Every year, Cangames, the longest running gaming convention in Canada (since 1977), has a theme. For Cangames 2013 the theme is “Armageddon Missed!”, a celebration of surviving the end of the Mayan calendar. I try to run a game inspired by the theme.
At Cangames 2012, the theme was “Flames Across the Border”. I ran a D&D 4th edition game where devils were trying to breach the border the material world and the Shadowfell to release an imprisoned general. There were lots of fire and brimstone with undead guardians mixed in beneath a cemetery.
For this year, I had this idea of exploring memory in relation to the apocalypse. The premise is aliens invade Earth and force humanity to escape to a safe area. While the aliens are attempting to destroy the world, humanity sends some individuals to stop the aliens or a means to have humanity survive. The game would be exploring the memories of those individuals who went this ordeal and thus learn through the game, was the Earth saved or did humanity just survive. I asked on twitter for a recommendation of a game. I was suggested “A Penny for My Thoughts” by Paul Tevis. I bought a copy at my local gaming store.
A Penny for My Thoughts is a cool improvisational game. You play amnesiacs who help each remember the events which lead to your loss of memory. There are three scenarios provided in the book: a modern age normal amnesia following a traumatic experience; a covert operative hired to assassinate a target but lost their memory; a Cthulhu mythos based scenario. I used the guidelines and modifier the questionnaires to create my own scenario: 11th hour memories. I created a Facts & Reassurances sheet and a Questionnaire. I wanted to try the game out before submitting to Cangames.
On Saturday, January 19th, I tried out my scenario with 3 friends. We are a creative bunch. We play playing games like Fiasco, Once Upon a Time, etc. I expected my friends to be reasonably good at the game. When you explore a person’s memory, you get a memory trigger which is a key word or phrase. The other players who are guides ask leading questions which the active player answers with “yes, and” and adds a detail. For ex: when I got the question “Were you on vacation?” my answer was “Yes, and I didn’t expect the aliens to find me there.” After you get a number of questions equal to the number of players, you tell the story of the event until you get to a decision point. At the decision point, you turn to two guides who give two different outcomes which you choose to continue the story. There is a gathering and exchange of pennies which is a pacing mechanic for the game. At the end, you decide if your character wants to remember what happened or not.
As I expected, my friends were a creative bunch. Here is what we produced: penny characters. It took about a third of the game for them to start getting it but only mildly. One player started with the idea it would be a serious game and she was not enjoying it. She realized it and made the game her own and she started enjoying it. She told me after the game that sometimes she would have liked saying “No, but…” to the guided questions. When I was a kid, I learnt improvisation theatre and was comfortable with the “Yes, and…” answers. The group was not comfortable with all the rituals in the game. When you grab a penny from the pool, the rule says you must say “A penny for my thoughts”. I understand the importance to immerse yourself in the situation. I told the players about the instructions but didn’t enforce it. Some of the players said the line some of the time. We didn’t get the importance of the pennies you get in the end once you’ve finished getting your final memory.
“A Penny for My Thoughts” is a fascinating improvisation game. I will need to try it a few more times to determine if it works for Cangames. I might try one of the other scenarios in the book instead of mine. The feedback from my friends informs me the game would work in a specific niche of gamers but not at Cangames. I have my Life-size Kill Doctor Lucky and a game of Dresden Files set in Ottawa which I’ll run this Cangames 2013.