A different kind of game today:
Power Play: Schemes and Skullduggery is a competitive storytelling game designed by John Parmalee and produced by Level 99 Games. It’s for 4-8 players, and takes around an hour to play. A form of the game appeared in the Microgame Library from Level 99. The idea is that you, and your opponents, are supernatural villains with evil plans they need to execute. The game is quite free-form, but it is not an RPG. It’s currently on Kickstarter, so be sure to check it out if it sounds interesting.
What you get in the game is a 100-page book that contains the rules, scenarios, variants, and play options you need, as well as a 40-card deck containing roles and common elements. Additionally, you’ll need to supply scratch paper, something to write with, 5+ six-sided dice, and some sort of player marker for each player.
If you look on the Kickstarter page, there’s a free scenario there for you to try out, complete with six roles, six locations, six goals, and one common element – the briefcase that is involved somehow in each of the goals. In this scenario, you deal out all one location card to each player – they are the Secret Keeper for that location. Place the briefcase next to one of the locations. Each player then is dealt a secret role card. Everyone also has a random role card that they keep hidden. You need to keep your roles and goals secret for as long as possible.
In the first round of the game, each player adds a trait to a location. This trait is written on the card in brackets [like this]. These are just something about the location – [under surveillance], [drunk manager], [closed on Sundays], [crowded], [smelly], [in need of a paint job], etc. Be creative. After traits are written on the location, declare where you’re starting by placing your player marker on the card.
On a turn, you can do several free actions, and end your turn with one effective action. The free actions are:
- Propose a trait – You can propose a trait about a person, place or thing by saying what you think it has and giving a brief argument in favor. A vote is taken, and the trait is accepted only if a majority agrees.
- Move within a location – Moving from one place to another within a location. For example, in the hospital, you could use a free action to move from the ER to the ICU.
- Talk freely with others in that location – Self-explanatory. This can be done secretly by passing notes, and can be done during other players’ turns.
The effective actions are:
- Take a short action – Describe what you do, and what it accomplishes. This is something that would take 1-10 minutes in real time, but can be described briefly. You don’t need to dwell on details.
- Take a character action – Reveal your character and take the action listed on the card. This can be done so you can do a short action, but can’t be done in addition to the short action. If you do your character action (something like Snatching something), you can’t use the thing you snatched until your next turn.
- Take a secret action – Write down what you want to do in your current location, and pass it to the Secret Keeper. The Secret Keeper makes sure secret actions don’t conflict with each other, and it’s a way to move around stealthily. You can also use a character action in this way without revealing yourself to everyone – just the Secret Keeper.
- Delay – Pass, so you can take a long action next turn. You can still take free actions, just not an effective one.
- Take a long action – You can do this if you passed your previous turn. These are actions that would typically take an hour or so, such as moving from one location to another.
At any time during another player’s turn, you can call for a reality check. This means you don’t think the action is possible, and does not decide if the action succeeds. You can argue, then vote. If the vote is in favor of the action, the action succeeds as stated. If the vote is not in favor, roll two dice. If either die is a 5 or 6, the action succeeds. Otherwise, it must be amended. If the vote is unanimously against, the action is automatically vetoed.
Other things you can do when it’s not your turn are to propose a trait (just like the free action) or declare a conflict. If someone does an action that directly interferes with your plans, or harms you, you can declare a conflict. You say how your are resisting or foiling the action. Then, there is a vote. The majority winner has the advantage, and a unanimous winner has dominance. You then roll five dice, with players claiming certain numbers based on advantage or dominance. The player with the most dice wins, and dictates what happened.
The game is over when someone accomplishes their secret goal. They win.
This is very much a different kind of game than I usually talk about here. It’s kind of a game that defies description. It’s not a board game (no board). Nor is it a card game – there are cards, but they’re not really shaping the game. It’s more like a roleplaying game, but there’s no game master and there’s no set structure for the game. Really, there are basic goals for everyone, but everything else is up to the players. The clostest thing I can think of is Once Upon a Time, which is a card based storytelling game where players are trying to shape the story to their specific ending. This game is character based, which is different, and features more interaction than Once Upon a Time. Also, it’s more structured, abeit with a very loose structure.
I’m still not sure if this is my kind of thing, not being from an RPG background. However, I’d be willing to give it a try. I commend the Level 99 people for putting out a free scenario to try out because I think this is something that will not be for everyone. The preview game is at the Kickstarter page (linked at the bottom of this post), and if you’re interested in backing, you can get the book for $25 (and can make the cards yourself), or the cards for $25 (plus a PDF of the book), or the whole package for $35. The campaign ends on July 29, and they haven’t quite funded yet, so go take a look. Thanks for reading!
- BGG page for Power Play: Schemes and Skullduggery
- Level 99 Games page
- Kickstarter project page
- jPlay preview of the game from the free scenario