26 June, 2016

A Game or a Toolkit?

I've come to the conclusion that my "Familiar" game is actually more of a toolkit for facilitating play. I'm using it to provide a set of tools that can be modified theough the course of play to produce a range of play experiences that are customised by the GM and players to best suit the stories they are trying to tell.

From this perspective, a game would be a fully packaged and prewritten set of rules with a specific setting designed to tell a specific type of story regardless of what the players want.

Some players love the idea of tightly focused sets of rules that each tell distinctly different types of stories. Such players really try to get into the designer's head to understand the types of stories that the designer is attempting to relate. Other players look at a set of tight rules and if it tells a story they're uncomfortable with, don't like, or simply can't comprehend...they either butcher the game completely or ignore it. Tight games are deliberately limited in their scope, they produce a specific type of story, where the players are bounded by conventions, rules, or other features of the game, the creativity comes from working within those tight boundaries to produce something special but inherently linked to the core premise of the game. These sorts of tight games were all the rage in indie circles a decade ago.

While I appreciate some tight games, I find that they often don't quite live up to their claims. This might be due to the designer not fully explaining their intentions, or maybe I'm just not getting it... or it could just be bad design. Either way, there's a communication breakdown. Of course there's always the idea of games that don't claim to produce a specific experience, where different groups claim to get different things from the game, and each claims the others are "playing it wrong".

Wide games on the other hand aren't as tightly focused, by their very nature, and this saw them looked down upon by the Forge community and a lot of indie groups a decade ago. They meander between concepts, they often sacrifice doing one thing really well in exchange for getting a few things to work in a mediocre manner. If you don't know where you want things to go, or what atmosphere you want the game to have, a wider game might be more appropriate, because a deviating from the path on a narrow game leads to a complete shambles, while deviating from the path in a wide game allows for a play experience still within the set boundaries of the game.

A toolkit provides a more meta experience, allowing players and GM to define their own tight game within a wider context. I'm kind of happy with this as a framework for "Familiar". It's a game about defining reality through magical creatures who use awakened mages to their advantage, so it completely makes sense that the players in the game would define the rules of play as they proceed through the game. This doesn't make it a game for everyone, but I really don't care. I've been producing some play aids that help participants get into the action quicker (through a series of pre-defined spells and other actions that characters might take), but the aim of producing a game that moulds itself to the play style of the participants is more important to me than creating a specifically defined narrow game that actively prevents certain types of story emerging.

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