Woof.
October 22, 2014 12:45 PM   Subscribe

 
"It's such a good game. I'm still thinking about and being unsettled by it a week later.
In fact, I'd say it's probably the best game I never want to play again."
posted by JHarris at 1:06 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've had this game for a while but never played it because I don't think that my group could play it in a meaningful way. Gaming brings out the trollishness in some of my friends.
posted by tofu_crouton at 1:09 PM on October 22, 2014


I've played it. It definitely packs a punch.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:12 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Could you introduce a 1950s rule?

For half their remaining tokens, the natives may form a Communist Party and receive assault rifles from the Soviet Union: after this, any tokens lost to the colonizer can be replaced with two drawn from the bank, and every turn a rule is removed.
posted by alasdair at 1:25 PM on October 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


For half their remaining tokens, the natives may form a Communist Party and receive assault rifles from the Soviet Union: after this, any tokens lost to the colonizer can be replaced with two drawn from the bank, and every turn a rule is removed.

This would be as if the Communist Party was not an occupying force with its own agenda, when it clearly historically was / is. A rival power should probably be a playable character, but I have no idea how to implement that, having only read the review.
posted by pwnguin at 1:33 PM on October 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


This sounds great. I especially like the victory condition.

Like I feel I should get the game not because I want to play it but because reading about the rules themselves is an example of how games can be systems which in and of themselves arrive at specific message.
posted by postcommunism at 1:42 PM on October 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also that this particular game system seems viciously on-point.
posted by postcommunism at 1:48 PM on October 22, 2014


God, I love SU&SD. This game sounds amazing, and utterly horrible. I mean, it's a great idea with elegant mechanics, and I can't imagine ever wanting to play it. This might be the first time that SU&SD has made me admire a game without having the urge to immediately rush to Amazon to save it on my wishlist.
posted by Edgewise at 1:49 PM on October 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


SU&SD are the best game reviewers out there at the moment. Funny, intelligent and not afraid to say how they feel (the Five Tribes review was a good example of this)

The only problem is that they're so enthusiastic with their positive reviews that they cost me lots of money.

I don't regret getting Dead of Winter though.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 1:55 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


... the rules themselves is an example of how games can be systems which in and of themselves arrive at specific message.


This is basically System Matters which, if it didn't outright start the indie tabletop upswing, was certainly a major propellant.
posted by curious nu at 2:15 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Er, offering that as the start of a research track for you if you're curious, not trying to sound like I'm correcting or something. :)
posted by curious nu at 2:17 PM on October 22, 2014


Jesus. This sounds amazing.
posted by brundlefly at 2:53 PM on October 22, 2014


Wow, that sounds fascinating and awful. "In fact, I'd say it's probably the best game I never want to play again" seems to hit the nail on the head.

I started Game Night because I wanted to have more friends...
posted by Zephyrial at 3:44 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I can't understand who would want to play it, though. It sounds really not fun at all.
posted by corb at 4:43 PM on October 22, 2014


I think it counts as more "interesting" than "fun".

I really want to try it and yet I really don't. You'd need the right group of people.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:53 PM on October 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sounds like it should be played in schools for sure. Except with one distinction: the poorest person there should actually be forced to be the colonizer.


Great article! Wish I knew some rpgers.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:19 PM on October 22, 2014


Except with one distinction: the poorest person there should actually be forced to be the colonizer.

I know that's not really a serious proposition, but as a Hispanic person who was at one point for a school project required to take on the colonial European role? Please, don't. This is a game that should be played by middle/upper-class white people. Don't drag other people into it who don't need the lesson. It can be actually, seriously traumatic. I won't say it's exactly the same, but the only thing I can compare it to that seems like a comparison people might get is to say that it's like having a game that's supposed to show how horrible the Nazis were to the Jews, and coming up with the idea that the one Jewish person in class should play the Nazi.
posted by Sequence at 8:47 PM on October 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


Definitely an interesting experience, especially the required honest discussion of players' real-life net worth and privileges at the beginning. It was deeply unsettling, but compelling. I'd play again.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:23 PM on October 22, 2014


I am glad this got linked. One thing that was a little unclear from the rules explanation was what kind of goals the natives would have? That is, what motivation do the natives have not to follow the coloniser's rules? I appreciate that this is a roleplaying game, so one can create one's own motiviations, but it has an explictly "gamey" mechanic with a "win" and "loss" condition for both sides.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:17 AM on October 23, 2014


You all may be interested to know that the game was a kickstarter, and the promotional materials are worth a glance if you're interested.
posted by pwnguin at 12:24 AM on October 23, 2014


what motivation do the natives have not to follow the coloniser's rules?

I'm not sure what you're asking. Suppose the coloniser suggests that he should have jus primae noctis. Wouldn't the natives have a pretty strong incentive to disagree?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:59 AM on October 23, 2014


I'm not sure what you're asking.

What I'm saying is that, yes, I can see why real life natives wouldn't want to follow those rules, but these are human players who could, to some extent, want to just win a game. If the answer is that one has to roleplay and decide that you have certain lines the person you are playing will not cross, then that's fine, I just wondered if there were any mechanics to reinforce this.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:06 AM on October 23, 2014


Someone with absolutely no emotional investment in their character could always play to win, yes. Why would they be playing the game, though? It's like a D&D player saying "my character ignores the rest of the party, walks out of the tavern, and settles down to a life of honest hard toil."
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:56 AM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


You're not wrong, I'm just curious in that there is an explicit "win" mechanic in this rpg, which there usually isn't in rpgs, which might encourage a certain kind of player to "game" it. In D&D you could do as you say, but then you wouldn't be playing the game anymore. Technically, you could do very "well" at this game by just agreeing to anything the coloniser says. I'm not saying I have a problem with that, or think its an issue with the game, I'm just curious as to whether there are explicit mechanics around that.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:34 AM on October 23, 2014


But I think that's what makes it sound so interesting, the system forces you to become increasingly submissive through worse and worse situations, which have been designed with the explicit intention of wearing you down. Then, when you look back at the end you realise that the sacrifices your imaginary character made in those circumstances mimic those made by real people the world over. The point isn't winning or losing, it's that feeling of 'oh shit' you get that comes from deep inside you.
posted by Ned G at 5:12 AM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


So, the review struck me as not matching my played experience of Dog Eat Dog. After a night of musing and also looking up the rules again, I realized why.

The review didn't quite convey the fullness of the token economy. The players involved in the review seem to have brought some of their own preconceptions to the table (as we always do). There is actually value to natives in breaking the rules. When a native runs out of tokens, they don't just fall over. They run amok. This gives a native player a good deal of power before they're out of the game. First, the occupation loses a token when a native runs amok. Also, you gain a LOT of narrative control while you're running amok, which is very appealing considering how often the occupation gets to grab narrative control by fiat. You can enter a scene at will as a native when amok. The occupation can't put you into a scene without your consent. Natives run amok must do something shockingly violent when next in a scene and you get to control the outcome of an escalated conflict. These are HUGE. Also, when you die (and you will at the end of the next scene you're in after triggering 'run amok'), the occupation loses two more tokens.

So, playing to not lose tokens as a native is a strategy, but it's not the only strategy. And actually, if all the native players try that, it's not going to end well for them, at all.

In the game I played in, with very experienced RPG players (both trad & indie), we meta-gamed the hell out of the token economy as natives. I took the full-out resistence path and broke rules left and right, and in ways designed to be incredibly triggering to our occupiers (full of victorian primness and utterly horrified by bodily fluids) before I finally blew out of tokens and ran amok. Meanwhile, my fellow native was very good at following the letter of the rules while also appropriating much from the occupiers' technology.

The occupation ran out of tokens pretty quickly, triggering the end game. Occupation moved on and the native culture managed to survive, albeit indelibly changed by the occupiers.

So, yes, it's possible to 'play to win' as the natives, and to do so without being fully committed to a subservience death spiral. There's also an actual death 'death spiral' available to the natives. I think the reviewers may have come from a gaming culture that's a lot less immersed in one-shot games and games where death and disaster are consider to be a normal part of play.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:01 AM on October 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's a very, very good, and very unsettling (ha ha) game.

the native culture managed to survive, albeit indelibly changed by the occupiers. So, yes, it's possible to 'play to win' as the natives

From the rules their own fine self:
If a Native has one or two tokens left, they must describe how their struggle against the Occupation has left them changed, embittered, and wounded. [emphasis added] [...] When all the epilogues are complete, all of the players who still have tokens collectively decide the fate of the island and its inhabitants, based on their personal epilogues, the beliefs and motivations of their characters, and the events that have already taken place in the story. [emphasis added] It might break away and return to being an independent state, remain associated but not integrated with the Occupation country, voluntarily integrate into the Occupation country, or be completely absorbed and its history forgotten... or something completely different, if your game demands it.
There's enough fiat going around that a group could achieve a "Natives win" ending... but the deck is stacked such that you'd expect winning to look a lot like losing so far as preservation of identity goes, and it's a game that's very explicit about stacking the deck.

Speaking of stacked decks, it's not possible for the Natives to win if the Occupation player really doesn't want to allow it. The Occupation can force the Native player characters into their first scene and kill them all. Game over. This isn't just some weird technicality: Burke spells it out in the rules.
This might not sound like a very fun mechanic, and frankly, it probably isn't. But I don't think I could write a game about colonization that didn't include the ability of the colonizers to seize control by rounding up and slaughtering everybody who could possibly pose a threat to them.
I've played twice and had the Natives "win" ending once... we achieved self-rule, but by rejecting our own religion and most of our culture and installing a ruling class that acted like the Occupiers.

My game group has talked about hacking this into the modern game of Gentrification... and I don't think I'm the only one for whom that was more discomfiting than the original.
posted by Zed at 8:40 AM on October 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the comment ursus and Zed, those are some interesting insights they didn't get to in the article, which sort of flesh out the experience for me. I wonder if you both found it as depressing as they did? i.e. would you play it again?
posted by Cannon Fodder at 10:38 AM on October 23, 2014


Yes, I'll definitely play it again at some point. Part of that is that I think it's valuable for me to feel the discomfort the game provokes because it reminds me how I've grown up in a world that centers and privileges people like me and reminds me of how much harm that has done (and continues to do) to others and, thus, of the immorality and indecency of accepting this status quo.

And part of it is that it's a superb game. I'm hard-pressed to think of any game whose mechanics do a better job of achieving a specific tone the author was going for. (There are any number of games I admire for doing a good job of that, but none better.) Creating a setting with my friends and watching/portraying the story unfold and seeing how no matter what we do, the screwed-up and unfair situation (as reflected by the deliberately unfair rules) creates horror has made for tremendous gaming sessions.

It's like reading a really good novel with really upsetting content. There's genuine pleasure to be had amidst the pain.
posted by Zed at 12:09 PM on October 23, 2014


Yes, I'd defintely play again as well. The game and system really does what it sets out to do, and my comment above was more about how the rules work than the experience. The trick of the game is that it leaves enough agency for the natives that the game is worth playing while still punching you in the gut.

I tend to play games that lean towards emotional bleed, and some of them have been far more discomforting than Dog Eat Dog. My Life With Master comes to mind. That's why raising issues about limits before play starts is important, making it OK for people to say, that but not this is OK. Or here's the line I don't want to cross. If that's done, it often frees everybody to play really intensely within the bounds laid out.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:43 PM on October 23, 2014


Heh. Perhaps not coincidentally, I recently pitched My Life With Master to my group...
posted by Zed at 2:07 PM on October 23, 2014


Heh. Perhaps not coincidentally, I recently pitched My Life With Master to my group...

re: "winning" games: I played this once, and decided my personal player goal was to become the next Master. Was totally successful! And I was a horrible monster. =/
posted by curious nu at 3:30 PM on October 23, 2014


« Older “unusual horrible hand”   |   If I'm unworthy Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments