SUN-03 Blowback

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zornwil
Posts: 46
Joined: June 17th, 2010, 5:54 pm
Name: Wilson Zorn

SUN-03 Blowback

Post by zornwil » July 11th, 2011, 12:13 am

First let me say I did not track player names well. I know Harry was in this, and the two other gentlemen I had gamed with the prior night as well, Jeremy if I recall and I am spacing the other name. I apologize, I'm just really bad with names. Plus I've had 3 beers here at 5 Point Cafe and Bar and am tired, so...

This was a risky one to begin with, in that as I forewarned I had not run this before.

As such, I wouldn't give any conclusions as such, just preliminary thoughts, in terms of running the system itself.

I will say I feel you have to play the game a little while (a few sessions, I suspect) to really get how to play it really effectively. I am not sure how much of that is owing to the slim explanations in the rulebook versus the nature of the game no matter how the rulebook was written. There's a concern on my part in this regard in that the game sets expectations of having a Burn Notice or similar experience and players walk in feeling they'll be awesomely cool spies. But without understanding the tactics and mechanics fairly well, I am pretty sure that's hard to accomplish, so a sense of frustration can set in, and this frustration was a source of post-game discussion. Specifically this owes in roughly half part to the peculiarities of the Momentum rules and how a few bad rolls snowball not just narratively (which is VERY cool) but also mechanically (which leaves players who simply have bad luck feeling helpless). However, I have a strong sense that so long as you simply know as players when to cut your losses and move to the next phase of the game this is more manageable, so that gets back to knowing really how to play WELL. The other half of the issue owes to how in what's called the Operations phase players need to follow a plan they've constructed and as the steps go awry there's a lot of uncertainty as to how to deal with improvisation; this I tend to blame on the book BUT I REALLY need to reread, I may simply have missed something important. I will probably come back here after a combination of rereading and searching re these issues.

However, there was a sense in most part (but not every part and not a consensus) that this game did well reflect such as Burn Notice, where plans go terribly awry yet successes are achieved and/or the plot is advanced in good ways. For example, while the players were in some part frustrated that they couldn't either improv well enough against the planned operation, the fact that their plan really did go right in a crucial way - the bad guy mook got framed for a big coke bust, half the gang was busted cold - was appreciated. And that one of the lead veteran spies got badly injured and nearly caught in the process was appreciated as stylistically okay, even though it's also in the heat of the moment perhaps not so appreciated. And part of the frustration was simply a matter of time, I feel. If we were playing a "real" game we'd have done another analysis-operations-blowback cycle which I am fairly sure would have finished off the bad guys or if not that then the 3rd cycle certainly would have done so. Though it brings to mind an interesting problem: while the rules clearly state such cycles are expected to finish some jobs, there's no mechanical benefit to revisiting the cycle, and I have to wonder about that. Then again, as I observed, there's a powerful narrative advantage players build in that they almost necessarily keep the bad guys in the dark enough that it can be built upon.

But this also means for shorter con games I should consider both pushing some things along plus perhaps weakening opposition for the sake of a solid experience. Not sure, will take some more playing.

One other factor I should mention, the mapping of relationships, especially owing to the fact each player has 2 PCs (a professional and a civilian). I did underestimate this in particular. I don't feel I underestimated the other parts so much, though my concern that we couldn't finish a single job was well-founded at least running the game without anything to seriously mitigate that risk. I wondered even before going into this if I should just say, for con purposes alone, that each player only gets ONE PC, although with some mix of civilians and professionals, and I am still thinking about that. But civilians can't do as much, of course, and so if someone has a civilian then I'm not sure it works so well, plus there's the issue that you really need to ground the professionals in the issues of having real relationships, and I think the game has it right that players playing civilians does that WAY better than a GM doing so in terms of investment.

I liked the players' plans to take down the bad guys a lot. And it did do well enough as it completely derailed the bad guys' plans. While the Boss (big bad) wasn't yet directly encountered, his organization was ripped to shreds and the Mook (which more or less translates to a lead mook, really) was on the run with no support.

Plus while it takes a few sessions to really get into the relationships, I liked where that was going, that was really fun both in terms of how the players played it and I feel the mechanics were well supporting that, even though we really only got just a tiny bit into it versus where it can go, as far as I could see.

A fun game, not a bang-up one to never forget, and certainly with some bumps, but fun. While there was some end-of-con dragging (at least I felt there was), the players still livened up admirably what might have been too bumpy and dull for some of the tactical misunderstandings/ignorance on my part (at the least on my part - in my defense I did disclaim I have not run this before).

zornwil
Posts: 46
Joined: June 17th, 2010, 5:54 pm
Name: Wilson Zorn

Re: SUN-03 Blowback

Post by zornwil » July 28th, 2011, 10:38 pm

It occurs to me this could be done in a short session a lot better by something occurring to me watching Burn Notice which I didn't key on until actual play, as obvious as it is now...

...give the PCs lots of intel free - it's all that off-camera like tonight we cut to a scene with no setup other than we learn the Job with Phoebe looking over photos and elaborating. Hitting my head, duh...though in a home game/leisurely play depending on the group some people like to do this, but I think anyway this seems good practice.

That kicks off the Analysis Phase. And just as importantly, lots of action, even if risky, I posit should be done in this phase instead of the Operation. I mean, this happens anyway, yes, there are rough-ups and such as well as cloak-and-dagger that has high risk, but even the direct setup parts of the Operation I think should be more often done up front, and leave the Operation much leaner for the big conflict parts only, kick it off with a harder bang.

So in our game, instead of the Operation including setting up distracting firearms, that would be done in Analysis.

Now, that SOUNDS easy but it's actually not. Why? Because the game requires the Operation be planned then executed in that sequence and all in that Operation phase. And you would only know you're doing that direct setup portion once you know your plan, and you only know your plan once you start the Operation phase. There's no direct planning in Analysis. This mostly makes sense, especially as the game requires the Agency (GM) to plan independently without knowledge of the players' planning.

In play there are a couple issues anyway here. One is simply style and whether people like sitting around planning. Frankly I remain dubious about this part of the game in general but I mean more for my tastes, not an indictment of the game design itself (the only real game design criticism here is that I think it's difficult, at the very least until players get really good at this, to figure out how to reconcile overlapping and orthogonal moves by the PCs versus Agency; I think this may have been largely resolved by lots more examples in the book; while the mechanic are simple enough I think this book deserves Apocalypse World-style elaboration). The other is the inevitable momentum drop, again at least in initial play and especially for this kind of one-shot -again not a game criticism given the game is really not designed for this.

Back on topic, to move the game along as well as make the Operations phase more, I think, rewarding, again in the context of a con one-shot like this, I tend to think it might work if the players could in Analysis declare "we're ready to plan" (and GM so encourages, too), and the GM/Agency goes off and plans as the game calls for. The players in parallel plan but instead of the Operation directly starting with the first part of their plan, they can reserve a portion of activity still for Analysis. This also makes it easier on the players ("oh we forgot to find out..."). The basic rule would be something like the Operation actually begins with the first direct conflict with the bad guys (yeah, I know, some tricky room for interpretation but guidelines can be such as indirect setup and observation are obviously valid for remaining Analysis, etc.). This will ensure the Operation starts with a big bang, too, AND ensure that the PCs -importantly at least for these one-shots,I think - waste no dice in the lead-up to really screw up their Momentum!

Any thoughts?!??

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