During the month of October 2014, the Golden Cobra Challenge took place. This was an initiative to generate, and to build up a library of, live games that can be run at conventions and other public events, fitting into two hours, for a small but variable number of participants, playable in a public space. More details here about the criteria.
Feeding the Golden Cobra
It seemed to me like a really great idea and a good cause to support, so I resolved to put something in, despite October looking like a nightmarishly busy month. Unfortunately this turned out to be so much so that I didn’t get to put in any work on the Golden Cobra until a few days before the deadline, so my submission was kind of a feeble effort. But at least I did manage to get it done, I suppose.
I wanted to develop an idea I wrote about on this blog some years back, a party game called The Secret Agents’ Masked Ball. That never got beyond concept stage, as it didn’t really work for the intended purpose: but it seemed to me it might fit better as a freeform (non-UK usage).
For general use in a public space the masked ball setting didn’t really work, so I changed that first: welcome to Cafe Incognito!
Café Incognito: that busy, bustling hub where the secret agents of four rival countries mingle and meet. Can you keep your head, and keep your identity secret, while puzzling out the loyalties of your fellows? A yarn-spinning whirlwind of allies, enemies, truth, lies, gossip and garbled codephrases.
The challenge organizers (Whitney “Strix” Beltrán, Emily Care Boss, Jason Morningstar and Evan Torner) didn’t have long to assess the 49 entries, needing to declare winners in time to play them at the Metatopia convention on November 6th. So I was impressed to get some great feedback. As well as very kindly saying some nice things about aspects of the game, their two main concerns were (1) my use of diverse ethnicity in the characters provided might tempt hasty players into stereotype; and (2) it wasn’t evident that the game would really work as well with three or five players as it would with four.
I certainly couldn’t argue with either of those points. (1) might be ameliorable with the provision of suitable briefing material guiding players away from stereotype. (I don’t want to instead make all the characters ethnically blank, because I feel it’s an important representation issue.) As for (2), I have to hold my hand up and say that I didn’t have time to playtest it with three or five. It seems to me that it probably ought to work, based on my design intention: but we’ll have to see.
Winners and sinners
So Cafe Incognito was not really in contention for the prizes (which were offered for: Most Convention-Ready, Most Appealing to Newcomers, Cleverest Design, and Game We’re Most Eager to Play). I’ve seen one of the games that did win – Unheroes, by Joanna Piancastelli – and it really is an excellent game, well worthy of winning anything. And I’m very much looking forward to seeing the other entries (most of which can be downloaded from here)!
In the meantime I’ll be cheered that I did actually manage to get something in by the deadline, and hopefully people will have fun with Cafe Incognito (which you can download here) and all the other games that the contest has generated.