15 July, 2015

Game Chef Review 54: Stay, Still by Heather Silsbee

Stay, Still

Ingredients: 9 [Stillness (4), Abandon (4), +1 Bonus for 'Dream']
Great and unexpected use of the elements 'Stillness' and 'Abandon', most of the other games that have used stillness have focused on deep space shutdowns or incidents, or have combined them with dream to create a hypersleep/stasis environment. Here the stillness is incorporated as a mechanical element where the group's leader/GM can pull someone into line if they become too dominant. The 'Abandon' element is one of the outcomes of the game. Dream is a loose application of the ingredient, but it's present.

Theme: 3
This game fits into a specific niche of existing gaming, and I can't really see how it addresses a different audience. The claims of addressing an audience dissatisfied by existing media narratives doesn't particularly hold water for me, since most gamers like to tell their own stories to explore narratives in genres they know. Still, that gives it a couple of extra points.

Would I Play This?: 3
I'm not goimg to fall into the trap of saying that this isn't a game, I'll just say that in my experience this sort of document is a toolkit to facilitate a certain specific experience, and that's a delicate experience that requires the right kind of players and GM to work adequately. Too often I've seen games like this fall flat. There are procedures written into the text here to prompt players when things might fall flat, but I'd be more interested in incorporating these elements into a more robust system than let them stand on their own.

Completeness: 6
One of the fundamental issues I have with this style of game is that it is inherently incomplete. Gaps are deliberately left for groups to fill in and flesh out. I've already made my opinion felt in other reviews that I consider this to be an excuse for lazy design, where the designer is just passing on an incomplete concept. This particular game isn't that bad. It gives ideas for how to fill in the gaps, and a group of experienced gamers could convert the mechanisms here into a fully functional play experience.

Innovation: 4
I toyed with a lot of the ideas in this game when I was trying to modify my white whale post apocalyptic game "Walkabout". The idea of placing tokens in a jar (or removing them) to determine narrative outcome, was something I'd seen in a few places before. One of the flaws I see in this variant of the theme is that the outcome is reliant wholly on the number of tokens, and everyone can see who is putting their tokens where. There is an implied tension that is completely defused by the fact that everyone can see what is going on. I'd give everyone a series of black tokens and white tokens, then have everyone put a token, in each container (white indicating that they agree with this, and black indicating that they don't)...the container with the most white tokens in the end gets the communal outcome. Maybe even give everyone black tokens and a unique colour. This way when the final outcome is revealed, we know who has voted where, and who the leader will need to keep an eye on if the rebellion fails (or conversely who the potential leaders of the new group are if it succeeds). It's not much of a change, but it adds a whole lot more depth to the end game.

I'd also consider the option of having players cross out choices when defining the leader, building up that character by eliminating the kinds of leader the individuals wouldn't follow. Again, it's a subtle difference, but reflects a very different style of story.

Output Quality: 4 [Language (3), Layout (1), Imagery (0)]
The language is appropriately instructive and informative. The layout is sub optimal, even if it does provide cards and a questionnaire to determine the Leader. Imagery, not applicable.

Overall: 56% [27+6+3+12+4+4]
There are clever things in this game, but nothing overly innovative or stand out about it. It squarely fits into the genre of "half-baked, so let's call it freeform and make it sound edgy" school of design. It's the kind of thing the gaming hipster kids are fawning over, so it's hardly surprising that at least one game from this niche might find itself in the finalists...but like I said in other games of the same general ilk, I get a bit of an "Emperor's New Clothes" vibe. On the positive side, this game has given enough pointers in it's vagueness to actually facilitate a game. So unlike most games of this type in this years competition, at least it scores a pass.
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