PAX! It’s huge, bustling, unpredictable, and completely worth every bit of the reputation it has garnered. This Seattle con is the Mecca of gaming. Every facet of the hobby is explored and elevated. Cherry Picked Games had their games represented by the volunteers of Games on Demand. These brave facilitators led groups through the Catalyst apocalypse and into the duplicitous parlor rooms of Conspire. While Catalyst has been vetted (and committed to published paper), Conspire is still an idea able to be molded. We learned a lot for the upcoming weeks.
Between both of our facilitators, we ran over twenty Conspire games. The scenes ranged from shaping society (squid-people space program goals, dealing with an eternal life serum, picking the rightful twin to inherit the Egyptian throne) to life and death (dealing with a dragon siege, escaping an exploding research station at the bottom of a methane sea) to… less drastic scenes (deciding the love life of stand-up comedian Josh Chambers). This breadth let us explore the mechanics from a number of different angles. We also had several games at maximum capacity (12 players), giving us the stress-tests we needed.
The first thing we learned is it is hard to break Conspire unless you’re trying. We had a couple incidents with players dragged along by their partners. Shockingly, if you actively do not want to play a game, you will not enjoy it. Similarly, if you routinely ignore rules and have no regard towards other players (in reality; for in-game characters, all bets are off), than the game is less fun for everyone else. Even though Conspire is GM-less (everyone is an equal player), having a more knowledge player teach and guide everyone is still important. Conspire needs to provide facilitators guidance on how to handle these situations. Steering the game from awkward territory and getting problematic players in line are necessary skills. Of course, these are far less likely to happen in a home setting versus at a convention.
In the same vein as host guidance, it became clear we needed a couple clearly defined mechanics during the discussion phase. With huge groups, there is a risk of some people getting left out of the discussion. Chaos is a fun element of Conspire, but we need something to point the spotlight towards quieter players when they want. We also need to codify a topic safety mechanism. The story gaming has some standards (cut/break, X, etc.) that we will probably directly port. Conspire has a tendency to take weird turns, which is fun, but it’s good to have something to fall back on just in case.
The concepts of factions and talents need to be revamped. We have a lot of data and no clear solution. Some games had no use for factions and others found them important. Talents are something that still feel hard to apply correctly. The next few playtests will focus on these elements.
Finally, theme. Originally, we wrote Conspire to feel like a play. We used a lot of terminology from stagecraft. It became abundantly clear the conspiracy-theorist vernacular was more popular. We’ll go whole hog into the Illuminati/MJ12 stuff, just like they want us to.
Expect more Conspire playtests over the next month. We’re driving towards a Kickstarter before the holiday season. Maybe it’ll be up in time for Big Bad Con? Maybe we’ll be secretly funded by the Trilateral Commission? Hopefully both.