We bill Conspire as a “hidden-role storytelling” game. It is an uncommon genre combination (possibly one never attempted before). As such, there is ambiguity as to what to expect. What elements from hidden-role or storytelling games are present? How much crossover appeal is there? Are there expectations players should have or avoid? The game manual itself addresses these concerns, but we explore these ideas of tropes and style during the Kickstarter campaign.
Hidden-role games use mystery as a fundamental mechanic. These games end when you know who is who with certainty. In our recent design post, we talked about players’ apprehensions around revealing their character’s identity or goals. Some found it strategic to be completely transparent. So, does that negate the claim of Conspire being a hidden-role game? Our perspective is this decision to be secretive or not enhances the hidden-role mechanics, instead of inhibiting them.
Many hidden-role games become rote after several sessions. The objectives are always the same, meaning your strategies follow similar paths. This is still fun; you have to analyze the social dynamics and play to the group. It just means you can logically figure out why people are agreeing or blaming each other. Conspire does not have set goals, meaning players do not know everyone’s strategies. Once you pick up a role, you make active decisions about which goals to prioritize and which goals to keep secret until the right moment. Because of the way goals are setup in Conspire, everyone has a potential opponent (one goal has to “oppose a faction or individual”). This means revealing yourself is risky before you have evaluated the rest of the room. The openness and diplomacy you show towards others can greatly benefit or harm you, without any precedent to guide play.
CPG is all about making players think about their actions. Introducing ambiguities and unknowns into hidden-role games expands the number of choices players make. They have to constantly judge what others are saying, how they are saying it, and their potential motivations for deceit. This information gets weighed against the players’ objectives and they must regularly reevaluate whether certain goals are worth pursuing. The resulting actions are instantly rewarded by seeing nods of agreement around the table or by not drawing ire from spending an influence token to guarantee a goal. It is touch-and-go, seat-of-your-pants, diplomatic negotiation wrapped up in a hilariously absurd context.
The comedy arising from influence tokens and differences in goal interpretations leads into CPG’s take on storytelling games. We have previously discussed some inspiration for Conspire’s design. The gist of that post is we like telling stories, we have been heavily influenced by improv comedy, and we want people to enjoy each other’s company. We also want Conspire to be a game with structure, not just a pure narrative exploration. Those are cool too, but can get paralyzed by a lack of limitations and motivations. Conspire has a game-driven springboard to jumpstart stories and a safety net to help players weaker at understanding the complex nature of narrative creation.
Moreover, Conspire needs to be funny and never taken seriously. Sharing deep moments with friends is important; we find the lens of humor makes this easier and more accessible for everyone involved. It also lessens the competitive nature of trying to achieve contrary goals.
Beyond telling a story during the game, the summary of a Conspire game is itself an amazing tale. In a recent playtest, we had a town hall meeting to discuss what to do with the growing witch problem in our village. You see, the witches gained their power from chocolate, which was our town’s only source of income and nutrition. The witches enslaved our children with demonic spirits and forced them to trick-or-treat, thus robbing the town of its resources while empowering the coven. We passed Resolution 72, which banned trick-or-treating and forced children under the age of 18 to work in the cacao mines. With the witches sufficiently sanctioned, we decided to sing a song of togetherness. Unfortunately, a mysterious child used that opportunity to possess the mayor with a demon lord and transformed the possessed children into full-fledged demons. We quickly allied with the demons, relocated our town to Hell, and used the demons as labor. This skyrocketed our GDP, launching the town into newfound prosperity.
That was a fun game. We cannot wait to hear the crazy stories you tell.