatives for 5, too. Board games are much alike. If aliens found nothing of our culture but our board games (or their outside boxes) they would rapidly conclude we gathered in groups of 2-4 players. 2 CAN be problematic but whole genres and classic games exist for such times (the oldest games like draughts, chess, backgammon, go and mahjong are all 2 player). 5 too can be problematic but there are enough entries in that field to keep things going.

And by the time you get to 7, you engage the party game space. 7 is enough so team size difference no longer matters (4 vs 3 works much better than 2 vs 3), and is enough for their to be a good rabble of shouting. 3 people feels like a team, not a partnership. 7 is also enough to split into two games of 3 and 4 without feeling like two people have to play the less attractive 2 player game. 7 is enough for Arkham Horror to feel epic. 7 is enough so even though you probably don’t talk to the other people at the other end of the table, they have enough people to talk to on their own. 7 is a party game, 5 is a board game.

Which means whenever you get people together to play board games you will inevitably have six people. This is the rule of Hard Six.

I’ve spent the last few years gaming every two weeks and the number of times we have hit the Hard Six goes beyond the realms of statistical likelihood and into the suggestion of a cruel and malicious universe. I have moved between cities and states and countries and this issue follows me everywhere. I have, over the years, bought several games precisely because they go to six (and I hit 5 often enough to not buy most euros). Betrayal at House on the Hill, Seven Wonders and recently Colt Express, were all bought because they allow 6 easily without the game suffering, and they get played the most because they work like this. Shadowrift and Yggdrasil and Arabian Nights are also on my shelf not least because they allow six. We even play History of the World more than Clash of Cultures because the former allows 6. I’ve made my own rules adjustments and player materials for Dead of Winter to allow 6 (and for things like Suburbia to allow 5) and will always pick up the extra-player expansions for games that tap out at 4 or 5. I’m also the guy who will offer to “GM” the game for 5.

The Rule of Hard Six is not necessarily a flaw in game design; it is dealing with social and mechanical constraints that are difficult to work around. Human beings have limited abilities to communicate. We run out of social energy around about five other people. We can watch about four things before we run into multi-task issues. It’s difficult to build an engine that allows six players to interact, compete and share mechanical and social space in an equal and interesting way; soon enough somebody will get excluded, or lost in the shuffle, or it will turn into a race. And heck, we run into this limit in racing anyway – there’s a reason most track events only host 8 people – our brains just tap out at that point.

And maybe I’m the only person who runs into the Hard Six. I know many couples or buddies who run into the 2-player doldrums (and me and my gamer buddy do, and I need to marry someone who will fix this, ladies, call me) but I don’t see a lot of people complaining about the Hard Six. Maybe I am under a dark curse to always have five other players. Maybe I have too many friends. Maybe there’s a genre of gaming I don’t know about. Maybe all the Germans are laughing at me because they have 2.1 children or have the lovely couple next door over. Maybe personal devices will help by keeping the sixth person occupied. Maybe we need to get better at dealing with the still somewhat taboo idea of splitting the group up for two separate games. Maybe we should not have rooms with one big gaming table but two smaller tables, as with the old days of Bridge.

Let me know if you run into the Hard Six issue so I know I’m not alone, or what solutions you’ve found to deal with it. Or let me know I’m crazy. Or if you know anything about the dark curse.