This week we played Around the Realm by Randy Lubin, in which childhood friends Nella and Bly begin a journey around their fantastical land, the Whirl. Nella is street smart, cautious, and gregarious while Bly is book smart, courageous, and shy. If they can make it back home after circumnavigating the whirl before the summer solstice, they will win untold wealth from a friend who wishes to challenge them.
The first leg of their journey is among a flotilla of small craft making their way across the sea. Bly antagonizes the captain of another boat, who sidles next to us and unleashes his elephant seal onto our deck. He crashes through our rigging, but Bly manages to use the loosed ropes to tie up the seal until it calms down and we can release it back into the water. Across the sea, we enter the city of the undead, where skeletons ply their trades and live everyday lives. One day, the animals escape the zoo, and we’re surrounded by skeletal predators. Luckily for us, a skeletal zookeeper comes rushing into the middle of the animal circle waving his arms and blowing an airhorn and manages to drive them away. He encourages us to leave the city as soon as we can.
Next, we join a diplomatic delegation of elves returning to their citadel to report on their building of relations with Skeleton City. A massive storm arises with driving rains and winds, stranding us on the open plans. We stick close together until we find an empty shack where we can ride out the storm, but some of our horses are lost in the night. After the storm passes, we encounter the great tent city of the plains, full of the sounds of hawkers selling their wares, the smells of roasting meats, the sloshing of tankards of ale, the gabbling of many tongues, and the hum of multifarious peoples intermixing. As we’re navigating the markets, a tent begins to explode as fireworks are ignited. People try to escape the fire and the noise, creating a huge chaotic mass, trapping us deep inside the tent city. But Nella uses her gregarious street smarts to negotiate a way through people’s tents to avoid the overcrowded pathways and get us safely out of the mess.
We must leave our friends at this point on their journey, as we had to end early. Will they ever find their way back home? And will it be in time to win the prize?
This week we played a two-player game on Storysynth called For the Other City by Thomas Manuel, in which we play detectives from parallel cities who must solve a case together. Our detectives are Enders from the technological city of tomorrow, Grandis, and Wormwood from the expansive magical city of the green, Vibrantis. The crime a pair of murders, one victim from each city.
Our collaboration begins with the two detectives meeting and planning their investigation. Wormwood shares with Enders a vision she had of an indistinct person sitting in a small room in front of a table with papers strewn across it. Enders tells Wormwood of the witness he interviewed who saw a street Roomba apparently malfunctioning, so it never left the spot where hours later the Grandisian victim would be murdered. Together they discover that the victim was growing a Vibrantean flower in his apartment, a flower that powers all that city’s magic. Could the victims have been lovers and the killing due to jealousy?
We’re able to corroborate the lovers hypothesis, the flower a token of affection, but we’re unable to confirm the jealousy. A member of the Vibrantean ruling council offers Wormwood a promotion if she can ensure the case is never solved, but she tells Enders all about the bribe attempt when next she sees him. The political angle makes us wonder about their connections on each side. Could they have been collaborating in an official capacity?
The Grandisian was a researcher at a major corporation (Suntex) and could have been conducting experiments on the flower, which could provide a motive. Perhaps the killer feared the fallout if the researcher discovered the flower’s properties. Stuck in Grandis for the night, Wormwood stays at the same hotel as the CEO of Suntex, who seems overly curious about her progress in the case. While Wormwood keeps the CEO occupied, Enders searches his room and discovers a table strewn with papers, the schematics for the model of street Roomba observed at the murder scene.
We finally conclude that the victims had been envoys working in an official capacity, who fell for each other, but were killed by the Vibrantean council, or at least elements within it. The council feared a scientific investigation of the magical flower would lead to industrialization of flower production that would leave Vibrantis without the flowers they need to maintain their civilization. To try catching the culprit, Wormwood pretends to report back to the council member on the case, but they don’t detect the technological wire that Enders gave Wormwood to wear, which leads them to incriminating themselves. Once they’ve got the evidence, the Grandisian police and Enders swoop in to make the arrest.
We played The Nameless Summer by Rudy Mangual this week on the StorySynth engine, in which we play a group of dissolute youths working on an island catering to summer tourists, working out the last week of the season. Our crew consists of Lolita, who works at the Market Fair 16 movie theater; Troy, who takes tourists out on his private glass-bottom, the SS Crystal Lens; Delmar, sho is a counselor at Camp Castaway summer camp; and Marcus, who works at the Penny Drop, a local boardwalk arcade.
That final week of summer begins with each of us at work. Delmar reads in the paper about a former fellow counselor who has gone missing. Marcus is prepping for a major eclipse this weekend that will be visible from the island. Lolita hears a group of tourists talking about the old legends about the “song of the sea” that once caused so many shipwrecks in this area. And Troy has a terrible day when his ex, Valerie, sees him covered in his most recent passengers’ vomit. Other things seem off all week: a strange fortune told, an envelope with an invitation to a mysterious event, and strange goings-on up at the old Carrington Estate.
Later in the week, we’re each haunted in some way by the past. Troy remembers getting lost in the sea caves as the water was coming in. Delmar is down by the sea caves and swears he hears the voice of a boy crying out for help. Marcus remembers the strangest thing that he swears is true: when watching Back to the Future in middle school, everything stopped and Doc Brown turned and spoke directly to him. Lolita has bad dreams about a sea creature she saw trailing the ferry when she was in third grade, which she otherwise hadn’t thought of in years. The next day, Valerie is seen in the grocery store, tenderizing the meat with a mallet while it’s still in the packaging.
The weekend has come at last and the eeriness intensifies. The eclipse is coming and the crowds are growing. Leslie, the younger sister of the missing counselor, implores Delmar to leave while he still can, so she must not know what Lolita discovers: that the harbor is closed and no one can leave the island. Marcus hears of some ritual to be performed at the sea caves at the point of totality, while Troy sees a boy on the pier whose eyes look pitch black. We go to the sea caves to see about this ritual, and discover that people are making a deal with some tentacled sea-creature we call the Traug. We try to stop them, but Marcus is pulled under by a tentacle and does not come back up. The rest of us end up in the Traug’s thrall like the rest of the town. Troy ends up sailing alone on his boat pointing things out through the glass to no one in an incoherent gibberish. Lolita continues to work at the theater, but now she has nonsense speech escaping her mouth and light emitted from her eyes. Delmar continues as a camp counselor, mindlessly doing his daily activities even though the camp is now deserted.