Boom, Stone Age
In Microscope, there’s always room in between, so long as it doesn’t contradict the history you’ve established. But how much room? Again, as much as makes sense.
There was a suggestion on twitter about marking cards to show how much time passed between each Period. The problem is, our understanding of the history improves as we play. We start with a simple understanding and then continuously learn more as we dig in. So if you set a specific time span when you created a Period, you’d actually be making a precise decision when you understood the least, particularly if it’s early in the game.
Here’s a good example from the infamous “sentient sun” game with Tony, Paul, Ping and I. This is way, way back in one of the earliest playtests — the first session was only the 8th game of Microscope ever played. We were still very much exploring what was possible and surprising ourselves at every turn.
The big picture was mankind making contact with and ultimately setting out to purge the universe of the alien races: Xeno-Extermination. We had already played three sessions and were coming up on our fourth, and we had agreed that we were going to close the book on our history that day. It seemed like a good place to stop: on the table we had whole civilizations rising and falling, the birth of new races, the works. It was a pretty complete story.
Or so we thought. Towards the end of the history, there were two Periods that *seemed* like they followed one just after the other. In the first, we had seen humanity create powerful World AIs to help manage their growing civilization. And in the next, humanity was largely dominant, controlling the stars. Right next to each other, right?
Then in just about the very last move of the game, another player took a long pause and then just pushed all the cards in those two Periods apart to make a nice gap. In the middle: boom, a new Period, thousands of years long, previously completely unforeseen. All of humanity descends into a new stone age as the World AIs protect humanity from itself. Each inhabited world is isolated and controlled by the machines, who carefully suppress access to technology and orchestrate humanity’s slow descent into peaceful barbarism. Trading in our star-drives for ploughshares.
We all sat back in awe, suddenly gripped by the mountains of possibilities in this new history. So many stories! How did humanity rise again and become the powerful space-faring civilization we knew it turned out to be? We were incredibly curious, but we would never know, because that’s where we stopped our game. On a glorious, glorious cliffhanger.
Strangely I think we finished even more satisfied than before, because instead of feeling like our history was “done” it felt like it had even more potential than we had thought. We loved our creation even more because it was incomplete. We could dream about the possibilities forever.