GAME STORIES (PART 1)
Books, Comics, Movies, and now video games can be heralded for their stories. But what about board games? Can board games carry a story, at least something that can resemble a story? There are games with campaigns, but do those count? What about those titles that boast storybooks? Let’s look at a few examples and see if they measure up.
…by the way, I was going to list the top ten game stories, but I felt that would sully the list, so I am just going to ramble about a bunch…for like (apparently) several installments.
The first caveat I am going to impose will be that a game to be included here, the players must be playing characters, not factions or organizations or governments—actual characters with illustrations. Names will be optional but recommended.
It’s an old story.
A spaceship crashes on an alien planet, and the survivors must fight off swarms of incoming aliens before an eventual rescue. This has been seen elsewhere in Apocalypse Chaos, but in Alien Uprising, significant effort was placed on some measure of backstory. Your crew is a special forces team without clear answers on if their crash on Hive IV, a Zothren-controlled planet, was part of a clandestine mission or accidental. The vessel is in shambles but remains your only sanctuary from the increasingly hostile aliens. The surviving crew consists of…sigh…Allie Blade, Jake Comet, Corporal Diesal (that’s how it’s spelled), Jaylen Moon, Ivan Starr, Rex Nova, and the X-14 Android.
After assessing the situation, the crew realizes they have two options—repair the engines and escape or recover the beacon and survive until help arrives. This can create a level of dynamic storytelling because if the crew cannot recover the beacon, then they must find specific parts strewn across the crash to repair the vessel, all while fighting back aliens that can occasionally steal some of these vital components. If they stop the engine from being repaired, then it is a hard slog until a ship does find and rescue the crew. There are no arcs, no complex character dynamics, only the unexpected twists when discovering a plan has failed. It’s not a bad story…I mean, it’s a poor-man’s Pitch Black. Just too bad the game sucks.
Story Quality: 2/10
Imagine our ordinary world sheltered by a mystical veil of ignorance known as the Paradigm. Fueled by rational thinking and skepticism, this paradigm shields our awareness of the paranormal. Werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and other paranormal forces push against this barrier in efforts to retake the world and drag it into chaos. And there would be no one to stop them given the paradigm’s efforts to keep the population ignorant. But there are certain individuals, seemingly random, cursed to see the world as it truly is, those able to draw back the veil and see the magical machinations occurring beneath the surface. And yes, I know I just paraphrased the premise to Supernatural. And Buffy. And Constantine. Charmed. True Blood. Penny Dreadful. Salem. And the Secret Circle.
American Gods. The Vampire Diaries. Grimm. Hex. Sleepy Hollow. Ravenswood. And Bitten.
The Magicians. Once Upon a Time. Being Human. The Originals. Angel. Warehouse 13. Fringe. X-Files—okay, we get it. It’s not what you would call original. Still, the writers of Apocrypha put in an effort. Set in America in an unspecific time, ignoring geopolitical lines, the nation is divided into regions controlled by the skinwalkers, the damned, the deathless (up in Canada), etc. A combination of mystical energy and old-fashioned conflict has reinforced the borders, leaving one small region to become a cluster of paranormal energy all factions converge upon. Castle Rock…I-I- mean …. Candlepoint. It’s here where those special individuals manifest—the game and its world…refer to them as saints. Novel. And they are an indiscriminate sort—a corrupt cop, a biker, a necrosurgeon, a burglar, a reporter, and an overweight gambling grandmother. They all share a desire to save the day and not get killed doing it. They also share a similar capacity to glean the supernatural from everyday items, to defeat creatures invisible to the outside world, as well as a bizarre lack of memory. Like the Quickening in Highlander… the good one, the compulsion to Candlepoint and to right the many wrongs of the world may be involuntary, but with hope, as our characters battle their way through this nightmare, they may recover memories of their past life, preferred over the alternative of encountering visions of one of many possible deaths laying in the future.
Apocrypha doesn’t possess a structured story like other games, but it drips with so much ambiance, it’s hard not to love it. This would not be a movie, and more closely resembles a weekly TV show.
Story Quality: 6/10
THE BIG BOOK OF MADNESS
Within the library of a wizardry school that is totally not Hogwarts, students have become…bored. Outside of lighting a finger ablaze, they have been denied the utterly amazing spells known to legendary mages…you know…like a responsible wizardry school would. Then a group of students, a Brain, an Athlete, a Basketcase, a Princess, and a—wait, this sounds familiar—learn of the fabled Big Book of Madness hidden within the library. Despite warnings, the students find the book and open it, releasing dozens of dreadful creatures locked within. This mistake is now on them to fix, and these amateurs wizards must now work together to close the book and lock away the monsters inside.
Yeah, that sounds like a dozen different urban fantasy novels right there. The only issue is the lack of character names or backstories. The game components randomize each session, but nothing resembling continuity ever emerges. It’s too bad the characters don’t have personalities or even names, but as a game, it is far better than any of the Harry Potter titles on the market.
Story Quality: 3/10
OH, I’m just getting warmed up.