Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ice Station Nerdly, Theory, Etc. [2 of 3]

Best Friends was kind of strange - it seemed to have the least amount of "game" to interact with, at least the way it played out. The regular game involves a bunch of teenage girls who are frenemies, and a GM concocts a scenario or set of situations (not exactly sure) that could push the girls to compete with one another. We played "Gay Hairdressers Edition", though, meaning that our characters were twentysomething gay male cosmetologists on a reality TV show akin to Top Chef, etc., with elimination challenges and a big, final prize of 10,000 dollars and a salon of one's own.
Character creation was a lot of fun - you have Pretty, Cool, Smart, Tough, and Rich for your stats, but you don't get to determine them yourself. Instead, you go down a list and decide which other player you hate "because he's Prettier than me", "Cooler than me", etc.
Next, you go around the room and ask each person what they put (if you have 6 players, it adds up quite evenly; fewer means you have some repeats, which works). For each person who decided they hate you 'cause you're prettier than they, you get a point in Pretty. And so on, through the five stats.
My character, a Russian gay guy in the US on a student visa, had 4 points in Cool (a "gargantuan" amount of coolness) and 2 in Smart ("significant" smarts), but 0 points in everything else. 0 means I'm completely useless in that respect - my looks, my athletic ability, and my finances will never be of any help to me.
Actual play is divided into a) the GM announcing a premise for the current scenario and then b) going around the room and asking folks what they'll be doing for it. In our case, each scenario involved trying to accomplish a goal AND trying to shoot down as many other players' attempts at same - you start with three chips, and if you want to stop someone from succeeding automatically, you spend a chip (which you then give to the person you marked as [blank]er than you, whatever the relevant stat is). If your victim would really rather succeed, he has to spend a chip in response.
The way it plays out is this: people who have the highest stats in something do best when that stat is used a lot in play - if Tough is important, whoever's Toughest at the table will be getting chips a lot. If you play to your own strengths, that's a safe move, too - provided you're the best at something, there'll be lots of times when someone has to hand you a chip to try to make you lose! Each time you get your way, either because you went unchallenged or you spent a chip in response, you get a victory point. Those add up at the end to determine who got their way the most frequently, and was thus the overall winner.

The game was a lot of laughs, but overall I felt like the flow of play was quite choppy, and many times players felt very on-the-spot to devise their latest revenge plot; a simple who's-ready show of hands might have worked better than going around the circle every time. This game is very high on reversals, betrayals, and alliances, but/and it's kind of easy to get lost in the immediate screw-your-frenemy hijinks and forget where the overall victory tally stands. Still, our GM was good to point out the current totals on occasion, which helped us maintain more solid priorities. Also, in the late game, we started coming up with ideas that amused one another enough that the final round was largely conflict-free; there's definitely an element in the game whereby you could drop the direct competition, but/and if you do that enough there's no clear winner, if you don't like that sort of thing ^_^

So yes, the game is straight-up competition and challenge, but there's enough wiggle-room for going between cut-throat and kind play styles that alliances and cease-fires are actually pretty meaningful - two characters hooked up towards the end of the game and had a sexy non-aggression pact, and despite my efforts to turn them against one another! Definite, pure-and-simple Gamism, with a fun and super-easy premise/setting to serve as the backdrop. The specificity of the premise is so non-essential that we came up with some bizarre alternatives - Best Friends: Senate Subcommittee and Best Friends: College of Cardinals! Surely, other alts besides Gay Hairdressers could work too, and without hindering the fundamental Challenge goal of the game.
I think it could use some tweaks to smooth out the rounds of play, but a group that's really rolling creatively could take the game as-is and run with it.

Next: Radiant! And maybe some theory stuff, too.

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