So Dreamation was winding down, and Michael gathered us all around for a game of Universalis. I wish I could remember everyone’s name, but I can’t. Here’s where we went:
We listed some tenets:
- The time is the 20th century
- Combat is based on emotions rather than strength or tactics
- All characters are talking animals
- Dialogue is free
Someone set the first scene, stating that the time was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I immediately started laughing hysterically, trying to control myself, and wracking my brain for the next pun (so that I could get out ahead of the curve).
Don’t see the pun implied there? Start thinking animal references, because it only gets heavier from here on in.
The setting was the oval office, and Michael introduced JFK (a fox), and statted him up a very little. I think “Charismatic”, at that point, and nothing else. He did, however, have the most spectacular imitation of JFK’s accent and mannerisms, so I gotta give him credit there. It had me (at least) in stitches every time he opened his mouth.
I had gotten my follow-up pun, so I stole control and added General Holstein, making him Bullheaded. I also introduced a host of other things to support his plan: Sending a team of navy seals (my follow up pun) to attack the Bay of Pigs. The person who’d set the era laughed in a way that confirmed that I had, in fact, guessed the pun he was setting up. Yay me!
The predictable conflict immediately opened up: Would the president accept the plan. He countered with the State Department, and I countered with Herd-unist leanings within State. The question was, briefly, about whether the president would trust herdy-pinko-scum to deal with Cat-stro. “He’ll eat ’em alive!” Holstein said, in only the first of many “Literal? Metaphorical? You be the judge” moments in the game.
The party was thrown, a little bit, by the introduction of General Buck Turgeson (of the drooping antlers). We had a brief set-to about Horn-ile dysfunction and antler-envy (I’m not proud, I’m just recapping) but eventually it was concluded that the invasion of the Bay of Pigs would not happen. That’s okay, Michael buffed up Holstein with “Respects Chain of Command”, and I got a ton of coins from being on the losing side. I really like the win-win dynamic of Universalis, though (as I’ll discuss later) I’m a bit worried about whether it’s sufficiently self-moderating.
Anyway, we shuffle down to Cape Canaveral, to introduce John Wren and Alan (“German”) Shepherd. Lovely little scene with them looking out over the ocean, ready to talk about… shit, I don’t know, girls? The death of a fellow test pilot? Doesn’t matter, because nobody else is interested in it. Another good thing about Universalis. Folks do not play along with anything that doesn’t catch their interest. Saves loads of dysfunction.
Instead we get Weiner von Braun, dachsund rocket scientist. He has a mission for… Wren. Shepherd gets “Envious” and “Good friend” in order to support his reaction. They’re terribly useful later, so remember those. Anyway, Wren is going up into orbit to arm a circling minefield of nuclear missiles. Wow! Space-race ahoy, and our first significant alteration from normal history. If you don’t count, y’know, the fuzzy animals.
A cut-scene to Cuba, to establish Boris (russian agent… bear, of course) and Cat-stro, as well as their dark plan. They will send the Black Widow (she eats men for breakfast… “Literal? Metaphorical? You be the judge”) to assassinate Wren, delaying the launch. Then Yuri Gacowrin will go up and subvert the mine-field. Great victory for the grazer’s paradise!
Right about this time Michael justly complains that he wants to use his JFK accent again, but nobody will give him the chance. Says I (insightfully, I believe) “Nobody wants him because he’s only got one Trait on him… it’s not worth drawing him in until you get more bang for your coin spent”.
A simultaneous scene in the oval office. Really clever guy whose name eludes me (who also defined the cuban-missile-crisis era) introduces Bahhhbby Kennedy (sheep, of course) and creates the Kennedy Master Component: Irresistable to women, Powerful, Wealthy. Michael buffs out JFK with: Was in Navy, Lecherous, and (of course) Kennedy. Suddenly, yeah, Jack and Bahhhbby are looking like people you want (on one side or another) in every single scene. They know about the plan. Jack sends Bahhhbby and sone of J. Edgar Whooover’s men to protect Wren.
About this time I’m muttering… “Mooonroe? Monroe… Monrover! There we go!” Says Michael: “The Monroe doctrine?” Says me: “Oh please… I just want the right pun if I have to introduce Marilyn.” Michael looks appalled and shakes his head. Hey man, I’m not the one who added Lecherous to Jack’s Traits.
By then we were getting extremely tired, and the con was winding down. We ran the conflict that had to happen. Weiner von Braun insisted that Wren get a good night’s sleep (so he’d be well rested in the morning). Shepherd (good friend and envious that he was) lined up to enforce that as a Conflict. Black Widow (temptress and assassin) lined up against it. Wren was, if I recall, split… part of him wanted to be responsible, but he was also a womanizing hot-shot, and guys with “The Right Stuff” don’t need to be rested for a little orbital insertion to save the free world.
It was looking bad, but Bahhbby came in to take the (metaphoric) bullet for Wren. With his various Kennedy abilities, his personal Charisma and all that he diverted the Black Widow… the deadly Kennedy mystique was more than her sense of duty could stand. Besides, he was free range.
And that’s about where we left it. You’d think that the animal references and puns would have gotten old, but at least in the time we played they didn’t. It was a nice restriction, sparking the creativity.
Featured Effect, Coin Inflation
Tony shared some concerns he had with the game following this session.
He was worried that in the hands of people accustomed to collaborative story-telling it has tendencies toward runaway feedback:
“You spend five coins to create a character with five traits, then lose a conflict with them, you essentially get those five coins back. Next time spend five coins, one to buy the character, four to add new abilities to him, and you stand to get nine coins back. Yes, at some point you start winning, but that just distributes the problem to some other seat at the table. The overall amount of coins coming out of conflicts only decreases when people take whole swathes of the story and decide not to include them any more. And that, it strikes me, only happens when people don’t have the motivation or imagination to tie everything together. I certainly didn’t see any evidence that it would happen any time soon in our game… we were rolling in coins by the end. Enough so that I considered removing the “five coin per scene” income as wholly unnecessary.”
We discussed this on a thread at The Forge. There are a few rules built into the game that in my experience have prevented this problem. Since it was Tony’s first time playing, not surprisingly some of them got overlooked.
First, if you add a lot of Traits to Components in order to generate more Coins in Complications it also takes more Coins to eliminate a Component from play. That can soak up a goodly amount of Coins in certain sorts of games.
Second, Challenges tend to naturally get inflated too. People tend to think in terms of what portion of their Wealth they’re willing to commit to winning a Challenge, and if they have 10 Coins in front of them they might be willing to go 2 Coins. But if they have 100 Coins in front of them they’d be likely to go as high as 20.
Third, some rules that often get overlooked in the heat of the moment in one shot demo / type games are paying Coins to Interrupt and Take Control of Components. If you have a lot of trading off of Components in a scene, a lot of Coins can get spent that way.
Also, many groups forget that in a Complication instead of activating Traits to add dice to your own pool you can subtract them from someone else’s which can reduce the number of Coins won. Further, the winner can spend won Coins to negate Coins won by the loser before the loser can spend them. Often times this rule gets gimmicked away because it seems like interfering in other’s play but in reality they serve as an effective check an balance on Coin inflation.
Beyond that, the rules recommend altering the starting Coins and Refresh rates to accommodate whether your group tends to pay more or less Coins for a given amount of game statements. Heck, I don’t suggest it outright, but there’s nothing that says you can’t have a negative refresh rate…