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What We Played: A Deadly Winter (Pickets and Blinds)

Adrienne
user 13146674
Belmont, CA
Post #: 9
Players:
Jeff as Harvey Mills, a fortune-misfavoured milkman with a fondness for automobiles
Dave as Joe "330" Grinnell, a retired pro baseball player with a lot of money and a looming divorce
Ben as Keith Holland, a slightly sleazy real-estate agent with higher aspirations than he can afford
Adrienne as Greta Newman, a misanthropic geriatric widow with a newly-acquired habit

Setting: Small upper-class seaside town in 50's New England. (We chose the "Dark Banality" tone.)

Stories:
Harvey Mills is an unassuming man. He lives a quiet life delivering milk to the wealthy and coming home to his wife Suzie and his four kids. But, it turns out Mrs. Holland wants more from him than just two pints of milk—and he delivers. He tells his old buddy Rocko about it as they go for deer-hunting in the Montgomery estate. Agitated about what to do about Suzie, he responds too quickly to a sudden sound and a second later an officer lies bleeding at his feet. Should he save him? Should he kill him? Should he leave him? Even as Harvey makes for the hospital, the policeman expires. Harvey decides he needs to get some money, get his family, and get out of town quick. Not above a little blackmail, he forces the cash out of Mrs. Holland in exchange for his silence. Heedless of Harvey Junior's fever, he drags his family into the car, and though he makes it out of state, he loses his son.

Joe is as skilled with money as he is with a bat, and when Keith Holland offers him an inside deal on the Montgomery estate he doesn't refuse. But months go by and old Mrs. Montgomery still doesn't move out. His soon-to-be-ex-wife's attorney is breathing down his neck for information on his assets. He needs to shift a lot of cash and time is running out. So, he sneaks over to the Montgomery estate to pay the old bag a visit. But instead of finding her, the sound of a shot (from outside) brings her nephew Lewis down from upstairs and Joe has to talk fast to stop him from calling the police. It is then that he sees the unsigned property agreement and in a sudden rush of adrenaline brains the nephew with a paperweight. He takes the papers, hides the body and gives Keith a call. An increase in his cut persuades Keith to forge the old woman's signature and the deal goes through. Joe heads to Cincinnati to lay low, but unfortunately, with the suspicious death of Mrs. Montgomery, the discovery of her nephew's body and the empty officer Donald's car on her premises, he strikes out. (Sorry.)

Keith Holland wants the American dream—a great house, a nice car and a family who loves and looks up to him. But his house is average, his car is totaled and Betty, his barren wife, only halfheartedly keeps her affairs a secret. He thinks that if he could just make the Montgomery deal go through, he could change things. So when she finally tells him she's selling through someone else, he snaps. One whack with a paperweight and she crumples. When officer Donald pulls him over he looks as innocent as he can, driving a car with an out-of-state plate and a body in the boot, and succeeds in smooth-talking his way away. After disposing of Mrs. Montgomery he returns to finalize the deal with Grinnell. He's surprised to find the very documents he left on her desk held in Joe's outstretched hands. Forgery comes pretty easily after murder and though he wants his wife to believe him that things will soon be better, she's too busy deceiving him to care. When the deal is finally closed, he and Betty move away to pursue his lovely vision of a future that might have been.

Greta is a little lonely, a little weary, and very crotchety. When a young business woman comes calling, nosing into her late husbands affairs, she's miffed enough to get a little revenge and steals the lady's compact. But it is filled with pills, not rouge, and when Greta tries one she finds her hip doesn't hurt her as much and she's happier. Unfortunately, her doctor is more concerned than she is and ends up checking her into a hospital. There, irritated, paranoid and confused, she overhears her nurse disparaging her and it pushes her over the edge. She grabs a nearby security officer's gun and shoots her. After suffering further humiliations in the town jail, she secures more pills and tries to take comfort in an old friendship. In a moment of regret she even offers the nurse's widower all of her fortune, but he tears up the cheque and tosses it at her feet. And on the eve of her sentencing, she quietly takes all her remaining pills and drifts off to sleep.

Game:
Players rotate through scenes for their main character, leading up to and past each character's act of murder. Each scene should include both a predefined tone (drawn randomly) and a 'trigger' (a momentous event). The latter usually ends the scene and enables the player to play a game of memory. Each matched pair gives the player the opportunity to interfere with another character's plot (‘complication’) and also gains them points. Points are further awarded (by the other players) for how well the tone was integrated into the scene. The winner gets away with their crime.

Cards: I liked the use of cards to inject some randomness into the story. The Drifter's Tale uses a similar mechanic (look-up table based on number/suit), but in that case it's only called on when needed (+ set-up). Sometimes we struggled to find ways to integrate the tone cards into our plot, and often just gave up entirely. This may have been particularly difficult for us, because we were playing a different time period than the game was designed for. I also liked the way the memory cards established pacing. As more cards disappear, you know how close you are getting to the end.

Points: Like Ben, I don't get a lot of joy out of assigning points. I do like the idea of having a method for assigning different ending options. Some sort of scoring is necessary to establish a winner, who gets a unique epilogue, but the social dynamic of judging your co-players is weird.

Interactions: Jeff, Dave and Ben instantly forged connections for their guys with other characters in the game, and this was fantastic. The Hammond, Mills and Grinnell stories were then totally interwoven and really cool. The game doesn't exactly discourage you from doing this, but neither is it proscribed. This made their stories really interesting, and kept the other players occupied, but sometimes it was awkward because the boundaries of what you're allowed to do to another character aren’t fully defined. Greta's story had almost no cross-pollination and though I enjoyed creating it, I was very happy when people NPCing added in their own ideas. Unfortunately the 'complication' mechanic is the only explicitly defined interaction in the system. (Other than directed NPCing.) I liked having a system for controlling 'amount of interjections', but sometimes I really wanted to affect someone's story but was obliged to be silent because I was pair-less at that time.

Flavour: Like Dave, I think murder is a fun premise and four murders just means more fun.

Overall, I had a great time with this. There were a lot of awesome scenes here. I especially loved Keith and Joe's awkward allusions to their crimes while they were wrapping up their deal. I also loved how Harvey just seemed to stumble from bad situations into worse ones - nothing ever went right for the poor guy - and his responses to Betty were hilarious. Great game guys!
Ben R
thatsabigrobot
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 208
Big thumbs up to all our players. Everyone did an awesome job making a great story. I loved how tightly the three murders by Mills, Grinnell and Holland interwove (in both time, space and motivation). Our stories tied together really well, but I regretted not figuring out a way to bring Greta into the loop.

When officer Donald pulls him over he looks as innocent as he can, driving a car with an out-of-state plate and a body in the boot, and succeeds in smooth-talking his way away.

Actually, typical Holland, he didn't talk his way out of it. The officer gave him a ticket even when Holland pleaded with him as a friend not to. And that ticket would have screwed Holland because it meant there was a witness who saw him driving Ms. Montgomery's car right around the time of her disappearance. So busted. That was Holland all over: a loser who never really succeeds in talking anybody into anything, despite his continuous desperate attempts. It only worked out because of dumb luck -- Mills shot the cop in the woods an hour later by mistake, so the report never got filed.

As far as the system, this is definitely one of those cases where I think the players made the game. The rules didn't add anything. In fact, they distracted us more than they helped.

- The random seed every scene was way too much. They either needed to be much less specific or much less frequent. Particularly once the story was moving, they just got in the way (though Dave gets the award for cunning incorporation of strange phrases).

- The memory card mini-game didn't connect to the fiction at all. There was no link between flipping cards and what was happening, except that once you got a pair you could spend it later. As a pacing mechanic is was pretty obscure. You could cut that whole thing and just play X scenes.

- Most amazing to me is that the rules didn't generate any starting relationships or motivations for the characters. We did that all ad hoc (and quite excellently, I should add).

Unfortunately, I can't actually think of how the rules helped play. System-wise, I'd say Fiasco is a far better tool for this same niche.

Adrienne, thanks for once again bringing a new game for us to try (you never know if they're winners until you try). Jeff and Dave, you guys both did great and were super fun to play with.
David M.
Davemag
Bremerton, WA
Post #: 1
Reading through the wonderful description and erudite commentary again, I just had to add my "huzzah" to Jeff, Adrienne and Ben for the tangled and believable tale of murder and misanthropy we wove together. It was great fun and I hope to be able to attend in the future (schedule willing).

I had an odd thought when considering the memory game element and pacing. Since the scoring rubric was 1, 2 or 3 points, what if the player got to choose that many cards in the memory game? Or got that many attempts to make a single pair? Or got that many attempts to make as many pairs as possible? Or could "spend" three points to shuffle the positions of the cards already on the table?

In the end it IS probably just messing with a mechanic when perhaps tossing it completely is a better answer, but it as a potential variant it may prove interesting.

Dave
Ben R
thatsabigrobot
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 210
Interesting idea, Dave. I would say that could be a good fix, but like you said, the whole rest of the system is messed up enough that it's probably better to start elsewhere. On top of that, the 1-2-3 rating is based on judging the other players, so increasing its importance would just make that already awkward bit worse.
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