A Year in Review

It has now been over a year since the Covid-19 pandemic hit and changed our lives… and prevented us from meeting in person to play. Now that a year has passed, I figured it would be a good time to look at how our gaming has changed.

Changes in game selection

Since we have been pretty good about keeping records of the games we play in the form of session recaps, I was able to tabulate which games we have played since March 2018 when we started recording them in the Story Games Club website.

With all the data now analyzed, here are some highlights:

• 151 sessions recorded since March 22nd, 2018. (That is when we started writing the recaps.)
• 50 different games have been recorded. (Or more based on how you count hacks of games).
• The pandemic did not slow us down. Since the pandemic hit, we have recorded 51 play sessions as of the writing of this article (March 17th, 2021). Which is in line with the 100 sessions we recorded the 2 previous years.
• We have played Fiasco over 16 times… and I know we did not record all our sessions.

I did a quick comparison looking at the variety of games we played before and during the pandemic. The chart below shows you how they have broken out so far.

Capture

I find this chart very interesting as it highlights how we have adjusted to playing online.

Before the pandemic, we were able to try different games week after week, with almost 50% of the games not being part of the regular rotation. During the pandemic, this has reduced to less than 30% as a good amount of the games we played before are not easy to play virtually or require us to create special spreadsheets to handle the play materials needed.

Games like Fiasco and Companion’s Tale that either require a lot of simultaneous conversations between players happening during setup or that have card components difficult for us to recreate in Google Sheets have seen little play. We seem to have replaced them with games that can be run off a browser easily, like those that use the For the Drama engine or the Story Synth.

Intricacies of Online Play

When we started playing online, I was uncertain if we were going to play regularly as we were not enough players to sustain weekly games, and without a presence at a physical location with foot traffic like we had in the past, it would be difficult to recruit new players. Well, turns out that ended up not being an issue. The move to online play reduced many commutes, previous players that had moved away from the area were now able to join, and new players kept on finding us via Meetup. Our group has actually grown, and we consistently hit enough numbers to run two tables.

Playing online has had its advantages.

• No commute, so players from far away can join.
• Play session is shorter. We regularly finish before the 3hr mark.
• No ambient noise. Some of the places we used to play at would get very loud and would make it hard to hear each other or ruin some scenes. (Looking at you Irish dancers!)

But it has also brought unexpected challenges.

• Since we advertise publicly and are always open to new players, we need to be conscious of minimizing the technology required to play. We always have people join us with different hardware and comfort with technology. To streamline our playing, we have avoided using platforms that require creating accounts or assume that the user knows their way around their platform already. Spending the first 30 minutes of a session troubleshooting with the technology of a new player can negatively impactthe experience for everyone. So, Zoom and shared Google Sheet or Story Synth/For the Drama website is what we use.

• Games that require several conversations taking place at the same time don’t work well. We love Fiasco, but the setup becomes difficult as for it to shine one needs to take turns talking to players sitting next to one. Not a problem in person, but it becomes difficult online and makes the setup take longer.

• Once we have a spreadsheet setup for a game, it becomes very easy to run that game though. Final Voyage of the Selene, Follow, Palanquin, and Lasers & Feelings have seen more play than usual as we have them ready to go.

• It is time consuming to create a spreadsheet that works for each game though. The spreadsheet needs to be properly setup so a new player can follow along. (Designers, if you are reading this, can we get a Google Spreadsheet for playing your game as a Kickstarter reward or something?)

Next Steps

With vaccines now becoming more and more available and the economy slowly opening back up, it will be interesting to see if we can continue playing online or if we go back to meeting in person… or both? I guess it will come down to what kind of attendance we can maintain and if we can find convenient physical locations in which to play.

Generous Play

Four playing cards with images of gamers on them and explanations of four play styles
Image courtesy of Rob Donoghue at Walking Mind

Rob Donoghue at his Walking Mind blog at the Evil Hat website writes about generous play as a play style:

most of my favorite players also subscribe to this model. They’re there to have fun, and they engage the rest of the table to help drive that fun. If you get a table full of people playing this way it can be a joy to watch as the fun-ball gets passed around with vigorous enthusiasm, and the desire to elevate each other elevates the whole table.

I was drawn to his distinctions because at Story Games Westchester, we are entirely on one side of the equations here: we employ generous, personal play or our games don’t work. We try to see what each other want to have fun and each move to accommodate that story, the mode of play, that content, but we also have equal authority and so we each have to advocate for our own play, our own fun. It works for us, or it mostly does.