Monday, December 19, 2016

The Black Spot, a game for emergencies

The Black Spot is a very simple story-telling RPG that fills a couple of interesting slots in one's bag of tricks. It'll play a larger group, up to eight players; has almost no prep time; and will play out fairly quickly. It's not an amazing game, to be perfectly honest, but it is something that can be pulled out without a problem in a pinch.

I had assumed, from the title, that it was pirate-themed since the Black Spot is a reference Treasure Island. The rules even confirm that. However, it is actually a game of cinematic horror. 

The Black Spot is a GM-free system, which is no surprise since it is a storytelling game with minimal prep. However, it has a tighter, less free-form framework compared to a lot of storytelling games. 

The game is driven by a deck of special cards. You'll have to make the deck yourself, which could be a make or break issue for some folks. Personally, since print and play is one of my hobbies, that doesn't bother me.

After creating characters, who are made up of just a first name, an adjective and a profession (like Billy the Nervous Detective) and choosing a story concept (the game comes with some but, hey, horror movie. Not hard to make one yourself), you take turns being the dealer and dealing out one card to each player.

The cards, for the most part, consist of types of scenes and a sentence that you have to use in that scene. Depending on the structure you choose, you have 15 seconds to as much time as you want to use a scene. Go around the table with everyone playing their card and then the dealer moves and a new round of cards is dealt.

The Black Spot cards suspend regular play and create a more free-form scene where everyone has to interact with whatever the antagonist is.

The game wraps up when either everyone is dead or escaped or you've run the deck out. Honestly, even with no time limit per turn, I doubt a game would last more than a couple of hours.

The strengths and the weaknesses of the Black Spot are pretty closely linked together. On the one hand, it is a dead easy pick up and play a game. The longest part of set up is creating the deck, since you have to front load it with backstory cards and bottom load it with escape cards. You can get a game going with a larger
group of players in about five minutes.

On the other hand, it's going to create a fairly shallow story. A lot of the choices that you make will be influenced by the cards, particularly since you have to fit the sentence on the scene card into your scene. That does make it easier for folks who are not used to storytelling games but it is a big limiting factor and, if you were to play the game a lot, it could get repetitive.

And, frankly, there are a lot of games out there about horror. The annoyingly out-of-print Final Girl has a similar ensemble style but I think that it does it much better. Just as one example. If I had time in the planned group, I would probably pick another game then the Black Spot.

However, the Black Spot only takes up a deck of cards worth of space in the game bag. It works perfectly well as an emergency RPG that only takes five minutes to teach and set up. And it's structure makes it perfect to play with strangers or folks who are used to storytelling RPG's.

The Black Spot isn't a game I'd pick for planned play or my usual group of narrative players. But I'm going to make that deck in case of emergencies. :D

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