[A Penny For My Thoughts] Do you find the book usable?

edited September 2009 in Directed Promotion
For any of you who have bought/played Penny, some usability questions:

What about the book works for you?
What about the book doesn't work?
What have you been able to find easily?
What have you had trouble finding?
What do you wish the book did differently?

Thanks,

--Paul

Comments

  • For starters, Paul, the thread title... are you high? Have you been taking the dope? Is there some other reason you're not participating in the usual reality? Or are you just fishing for compliments? :)

    I'll bite. The book, with the way it's designed to be read during play, is the most usable game text I have ever encountered. It creates instant system mastery. The only thing I wish was different is that the "how to write good triggers/ask good guiding questions" stuff were broken out onto a single redistributable page, or incorporated into the Reader's text with an optional mark somehow. The replay is very helpful; taking into account my play of Fiasco, and the way that the replay lowered the barrier to our first session, I am beginning to think that every game could benefit from one. The nice thing is that not everyone needs to read the Replay; even if only the facilitator does, he transmits what he learned to the group.
  • I've been putting off reading anything past the first chapter because it seems to indicate that it should be read during play. And I don't really want to ruin the experience or something. Is this actually recommended or am I just being fussy? Should I feel free to give it a good read ahead of time?
  • Paul,

    I read this through, cover-to-cover, in an airport. I never lost enthusiasm, or lost track, or felt confused.
    It does well as a reading text and a teaching text.
    I haven't used it as a reference text yet, but you seem to have provided lots of tools to support that use as well.

    The "reading instructions" seemed to constantly pop up and felt awkward. Like... perhaps a bit too in-your-face or overemphasized?
    How would I have done this differently? I'd have said "read this text through to the Afterword aloud, skipping any paragraphs marked with this symbol: ..."
    Then, you'd only be registering the "skip" symbol, not the play and pause symbols as well.

    I wish there was more information about crafting good F&R documents and questionaires. Even though the default assumption is that I'll use yours, and there are two different examples as well... I want to write my own, and I want to make them interact well. I'll also echo what Colin said.
  • edited September 2009
    My experience, Jeremy, is that you should read the whole thing. The "read during play" thing isn't an encouragement not to read the book, but rather a way to say not to worry if everyone in the group hasn't read it, since there's a way to teach the rules in play. The rules don't hide surprises or anything.

    Ideally, at least one person at the table ought to have spent some time thinking about the Questionnaire to be used, about whether to use one of the alternate Facts and Reassurances documents, about how to help everyone with the Triggers and Guiding Questions, and so on. You own the book, so it might as well be you for your group.

    Edit to add:
    Posted By: joepubI wish there was more information about crafting good F&R documents and questionaires.
    I forgot! Yes, this. My only other complaint.
  • Posted By: ccreitzFor starters, Paul, the thread title... are you high? Have you been taking the dope? Is there some other reason you're not participating in the usual reality? Or are you just fishing for compliments? :)
    I hope to learn what worked well and what didn't so I can apply those lessons to my next game. (Presuming there is a next game, of course.)
  • I agree that a "what's a good memory trigger" handout might help. In addition, how about a cool-looking sheet of slips of paper you can cut/tear out to write memory triggers on? Maybe it could have weird designs in the back or be printed on the back of some kind of typewritten medical text/rant.
  • One thing I wish I had when I ran it was a more full explanation of the penny mechanics in play. There were a couple things that tripped me up.

    1. When picking subsequent travelers, it's never explicitly stated who picks the new traveler or if the new traveler is given a penny. I figured a penny had to be given, otherwise the traveler wouldn't know who to ask two questions of. But the only time I see the book explicitly mention giving a penny is when the Reader gives the first penny to the first traveler.
    2. When describing "Ask for guidance" the book says to do it until the traveler has no pennies. But mechanically that didn't make sense for me. The traveler should ask for guidance 2, 3 then 4 times for their first, second and third questions, respectively.

    So if there were something more robust than the "Mnemosyne Treatment Process" flowchart, something that explicitly showed the flow of pennies around the table, I think that mechanic would have been a lot clearer to my group.

    Another thing, and this applies to all "read as you play" books, not just Penny, is that perfect binding is not optimal. I find it hard to hold the book open, read and still engage with the other players. Something like a spiral or ring binding would be better, I think. Although I'm sure that plays holy hell with the printing process. At some point I will turn my copy of Penny into a game prop by re-binding it inside of a medical binder.

  • Posted By: GlejaWhen picking subsequent travelers, it's never explicitly stated who picks the new traveler or if the new traveler is given a penny. I figured a penny had to be given, otherwise the traveler wouldn't know who to ask two questions of. But the only time I see the book explicitly mention giving a penny is when the Reader gives the first penny to the first traveler.
    The only time you give someone a penny is if no one has enough to go. In most games, that means only the first Traveler will have someone ask them two questions.
    Posted By: GlejaWhen describing "Ask for guidance" the book says to do it until the traveler has no pennies. But mechanically that didn't make sense for me. The traveler should ask for guidance 2, 3 then 4 times for their first, second and third questions, respectively.
    You always ask for guidance until you are out of pennies. Two, three, and four are minimums.

    Both of these situations are covered in the example transcript in Chapter 4.
  • edited September 2009
    Gleja,

    Not to derail the thread but your understanding is flawed.

    1) If someone at the table can afford to do their next question, that's the new traveler. No one picks them. No one needs to give them a penny. If no one gives them a penny then no one asks a second question. You only give someone a penny if no one can afford their next question. If you have to give someone a penny in this manner the person who volunteers gets to ask a second question.

    2) You do keep asking for guidance until you are out of pennies. Those numbers on the sheet are just the *minimum* number of pennies you need to be eligible (see above) for answering that question. But if I have 7 pennies then I ask for guidance 7 times.

    Jesse

    Edit: ...and Paul beats me to it... in fewer words!
  • I played this weekend using the text as instructed (despite the fact that I've played 3 times before!) and it worked very well. I read aloud all the instructional text for the first player and summarized after that. One player was a bit bored by that, but he had read it already. I think it really helped the other two.
  • Posted By: ptevisFor any of you who have bought/played Penny, some usability questions:

    What about the book works for you?
    What about the book doesn't work?
    What have you been able to find easily?
    What have you had trouble finding?
    What do you wish the book did differently?

    Thanks,

    --Paul
    Just played yesterday, so it's all fresh in my mind:

    The only thing that (surprisingly) felt like a problem was that there was too much reading to do as the Reader. I didn't get feedback from the group, so perhaps it was only me worrying, but I felt like people were getting a bit bored with the reading and I wanted to rush to the rules. When I read the book myself I thought, "awesome, this is all in-fiction," but in play it felt like it dragged on a bit. "Boxed-text syndrome," maybe? I played with people I don't know too well, so I could be projecting. I think if I had felt a little more comfortable in the social space I would have been okay with soaking in the details of fictionalized treatment.

    Also, there were no problems finding anything. Once we'd done the Reading, play flowed pretty smoothly--it's not like the rules are complicated, and I had printed out the procedures of play summary sheet.
  • Hey Hans, this is Harry. I actually like the reading, and I think it reinforces the fiction really well. That said, the only other time I played, I was the Reader, and I remember rushing through the text as well. That may just be how I instinctively read game text, however - I feel like I would do the same thing with, say, reading the description of a cave or something in a D&D game.
  • Posted By: ccreitzFor starters, Paul, the thread title... are you high? Have you been taking the dope?
    "The drug works!" (hee hee!)

    I find the book to be quite well put together. I am happy with the level of the how-tos. It is my experience when you have a section on making good X elements, you end up poisoning the well a bit. People, even creative people like gamers, are subject to affectation by suggestions like that and it can pull people away from groundbreaking developments that would have made with less examples to cleave to, as it were. (The best example of what I mean might be writing oracles for IaWA. The great examples in the book seem to many to create a template in people's heads that forces many to just vary those there in creating new ones.)

    Back to the book. The text is clear and I was not stopped by an ambiguities during reading the processional portion. I did get good clarifications of game flow from the examples, where there may have been an issue between reading and play, but at no point in reading did I feel I needed to go back and do a retake on a section - even in the penny trading economy sections.
  • Posted By: JuddG"The drug works!" (hee hee!)
    I have been waiting a FULL DAMN WEEK for someone to write that. Thank you!
  • Posted By: ptevisYou always ask for guidance until you are out of pennies. Two, three, and four are minimums.
    I knew this, although I must admit I didn't not read to book closely to check the rules on this point. However the character sheet with it's 2, 3, and 4 circles for pennies had me and the group I was playing with use them to slot pennies into. When we had extra pennies, we put them into the space for the next question. On the last question, it actually got pretty close that one player might not go. But it worked out. And the flow felt nice that way. But it was close enough that I was checking the book when I could to find out what happens when you don't have enough pennies. I rather liked it, and I think it helped pacing, for individual travelers as well as the session as a whole.
    Both of these situations are covered in the example transcript in Chapter 4.
    Which I have to say is supremely written. That chapter is like a drop of ambrosia upon the lips. A ray of heaven beams from my book whenever I open it. Truly, a master stroke of genius! ;)
  • Paul, I have not seen the game in print yet, but I did see it on an ebook reader.
    image
    Thinking about usability is necessarily going to have to include the very different demands of digital formats. Just wanted to throw that out there as part of the discussion.
  • Jason,

    Absolutely. Right after my first print copies of Penny arrived, my friend Mike stopped by and showed me his Kindle. The wheels started spinning.
  • Beautiful book, Paul.
    I've skimmed it after encountering it for the first time last night.
    I haven't been following your progress with this at all, somehow i decided that it wasn't for me in one of the first threads i read.
    I've pulled a complete 180.
    (fingers crossed) Kaleigh will be running this for me and another friend this afternoon,
    and i'm very, very excited. The book sold me on the activity described- i feel as if i have a very good
    understanding of what to expect; the waiting is the hard part.

    More after we play, perhaps tomorrow.
    Regardless, the book is an absolute joy to read. Congrats to you & your team- The in-fiction feel, the layout, all details are delicious.

    -jackson
  • I have a iLiad iBook (I had it in Chivasso as well, but I didn't notice there was picture taking going on!) and I've played Penny exclusively as Reader and using the ebook reader. It was *perfect*.
  • Not especially useful to the OP, i'm afraid, but i had a wonderful time playing Penny last night
    with Kaleigh, Elise and Joe. At first we switched up being reader, and then i took it on, as that
    i learn better that way.
    The symbols i found a very charming way to navigate the text. After the first traveler begins their
    narration, it was easy for them to get away from the recommended flow- that could be because they
    were going on memory instead of exclusively on hearing the text.

    I'll have to read it more & search for things more in play to be useful, but thank you for a lovely evening.

    Oh, something that really worked for me was your constant desire to explain why all the procedures were necessary
    from the perspective of the patients; this made it feel ok to mess up and re-do little sections ( like with the initial traveler
    as mentioned above)

    yes!
    -jackson
  • I agree with ccreitz. The book is amazing.

    Matt
  • I just played a game of Penny last night. We all had a great time, though some of the players were a bit discouraged by how negative and depressing some of the stories became.

    I have to agree with several of the posters here about the length of some of the Reader text. At places, it just feels too long. Especially the section introducing starting the journey, it really felt laborious to read it the first time.
  • Posted By: Welkerfan
    I have to agree with several of the posters here about the length of some of the Reader text. At places, it just feels too long. Especially the section introducing starting the journey, it really felt laborious to read it the first time.
    Agreed. That's my number one quibble with the game right now.

    --Paul
  • Posted By: ptevisPosted By: Welkerfan
    I have to agree with several of the posters here about the length of some of the Reader text. At places, it just feels too long. Especially the section introducing starting the journey, it really felt laborious to read it the first time.
    Agreed. That's my number one quibble with the game right now.


    Paul, have you thought of doing a free, downloadable mp3 of YOU reading the boxed text?
  • oooh.

    Great idea, Chad.
  • I would totally love to use an mp3 of Paul reading the text! Something about using a recording catches my attention a lot more than a player at the table reading to me. Makes me realize that it's not just paraphrasing.
  • Paul, The first time I played Penny was straight from the book - ie without prior reading, and it ran perfectly. This is the single most usefully layed out game I have. There are a couple of things I might have done differently, but they are all minor tweaks.

    1) I'd have noted that its a game somewhere on the cover. I approached the book knowing what I was getting into, but what happens if someone unaware finds it in a book store.
    2) I'd have inserted a forward page noting again that its a game, and setting expectations
    3) I'd have placed the list of needed materials as the very first item so people didn't need to break their immersion to scavenge for them

    Having said that the layout of this book is brilliant and it is exceedingly usable. One might even describe it as inspired.

    Also, Jason asked about the readability of the pdf. Its not perfect, but because each section where it says something like "If a particular condition is met, jump now to a particular section" is linked in the pdf, using the pdf is exceedingly simple. An HTML document might work better, but the pdf proves surprisingly versatile.
  • We played the game straight from the book, without reading it first. That was a bit of confusion initially about how many coins are paid to the first person to have a go but we sorted out quickly and after that it went very smoothly.
  • Posted By: R00kie
    1) I'd have noted that its a game somewhere on the cover. I approached the book knowing what I was getting into, but what happens if someone unaware finds it in a book store.
    They flip through it, and maybe pick it up and play it, whereas if it says "storytelling game" or "roleplaying game" on the cover, eyeballs will just slide over it onto the next thing. I really like Paul's choice to leave any mention of it as a game off the cover.
  • Posted By: hans ottersonI really like Paul's choice to leave any mention of it as a game off the cover.
    If I recall right, he doesn't call it one in the text either - an intentional choice. But it's been a while since I read the out-of-character chapter.

    - Ryan
  • And now I return to read this - I avoided this thread until our experiment was done. As I explain in that other thread, we too played without reading first and it went fine.

    Now that I'm thinking of playing it again I wonder if the instructions on the memories being about the advice given on the questionnaires (Recall a pleasant memory) are too vague or even missing. We certainly missed connecting the advice to the memory preparation and then had hard time answering the questions after the memory.

    But, all in all a really usable book.
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