“My Dad, he’s full of stars!”
First playtest of Microscope Union was beautiful and bittersweet:
Nathan grew up on the farm. As a young man he sees strange lights in the sky, a sight that fills him with quiet wonder.
Belle comes from the big city. She hates the country, hates working on the farm, but eventually she and Nathan fall in love and marry. They are happy together.
Years later, Nathan walks out into the fields one night and disappears. Simply vanishes into the sky. Belle grows old raising their son alone, never quite able to explain to him that his father didn’t abandon them. Not really, not like that.
Until the day Nathan returns from the stars to say goodbye…
Union is a spin-off of the Microscope rules, redesigned to explore a family history and all the triumphs and tragedies as each generation creates the next. But like Microscope, you already know the ending: you know who the final descendent is, the outcome of all these unions, then you go back and see all the lives that came before and made that person who they are.
When we played, it was amazing how much the characters sprang to life because of the web of relationships they had with everyone else (“She sympathizes with her mom but she’s rebelling against her grandfather, the firebrand preacher!”). There were a lot of characters but we had zero difficulty keeping them all straight because they were all interconnected.
I’m liking it a lot.
Hilarious design note: I spent hours and hours and hours (really, too much time) trying to layout a diagram for the family tree that you could fill-in during play. I kept tweaking and resizing and starting again from scratch but it always seemed ugly or an inefficient use of the space. About an hour before the game, I finally printed out something that mostly worked. But once I finally had it done, I immediately had a brainstorm and realized I didn’t need a diagram at all. I could just do everything with index cards. It would be better and require less prep by the players. Eurek-duh!