You might remember last year I posted here about a game idea, Resistance Is Useless. That proved a fun diversion for a slightly tispy evening — but, as commenters predicted, it lacked the ‘gamishness’ for real replay value. The conversational elements were not sufficiently exchange-y, and it worked best when people went off on unstructured rambles in character.
So I was thinking about it again just the other night, and thought it might do better if turned into explicitly a storytelling game. I know lots of (possibly, most) people detest storytelling games — so if you are in that category, please bear with me, or move on to the next item on your friends’ page. I rather like them, and hopefully there’ll be at least one other person out there who also does and can let me know what they think…
OK, the game is now called The Secret Agents’ Masked Ball, and it’s set at the as-yet-unnamed town which lies on the border of four nations: Borduria, Syldavia, San Theodoros and Nuevo Rico. All four maintain large and active secret agencies, to support or undermine their ever-shifting pattern of alliances and enmities, but their hard-working staff are annually granted the opportunity to relax together at the titular event. Of course, they do so under cover, concealing their real identities and affiliations.
The game is for four people, although I think it would work OK with three. The playing materials are two decks of cards, plus pens and paper for voting / scoring. It takes place over a series of rounds, maybe as few as one, or until the players get bored.
The first deck of cards is the cover identities. Each card depicts a person, their name, their job (or whatever), and their characteristics / interests. So, for example, “Colonel Juan Oloroso, San Theodoran army officer, corrupt, boastful, alcoholic, a keen huntsman”. Each player is dealt one of these cards at random (face-down) at the start of the round.
The second deck is in groups of four, colour-coded on their backs. Each round, a group of four is taken from the deck, and one is dealt (face-down) to each player. These cards contain the real identities. A real identity consists of: the name of the country for which you are an agent; which country is currently its ally, and which its enemy. It also contains your own codephrase (eg. “the biggest carp I’ve ever seen”), the subject of your ally’s codephrase (eg. “it’s something to do with horses”) and the theme of your enemy’s codephrase (eg. “it’s about an ironic disappointment”).
So the way the game works is: each player in turn, in the character of their cover identity, tells a brief story about their doings, something that interests them, or whatever. You have to include your codephrase (exactly as written) in your own story, and listen out for what might be other people’s codephrases in their stories.
After everyone’s told their story, each player writes down which other player they think is the agent of their ally, which their enemy, and which is from the remaining (neutral) country. (In a three-player game, when one of the four cards in the set will be unused, players would write down if they think their ally or enemy is absent.) Then everyone reveals their true identity, and scores +2 points for correctly identifying their enemy and ally, +1 for being identified by their ally, and -1 for being identified by ther enemy. That concludes a round.
So the skill of the game is to tell an entertaining story and include your codephrase in such a way that your listening ally will spot it from its subject, but your listening enemy won’t spot it from its theme. And, of course, to spot others’ codephrases accordingly. Each group of four real identities is only really usable once, as once the codephrases are known it becomes too easy. But there would be quite a few in the deck, and maybe others available if you play it so much that you use all those up.
Does that all make sense as an explanation, and does it sound playable a a game?