Monday, March 14, 2016

What we talk about while sinking into the ocean

In my endless quest for a quirky little role-playing games, the next game that I stumbled across is Until We Sink by Magnus Jakobsson. While I stumbled across it while looking at Nordic LARP, it's really more of a tabletop game then a LARP. Even though you are role-playing people sitting around the table talking.

Until We Sink also fits into another category that I am fascinated by, games without game masters. There is no GM, everyone is a character in the story that unfolds.

In Until W Sink, everyone is a guest or a local on a tiny little resort island in the Pacific. In fact, there's no one else on the island. At the beginning of the game, the one person who isn't one of the players is found dead. And, as the title implies, the game ends with the island sinks into the ocean. But don't worry, everyone is going to get off the island alive. Maybe not emotionally healthy but definitely alive.

While the game is almost entirely narratively driven, there are some mechanics to provide structure for the story that you will be living out. Trust me, I have seen longer games with even less mechanics then this one.

At the start of the game, everyone draws a card that gives them a rough idea of who they are playing but they get to fill in all of the details. What your character is really like in what part they will have in the unfolding drama is something that you have to discover for yourself.

The game depicts five to seven days on the island, which is going to turn out to be the last five to seven days in the island's existence in fact. Every turn covers another day and consists of everyone sitting around the table talking about what happened that day.

You have an event deck, a good chunk of which won't get used in any given game. Every turn, a new event gets drawn. It describes something mysterious that happened on the island that day, ranging from someone's underwear getting stolen to animal mutilation or attempted murder.

The events add a little bit of focus to your discussion and you have to resolve or explain them all by the end of the game. However, there's nothing that says they have to be the real focus of the game. You have the freedom to discuss what ever you feel like in character.

The story could turn out to be a murder mystery or a psychological thriller or a supernatural horror story or a domestic comedy or a slice of life. You and the other players will figure out what kind of story you want to tell.

The only real restriction, and this is one that is common in improvisation, is you shouldn't say no or deny. If someone says that they saw your character do something, you don't say no. You incorporate what they saw into your story.

Until We Sink exists in a curious hinterlands between being a tabletop RPG and a LARP. You spend the entire game sitting at the table and the cards on the table create a framework for the game, even getting marked off with tokens when you resolve them. BUT all the characters you are playing are doing the exact thing you are, sitting around the table.

I guess if you played Baron Muchaussen at a bar (which I have), that might count as a LARP too :D

Until We Sink feels like a very accessible and 'safe' way to try out the Nordic school. Not only is it not necessarily a LARP, it can be as mild or intense as you want it to be. Some Nordic games, the Pebble comes to mind, are designed to be very  emotionally intense. Until We Sink is a lot more safe.

There are a lot of games in the Nordic school that I personally wouldn't play. Until We Sink, though, is one that I would.

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