This is the first time Forge Midwest has gone digital. While I have been doing online gaming since the beginning of the pandemic, this is only my second online convention. Despite some technical setbacks I was able to get in a solid weekend of gaming.
Fri AM: ACTION CASTLE/PUMPKIN TOWN
Finally, ACTION CASTLE as it was always meant to be played: over text. The “Parsley” series of games model 1980s text adventures, meant to be played as a group with a single GM figure. As a GM, the fun is in coming up with smart-ass responses to the prompts you’re given, and narrating death scenes, which I didn’t get to do often, but when I did, I did it with glee. As a player, you’re solving the puzzle, and also setting up smart-ass prompts to give the GM to work with. I’ve mostly ran this as a ‘filler’ game before, but it actually works much better in text. ACTION CASTLE is the first and easiest of the various Parsley games, and our players made it through in just over an hour. They did get to enjoy a brief jaunt into the PUMPKIN TOWN adventure, with a score of 4/13. The simplicity of this game was also nice because I was able to invite my friend Shari, who would not be able to attend the other events do to tech issues, but could come up with bad ideas over the phone with the best of them.
Fri Aft: Ganakagok
Ganakagok is the other other indie game to come out of the 2004 Game Chef competition (the more well known ones being Polaris and The Mountain Witch), and its about building a mythic story for the fictional Nitu people, who live on the island of Ganakagok, which is inspired by the history of the Inuit. Ganakagok involves a tarot card mechanism, of drawing a card and interpreting what it means for the situation, and this is included throughout the game, touching pretty much every aspect of the design. It’s very classic Forge style design, by which I mean narration rights being part of conflict resolution, abstract elements being given mechanical weight, a dice mechanic that has never really been done before, endgame mechanics. Playing it sort of feels like returning to that state of mind.
This was my first time running Ganakagok, and the thing I learned most is that it does not work online over roll20… like at all. I used a couple of clumsy workarounds to get everything to show up in roll20, but it was very clumsy, and Tim couldn’t get somethings to show up at all. Roll20’s poker chip implementation is a cludge, and using those for tokens in this is a cludge of a cludge.
We played through one full “round” of scenes, of each character getting a spotlight scene and a single conflict. Nanurjuk the defiant navigator piloted through a storm to scout out a new island for the Nitu to live on. Ssaborak the generous boat-maker did a long trek through a different storm, out pacing a pack of cannibal ghouls, to arrive back at the village to attend to his pregnant wife. Janaq the unlikable mystic helped deliver Ssaborak’s child into the world as dawn came, heralding a new age. By the guidelines in the book we should have gotten three or four full rounds through in this time, but the interface issues made everything take longer. This is a game I would really like to get a chance to play in person with fist fulls of tokens and moving the individual dice around… and also a game that could use a new edition with some streamlined game mechanics.
Fri Eve: 47 Hags
47 Hags is a playtest by Dave R, presented as a “lineage building game” about detailing and discovery the history of the 47 Hags. Each Hag is more powerful than the one before it, so the 47th Hag will be the one that destroys the world! 47 Hags inverts a lot of trope of Vampire: The Masquerade, which was delightful to explore (the most obvious one being the aforementioned power dynamic.)
For being the first version of the game, it was completely playable. Some of the mechanics were clunky, some of them felt off, and some were missing, but it mostly worked, which is amazing for such an early design; Dave has clearly put a lot of though into this. The tale of our lineage started with the “Boss-Hag,” (everyone has a Hag archetype, or Hagotype; since all the important people in the story are Hags, this makes it really easy to remember who is who), your typical “Karen” personality who had been turned into a Hag by the Tiger-Hag, a tiger mom who needed a supernatural minion to go after her supernatural minions that had gone rogue. Our cast also included the Law-Hag and the Order-Hag, the Luck-Hag, who was the most powerful being in existence for all of seven minutes before another Hag was created, and the super-weird magical polycule Threefold Hag. This was a lot of fun, though it had the struggle that many world-building games do, which is that the fun tends to be spaced out between the procedural bits. (This is true for all games, but in world building games in particular, the “play” portion is shrunk and the “procedure” bits are stretched.)
Sat AM: Swords Without Master
Andy H ran Swords Without Master, a swords and sorcery game. I had played this game before and struggled with it; Swords is about coming up with cool pulp narration. I was going to say ‘mostly’, but that’s really all there is to it, narrating these bits of prose. Sometimes the dice give you a setback, but mostly they just determine whether you narrate your details in a Jovial or Glum tone. When you’re in the mood to narrate a bunch of stuff, this can be a really fun game (as it was this morning.) We had a trio of badasses who probably just stepped out of a Frank Frazetta painting, who infiltrated a cult temple, killed an evil wizard during a magical avalanche, and did some other cool stuff. That’s Swords Without Master, essentially.
Sat Aft: Terraforming Mars, on Tabletop Simulator
Terraforming Mars is one of my favorite games, so satisfying to see your different income ratings push up higher and higher and accumulate more and more cubes, until late in the game you are slinging around fifty or sixty space dollars at a time. It is a super solid engine builder and I absolutely love it. I also didn’t sleep well at all the night before, so it was nice to play a shorter game and then get a nap in.
Sat PM: Forgotten Waters
Forgotten Waters is a board game with an online client, brought by Jim S. Its surprisingly not ideal for playing online, since the board state is not visible to everyone, but we managed a workaround on that. Everyone is a pirate; at each location there is a selection of actions to do and each person gets one to do, and there is a strict time limit in choosing actions. Usually its not an issue, but on a few spots hard choices were made and we lost some points. The game is cooperative but there are some strangely competitive elements, such as the turn order track and being able to steal items from your fellow pirates, which is very on theme for pirates but maybe a bad in a co-op game? The online client had the character sheets which we used, and set of different box-text passages.
Each player has a different pirate archetype, which comes with a madlibs style character backstory, and narrative boxes that are read out as the game progresses. I picked the Safety Pirate… safety is important on the high seas! After my first story milestone, I unlocked my signature item, the Reflective Vest!
This was a pretty fun game casual game about pirates. The weirdest part of the game is who exactly it is for; the colorful images seem themed for a family, but the story contents were a bit more violent that I would be comfortable with playing with kids. It’s not anything they won’t see in Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s a little different when its narrated that you’re the one running someone through with your sword. But its also so goofy that teens would probably find it lame. It also requires at least four players, which is not always easy, and has a long playtime.
Sun AM: JUNGLE ADVENTURE
Sunday morning I ran the second game in the Parsley saga, JUNGLE ADVENTURE, in which you crash land in the JUNGLE and have an ADVENTURE. This is a big step up in difficulty from ACTION CASTLE, but our players prevailed, with only one death and a solid score of 85/100. Whereas ACTION CASTLE is a typical entry into the text-adventure genre, with only a couple of points of bullshit logic, JUNGLE ADVENTURE seems to delight in the hoops it puts you through. Favorite part was at the beginning, when I told the players they couldn’t put on the backpack or exit the plane (you have to unbuckle your seat belt before doing either), and the excitement of the mad dash at the end to outrun the baddie that was chasing them, made all the more perilous by an added real time constraint.
Sun Aft: Lancer
Sabe ran Lancer, a 4E inspired game of giant robots fighting other giant robots. This was mostly a ‘demo’ with pregenerated mecha and a bunch of bad guys to fight. It was nice to get to flex one’s tactical muscles, and Lancer has enough choices to keep each turn interesting. On the downside sometimes I felt overwhelmed with options, and it did feel like it could drag a lot between turns. We used Roll20- apparently the game’s dedicated app, Comp/Con is much better- and there were some things that were a bit hard to use, like the bonus/penalty dice which didn’t quite seem to work. But blowing stuff up with giant robots is always fun.