Thursday 7 August 2014

Day Seven – Most Intellectual RPG - Microscope

The problem of the question with possibly several meanings in it has reared its head again, what is the most Intellectual RPG that I’ve got.  If on the one hand we’re referring to the game that requires the most level of sheer intellectual prowess to play, then it has to be Phoenix Command, those without big brains and long tolerance for mechanics need not apply. If we’re referring to the game that requires that the players work intelligently to resolve things, lest the game destroy them, then it has to be Paranoia, because dumb has a cascade effect that wipes out rows of characters in that game.

If on the other hand, we’re referring to the game with the greatest potential to have long discourses on things completely theoretical, the rise and fall of civilisations and all things within...

It has to be Microscope. 

Now before the Indies (Love you Guys...) think I’m converted and I’m now one of them, I really haven’t, but credit where credit is due, for pure literal discourse into the possibilities of things that could be, there’s very little out there that even comes close to the level of focus that Microscope presents.  The premise of the game is that it’s (almost) co-operative, and the players together (there is no GM), create a start point for a civilisation and an end point, and then go about debating how they got between the two.

I’m over simplifying there, by a quantum degree, but if I explain the whole game, you won’t have to go out and buy it, and of indie games that I’ve seen, this is one of the ones where I can hand on heart say that it’s worth getting.  There aren’t any dice, there’s no conflict resolution, it is all in the discussive (I know it’s not a word, but think concussive but with words...) powers of the players to work through the different events in the timeline to decide how the society went from where it started to where it finished, hence why the game is called microscope, the fun part of it is in the scrutinisation of the tiny events that went on to become central to the timeline that has been decided upon.

As an example, You can start at the point where man looked up to the stars and wondered if there was anything out there, and end at the point when man was up in the stars and now, fragmented and alone, wondered if there was anything left for them at the end of the universe.  Between the start and the finish of this particular story are a number of things, ranging from the discover of the first jump drives to the point where the earth was destroyed and man finally realised that there was nowhere else for them to return to, that their destiny had to be out in the stars somewhere (think Interstellar without the special effects budget), which is why they continued on till there was nowhere left to go.

As with many games that don’t have GM’s and don’t have dice and rely completely on the ability of the players to build and hold a narrative between each other, it’s challenging.  It’s not for everyone and it’s certainly not for those who’ve only just learned to pick up dice and figure out challenge numbers, but it is a good game, it’s interesting to see where people go with things when they have no framework to rely on and nothing to prevent them doing as they will.

There will be those who have noted that there’s no pictures in this particular commentary beyond the front cover of the book, and that’s because in this book, there is no artwork, there’s no shiny, they don’t sugar coat anything, if you’re picking this book up, you’re looking to play, not be enthralled by nice pictures, so be aware of that when you get it...

And then destroy the universe...