I visited Dublin this weekend for Gaelcon and helped out at the Indie Games Track, run by the excellent Adam Kelly. It's a three day con, so Adam had arranged ~5 games a day, mostly one hour demos. Here's some post-match analysis, focusing more on the games and systems than the con or GMs. Questions welcome.
Cold City was the first game I played, run (brilliantly) by Gregor Hutton. This was an excellent introduction and a great way to start the con. Balls to the wall treachery, a weird lobster-handed Nazi, and the old rail tunnels under Berlin. Characters were pregen with a couple of details added by players. Negative traits subtracted from pools, which wasn't especially fun (the Companion's variation is much better).
I didn't realise that weapons would add to damage, which didn't make sense if the only weapons were guns (rather than TSOY) but conflict could involve all kinds of stuff. Conflict and intention-setting worked well. The agendas weren't specific to the demo (One character wanted 'to escape to Israel', which wasn't going to come in) . (I'm reminded of Graham and Rich's example of the Aeternal Legends demo where one character had a trait that took a month to work, and thus would never come up in the session).
Play was a *little* slow at the start, as I think the players expected an investigative scenario. Because most con games are. It would probably have been good to explain, explicitly, that this was a game about betrayal, action and decisions. Not clues, puzzles and gradual build.
Sweetly, Gregor allowed two newbies to sit and listen in. Gregor's narration is good. And lots. The n00bs were so intrigued, they joined the next slot, Contenders.
Contenders was very, very good for demos. 1950s Dublin. I tried to lead by example and started a work scene, which the player opposite me played off superbly. The two newbies followed me with much more emotionally powerful scenes (a father arguing with his daughter over her education, with her wanting to just get married and become another housewife). We had two work scenes and two connection scenes, and then went straight to a fight, which happened to be between the newbies. While in previous games, we'd played tactics cards geninely tactically (staring down the other player, then flipping), the newbies collaborated and considered the relationships between the fighters much more. Very little on the sheets went unused. The card mechanic made sense after a couple of flips, and having *every* rule on the sheet helped a great deal.
(Also, Gregor stuck around to help out. During the fight scene, I dealt while he explained the rules over and over. Very, very useful).
After Contenders, one of the newbies asked "How do we do this every week?"
Polaris followed on Sunday, and ran for two hours. Theme/ability creation wasn't difficult but wasn't that much fun. Building the cosmos was entertaining and was crucial to play. We ended up with very little imagery, but some superb and tortuous melodrama. We had a couple of rulesy issues where it wasn't clear who had guidance over some elements, and whether the Mistaken should narrate some NPCs or hand over to a Moon. PCs 'guest starring' in other player's scenes was a grey area.
Pushing conflict in Polaris is difficult. Really difficult as you're not just creating difficulty, you're pushing for the PC's cynicism and loathing of the people. As scenes didn't explicitly have to start with a conflict, some meandered slightly while the group found its feet. But we had some fun But Only Ifs like '... you are made figurehead King'. One PC's murderes were almost eclipsed by another PC breaking his father's arm. And it was interesting to see how some PCs became background, others becoming full-on protagonists.
(Though I led the group through the game (one, Rich Stokes had some experience), it was mildly annoying to have my Moons look to me during their Heart/Mistaken scenes. I kept deliberately looking away, so their eye contact would fall on the Mistaken/Heart)
TSOY was good. The rules were bulkier than Contenders, and took a bit longer to get to play. I'd cut up a few dozen business-card sized keys which I the group chose from. Though I emphasised they weren't behavioral or proscriptive, I think people still felt they were personality traits of a sort. That said, one player *really* picked up on Keys, sucked up XPs and flipped Pacifist to Vengeance and bought a new ability. Yay! (Characters were mostly pregen with one advance left to spend, with players choosing keys and name at the start).
One player played his character as apathetic and oblivious, which made it difficult to give him things to bounce off. And we didn't have time for true Key Scenes. A lot went unused on the sheet. With only an hour, pools weren't used, refreshes weren't required, and some abilities were superfluous. We didn't touch on Harm at all. The game was much more conversational than I expected, so I don't know if I pushed for address of conflicts too much. But we had some good stakes and fun play. And gift dice were a treat.