2006-07-27 : 10 Observations from my Berlin trip

1. Berlin doesn't believe in air conditioners. It was 90+°F every day, muggy, miserable - and it was impossible to sleep. The only relief was when you're standing on the platform and a cool wind blows out of the tunnel ahead of the approaching train. Ten seconds of relief, a few times a day.

2. However and nonetheless, Berlin is my favorite city yet. It blew San Francisco (my previous favorite city) right out of the water.

3. I'm not going to try to tell you about how baffling+striking Berlin was, as an American of my generation looking at the relics of the cold war. The Berlin Wall came down when I was a senior in high school; I couldn't possibly understand what it meant. I still don't, but now I'm struck and baffled by how significant it must be and how little grasp of the world I have.

4. Spione is a very sophisticated design. The game's arrangement of who-says-what-about-what-and-when is subtle, deft, and beautiful. I'm sure I'll say more about that, once the game's more widely available. Right now I can't start a paragraph with "you know how in Spione you do blah blah" and expect to be understood.

5. Spione is, however, a game that'll inherently seem both very difficult and totally unrewarding to, well, to most gamers. It requires that its players have already developed - or be in the process of developing - certain skills, incompatible with certain other skills that most gamers rely on. This should surprise no one; Ron calls me a hand-holder and that's a real distinction between us as designers.

6. Were some of the German gamers there prepared to write off the whole endeavor, based only on the success or failure of this one session of this one (inherently difficult) game? I believe that some of them were.

7. On the other hand, most of the German gamers I interacted with were hardcore narrativists. They wouldn't've used the term to describe themselves, but lord you should've heard them. They made me sound like a moderate.

8. I wish I could see and participate in how they approach the technical problems of narrativist play - but I can't. I don't speak or read the language they develop and publish in. It's lousy. I have lots I could learn from them but no real access!

9. Eero is a hilarious guy and a fantastic storyteller. I've been doing (flattering) Eero impersonations ever since I got back. They include things he said about me, things he said about my blog, and things he said about Stockholm.

10. This last is a little personal and immodest, so don't mind me. At least three people commented possitively on the fact that I carry a notebook around with me and am constantly writing in it. I hadn't realized before that I've turned out to be the kind of writer who fills notebooks, but I guess I have. Cool!

1. On 2006-07-27, Ron Edwards said:

In fairness to our continental friends, they were experiencing an unprecedented heat wave. Berlin can get hot in the summer, but not usually *that* hot.

My spies tell me that a number of the Spione participants were talking about following up with their groups after all.

Berlin is, indeed, a fantastic city. I'm glad you were there with us. Did you dare tell Meg how much fun you had? Did I mention that flats in Friedrichshain (the neighborhood you were in) are cheap and plentiful?

Best, Ron


2. On 2006-07-27, Vincent said:

Yeah, that's what I hear, about the heat. The hottest weather in Berlin since recorded weather.

Following up with their groups after all = great! My group's game has certainly given me a lot to think about, and left me wanting more. Also, disclosing your trespass doesn't "just" do that, I've figured out. Disclosing has a very real, concrete, preactically mechanical effect on the system in play. I'm impressed by it.

I've told Meg about 90% of the fun. I haven't told her about the Dogs game, is maybe all. Turns out I dared after all.


3. On 2006-07-27, Georgios said:

Could you elaborate on the "subtle, deft and beautiful" bit in Spione? I'm quite firmly in the "not explicit enough"-group of criticism of the game.

But I'm curious about how others read the text.


4. On 2006-07-28, Ben Lehman said:

Thanks for the posting.

And Eero is indeed awesome.  We need to conspire to get him to GenCon some year.



5. On 2006-07-28, Settembrini said:

Be aware, that those who showed up, and talked to you, (aside from me), were from a close knit group, which grew out of a usenet group.
Add to that some thematic gamers who even write forge stuff on their own, and you have a totally skewed sample.


6. On 2006-07-28, Vincent said:

Settembrini: of course.

Georgios: I will! I'm still ordering my thoughts.

Hey, what was the name of the fourth person in our group? You, me, Eero ... Martin maybe? Not the same Martin who came from Hamburg with Harald though.


7. On 2006-07-28, Georgios said:


He's one of the Projekt Odyssee guys in Berlin.


8. On 2006-07-28, Harald Wagener said:


to feed your and Settembrinis perception of narrativistic gamers from the german rpg usenet group, see?? DRASTIC - it's in english and by someone much more close to the'closely knit usenet' core Settembrini implies than most of us. In?? 'Us' being Martin and I, two people out of twenty. Our voices were accordingly counterweighted by Settembrini, Tim and others, I am sure. I had to think of DRASTIC when you told about the Ars Magica group.

The 'fact' part of Spione is also a nice read (at least the first 80 pages, which I read so far), even if you're not into spy/guy games. I'd like to know aboout subtle, deft, and beautiful as well. I had the impression it was random, flat, and structureless - but then I was in the three player group that started with three cards for two spies.


9. On 2006-07-28, Harald Wagener said:

sorry, I don't know where the strange '??' and the stray'In' come from. Must be those pesky simmers trying to make me look foolish in the public.


10. On 2006-07-28, Levi Kornelsen said:

Is Spione going to be sold through IPR, or by some other channel?  Is that even decided yet?


11. On 2006-07-29, Harald Wagener said:

In germany, the plan is to get the book into book stores, since it is primarily a book that incidentally contains a story now game. After the weekend, Ron visited some book stores to present his book, and as far as I know it was met with positive results at some places.


12. On 2006-07-29, Ron Edwards said:

I thought I had replied, but I forgot to type the anti-bot Word!!

Levi, or anyone, if you want to know more about Spione publication, please email me. The website is going public soon, too. Brief answer here: I'm not planning to use IPR or any other RPG outlet, at this point.

Harald's right about the bookstores, but that will be secondary as well, at least as currently planned.

Wow, DRASTIC looks a lot like The Window. My tastes run more toward Barbaren ...

Vincent, feel free to say what you'd like about any Spione stuff. The lid is off, effectively, although again, it's not really a topic for general RPG audiences or sites.

I'd appreciate others respecting that too.


13. On 2006-07-30, Settembrini said:

@Harald: At least Dirk was also from the DSRM. Add to that the GroFaFo Forgies and PrO guys, like Malte.
As I said, very homogenous group on saturday, very heavy on the "Story"-side of playing.


14. On 2006-07-30, WTF said:

Spione is not really a topic for general RPG audiences or sites?

"I'd appreciate others respecting that too."

That sounds ludicrous.


15. On 2006-07-30, Vincent said:

If you'd like to discuss Ron's request or his desires with him, I urge you to do so. You know his email address.


16. On 2006-07-30, I dunno said:

I dunno. He said it here. It can't be discussed here? That seems suspicious.


17. On 2006-07-30, WTF said:

I would not go so far as to say suspicious. And it may not even actually be ludicrous. But it sounds ludicrous that discussing a game would be defacto disrespectful.


18. On 2006-07-30, Ron Edwards said:

WTF, I appreciate that I'm not automatically judged to be either ludicrous or causing suspicion.

I want to clarify one thing which you asked about. When I say "respect that," I'm referring only to my wishes as a person, which are of course not sacred.

As to *why* I have those wishes, I've been happy to answer questions directed to me through email and have done so several times now, without any pain or distress for anyone.

None of this is a mystery, a secret, a conspiracy, or anything like that. But this site isn't *my* site and talking about what I'm doing or what I want or anything like that for Adept Press is, as I see it, out of bounds. So email is better.

I have a suggestion. Why not simply ask Vincent questions about the event or the experience of play? We could have been having a fun discussion here instead of whatever this is.


19. On 2006-07-31, Vincent said:

Right. WTF, a) you didn't ask any question or launch any discussion; b) insofar as you did launch a discussion, you did so as though you expected me (whose blog this, after all, is) to represent Ron's position, which I'm not qualified to do.

If you had said something like "Ron, are you serious?" I'd've been happy to host the conversation. As it was, you put me in an ugly go-between position.

So now, though, that's done and I'd rather move on. Please do ask about whatever you're interested in. Ask honestly, expect an honest answer, much more fun.


20. On 2006-07-31, Vincent said:

Okay! Now I want to talk about Spione.

I see two things. One's the thing where Ron doesn't hold your hand. There's a leap that you have to make when you play the game that isn't easy to make, for me, and I generalize to "for gamers." Whether non-gamers find the leap easy to make, I have no idea and no way to discover (at this moment, sitting here at work, not having arranged yet to play the game with any non-gamers). Accordingly: let's leave non-gamers out of the conversation for now.

Right, so. The leap you have to make is the leap of "the cold": seeing the tensions between the spy sheet and the guy sheet and knowing how to act on them. I find it difficult to do (and I suspect that I'm better at it than many gamers - I've been practicing a lot). I'm there looking at "I'm spying on the Berlin NATO office for the CIA" and "I have a brother who visits me from London," and I have to make up for myself how the brother and the spying aren't compatible with one another. If the game held your hand, maybe the supporting cast would come with built-in incompatibility with your character's spying, like Dogs NPCs do. It might say "I have a brother who visits me from London; now he needs me to come home with him to help him care for our dying mother." I wouldn't have to make it up in play; in play I'd just activate it.

The game demands that you create conflicts between the spy and the guy, using the supporting cast; it demands that you already know or can quickly learn how to do this. If you're fumbling around, like we were in Berlin, it's like fumbling around with any sophisticated tool - you don't use it to its potential.

And then there's the deft, beautiful, sophisticated part: the game as a tool, independent of the skills of us, its users. Here's something I wrote at the Spione forum:

So the flashpoint card rules: in order to accomplish a big deal thing, you need two or more cards, right? And there's a good chance that they won't be two of your own cards, right, but one'll be yours and one'll be someone else's - so a lot of the time when a big deal thing happens, it'll be because YOU set it up and SOMEONE ELSE followed through.

Furthermore, covering someone else's card is a commitment to follow through on whatever they set up, right? Whether following through by helping or following through by hindering.

So when it's my turn to talk, what happens is, I set something up a) not knowing how you'll follow through on it, but b) knowing that you WILL.

That's a fantastic creative interaction between the players...

Getting such an interesting, non-straightforward, and desirable social effect out of some simple card manipulation is great design.

Add on top of that, disclosing your spy's trespass. It seems superficially like a nothing, a gesture, but it's not. As an action, it reverberates through the game, both emotionally and procedurally. It was when I figured disclosing out - days later - that the game really lit up for me.

Harald, Georgios - how's that?


21. On 2006-07-31, Ron Edwards said:

H'mmm, something about what you've written surprises me, Vincent. It's the idea that you, the person running the spy, has to generate *all* of the adversity between the brother and the spying.

Because during Maneuvers, that's *everybody's* job. Anyone at the table can reach over to that sheet, point to the brother, flip over the sheet, and point to some part of the Spy Side (say, the NATO part, and the tradecraft that says "bugs"), to generate a scene.

One person might say "your brother's lounging around your flat all day" and someone else picks it up with "and he finds one of your bugs," and still another person says, "he wants to be a spy too." This might all happen on the first person's turn, or be established through a series of turns, depending on how dialogue goes in that group.

Another, related feature is that since the Ace player begins, he or she *must* frame a scene for a spy he or she does not run. So that automatically creates an asymmetry during the first round ... the person running the spies do not, by default, necessarily get to frame their own scenes.

The group I played with in Berlin last November articulated this point so well, during play, that I transcribed the way they said it directly into the rules, and I think every time I try to say it, it's not as good. So see how I put it in the rules for the best way.

My point is that there's a *lot* less pressure regarding scene content than I think you're seeing or feeling. A lot less than Primetime Adventures or the Shab-al-Hiri Roach, for example. It's kind of the opposite, actually - the material for the scenes really is right there on the sheet, and the group/jigsaw rules for scene-creation during the Maneuvers lets you contribute as little or as much as you see fit, at the moment, without pressure to make it all climactic right that second.


22. On 2006-07-31, Vincent said:

Oh no, I get that. The demand on me to create how the brother and the spying conflict is the same whether I'm playing the spy in question or my friend is. Either way I'm confronted with "I'm spying" and "my brother," and no hand to hold.

The leap I'm talking about would be WORST for the ace player!

However, now what you've said has cast new light for me. In my group in Berlin, were we all too intent on making it all climactic right that second? I know that Georgios (for instance) really didn't like to "just" contribute color.



23. On 2006-07-31, Ron Edwards said:

I think what I'm trying to say is that you can hold one another's hands.

(OK, OK, we can all sing "Kumbayah" together now. Shuddup.)

Less sentimentally, there's a strong middle ground between "generate full climactic conflict" and "just add some color." In fact, most interactions during play should be in that middle ground - adding *components* of conflict, like bricks and mortar, as part of that spiralling-in or targeting of principals that I talk about in the book.

The nice thing about it is that no one has to make it happen right away; the risk is to see things sprawl rather than spiral inwards. I think a general focus on the Cold (rather than "make a story") does a good job to prevent that, but I agree - it's a skill, and skills often need practice and a certain standing aesthetic interest to begin with.


24. On 2006-07-31, Seth Ben-Ezra said:

Add on top of that, disclosing your spy's trespass. It seems superficially like a nothing, a gesture, but it's not. As an action, it reverberates through the game, both emotionally and procedurally. It was when I figured disclosing out - days later - that the game really lit up for me.

This is probably the biggest part of the game for me.  I look at the Trespass as being this special bomb handed to each of the players of principals.  You can only use it once, but it packs a serious punch—if you want it to.  On the Spione forum, I related this account:

So, Kasha (our principal) is an American spying for the HVA. She was actually born in Poland, but her parents fled with her to the U.S. sometime during World War II. Her parents are rah-rah Americans but she is not. (Obviously, because she is spying for the other side.) However, she manages to recruit her co-worker to help her in an operation by claiming that she is actually American counter-intelligence and appealing to her co-worker's patriotic nature.

Later, though, Kasha Disclosed that, when she was younger, she had burned an American flag that belonged to her parents. In fact, this flag had particular emotional value to her parents, but she destroyed it. In a lot of ways, this is the point where everything fell apart for Kasha. She was arrested, her co-worker Karen was gunned down on the street.... Bad things.

Now, the significant fact here is that the Trespass as written only said, "Threw away your stuff and never told you." That's it. Now, it's a bad thing. I suppose. But, by itself, it doesn't really seem like it's all that impressive. However, by taking this as inspiration for the principal's Dirty Deed and molding it into something else, the Trespass actually became a fairly potent spike to the story content.

This showed me that any Trespass could be potentially powerful.  At the same time, it does seem as though Trespass and Disclosure can require some of that same ability to make connections that Vincent talks about upthread.

I also appreciate how Disclosure is required in order to allow for "happy endings" for Supporting Cast.  If the principal refuses to Disclose, then all his Supporting Cast are doomed to unhappy endings.  Only by baring the depths of his soul (even once) can the principal actually "save" any of his Supporting Cast.


25. On 2006-07-31, Jon Hastings said:

Hi Vincent & Ron,

Spione chat - cool!

Here's something which I hope is relevant:

When I played (note: using an earlier draft of the rules) I think the group tried way too hard to drive towards conflict - we all wanted to be in Flashpoint RIGHT NOW! This is something that I think we picked up from Forge-style games like PTA and DitV that, in the context of Spione, is kind of a bad habit.  That is, the "drive straight to conflict" advice is good for PTA/DitV, to correct the tendency for meandering and conflict avoidance that occurs in a lot of traditional play.  But (especially in light of Ron's comments here) in Spione all the conflicts are really right there on the sheets waiting for you to piece them together.  There's not the same need to rush and/or force things to come to a head before the situation really warrants it.

(Ron - The jigsaw image is very helpful.)

Also might be relevant: as a group, we had a hard time creating conflicts based on Guy Side vs. Spy Side, so, one of the major conflicts that came out in the story was Guy Side vs. Tresspass - as if the Tresspass was a "Dark Secret" Champions disadvantage.  This strikes me as being a product of RPG-habit as well.



26. On 2006-07-31, Ron Edwards said:

Relevant to the above points, I was awfully stupid as a rules-coach during the Berlin event. I misled Eero at least twice.

1. I said the Aces applied to *all* cards on each side, but the rules say (more sensibly) that they only apply to the starting card on each side.

2. I said that Supporting Cast could be removed from the game positively through Flashpoints, which is wrong; what Seth just said is right.

I blame the heat, but both of these bits of advice were counter-productive and I owe Eero an apology for them.

Hi Jon! I'm hoping that the Agency sheets content of the current text helps with Spy-oriented conflicts, and that seems to have worked out pretty well. Now one can look at, say, the SIS in the 1970s and say, "Oh! *That's* the kind of hassle that characterizes this period," and apply it to the handlers and tradecraft on the principal's Spy Side.


27. On 2006-07-31, Vincent said:

In your numbered point 1, aces=jokers, yes?


28. On 2006-07-31, Ron Edwards said:

Whoops, yes, I meant Jokers. I'm basking in air-conditioning at the moment, so I can't blame the heat for that one.


29. On 2006-07-31, Harald Wagener said:

Vincent: Thanks. I really didn't get the part that we could combine the cards outside of the stacking rules. That was really subtle. And necessary to understand. It's again the mantra of 'you play together, but the story may lead the principals and supporting cast against each other.'

I just want to add that besides the urge to go to flashpoint right now, there is the opposite instinct as well, trying to hold off flashpoint, which in effect is a dangerous move since it means your spy will be put under more and more pressure.

We didn't come to disclosure in our game and I definitely need a complete four player game.

Ron: What is the 'starting card on each side' different from the 'cards directly to the left and right of the ace'  - since this was how you explained it to us? And if it's not possible to remove supporting cast through flash points, how'd I do it then?
It would also be nice to have one page cheat sheets for each period listing all the agencies for easier reference. But that is just a question of equipment.



30. On 2006-07-31, Ron Edwards said:

Hi Harald,

I think I explained it to your group correctly, as opposed to Eero's. But to be clear ...

Say a layout includes this sequence:


The narrations therefore would be the King player narrating as if he had two stacked Kings, and the Queen player narrating as if he had two stacked Queens. So that's an easy example.

However, say the layout looked like this:

King covered by King
Queen covered by Jack

In this case, the King player effectively has *three* stacked Kings (not four).

The Queen player has a two-card narration, but the Jack player only has a one-card Help or Hinder.

Does that make sense?

As for Supporting Cast, they can leave play through Flashpoints which kill or permanently imprison them (or something equally unpleasant). In your group, that would have been the way for your spies to increase your Card Number total.

In fact, I'm now wondering if I had failed to make that clear to your group, which may be why you were stuck at three cards. By the rules, if you had removed a Supporting Cast or two through Flashpoint (and as I recall, you did get the cards to do that), then the next Flashpoint would have included more cards.


31. On 2006-07-31, Georgios said:

Looking back, one thing that was missing for me during the game was some kind of help to get back into the swing of things, once a story development of some sort has completely caught you off guard. The sheet gives you enough bits to build scenes that drive the protagonist "into the cold", and you have the others in the group to help you out. So that leap isn't really that hard to master.

I remember trying to drive Issam "into the cold" step-by-step. When Eero send the character into the depths of East Berlin I didn't know how to steer things towards "the cold" for his story. As far as I was concerned it couldn't get any "colder". Issam was isolated from his family and from his mission. All the bits on the Protagonist's sheet had been effectively removed.

How do you drive things back into focus? I think something like a few key phrases might help to get everybody on the same page again. In my experience in PTA people often get sidetracked with exciting bits of narration, trying to set-up some plot-twist later on or talking about what it all means. To get everybody focussed again I always ask the players "what does your protagonist want and how does this relate to his issue?".

So, what question ties the groups' attention back to the game?


32. On 2006-07-31, Harald Wagener said:

we tried to remove supporting cast, but didn't get we could combine the power of the different players' cards to get the 'two-card effectively remove' result without a joker or a double draw.

At three cards per round, this only came up in the third flash point. For us, the randomness was not high enough to get things going, whereas the others complained about the randomness killing the flow.

Just jointly killing/removing supporting cast didn't come to our minds. Which is what I meant by the utter subtletly Vincent pointed out.

In other words, we had the right goal in mind, but didn't know how to get the tools do what we wanted them quickly.


33. On 2006-07-31, Vincent said:

I don't think you get to combine cards except by moving them to cover. It's covering cards that I'm talking about above.

I think you were screwed, personally - I bet that 3 cards simply isn't enough. If it were my game to design I'd add "and if you don't have at least 4 cards total (maybe 5), rework your setup until you do."

Hey Ron, is there any mechanical significance to old or young?


34. On 2006-07-31, Ron Edwards said:

Several points to consider here ... I'll take them in order of ease.

1. The significance of old and young is a motor for inter-generational conflict. I've seen it take on frightening power in a number of games.

2. The idea of a minimum number of cards has come up before. If there is any rules-change to be made at the last second, that will be it. I may backtrack and re-think my entire rationale for Card Numbers per principal from the ground up.

3. Harald, I think your point about not enough randomness (or not enough material per Flashpoint) is good, and maybe I can improve the rules based on it. As far as randomness killing the flow is concerned, I'm more skeptical.

I want to point out an interesting detail. I was the only person there who got to watch all the groups at once. Looking around the room, I saw people laughing, waving their arms, congratulating one another, getting excited, and generally looking like they were having a good time. Yet very little of the comments afterward seemed to express that. Could there have been some kind of disconnection between the experience of play and the reflection upon play?

Perhaps that's just my imagination, but here's a very marked example from a game last year. In the middle of the session, a fellow playing announced to us all that "This is the best game ever!" He was really excited and enjoying all the events, and in fact, presented one of the most heartfelt moments of Spione I've seen.

But the next day, talking about the game over some beer, he shook his head and talked about all sorts of things that seemed like real problems to him. I didn't know what to say. None of the things he was criticizing seemed actually to have happened, or to be consistent with his delighted, creative enthusiasm of the night before.


35. On 2006-07-31, Vincent said:

re: Old & young: I believe it. There's no rule I'd forgotten, though.

re: Evident enthusiasm vs reported enthusiasm: Ben Lehman told me once that he's seen that exact thing happen when his Providence group plays Dogs in the Vineyard. Interesting, I think.


36. On 2006-07-31, Valamir said:

The thing I love most about Spione is how beautifully the accordion mechanic (which initially I was quite skeptical of) captures the theme of "being in the cold".

There is nothing you can do as a player to increase your odds during a flashpoint.  Your cards come up, or they don't.  There might be a joker or there might not be.  If there is it might help you, help an opponent, or hurt you by making your effect have undesired consequences.  Other players may help or hinder.  You cannot use good "player tactics" to maximize your chance of success.  You cannot use skills, or plans, or preperation, or gear, or contacts, or...anything.  No amout of planning, no amount of careful painstaking preperation will have any effect on the outcome of the cards at all.

If theres a better reflection of being completely and utterly adrift in the hands of fate against forces far to powerful for you to have any noticeable impact on, save by shear fortune, I haven't seen it.  I'm a HUGE fan of mechanics conveying the flavor of the game, and it was only through playing out a few flashpoints that I really began to grok what being "in the cold" meant.

That said, my first comment from our AP session was in thinking that more cards were necessary early on.  The mechanics of covering and doubles are the gears by which the mechanic serves as a creative springboard.  Without enough cards in play, those gears don't engage and the early conflicts tend to spin with less traction than they could.

I also don't recall being able to "team up" to effectively get a "double" without a joker or cover being available in the game we played.  Am I misunderstanding or is that a new addition?

Other than that, my preference as a rule is for more "hand-holding" (which I prefer to think of "mechanically enabling creativity").  Things like the different state toggles in Afraid, or selecting the type of conflict in Acts of Evil I think give players something to push against which makes it easier to be creative than just having a blank piece of paper.

For Spione something like:  Player 1 select spy stuff or guy stuff, player 2 select an element from the web to serve as the source of conflict, player 3 select a supporting cast to serve as an unexpected complication.  Player 4 set the stage for a scene incorporating these elements.  That may not be the best of examples, but my point is that player 4 will now have a much easier time in crafting a scene inspired by those elements which are now nailed down than they would have crafting a scene from scratch having to assemble all of those elements themselves.


37. On 2006-07-31, Ron Edwards said:

You have the rules right, Ralph. I think there was a misunderstanding a few messages ago that's having a ripple effect on the thread. Stacked cards of the same rank, Joker effect, and stacked cards in which the covering cards are used to Help, are the only ways to get drastic effects into Flashpoints.

I knew you'd weigh in about the few-cards issue. I even almost typed "ah shut it Ralph" at one point.

I'm not entirely sure about structuring input the way you're suggesting, because I'd rather see a lot of unstructured chat that emerges into one guy saying, "OK, like that." But maybe something like what you describe might be some kind of training-wheels suggestion at the site.


38. On 2006-08-01, Frank T said:

I think most of us were actually expecting a hand-holder design. Remember the questions people asked after the game? Like: ???How do I do X, how do I avoid Y???? And Ron was like: ???You have to figure that out yourself.??? A lot of the criticism that has been uttered actually derives from this expectation. We were like: ???If this is a hand-holder design, then where the fuck is the hand?!???


- Frank


39. On 2006-08-01, Georgios said:

Frank, I agree with this.

I think I only have one criticism of the text, and that is that there are no "training wheels" to help you along your very first game. It's a very sink-or-swim situation. You either *get* why it's fun and tinker with it, until it works right or you don't. That's something that has always annoyed me in regular RPGs. I know Spione is not really an RPG, but still. I enjoyed the game, even if I did feel as if the game had smashed straight into a wall a few times. I felt that at the core of our game, was something exciting and raw, in a good way. But I couldn't get to it. We created this cool thing with the game: this web of confusion, lies and twisted loyalties, but we didn't know how to really let it rip. We couldn't make it shine and the game didn't tell us how to do it either.

I remember Ron telling me this anecdote about a group of East German guys, who got hold of half a D&D book and painstakingly pieced together a complete game from that. Because, damnit there obviously was a good game in there. But I don't think one can expect this kind of commitment and enthusiasm from your average reader. Gamers will do that kind of thing. They got their hands on a new game, and they will make it work one way or the other. As you can tell by this discussion, I think.

So, in short: Training wheels. You gotsta have da Training Wheels.

BTW, I don't like the term "hand-holding design". It sounds as if it's belittling the reader. I prefer "in-your-face usability". ;)


40. On 2006-08-01, Settembrini said:

With all due respect, I sense some memory retro-fitting here. Basically Franks group, which I was in too, had just a very lame game. At least for me it was really lame, because no matter what you do, the card mechanic is pure "luck", as an earlier poster explained (and lauded to my utter astonishment).
When nothing I do has influence on the outcome, there is no fun for me. It??s just an excercise in pulling "kewl" ideas from your behind, working on the sheets handed to your group. It even doesn??t matter if your ideas are good or bad , plausible or not. Sure, through sheer luck, sometimes you are given power, and it can be interesting how the individual uses this power. But for me this total randomness is nihilistic and counter-civilizatory, which can be fun if you dig this stuff.
I just don??t.


41. On 2006-08-01, Valamir said:

Sett...that's because you're looking in the wrong place.

This is not a game about spies in the James Bond sense.  Its a game about the guy in the copy room who got sick of his menial job and mediocre life and agreed to hand over copies of the documents that passed through his hands to an enemy agent.  Its about a guy whose life is so unfullfilling and so boring that the excitment of a blind drop is the most interesting thing to happen to him, and the idea that someone benefits from the secrets he steals provides his greatest sense of accomplishment.

Against him are arrayed large organizations with government authority, vast resources, and a network of information gatherers...the principle is just one tooth on a small cog of a giant machine.

Against this...what do you actually expect to be able to do to influence the outcome? the principle...are at the mercy of fate.  Its an excellent "simulation" of being "in the cold".

The game actually begins when you realize that.  If you never got passed the "its all luck, and I can't influence it" stage...then you never actually started playing Spione.

Its only once you realize that the card mechanics are merciless and there is nothing you can do to alter the outcome in your favor (although via covering, you can alter the outcome for someone else...which is a whole other layer to talk about)...that you start (as a player) to wonder...what should I be doing if its not manipulating the game mechanics.  The answer lies in the supporting cast.

Flashpoints become those "oh shit" moments that the principle dreads because they often result in utter catastrophe...but which you as a player come to greedily anticipate because...they often result in utter catastrophe.

Remember, the principles aren't "player characters" you aren't even expected, necessarily, to sympathize with them.  They aren't your avatar in the game, therefor their relative impotency (relative to PCs in RPGs) shouldn't be taken as a reflection of your ability to influence the game.  Your job as a player is to figure out who the real protagonist of the story is...often one of the more sympathetic supporting cast, and if the principle (as often as not) meets a bad much the better.


42. On 2006-08-01, Settembrini said:

Don??t give me the "Your mind is stuck in regular RPGs" drill.
I know all that. I didn??t care for an Avatar, or his impotency, or James Bond movies. I tried hard to get the suggested themes rolling.
Weakness can be great, random chance can be great. The "cold" can be great.
But Spione itself is a leasuire activity of collaborative story creation, isn??t it? And I as a PLAYER want to have influence. As the mechanic is total randomness, my ideas and themes only come to fruiton or to relevance out of luck.
THAT is the big downer for me. And I think this is criticism which should be uttered, as Ron surely wants to appeal to different kinds of people. I do not see anything "Gamer" specific in my point.


43. On 2006-08-01, Settembrini said:

To make my point more clear:
I can only experience flashpoints as exciting, if I have the feeling that something worhtwhile is at stake. Total Randomness takes away any worth anything could have. Because it doesn??t matter if a scene was cleverly setup or a character nicely developed or great colour added. When the mechanic actually resolves anything all talk before is worthless. And so the folowing rounds of maneuvres was just plain boring for me, although I tried hard to keep contributing quality story elements.
If you wanna wallow in "nihilistic coldness", than your theme is adressed in every game. The adressation of any other theme is up to the shuffle of the cards.
Ron told me that was by design.
So be it, but don`t expect everyone to like that.


44. On 2006-08-01, Vincent said:

I never felt that I didn't have influence over what happened. I was always confident that what would happen, would matter. That it'd be out of my hands, well, sometimes that's how it goes.

Andreas, I'd like you to read this again, that I wrote:

So the flashpoint card rules: in order to accomplish a big deal thing, you need two or more cards, right? And there's a good chance that they won't be two of your own cards, right, but one'll be yours and one'll be someone else's - so a lot of the time when a big deal thing happens, it'll be because YOU set it up and SOMEONE ELSE followed through.

Furthermore, covering someone else's card is a commitment to follow through on whatever they set up, right? Whether following through by helping or following through by hindering.

So when it's my turn to talk, what happens is, I set something up a) not knowing how you'll follow through on it, but b) knowing that you WILL.

That's a fantastic creative interaction between the players...

Your analysis doesn't jibe with mine. Care to reconcile them? Am I wrong?


45. On 2006-08-01, Troy_Costisick said:


I have a quick question.  Did Spione grow out of Dr. Chaos?  Were the two related or did they influence each other in any way?




46. On 2006-08-01, Valamir said:

***I do not see anything "Gamer" specific in my point.***

I don't want to argue with you on Vincent's blog, but I will point out that EVERY single one of your objections is absolutely "gamer" specific...and completely the reason why the game isn't being marketed to gamers through the usual gamer channels.

That's not a criticism, just an observation.  I too typically hate overly random mechanics.  For me the saving grace in Spione is that the mechanic so perfectly fulfills the purpose of what it was designed to do.  If it were an RPG resolution system it would suck...I agree.  But its not.  And for what it is, its nearly perfect.

You say you want to have influence as a do...tremendous amounts of influence.  You just need to look for it somewhere OTHER than the card mechanics.  Looking for it in the card mechanics is traditional gamer think, right there.  "How do I exert my influence in the game as a player?  I'll check out the resolution system."—gamer thinking.

Not in Spione.  The accordian mechanics are more akin to a random event generator than a traditional resolution mechanic.  Its like playing Monopoly and asking "how do I exert my influence on the result of the die roll".  You don't, what you land on is what you land on.  In Spione, the cards that come up, are the cards that come up.  In Monopoly you exert your influence by what deals you make and when you choose to buy or sell.  You have no influence on the dice.  In Spione you exert your influence through the narrations and scenes.  You have no influence on the cards.  This is why I said you're looking in the wrong place.

So your response to my post simply shows that you're still looking in the wrong place.  That's not criticism, just a helpful're're not going to find what you're looking for where you're have to look elsewhere for it.

As for the total randomness of the mechanic being a downer, again that's completely gamer think.  Most non gamers are TOTALLY comfortable with very random game mechanics.  Monopoly, Parcheesi, Snakes and Ladders...all games that have sold more copies than all RPGs combined.  All games that are mostly (or purely) random.  Point being that for the majority of folks out there, a game mechanic which is entirely normal.  Its only us gamers who find them unusual.

Now, as for HOW to look elsewhere to find what's needed in Spione...that's where the whole "hand holding" and "training wheels" discussion comes in.  There is no way (for me anyway) to figure out the "how" part from the game text. I had the benefit of playing a 3 player game directly with Ron.  I just watched what Ron did and figured out how it was supposed to work.  Hopefully some of the videos of actual play on the Spione site will fulfill a little bit of the "learn to play by watching play" aspect.  And hopefully the final text will include some additional training wheels.


47. On 2006-08-01, Settembrini said:

@Valamir: There is a reason that snakes & ladders and monopoly isn??t fun over the age of ten. If you are fine with snakes & ladders, you are free to play it with my blessing.
The moment somebody actually notices that a leasuire activity doesnt let you participate in a meaningful way, you drop it. Some people never notice that. I??m a smartie, so I figured that out quickly.

@Vincent: Sure, the card mechanic sometimes lets you make interesting group based decisions. But they only crop up due to chance. You could as well play with an empty bottle, spinning it, and let the guy decide whom the bottle is pointing at. Introduce the rule that one other guy has to back up serious changes and there you go. If that??s fine for you, so be it.

@meaningful: Value is a direct function of scarcity. If ressources are allocated totally randomly, there is no way to anticipate scarcity or affluence. Without any anticipitation for scarcity there can be no rational action. It`s nihilism.

If that??s Spiones goal: Mission accomplished.

I`m not saying Spione is broken or bad, just because the first session didn??t rock. I`m saying: Think about if you really want a nihilistic game. If the answer is yes, then go ahead and enjoy yourselves.

I hope my point is clear, I`ll answer specific questions, but will not pursue this more. It??s just my two cents, make out of that what you want.

BTW, I found the game concepts fairly easy to grasp.


48. On 2006-08-01, ffilz said:

re: Evident enthusiasm vs reported enthusiasm

I've seen that myself, and experienced it. I've been really gung ho while doing some activity, and then on reflection, decided it was totally lame.

One thing that can cause this is when on reflection, you realize that the "cool decisions" you though you were making, and were grooving on, were actually meaningless. Another is that you were really grooving on some aspect of the experience, and then realized that was totally not what the activity was about. There can also be crowd excitement, that upon reflection can be shallow (these last couple examples have me thinking about concerts and food at fairs and carnivals and such).



49. On 2006-08-01, Ron Edwards said:

Hi guys,

Um, I wanted to say I was appreciating Andreas' points and didn't find them unreasonable, from his perspective.

No fighting, please? I appreciate the comments from supporters of the game, but I am also happy to accept other views ...

This isn't moderating, but more like the reaction you might get from a little kid who just wants his parents to stop yelling at each other.


50. On 2006-08-01, Guy Shalev said:

re: Evident enthusiasm vs reported enthusiasm.

How about Play Vs. Game? The game may have problems, the actual play experience may be fun, but disconnected from the problems of the game.

Isn't this largely the issue about people having fun in spite of rules?

I have no idea if this is the case, but that's a possible solution.


51. On 2006-08-02, Ben Lehman said:


In the particular case that Vincent is talking about, that wasn't what was going on.  The exact game features which caused great joy in play were "broken and wrong" in aftermath.



52. On 2006-08-02, Tobias said:

Well, there's a reason people watch movies with bad stuff happening in them ('broken and wrong') - because it makes the good stuff more appealing. Comradery feels better when it's experienced under pressure.

Last year had to walk 25 kms at night, under-dressed, in the Belgian Ardennes, because we (3 of us) decided things would be ok if we didn't accept that last ride home. We arrived at dawn. It wasn't a happy walk, but it's a cool memory.

Just offering this as an option. Short-term vs. Long-term experience (eat a Big Mac every day) can differ.


53. On 2006-08-02, Settembrini said:

A thought crossed my mind: I indeed WAS overlooking something!

Metagame. I totally forgot the metagame. Following my reasoning, the system is arbitrary. BUT once that is known, you can metagame: As power is dished out by chance, you have to eliminate the power being important. The only way to do this, is to manipulate the emtions of your fellow PLAYERS in a way, that they are disinclined to act against your thematic issues and plans.
Thusly, you might loose interest in the SIS (as I did), as it would just be the vehicle, or better even the battleground, for the opposing minds. Beat the randomness would be the metagame. Beat it by instilling the urge in the other players to use their allocated power in your interest.
So far I'd say this is not the theme of "the cold" anymore, but I can see it being a functional, albeit quite nasty, leasuire activity. Much like Diplomacy, when you play it with people who know all about stalemate lines, Lepantos and all this. It comes down to attacks and schemes against the opponents willpower or hog his sympathy to stab him later.
I'm not sure this still would be a non-zero-sum game, but if you manipulate masterfully, people will think they did what they wanted, and it would make them feel they were in a non-zero-sum game. Fiendish!


54. On 2006-08-02, Frank T said:

I'm still pondering that bit about hand-holding. Actually, I just wrote a longer blog entry in German about it. This really makes a lot of things fall into place for me, not only about Spione, but about rpg design in general. Thanks Vincent!

- Frank


55. On 2006-08-04, xenopulse said:

No marginalia, so a quick request in here: Frank, where's the link to that entry? Some of us can actually read and understand German, you know :)


56. On 2006-08-09, Frank T said:

Ah, sorry Christian, I forgot about that. Here it is:


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