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Kingdom Death: Monster» Forums » General

Subject: Narrative driven gaming done right rss

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Henry Akeley
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I think that discovering my gaming preferences is an ongoing journey. As I've stated in another thread; Kingdom Death has contributed a lot to that and pretty much shown and/or confirm for me what I like/dislike in games. That being narrative driven gaming. Now I am mostly a "middle of the road" gamer. I can appreciate cold/mechanical euro games or games that have abstract endings of "end at turn 6" or "end at X points." I like those too. I own some of those games.

However what I find draws my attention or sinks its hooks (if games had those) into me are games with good narrative and mechanical integration. I don't like or want games that are almost pure narrative (Tales of Arabian Nights) but I want something that blends it. A game that is narrative driven (not driven by "reach X turn or Y amount of points"). I think that Tales sacrifices too much game mechanics in favor of narratives whereas almost every euro in existence favors tight (and scripted) mechanics over any form of narrative.

Enter Kingdom Death. This game does both that I am asking for. It is completely story driven (I mean the game begins and ends with a story and the game is full of story events), but it still has sound mechanics. Its not a soulless euro game nor is it just a storytelling session (Tales). It strikes a happy medium that leans towards narrative driven/story-telling while you still have the deterministic means to feel like you're playing a game and not listening to someone speaking over a campfire and you are impacting said story through your decisions within the game mechanics.

Other games that I have found that have struck this balance with varying degrees of success include:

Above and Below
Near and Far
The 7th Continent (looks it)
Descent 2nd Edition (though I am loath to admit it as I hate Descent 2E)
Star Wars: IA
Descent 1st Edition (once integrating RtL)

Now the ones I listed above only accomplish this blended approach to a degree. Some still suffer from "end at abstract finish line" whereas others are just kind of boring (Descent 2nd Edition). Kingdom Death is the best I've seen so far at this balanced approach.

I think Poots has shown us that it can be done in a balanced sort without sacrificing either side too much. However, a lot of the euro/mechanical fans come out against the narrative having any real impact on a game's mechanics/ending conditions. I don't want a game that is all Tales of the Arabian Nights, nor do I want Agricola. Above and Below is a good compromise between the 2 but commits a few euro sins that kind of bring my enjoyable exploration journey to an abrupt halt at the end of the 7th turn........because.

What do you all of think of narrative/story driven games that are balanced with and integrated into a game's mechanics?
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Jim Patching
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I like games that tell a story, that have reasons why things are happening and I like mechanics that reflect these things (probably why I play more RPGs than board games). But there's still got to be a good game there. So pretty much what you said really.
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Henry Akeley
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panzer-attack wrote:
I like games that tell a story, that have reasons why things are happening and I like mechanics that reflect these things (probably why I play more RPGs than board games). But there's still got to be a good game there. So pretty much what you said really.


Funny you say that because I prefer board games to RPGs. Again while I voice preference for narrative over mechanics I don't discard the mechanical aspect. For me RPGs are actually "too loose." So I'm not the completely avant garde story-teller my OP may make me out to be. I like tightness and defined borders in my games. Those games just need to be something more than a thinly disguised set of equations and frameworks that can be optimized if you sit there and draw it out hard enough (*cough* euro-games *cough*).

I just like chasing after the very niche/hard to obtain board game that really straddles that line. I hate it when games end just because. I get it. I do. I own and love Power Grid and Five Tribes that certainly end "just because."

I guess it all comes down to my mood. Sometimes its just to see how well/effectively I can traverse the system set up by the designer and beat out others. However most of the time I think of a game as like a miniature universe and would like to really feel what is going on. Encounter books, story events, etc all do this. Its like putting some salt and pepper onto your game that enhances the flavor.

Adding on to this whole discussion; video games. They pretty much have to have story intertwined with the mechanics. Board games I suspect have a bigger problem because of the abstract/physical nature of them. Only few are as crazy as Poots to produce enough capacity within their games to both tell stories that are intertwined with mechanics throughout. Video games though I think can't separate story and mechanics. Sure theres a few cube pushing video games out there but.........cmon. They are not as popular as Dead Space, Dragon Age, etc. Sorry this was definitely a "squirrel!" paragraph.
 
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IA Seldon
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Twelve years back my gaming group did a lot of various game types. RPGs, euro games, Legend of the Five Rings ccg, video game co-op. Nothing really held our interests for long except the ccg and the rpgs. Now, the L5R ccg is very unique in that the players make decisions about the game expansions through their regional, national, and world championships, so there is an ever-evolving story going on with the cards. And rpgs are pretty much story-driven to begin with.

We played board games, but they were never really satisfying. It was always a slogging competition for position and resources where one person very quickly ended up having a losing had against the other three. Which sucks. There was no sense of amicability around the table, it was always dog-eat-dog. The rpgs were like that occasionally, as one person's attention would wander off and lead to some really...awkward decisions.

KD:M isn't like that at all. I know I've seen at least one person complain about how a lot of the game events seem to be more like yes/no decision trees and how they find that limiting; but honestly, that's a big plus in my book. There is no huge moral philosophical debate about the actions and their meaning and relevance, there is just a blanket debate about whether such a choice will help or hinder the group as a whole.

The group as a whole, working in co-operation towards a single goal. That's hard enough to get in a video game these days, let alone around a board game. And the additional bonis of this game having a long, in-depth story that pieces together if you live long enough just makes it all the more amazing.

You don't get that in board games. You can maybe find it in rpg groups that have managed to stay together long enough to cohere to a single style of play (not too damn likely unless you're 35+).

The game has a great motivational story to make this work, though: "Survive. By any means necessary." And then it gets out of your way, letting you learn and make mistakes until you win.
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Henry Akeley
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Exactly. Kingdom Death seems to hit that sweet spot just right. Its not perfect but its close. It gives me enough story to make sure the game doesn't end because of abstract points or turns tracking, yet it also doesn't let the story overwhelm. It instead very eloquently weaves story effects into game mechanics. That, to me, is elegant. Not strict rules on how/when to push your cube that most euro-gamers cite as elegance.

Like I said in my OP; other games have tried to strike this sweet spot. Its hard. Really hard. I respect any game that tries as its giving me both of what I want (decent rules that help facilitate and tell the story, not rules that overrule the theme/story). It seems designers are trying their hands at this more and more. I hold high hopes for the 7th Continent and Near and Far.
 
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Matt Watkins
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IASeldon wrote:
The group as a whole, working in co-operation towards a single goal. That's hard enough to get in a video game these days, let alone around a board game. And the additional bonis of this game having a long, in-depth story that pieces together if you live long enough just makes it all the more amazing.

You don't get that in board games.


I haven't played it, but Pandemic Legacy probably has a similar vibe. Robinson Crusoe's Beagle expansion is a long cooperative campaign. I just finished playing a 25 hour cooperative Mice and Mystics campaign with my kids. There are many more. If you're not finding long, campaign driven, cooperative games out there, you're not looking.

That said, what makes KD:M especially compelling for me is 1) the tactical complexity/mechanical simplicity of the showdown, 2) the setting and the sense of desperation that pervades the game and 3) the "legacy" elements, i.e. the settlement and its evolution as focus rather than individual survivors, who nonetheless develop their own stories and idiosyncrasies.
 
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Henry Akeley
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Its not about a long cooperative campaign. Its about the balance between narrative/theme and mechanics. Where mechanics should reflect and impact the narrative/theme.

In euro-games for instance the theme and mechanics are 2 parallel lines. Destined never to meet and essentially having no impact on one another. Typically the narrative/theme is subservient to mechanics in euro-games.

Long, cooperative, campaign games are often times a good fit for the type of balance I'm talking about, however its not exclusive to those types of games. I think your focus in your reply is off. Not to say that to be antagonistic. I'm saying that because I think your reply might reframe the discussion away from the thread topic. Is it related? Yes. Is it one and the same? No.

 
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Drew Olds
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Another game that I think strikes the balance well is Shadows of Brimstone.

It does it well on a micro level (you enter a room, or travel to a town and lots of cool things are happening that interact and change your character- gaining mutations is lots of fun).

The only real two troubles.

- It is clearly a campaign game without any end in sight- you just keep going until you've decided that you've had enough. The story telling is great on a micro level, but not at a macro level.

- It does have an abstract turn track-thing. I don't mind it in Shadows, because it often has a narrative basis (ie, the bandit you are hunting will escape for example). Sometimes it doesn't justify it quite as well.
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Henry Akeley
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Somewhat related to this thread; anyone "play" the computer game Dear Esther? I read about it the other day on a Tales thread. It is an example of a game that has little to no mechanics and too much narrative. Though it sounds really cool. I am certainly buying it just to have a runthrough.
 
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Matt Watkins
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Epidemius wrote:
Its not about a long cooperative campaign. Its about the balance between narrative/theme and mechanics. Where mechanics should reflect and impact the narrative/theme.


Robinson Crusoe, of the examples I gave, is pretty exquisitely balanced between narrative and mechanics. Similarly to KD:M, it has a tech tree, a hunt phase, a aura of desperation, injuries and maladies that can come back to haunt characters, a cooperative team of player-characters trying to survive in a harsh environment, a narrative constructed through gameplay that is emphasized more than 'winning' a particular scenario.

Mice and Mystics is similar to Descent or Heroquest in that it's a series of skirmishes interspersed by narrative elements. But that's kind of what KD:M is too, though KD:M I think--as you said--builds its narrative more from actions and decisions you take and their effects on survivors and the settlement, rather than pre-imposing it through a storybook. I prefer KD:M's more open-ended narrative development, but Mice and Mystics does offer the sense of a team of players working together to achieve an objective.

Epidemius wrote:
Somewhat related to this thread; anyone "play" the computer game Dear Esther? I read about it the other day on a Tales thread. It is an example of a game that has little to no mechanics and too much narrative. Though it sounds really cool. I am certainly buying it just to have a runthrough.


I haven't played Dear Esther, but I have played Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, which is by the same developer and broadly shares its mechanics. I wouldn't say there is 'little to no mechanics' or 'too much narrative', but that the mechanics are there specifically to allow the presentation of a narrative. Without getting into a discussion about what 'game' means, Esther and Rapture are both about telling a particular story, but through exploration rather than linear narration. In Rapture, the story has already occurred, and your character is discovering it after the fact. But the environment is fully open, and you can choose what to explore and when, with the narrative elements superimposed over your explorations, which gives them poignancy and immediacy. Rapture is gorgeous, with beautiful environments, lush coloring and lighting, top-notch voice acting, and the best musical score ever published in any video game ever. Its story is also pretty compelling and thought provoking, with real emotional weight to it. It was my favorite video game of last year.

Staying on the off-topic of video games, it seems like Darkest Dungeon might be an analogue of sorts to KD:M, with its endless parade of adventurers returning from dungeon delving with permanent physical and psychological scars, maintaining a roster of adventurers rather than individual characters, building up the town nearby to provide equipment and bonuses, and giving a pervasive sense of doom.
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Lester Festertester
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Would have been narrative gaming done PERFECT, if the figs came pre-assembled.
 
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Henry Akeley
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I guess given my preferences I am an AT gamer huh?
 
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