It was time for Indie RPG Game at Story Games Glendale, and David had themed this one set appropriately as “Horror Themed”, updating our verbiage to reflect those types of games.
Pre-game of Spindlewheel Microgame: Detective
My friend Sasha is writing a game called Spindlewheel (another game I haven’t finished a blog post about damnit! This will be fixed soon.) Spindlewheel is described as a tarot-like storytelling rpg where you use cards as anchors to weave together a story with your friends, with the objective being to tell a satisfying story. The deck is a marvel, with intricate story prompts that allow you to weave storytelling magic. I have played once before, and we told an intriguing sci-fi story about a prisoner ship with desperate crew, flustered AI, and a small stow-away.
Prior to the general meetup, my friend Unique showed up early and joined me to test-run one of the Spindlewheel Microgames, a recent development that allows for much shorter and simpler games played with this same inspirational tarot-style deck. In this case we played Detective, where you are summoned to a crime scene to investigate a freshly discovered dead body. It plays for 1-5 players, and supposedly in 5-15 minutes! Armed with the beautiful preliminary deck (with individually thematically art-filled cards) that Sasha had bestowed on me, we dove in.
The game has you place cards in tarot-like positions (which fortunately Unique is more familiar with then myself, although the instructions are easy enough to follow), and within minutes we had a story forming. A body found in a bathtub with an electric appliance, in run-down building in a run-down part of town, the skin almost falling off. But wait: that was a rouse… the person was killed with a slash to the inner thigh artery. An owner of a pawn shop, who as we found out, was a bit of a pillar in the community, prioritizing the community itself above even his family, and trying to rid the community of the drug violence that current infested it. And then fighting against gentrification and external financial interests. And then distraught family members. And external pressures from the gangs that are trying to consolidate their power again. And a hidden cache of riches in a vault under the store, slowly laundered to provide for those less fortunate in the community… until some family members decided enough was enough.
It was pretty amazing how brilliantly and quickly the game ran. We probably were closer to the 20-30 minute mark as far as game time, but it was thoroughly enjoyable, and as always the cards did a stand up job of providing just enough structure and direction, without ever seeming off. We only really played through Step 1: Investigate, however perused the other parts of the Microgame such as Step 2: Deliberate (which we partially fulfilled during the play of the game), and Step 3: Convict (which we epilogued through a card draw), and finally Second Thoughts. This was definitely something I’d explore again as a mini-game to fill a short slot, and maybe even to use as world-building prior to an investigative or Urban Shadows-type game.
It also gave me a feel for running the full Spindlewheel game, which I have been unreasonably intimidated by.
Note: You can find the Spindlewheel Microgames on itch.io as pay-what-you-want!
We had a pretty good showing of about dozen folks, and everyone had been to our meetup at least once in the past. We finally did a quick round of introductions (a phase I usually skip or forget) and did name and pronoun introductions. In that excitement I forgot to have our normal safety tools conversation, but hopefully that wasn’t needed as desperately because everyone was used to our use of them in the past. I’m making mental notes not to forget for next time! Incremental improvements. We quickly separated into 3 tables which included Asher running Monster Hearts, Spencer running Kids on Bikes (Halloween edition), and me running this particular two-shot.
Game One: Zombie Cinema
You can find information on Zombie Cinema up on Boardgamegeek, as it’s listed there as a board game of sorts! There’s a pretty good review of the game (although dated 9 years ago) in the forums as well, which includes much of the game mechanics as well.
I purchased this up at Endgame in Oakland when I was there earlier this month for Big Bad Con. It comes in an old VHS cassette tape box, and contains a few low-fi components: various matching colored dice and pawns, a little game board with squares, and a few decks of cards. The premise is that you will be playing a standard Zombie-style movie, and the pawns represent your various characters (which you create based on a few card draws for inspiration).
There was only three of us playing (the game claims it supports 3-6), and we decided to set it roughly where we were: A few people at a board game meetup at a board game cafe, not really friends, and just hanging out while the zombie apocalypse starts to happen before Halloween. Even the first scene was sort of great because we started to establish a full-on zombie attach in from of the window of the store, then realized that the board was telling us that we should only see zombies in passing on news and rumors (not in front of our faces), so Christian suggested we just make it a few friends playing a Halloween prank on the street.
So, I’ll say this: The rules are not easy to parse and follow, even though they aren’t really that complicated. Small font with poorly contrasting colors, and a flow which unfortunately hid from us certain game details which were vital in running it correctly. The basics is that you will initially have lots of player vs player issues, which drives contested dice rolls, and that results in one player metaphorically getting ahead while another gets behind and closer to being zombie chow. When you roll ties, the zombies move up. Unfortunately, the fact that the zombies are supposed to slowly work their way up the board (separately from when you roll ties) was unknown to us, and even reading the rules now I’m not 100% sure I understand when that is supposed to happen. The game requires a lot of inter-character drama, and we didn’t exactly plan for that either. The review on boardgamegeek above does a lot to illustrate some of what you should expect going in.
One of the cool factors is that as soon as a player’s character either is killed by the zombies, or escapes off the top of the board, that player then gets to act for non-player characters and the zombies, and it appears the game can become a little more collaborative between players. But we didn’t exactly get to explore all that.
After realizing that we probably didn’t do it right, we decided that maybe a future game was in order to give a proper review, but before that I’m reckoning I’ll have to make a cheat sheet or something.
After the fact, I was happy to find that there are free Zombie Cinema variants, which include those for a heist movie, one about the mythos and cults, and more. Something worth exploring.
Game Two: For the Zombie Queen
I’ve written about For the Queen recently, so will let that stand for the game itself. What I did next is something I’ve done a few times before, but best explained in a prior game night where we played Icarus and For the Queen as a two-shot.
We decided to play a fairly short game of For the Queen where we explored what story would roughly follow from our Zombie Cinema game. In this case we didn’t really use any cannon from that game, but we did play in a zombie-themed world. We decided we’d be zombies following a zombie queen, whatever that meant, and just see where that leads.
Well, it led to some zombie drama, favorites and eaten arms and zombie bait, and a journey to find another zombie queen, perhaps. As always, I’m impressed with the breadth of themes this game can handle. There were a few cards we X’d out simply because they didn’t thematically make sense (like questions about the “royal court”, which we just weren’t feeling), but that’s one of the things I love about this game: The simplicity and ubiquity of using the X card.
I was happy to be able to show Christian the game, as he’d expressed prior interest, and was similarly blown away with all the cool things it does. And to play it with Thomas, who is a complete RPG newbie, but was able to keep up in the session.