Friday, April 29, 2016
The Games Geek People Play: Power Play: Schemes and Skulduggery
So, this week's entry is the first in a new irregular series. I've mentioned my love of games, both role-playing and board, before, and there are plenty of games based on comic books and genre tropes out there. And, to be completely frank, I was up late last night at my bi-weekly Nerdstorm, that's my gamer group, playing Talisman, the fantasy board game equivalent of Monopoly (not because it's about buying and selling property, but because it goes on forever and no one ever wins. It's about the playing and not the result, for us anyway), and had completely spaced on a topic for today's piece, so I figured, hey, might as well write about a game! So, today is my first game recommendation, and that game is Power Play: Schemes and Skulduggery! I'm not a game reviewer by trade, so this isn't a review of the mechanics, although I'll talk a bit about that by default, but more about the experience of playing, about what makes the game fun and makes someone else try it out.
I stumbled across Power Play at a game store, and reading the description, well, it seemed right up my alley. It's a story telling game, an RPG of sorts, but designed to one session, and doesn't require a gamemaster. You are a super powered villain who is serving a mysterious organization called The Agency to gain power for yourself. Each game one of several object cards is selected, which serves as the MacGuffin you and the others are competing over. You have a specific goal, and a there are a number of locations pulled from a location deck. To play, all you need is the game itself, some scratch paper, and to raid your boardgames or RPG dice stash for some D6's (that's six sided dice for you non-gamers). You progress through the game trying to meet your objective while beating the other characters to the punch through manipulation, cunning, and occasionally main force.
The joy of Power Play is that it allows for infinite creativity, limited only by your imagination and the laws if physics and logic. The goals that you have to undertake are created by the players at the start of the game, shuffled, and distributed at random, so it benefits the player to come up with something tricky but not impossible, as you might wind up with the goal you created, or something else completely different. On your turn, you declare Traits on places, people, and things that will aid you in this or future turns (or interfere with the plans someone else has carefully been setting up), and then take one of various kinds of actions.And those actions are anything you can physically and realistically pull off; this isn't a game where you have specific skills and roll to see if you achieve an action. The challenge mechanic is a "Reality Check" where someone can call you on doing something impossible. For example, if you're at the construction site, you can say, "I jump across the pit that foundation is being laid in," and that just happens. On the other hand, when visiting City Hall, you say, "I pull out my sword and stab the deputy mayor." someone can call you out by saying that there is no way you made it into City Hall with a sword, and there are mechanics to resolve the conflict. It's a clever way to play, and it challenges the players to think creatively.
The game is designed for 4-8 players, which makes it a decent size for a small gaming party or a large gaming group (mine is seven at full attendance, but we usually break out the non-RPGs when we're down a man or woman, so this was played with six). The characters you can choose from are a selection of archetypes,from the pyrokinetic Firestarter, to the physical bruiser The Tank, to the demonic powers of The Devil's Advocate. Last game, I got the unfortunate character, The Garbage Man, who sickens those around him and can break his monster into small monsters to do his bidding. Gross, huh? This basically means you're a supervillain, and while this game doesn't necessarily give you the time or impetus to create elaborate backstories like full-on RPGs do, you're given a couple of character traits to start with to inform how you play, like "A Flair for the Dramatic," or "Unsettling."
Along with the core deck of twelve characters, there are two smaller six character decks for different kinds of games. One set, if you're in the mood for a more horror themed game, are six classic monster archetypes, including the Vampire, the Werewolf, and others. I'm looking forward to playing again because I want to play the Werewolf bad. The other six and Superhero archetypes. Now whether you want to play a game that is more heroic themed, or instead make them heroes who are secretly villains, well, that's totally up to you and how you play!
Power Play is a game for those who enjoy free form storytelling with a side of duplicity. Everyone is working against each other, even if they're allies. It works perfectly for certain types of gaming groups, mine most assuredly among them. If you're a fan of less dice heavy, more story-centric role playing systems like FATE and want a great one night game experience (once you get the hang of the game, you can play it on about two hours), being the bad guy, and a game that makes you think your way through it, I highly recommend Power Play.