Your Kingdom’s Legacy

I sent out the June update of the Kingdom playtest a few weeks ago. The vast majority is the same as the previous version, except for the Touchstone changes I already talked about and some clarified language. But tucked in the back is a brand new thing that I’ve been keeping under wraps: Kingdom Legacy.

Legacy is an optional mode that expands your Kingdom into an entire history of your community. Instead of just exploring your Kingdom as it is now, these rules let you build the past and future of your institution and then jump back and forth and play in all those different eras. Sure your fabled school is wizardry is lovely and prestigious now, but how was it founded? And what happens when magic is outlawed and sorcerers are hounded from civilized lands? You can make those eras and play to find out. It brings some Microscope’y goodness into your game, but instead of just “now play some Microscope” it takes the core principles but applies them in ways that are a better fit for Kingdom.

You build each era much like a separate game of Kingdom, with its own cast of characters and Crossroads that unfold. But each time you finish a Crossroad or Crisis, you take a step back and decide whether there is a new era you should add to your Kingdom’s history to flesh out the story more, then you pick any of the eras to jump back in and continue play. Rinse, repeat.

You might never play in some of the eras you create. And that’s fine. But even if you spent your whole game playing in one era, just like a normal Kingdom game, merely creating other eras and declaring what the Kingdom was/will be like changes how you see the story. If you know that in the future your rebellion does overthrow the government but gets bogged down in its own temptations, that’s going to change the way you see everything that happens as you valiantly fight for freedom. Knowing the past or future adds delicious layers to your thinking. It puts everything that happens in a richer context.

GMless story games are notorious for being one-shot or just a few sessions long. You don’t see a lot of long-form campaign play. Before now, I think the longest GMless game I ever played was seven sessions. Compare that to our current Kingdom Legacy game, where we just played our 18th game with no sign of stopping. We had no plans to play this long but this story has got its hooks in us. Is that because of this new Legacy structure? Yes, absolutely. The first era of our Kingdom was great and had a lovely stopping point and normally that would have been the whole game, but because of the Legacy rules we kept building and now we just leaped into our third era of play.

Am I calling it Kingdom Legacy as a riff on Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy, or all the other “single session board games turned into campaign games”? Yep, exactly. Much like Microscope, you really could just keep exploring all the different phases of one Kingdom and never end your game. When the story in one era comes to a nice dramatic conclusion, that’s awesome, you just explore another part of the Kingdom’s history.

It’s also fascinating to see how the dynamics between the players change every time we start a new era and make a whole new batch of characters. Last time you and I were political rivals plotting each others’ downfall, but in this era our new characters are sweethearts just trying to make their love last! Sure having different character relationships with the same player happens when you play multiple games, but it feels special here because all these characters are part of the same larger story. We’re having fun taking turns wearing different hats.

Ben Robbins | July 19th, 2020 | ,

The Trouble With Touchstones

I am very happy with how the Kingdom second edition playtest is going. Kingdom has always been a fantastic game and the new version does a much better job of capturing that magic.

But dear reader, let me tell you a secret: the Touchstone rules have been my cross to bear. A game design thorn in my metaphorical side for lo these many years.

The principle of Kingdom is simple: Power tells the community what to do, Perspective foresees the consequences, and Touchstone tells us how the people feel. The rules for Power and Perspective have always been solid, but in the first edition Touchstone always felt just a little bit weak. A little too easy to ignore. And I think that’s because of two mistakes I made, which are kind of interesting in hindsight.

The first mistake is that I included mechanics that overshadowed fiction. One of the things Touchstone can do is check Crisis more often than other players. But checking a Crisis box is abstract until there’s an actual Crisis. What does it mean? What does that check tell us about what’s happening in the fiction? Touchstone can also describe how people feel (as I’ll get into next) but because checking a box is a clear concrete thing, it becomes the focus of attention, overshadowing the cool stuff the player describes.

At the start of this new edition, I tried to solve a separate problem of Touchstone’s abilities being linked to that particular player’s turn by allowing Touchstone to check Crisis on any turn, not just their own. Which does solve the timing problem, but if anything it puts even more focus on Crisis checks, which makes things more abstract, less rooted in the fiction. No good.

The second mistake is that even though when Touchstone describes how they personally feel it immediately means that’s how the people of the Kingdom feel too, we don’t actually see other people feeling that way. This is actually a pitfall in lots of games: stating that something is true without actually showing it or making it part of the fiction only has a very tenuous impact on play. We can say we’re a society with lots of injustices, but until we see some actual examples it may not really stick in our minds.

So how am I fixing all this?

To address the second point first, when Touchstone describes how they feel, they can now immediately describe seeing other people in the community acting on those same feelings. The hypothetical popular reaction is now shown and made part of the undeniable fiction. We see people marching in the street or cheering the new laws.

Another small but surprisingly important change is that Touchstone now also marks which side of the Crossroad they prefer. It seems trivial, but with so much going on, having a simple marker to remind everyone what the people want is a very useful. Perspective has always had the advantage of having their predictions down on paper, in sight and in mind, and now Touchstone benefits from a little bit of that too.

The other fix is that, starting with the upcoming June K2 draft, I’m removing Touchstone’s special ability to check Crisis during scenes & reactions entirely. Whaaat? I know, right? Touchstone still gets to drop Crisis bombs when the Crossroad is resolved, but during scenes they check Crisis like everyone else.

On paper it may seem like that weakens Touchstone, but by removing the mechanical checks, but I think it puts the focus back on the fiction. Touchstone can instantly define the heart and souls of the people of our Kingdom. That’s their real function, and it’s a powerful narrative ability. This also lines Touchstone up much more perfectly with the way the other roles work, if you stop and compare them.

So heads up playtesters! When your get the new draft, try it out and tell me how it goes.

Ben Robbins | June 21st, 2020 | , , | 2 comments

New K2 for June

Hello, playtesters! I’m working on new draft of Kingdom second edition that should be ready sometime in June. So if you’ve played and you’ve got feedback for me, I can incorporate it into this revision. If not, don’t worry, there will be a call for feedback before the playtest ends.

Right now most of the changes are small, just clarifications and whatnot. There are some other changes I’m considering, but the jury’s still out. Never fear, I am going to mark places where the text has changed, so you won’t have to hunt to figure out what’s different (because that’s a waste of your time).

There may also be someā€¦ entirely new material for you to take for a spin. No spoilers (yet) but we’ve been playing with a new thing and it’s been fantastic.

Bottom line: send me feedback if you’ve got it, keep playing the current draft, stay safe!

Ben Robbins | May 28th, 2020 | , | 3 comments

“And then later they high-five each other in the hallway”

This interview I did with Dave Pruner on Electric Dice was a ton of fun. Is it gaming advice? Is it advice for living your best life? Who says it can’t be both!?!

Interview on Electric Dice

Note to self: do more interviews and panels. Talking about all the awesome games and all the awesome gamers is always fun.

Thanks to Dave for inviting me and everyone on chat for jumping in!

Ben Robbins | May 21st, 2020 | , | 1 comment

Live Interview on Electric Dice

I’m going to be doing a live interview / chat with Dave Pruner on Twitch this Thursday. We may be talking about everything from Microscope to West Marches, and if you show up you can spam chat with your own deeply thoughtful questions.

Electric Dice on Twitch
Thursday May 7
7 PM EDT

If you miss it you should be able to check out the recording later on.

See you Thursday!

Ben Robbins | May 3rd, 2020 | ,

Kingdom Duet

Given all the chaos in the world, I’m keeping the K2 playtest open for the foreseeable future. Don’t worry about any deadlines right now, just play and have fun. If you have feedback or posted about your game somewhere, send it my way. But again: just play and have fun.

Lots of people have jumped in with all sorts of backgrounds, including many who have played the original Kingdom and many who have not. That broad range of experience makes for a much better playtest, so if you’re new to Kingdom (or story games in general) and want to join in, don’t be shy!

Several eagle-eyed players have noticed that while the text says that there are special rules in the back for playing Kingdom with only two-players, there are in fact no special rules in the back for playing Kingdom with only two-players. Yep, my bad.

The good news is that adjusting Kingdom for only two players is pretty easy. Same rules as normal, except:

And you might be thinking, wait a minute, there are three Roles. If there are only two main characters, will one Role always be empty?!? And yes, you’d be exactly right. That can happen in any game of Kingdom but it will always happen in a two-player game. What you chose to control and what you leave up to fate is up to you. The good news is the mechanics are weighted so that the fewer players there are, the less likely you are to have something unpredictable and bad happen because no one is covering that aspect of the Kingdom. With two-players you incur bad-random things only half the time.

When I made Kingdom way back when, I really didn’t think it would work as a two-player game, but when I actually played it was surprisingly fun. So give it a shot!

Ben Robbins | April 30th, 2020 | , | 3 comments