This game was one of the more interesting and challenging to run. Challenging because it didn’t have an immediate action oriented premise which makes a demo game a little difficult to keep moving. Interesting because it had a couple of players who were overtly attempting to outdo each other with convoluted plot twists while another couple of players were trying to reign things in.
This was evident right from the pre-game which started out (as all demos I ran at GenCon this year did for some reason) as a Science Fiction game. It was to be a story about a first contact situation where aliens were arriving on Earth for the first time. Then they started twisting it. The aliens were not going to be humanoid, they were going to energy beings who could possess the bodies of humans. But not just any humans, senior citizens. And not just any senior citizens, recently deceased senior citizens. Further the game was to be set in prohibition era Chicago. Finally, the main thrust of the story was that the aliens were in love. One of them was lost on Earth and the other one was searching for him.
The first scene started with a bit of a flash back to the point where the first alien came to Earth. It began with the assassination of mob boss Don Finito by a rival family. The Don was elderly, and recently deceased. Lo and behold, the assassination attempt must have failed because Don Finito was still alive. Of course, that was due to his corpse being possessed by one of the aliens, an alien who very much enjoyed his new role as a crime syndicate king pin.
The second scene took place in a grimy gym where several boxers were training. Big Tony, a manager and fight promoter, called over one of his star boxers, a wiry middle weight by the name of Little Joe. Tony had some bad news. It seems that he’d just gotten word that Joe’s mother, who’d been hospitalized for some time, had just passed away at a local hospital. Joe lost no time rushing to the hospital. As he left Tony reminded him that he had a big fight the next day.
At the hospital we have a brief flashback, to a scene where a number of doctors and nurses are desperately trying to save the life of an elderly woman. We know they failed when the EKG machine flat lines, they draw the sheet over her head and solemnly leave the room. We know an alien has entered her body, when the meter begins to beep again and the sheets begin to stir. [Note: we had no idea at the time whether EKG machines were around in the 20s and 30s but it made no difference for our purposes at the time. Groups desiring a more authentic setting may want to look facts like this up in advance. A subsequent web search revealed that the first EKG machine was invented at the University of Iowa in 1920, but used an actual saline bath for conductivity. The wires and electrodes weren’t added until 1940…oh well…on with the story]
The action then cut back to Little Joe in a heated discussion with a nurse who wouldn’t let him past the lobby when suddenly everyone is interrupted by an elderly woman in a hospital gown striding purposefully towards the door…shocked doctors in pursuit. Joe joyfully confronts his mother whom he thought was dead but she doesn’t recognize him at all, instead she keeps saying that she’s looking for someone and has to find him. This alien retained no memories of the host body. As Joe engages the doctors in another heated discussion, his mother slips away unnoticed, disappearing in the night.
The next scene cut ahead a couple of days with a beleaguered and unkempt Little Joe being led to see Don Finito on the Don’s patio. The Don, who runs the neighborhood, had had a large amount of money riding on Little Joe and was furious that Joe had never shown up for the big fight. When Joe told the story about his mother who was still missing, the Don ordered his Concigliere, Vincent to find her. Vincent sent two goons, Guido and Vito (inseparable brothers) to get her and bring her back to the Don. During this scene it was also established as another twist that the alien that Joe’s mother was looking for was not the one who possess Don Finito but rather a third alien we hadn’t yet seen.
In the final scene we ran, Guido and Vito indeed found Little Joe’s alien possessed mother in an ally. She told them she was looking for someone and asked if they could help her find him. The pair said no, but that she was coming with them to meet Don Finito. That was the wrong answer. Glowing with alien energy, the old woman sent the two bruisers flying across the ally into a wall. At this point in time a car drove up with three more goons, these from the rival family who’d tried to assassinate Don Finito. They’d heard Finito was looking for this woman and figured she must be someone important, so they planned on getting to her first. Glowing even more brightly now she cut the three thugs down with blasts of white light setting their car on fire and causing it to explode.
At this point we called the demo due to time but did a brief post game wrap-up to try to make some sense of the story. What we decided was this: The alien who possessed Don Finito was a criminal among his own people who fled to Earth looking for a place to hide. The mysterious third alien was actually the second to arrive on Earth. He was there to bring the first alien to justice, but things went awry and he disappeared. The alien who’d possessed Little Joe’s mother was the life mate of the third alien who’d come to find him after he was written off as lost. Her possession hadn’t gone well and she hadn’t absorbed the memories of her host and so didn’t know how to get along on Earth among humans. We decided that the third alien had run afoul of the U.S. Military in some sort of Roswell-esque incident and was a prisoner of the government who were studying him, perhaps with the idea of using his self sustaining energy form as a source of power. Further we decided that Guido and Vito’s description of the incident would tip Don Finito off that another alien was around. An alien he’d now have to kill. Little Joe would find out about the Don’s plan and save his mother and somehow come to discover the truth about her. Together with some as yet uncreated girl friend they’d set out in search of the alien’s lost love.
Featured Element, Plot Flexibility:
At times during the actual session, the play of the demo seemed to drag a bit, but this I think was largely because I had gotten used to a much more rapid fire action oriented type of demo and the soap opera like pace of this session threw me for a loop at first. In the end I sold 2 copies based on this demo, so it must have been well received by the players.
What struck me most about the session was how easily the game mechanics adapted to the sometimes bizarre direction the story was going. Even with two players bound and determined to out do each other for the next big plot twist, the Coin mechanics worked powerfully well to limit just how much they could do at a time and allowed the more staid players (including myself) to maintain some sanity in the story line. Despite all of the convolutions, our post game wrap-up demonstrated how easily the session could have been turned into a coherent story if we’d had time to play it out. The elements we introduced in the wrap-up could have been brought out during play and while its likely that a few challenges might have been necessary to keep things from getting too zany or obscure I was really impressed with the tale that we told in a 45 minute session with 4 first time players. We went almost the entire time without a single complication until I finally forced one into the last scene for the sole purpose of demoing how it works. What at the time seemed one of the harder demos to play in retrospect is one of the ones I’m most pleased with.