The way things happened to work out this year, I ended up running games in three slots and only playing in two, and one of those was the Magic draft. So Christian's Friday-night experimental LARP playtest was the only time I was doing any role-playing, and I couldn't be happier with that opportunity. There are a lot of great surprises in the game, so I will try to avoid spoiling them.
The players (who were cast in their parts, spontaneously and very well, by Ross) are part of a spaceship crew, mostly military but with an corporate-civilian element. If I recall correctly, the setup is that you've stumbled over an alien civilization, and first contact went poorly. Now the surviving humans are trying to use a captured alien ship to race away from the disastrous encounter and get home to Earth, figuring out how to operate the thing as they go.
The mechanics of the game are pretty straightforward: there are four stations, corresponding to the bridge, engineering, the laboratory, and "elseship." Each has a deck of cards and a digital timer. Some people can read these cards and follow their instructions, setting the timer on the card and letting it count down it to unlock the next event in a given sequence (which may branch as they go). Other people can read the cards but not interact with them, and most of us had multiple stations where we weren't allowed to read the cards at all. You can always abort a decision and set the timer on a different card, but that means losing all your progress so far, and each act of the game is strictly time-limited. It made for some waits that felt kind of lengthy, without a lot of other mechanics to interact with, but also some VERY tense moments, great reveals, and subordination.
The actual decision points involved, looking back on it, were not terribly numerous, but each one felt like it had a great weight! And the conversations we had in-character between those decisions led to recalculation, changed priorities, and terrible consequences. There's a little "cool-down" break between each act, when the characters take a breath--or take a moment to grieve. The group conversations we had in those moments had a distinct influence on the actual mechanical events later--some people who had established friendships made great sacrifices on each other's behalf, for instance, or tilted things in another's favor because of some little character moment established there.
I played the young hotshot genius technician who did most of the controlling of timers in the engineering station, and I ended up getting really into character. I felt as if the losses that "Jacobs" suffered over the course of the game hit particularly hard because of his youth, and I was immersed enough that by the end of the game I was swinging between elation at the things we had pulled off and genuine despondence over my failures. It really got to me! I was lucky to be part of a pretty spectacular cast, several of whom I knew already, and being able to piggyback on those feelings of real-life friendship added something to the relationships we formed. Even if that hadn't been true, though, I'm certain that the stress of the timed environment, combined with the pressure of staying in-character, would have made for some pretty intense bonds even with strangers.
Christian mentioned that he was considering releasing this game as a free download. I think other players would be lucky to get it for free, but I also think it's a product of very skillful game and narrative design, and should be considered valuable! If twisting narratives combined with tension and character immersion sounds like your thing, you should definitely take any opportunity to try this game.
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