I had an amazing time at GoPlay Northwest. GPNW is a fantastic convention, held yearly in Seattle, Washington. No panels, no workshops, no events. It’s a morning to night parade of games, with sane and timely breaks for meals. I was able to play four games this year, all of them more than worth the time. One was a playtest, so I’ll talk about the other three.
In The Upgrade, players fill the roles of couples on a Temptation Island-esque dating reality television show. By the end of The Upgrade, couples have either voted to stay together, or to ‘upgrade’ to a new relationship.
The Upgrade is a jeepform game, a philosophy of LARP and play developed primarily outside the U.S. I’ve been told it’s a great intro to jeepform experiences, and I’m fairly certain I agree with that after playing The Upgrade. It’s pertinent to note that we played using Jason Morningstar’s English version. There weren’t as many self-identifying women as there were female characters, so two male players jumped in to play the remaining two female roles. I thought they did an incredible job of role-playing those roles, without using the caricatures of women I’ve often seen men use when portraying women. I liked the game, and afterward was tired, but not emotionally spent. I think that a good host (or set of co-hosts), and players willing to embrace the high energy and timing the game demands, is essential to a positive experience with The Upgrade.
This game may be one of my new favorites. A competitive story game, Carolina Death Crawl is anchored by a deck of cards that guide players through turns and events. Portraying a unit of Union soldiers abandoned behind enemy lines in Confederate territory, the soldiers must make their way back to Union territory before they’re killed by Confederates, or reported as deserters. As the unit commits more crimes and atrocities behind enemy lines, they are plagued and haunted by the ghosts of their brothers in arms. As player characters die, they become a cooperative force, the “swamp ghosts” who will ensure the survivors pay their sins. The game has a set number of turns, so the game’s acts and resolution will go quickly if you keep it tightly paced. I found the bones of narrative you’re supplied with are solid, and that the swift ‘character creation’ is easy to follow and a good fit to the rest of the game. I was playing in a group of people learning it cold, so there was some stutter-stops in play. The written rules did give us pause a few times, where we felt something was ambiguous. We discussed these points as a group, picking thematically appropriate interpretations whenever possible. It is available for purchase in the Bully Pulpit Games online store.
I had never played Dungeon World before this weekend. Dungeon World is an indie game riding the rules engine of the game Apocalypse World. It takes the fantastical promises of epic fantasy games, and delivers them in an unexpected way. I’ve played Monsterhearts, another game using the AW rules engine, and found failure emotionally painful for me in that game. I’m not sure if playing more offbeat games is giving me a better appreciation of when I fail, or if Dungeon World’s setting is what makes failure feel awesome. I nearly got myself killed in the first scene, and really embraced that realization in mid-jump that I’d probably set myself up to die at the hands of gruesome ice monsters. I only knew my facilitator and one of the three other players. I could see that DW could be a mediocre experience if your game facilitator isn’t quick thinking and high energy, or if you have unprepared players. In this sense, I define unprepared players as those who aren’t briefed or willing to buy into the genre of epic fantasy adventure, and are unable or unwilling to connect with how that genre is presented in Dungeon World’s rules frame. It was a fantastic session, I saved my character sheet, and I’d love to play it again. Our session took X hours to play through. You can learn more about Dungeon World at their site, and can find purchase information there as well.
Because GPNW in intimate but full of a wide array of players and GMs, it’s a great setting to play unfamiliar games, run games in a supportive environment, and see different styles of play and game facilitation.
If you were at GPNW this year, I’d love to hear about other games you played that I didn’t get a chance to! Leave recommendations in the comments.