Actual Play – Sign (8/5/2016)

SignInstructor: Kathryn Hymes
Players: Spencer Abbe, Michele Royal, Todd Nicholas, Jennifer Martin, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Sign

A game about being understood.

Sign is a difficult game to describe. The play begins with some verbal instructions and everyone is allowed to play. The facilitator explains the background of the game, a Nicaraguan school in the 70s where deaf children were brought to learn lip reading – a project which failed completely but instead because the birthplace of Nicaraguan sign language, which the children developed among themselves when the though the teachers weren’t watching.

In Sign, you play these children and you go through three classroom sessions divided by recess sessions and finally have an “exam” where you must describe your fellow students and how they make you feel. Once the basic outline is given the game becomes completely silent and all communication either comes from the written instruction given by the facilitator or through our own emerging signs. Notably, during two of the classroom periods, each player is tasked to define a sign for one work, so after the first such session the group knows six words, after the second, they know twelve.

One more tool that we had was a marker which we could mark either our hands or note cards with a tally mark when we either did not understand someone or feel like we weren’t being understood. I had a lot of tally marks!

Sign explicitly does not try to reproduce the modern deaf experience or replicate any existing sigh languages. It is, like the title describes, a game about being understood.

The Play is the Thing

Sign is hard. Each of us received a character sheet and though they all had names on them, those names were never used. Our first “assignment” was to sign our name and then everyone else in the class would sign it as well. These were the first words we made.

The characters are complex. They have really rich backgrounds and lots of things that they want that are difficult to communicate. For instance my character liked to read children’s fantasy books to her nephew and wanted to become a young adult author. Karen’s character had a very sick mother and her grandmother took care of her.

Though hard the recess sessions are also fun. We made a fort, we built a castle out of cups, we figured out that most of us were poor, but not all of us were!

The words that had the most use and poignant for us were those that could describe many things: make, hope, and friend.  The words that were very specific like sick were useful for those things we could build out of other words, but they had limited contact. The word deaf wasn’t used at all except that we all realized our teacher wasn’t deaf.

What rocked

Playing the game did feel like being a child. I loved the short sessions of class and recess and the attempts (successful or not) to understand each other.

The marker was an extremely useful tool. I kind of wish I could have that when I’m talking to my mother. I really don’t like having ink on myself so Kate was great about giving us an alternative (I had an index card) to use instead. Thanks Kate!

Though the game is challenging it was never scary. Kate did a great job of preparing us for the game before we started playing and we all got to ask every questions we had. She also make sure that safety was first. If we needed to speak (which didn’t come up) we could pause the game at any time or leave the room to talk to her. I felt really supported the whole time.

As our teacher Kate had some pretty mad glower game. She was good at letting us know we were in trouble or that she disapproved. We even made up a sign for her, which I thought to mean Ms. Bossypants. We made it behind her back. She also wasn’t very good at getting the signs correct. She’d be lazy with them or use the wrong hand or just get them mixed up. Karen’s character really didn’t like that and it was great watching Karen correct her. This was all part of the character of course, Kate didn’t forget our signs but by pretending to she reinforced how important they were.

What could be improved

That is really hard to say. This game is brilliant and I’m so glad I got to play in it. From the prospective of these reports I wish I remembered all the words we made up signs for but since many were never written down, there are some that I only know the sign for (such as our names) and can’t reproduce here. I hope I remember them for a long time.

Actual Play – Ghost Court, Marion County (8/4/2016)

ghost_court_logo_01 (1)Players: Many, living and dead
System: Ghost Court

As Hot Guys Making Out wrapped up we quickly transitioned into a game of Ghost Court!

All Rise! Again!

As always Ghost Court was silly and fun and silly. James had managed to round up a wig, and we used a black tablecloth as the judge’s robes.

As expected… Ghost Court was wonderful, thought that case of the half-ghost child custody still confuses the heck out of the plaintiff! (Perhaps as intended!)

What Rocked

Jerry’s amazing Brittish accent as judge… and with the shroud over him!

Kristin’s great life coaching (or in this case death coaching) for the plantiffs and defendants.

Ross. Judge Cowman is imposing indeed!

What Could have Improved

Kate and I were supposed to have a trial with each other but she had to run out and take a call. My case ended tears. Coincidence? I think not!

Actual Play – Hot Guys Making Out – After Hours Edition (8/4/2016)

Hot Guys Making OutFacilitator: Ross Cowman
Players: Kathryn Hymes, Hakan Seyalioglu, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
Occasional Spectators: Alex Roberts, James Stuart, and Steve Segedy
System: Hot Guys Making Out

Thursday evening we had a Games on Demand orientation where all the GMs and hosts got together to go over how the process works, to answer any questions, and then to eat pizza and play games.

We played Hot Guys Making Out by Ben Lehman.

Woah, this game.

This game is steamy.

Here’s Ben answering some basic questions about it:

Who is this game for?
It is for anyone who loves intense, passionate, dramatic stories about beautiful men kissing each other.

Is it fun?
It is fun.

Is it sexy?
It is sexy.

Yep, pretty spot on.


  • Honoré standing outside his mansion, protected by an umbrella held by Maria, with his shirt buttons undone revealing thick curls of dark hair covering his chest.
  • Silence which dominated the first several scenes. Everything communicated by Honoré’s barely squinting eyes and fierce gaze.
  • The imagery of rain. Water dripping off everything, making all our clothes stick to our bodies. Drenching us so we must be bathed and warmed by gentle hands.
  • The brusque Olivier taking off his wet shirt so it would not drip on the car as he dried it off.
  • Gonsolvo’s voice caught in his throat at the dinner table…so far away from Honoré.
  • Honoré toes, removed fro his boots by Marian, all covered in sapphire rings. Kissed one by one, by Gonsolvo.
  • Olivier walking in with a cord of firewood in his strong arms and grunting as he dropped it into the the hearth of the fireplace interrupting Maria’s manipulations.
  • Gonsolvo slipping into to bathtub and then cradled like a child against Maria’s bosom as she whispered the warning “Be Afraid.”
  • The imagery of Golsolvo’s father in Honoré locket, snapped shut with finality.
  • Honoré commanding Olivier to pleasure Maria, removing her shoes and delighting her with his tongue.
  • Gonsolvo listening to the peels of ecstasy from outside, his ear pressed against the heavy wooden door.
  • Maria’s wet footprints on the wooden floor.
  • All the images of shoes. So many shoes. Honoré polished boots. Maria’s petite slippers. Olivier’s heavy work boots. Gonsolvo’s plain loafers.

What Rocked

Um, this game was insanely hot. Part of what was so hot about it was that the mechanics were actively working to stifle the players and build sexual tension. The card mechanic requires that to act you to either play a card that is equal to or higher than the last card played, or discard a card, draw a new one, and describe the environment. Further, Gonsolvo could only show his emotion or attempt to act and fail unless he played a heart, and Honoré cold only act but now shoe any emotion unless he played a heart. When Gonsolvo played a Jack (of any suit) he could initiate a moment of passion and intensify their relationship and when Honoré played a King he could do the same. Kathryn (who was playing Honoré) and I (who was playing Gonsolvo) could not draw hearts to save our lives. And when we did they numbers were low and we were almost never able to play them. And neither of us drew the face card needed to have a moment of passion. SO MUCH TENSION!

The other element that caused tension was that there was a threat, which was escalated by playing aces, and reduced when Olivier played Jokers. The threat in our game was Maria’s jealousy of Gonsolvo, but because the Jokers kept coming, the threat was always always washed away before it could materialize. At most Maria was able to hint at her jealousy as she warned Golsolvo away from her master.

Ross was so good at cracking down on us when we tried to cheat. He made us play as the cards dictated. There was no fooling around on his watch!

The environment, lacking anyone but our four characters, was so delightful to describe. The carved door to Honré’s room. The bright red umbrella in the dreary grey rain. The rack of shoes (SHOES!!!) drying by the fire. So much good stuff.

Phew…wow, that game was just delicious. Enough so that Alex stayed and watched most of the game!

What could have improved

Wow…I’m not sure. We could have played another hour or two of it. Gonsolvo and Honoré could have spoken words to each other. The sky is the limit!

Actual Play – Big Bad World Playtest (8/4-8/7/2016)

Big Bad World AmbasadorPlayers: Many
System: Big Bad World

Yay for the wonderful Games on Demand community at Gen Con. Because of all these awesome peeps, I got a chance to playtest Big Bad World. What is Big Bad World you ask?

Nathan Black, Community Coordinator for Big Bad Con and my self were sitting on a Google Hangout months ago talking about our community standards, and what we could do to make them less as list of “Thou Shalt Not…” and more a list of “We will love you if you…”

In the middle of that once of us said “When you introduce someone new to a group, Mark XP” and then our minds exploded! What if we could gamify social interactions? Reward positive behavior, and better yet give people an alibi for positive behavior? C’mon, I’m a social guy, but there are plenty of times I’ve been at a con and seen someone I recognize but was too shy to introduce myself. Heck, this year even I saw Eloy Lasanta three times before I finally got up the nerve to break into his crowd of people and say hi. And he’s a contributor to Baba Yaga’s gift box!

Bwaaahhhh. So we started making these little playbooks, and we got some insights from Jason Morningstar as well, and we were off to the races. This is what the playbooks look like when placed behind a standard badge:

I printed a few of these up, and thanks to Kristin Firth for going out and helping me find a FedEx Office that sold badge holders (I had forgotten that Gen Con just uses lanyards) we were able to playtest it at the con.

What Rocked

My star players (Kristin Frith, Andy Munich, and Jenn Martin) all returned multiple completed playbooks back to me with suggestions for how to improve them. Thanks alpha playtesters!

In addition we had at least 20 more people who tried it out, and as I walked around Games on Demand, I frequently saw people with playbooks behind their badges. Peeps were so great. I just love how eager folks were to try something new and how quickly everyone who played just “got it”.

What could have improved

My reward for completing a playbook was…getting another playbook but the intent is to make the reward a pin or a ribbon. I like both options and will have to weigh them against each other. The ribbons are cool, but since there are four playbooks, getting four ribbons could add up. Pins are also cool (I love me some pins!) but I worry about them getting lost in the sea of pins we already give out. Must ponder more.

I wish I had been more organized about soliciting feedback. What I received was mostly about clarity and making sure the moves were approachable/doable, which was great, but I wish I had a better method to solicit all the feedback out there (Note: if you’re reading this and you played, please let me know what you thought of it!).