RECESS January 2012


I went to RECESS yesterday in NYC. It is just about the longest trip I will make for a single day of gaming fun. And a lot of fun it was.

First, I played Lady Blackbird. I had never played before, so it was interesting to see the New Hotness of 2009 in action. It was interesting, and once I figured out how to play my character, it was good. I wound up with Kale, the sneaky mechanic, and I suck at playing sneaky characters. Plus, the dice hate me, as usual. Twice I rolled eight dice or more and got only a single success. I can see why people love this game. It’s like licking the spatula covered with cake frosting: pure confectionary sweetness. The simplicity of straight forwardness of character advancement is great. But that fact that there is really nothing else to the game besides character advancement left it feeling a bit hollow to me.

After my trivia team lost badly, I played Steal Away Jordan. I had never played before, and the setting was not the traditional pre-Civil War American south. It was late seventeenth century Brazil, a period I had known nothing about. We played rebel slaves who had set up our own strongholds in the Amazon rain forest, faced with the arrival of a Portuguese military force intent on wiping us out. It was an interesting setup.

We had King Zumbi, the warlike leader of the rebels. We had a martial artist possessed by his god. We had a young man bought and sold for his beauty, ready to throw away his life for a chance to kill one of his oppressors. We had a young girl gifted in the ways of magic. And I played a spy on the plantation, with regrets about a man he had killed to try to win a woman’s heart. Oh, and I could turn into a panther. The game ended up with a big fight scene where we routed the Portuguese and saved the day!

The game mechanics were also interesting. The way the dice work, it’s more likely that you’ll wide up with negative numbers than positive ones. So we had a number of conflicts where one side ended up with negative five and the other side had negative three. While, mathematically it doesn’t matter, it also imbues a sense of powerlessness into the game. You fight and you struggle and you make preparations and you get … a negative three! I didn’t get to chat with Julia after the game, but I imagine that was a deliberate design decision.

Also, the way that the dice combine made help interesting. In essence, you roll a bunch of d6s. Every single 1 you roll is worth -1. Every pair of “Lucky Sevens” you roll is worth +1. A “Lucky Seven” is a pair of either 5 +2 or 3+4. 6s count for nothing, and after you pull out all your scoring dice, you must take one more reroll of your non-scoring dice.

If you were really looking at succeeding, you probably didn’t want help, since every roll is more likely to come out negative rather than positive. Your helpers are more likely to drag you down. This morning, my game designer brain is chewing over the possibilities. I kinda want to explore the possibilities that you can trade individual dice with your helpers. So, if I’m left with some 4s that I don’t have any 3s to match them with, I want to be able to take a 3 from my helper and give him a 1 in exchange. If our totals don’t add, but we each suffer our own consequences, this would produce higher numbers and choosing to give someone help would have a lot more dramatic weight to it.

Of course, I’d want the whole question of who helps whom to be decided by the bargains that took place in earlier scenes. So, if I agree to be your helper in task X, in exchange for you being my helper in task Y, then I know that task X is going to be painful for me. But I also know that I have a better chance of success on task Y. I’d also have something about if you are subservient to another, you have to take their trades. To refuse to do so is an act of revolt and dangerous.

I’m not sure if it was the unfamiliar historical setting, or the action movie aesthetic that the GM was going for, or the rushed nature of a convention game, but I didn’t feel like there was much danger in the game, as much as arbitrariness. Which was likely another deliberate design choice. It’s an interesting game. I think I’ll order a copy.

Thanks to all for making RECESS a great day of fun!

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