CleaverCon 2008


This past weekend Kat and I traveled south of the Mason-Dixon for a little get-together called Cleavercon. Dave Cleaver’s birthday is coming up, so he threw himself a game day. It was a good day, and I like the gameday/birthday party idea. Hmmm, I have a birthday coming up in the fall…

After a late start and judicious use of the accelerator to get there by 8:00 AM, the day started off with a game of Mist-Robed Gate. I was looking forward to seeing the knife ritual in action, but not having seen many kung fu movies, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep up. I need not have worried. We sketched out a noble family and some household servants. The family was split between those who sought success through warfare and those who wanted success through diplomacy and commerce. We had an excellent (if perhaps a bit larger than optimal) group.

I played the eldest son, a true golden boy who led the diplomatic faction. My color was gold, my weather was light, and my quirk was money. I was also secretly in love w/ my brother’s wife (Rob’s character). This plotline did not get played up as much as I might have liked, unfortunately.

Kat played the concubine who had been sent by the emperor to spy on the house. She very much wanted to marry me, but the knife ritual kept her from saying it outright.

Phil Walton played the old kung fu master who knew all the house’s secrets. He lost several wireworks conflicts and ended up spilling his secrets all over the place.

Dave played a loyal servant who was a dwarf. He was also, unbeknownst to anyone but the kung fu master, my elder brother! He was eventually framed for the murder of my catatonic father, came within an inch of murdering Rob’s character, and eventually took his rightful place as head of the household upon my foul murder by Rob’s character.

Rachel Walton played a rebellious servant posing as a distant noblewoman vying for my hand. She was in nearly every scene, but took part in conflict only at the very end, to determine who Dave’s character married.

Rob Bohl played the wife of my younger brother, a schemer of a woman devoted to success by conquest. Rob murdered me in the bathing chamber in the penultimate scene, shocking me to death by revealing my brother’s identity.

The knife ritual is the centerpiece of the game, acting as a more streamlined and visceral version of Polaris’ ritual phrases. The constraints on what could be said at what times drove play nicely toward that slightly-inscrutible, vaguely passive-aggressive dialogue that fills much Eastern cinema. The threat of death if you ask too much keeps things tense. Also noteworthy is the need to mentally map where the other players’ desires will fall in relation to your own and your opponent’s before declaring what you want out of wirework conflict. You see, it is the votes of the non-participating players that give an edge to one side or the other. The voting mechanic reminds me of Kat’s game War Stories. It opens up a plethora of unspoken social relations at the table.

Incidentally, after each wirework, we emptied the voting bag to see which side had the advantage, and who voted for whom. I think possibly throwing all chips into the bag before emptying it might be a better way to achieve a secret ballot.

After a lunch break, a few hands of HexHex, and the arrival of Don and Joanna Corcoran, and Allie. We broke up into two groups for afternoon games. Don, Dave, and Rob playtested Dave’s Game Chef entry Prehistoric Ties. The rest of us played Serial Homicide Unit.

Rather than me reading from the script to teach the game, as I’ve been doing, Kat launched into explaining how to play. As is often the case, I learned new minor variants to play that improved the flow of the game. My wife runs games on instinct, and I’m prone to stick-in-the-mud-ness, so watching the way she does things is always like a drink of cool water. The changes are few and minor, but all improvement deserves to make it into the final version.

Our profile was “foreign exchange students.” We ended up hunting down a cult that would drug their victims by feeding them laced apple pie, drown them in tubs in the back of their trucks, wrap an American flag around their throats, then dump them in the woods with their bodies positioned into the letters “USA.”

With such a large group, the hopes of our civilian characters ranged from dark territory (“I hope I can find my runaway sister, even though she’s hooked on crack and gotten in with a rough gang.”) to the realms of cotton candy (“I hope I can popularize Japanese underground music, even though the local music scene is dominated by country.”)

Without a doubt, the most moving civilian character was Rachel’s. Muanga was a 13-year-old boy from Tanzania that hoped to be adopted by his American host family. The family was pretty ditzy, but had their hearts in the right place. Unfortunately, Muanga fell afoul of the hate cult and was kidnapped after a run-in with a (possible) Homeland Security agent.

Due to our long drive home, Kat and I left before the 3rd round of games. It was a really great time, and I thank everyone for all the fun gameplay!

In other news, I just finished editing Bill White’s amazing Ganakagok. This is a game I’ve been anticipating for a long time. The text is in good shape, and I’m glad I can help get it ready to release.


14 Responses to “CleaverCon 2008”

  1. Oh man, every time you said I’d “murdered” your character it stabbed me in the heart!
    I had a great deal of fun playing with you. I, too, regretted our not being able to play up the romance between our characters a bit more.
    As for the secrecy of the knife ritual, it’s probably totally my fault that unsecrifying it became such a big deal for us at that game. I really always wanted to know who voted for who, and saw the tension over secrecy as being a before-the-resolution thing. It didn’t occur to me that it might bother some people to have that revealed. Sorry!

    • Hah. Every time he said that your character “murdered” his I knew it was stabbing you in the heart.

    • Oh man, every time you said I’d “murdered” your character it stabbed me in the heart!
      What sort of person would have intended such a reaction?
      I wasn’t saying that counting the tokens after the draw was bad/wrong fun. Just, in reflecting on the game while doing the write-up, I realized that knowing that my fellow players were going to find out how I voted might, theoretically, affect my decision, since it might affect how they vote on my future conflicts. It’s got layers within layers, that game does!

  2. Smaller than optimal, I think.

    • Hi, Shreyas.
      Six players is too few? It seemed to me that with so many players only a few story elements got touched on more than once. The tale felt thin for lack of development. How would more players alleviate this?

      • I must have misread your objection!
        I don’t think adding players is going to change that particular thing, nor is having fewer going to have any benefit either. That’s a question of pacing that the system doesn’t address directly – my advice to you, instead, is to create characters that are less complex.
        That said, I do enjoy the table dynamics better with more players.

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