Seriously, romance can be either uncomfortable or completely unnecessary for someone to play. Do you really want to play a game about developing a romance with a power gamer who insists on always playing a ninja or an elf in every game, even when it's Bunnies and Burrows? Can I see a show of hands for everyone who wants to do that?
(One, two, three, four... I didn't think I had that many readers. Okay, maybe I'm the exception to the rule.)
And I have to admit, I have seen a number of two-player specific role playing games out there. So there is an audience out there. So, since I'm looking at two-a player games, I figure I should take a peek at the genre.
Breaking the Ice is one of the more respected games in the genre, at least as near as I can tell. Mind you, I may have just set myself up to read the rest of Emily Care Boss's Romance trilogy :D
Breaking the Ice has you create two characters and then explore how their first three dates go, including seeing if there would be any more dates after that or if they should have called it quits after the second date.
Boss does two things with the game that really struck me.
First of all, she frames the game in terms of a movie, using many movie examples and using the movie rating system to help players understand the structure of the game. This is great because it absolutely gives the players a context to understand the story they're creating. And, since this can be a touchy and uncomfortable subject matter, but also creates some comforting distance.
I'll freely admit that Boss won some points with me by making several references to Bringing Up Baby. Not only did it help define the romantic comedy as a genre and is a great movie besides, I'm a cat lover. Who doesn't want to babysit a leopard?
Second, Boss is extremely adamant about defining limits. In order for both people to have fun, people have to either define what the comfort levels are or how far outside of their comfort levels that willing to go. If both parties want a NC – 17 movie with graphic sex and possibly even graphic violence, that's fine. But both parties have to be willing to go for that.
Honestly, this feels like a reoccurring trait in Boss's work, making sure that everyone feel safe with in the game. And, frankly, I think that's a very important thing to establish.
For me at least, the most interesting part of Breaking the Ice is the character creation.
It starts with the switch. The players define one or two things that are different about each other. Could be gender, age, orientation, ethnicity, etc. You then make the characters different in that way. THEN, you switch! You play the character who is opposite you.
It's a super clever way of mixing things up and making that change meaningful.
Each player picks their character's favorite color. The two players take turns developing word association chains for each color. They then build the characters personalities and lives out of those words, using as much flexibility as they need to keep it fun and interesting.
After that, the dates consist of the players taking turns actively describing the setting and action while the other player responds and awards dice for good choices and complications. Each date consists of four to six scenes. At the end of each scene, the active player rolls dice to see if they can heighten attraction and compatibility.
You earn dice through attractive ratings and compatibility ratings (which, of course, you have to build through earlier dice rolls) but also through bonus dice you get from the other player and compilation dice by throwing in plot twists. At least in the early turns, bonus dice and conflict dice will be most of your pool.
After the third date, you check out what the attraction and compatibility levels are and figure out what the long term chances are for this relationship.
Every role playing game can live and die depending on the people playing it. In the case of Breaking the Ice that seems stronger than most. On the one hand, both players have to be willing to give the relationship a chance. On the other hand, if folks are too quick to give bonus dice or make the conflicts too light, you won't have an interesting story.
Conflict dice are a big enough deal (potentially half your initial dice pool!) that you have to generate conflicts but I really wish there was more mechanics to throw in screwball curves. Fiasco, for instance, has light dice and dark dice, to determine the degree of failure and success.
Breaking the Ice, in all honestly, isn't a game that really interests me but that's just because this isn't a niche I'm into. On the other hand, if I was going to play a game where I was reenacting a screwball romantic comedy, Breaking the Ice does seem like to would do a great job at that.