One of my favorite things about story games is sharing them with strangers. It’s the main reason I look forward to playing Games on Demand at PAX. It’s amazing how creative and friendly people are during con play, and how quickly we go from feeling like strangers to feeling like co-conspirators, making something awesome together.
Oh and the added bonus was that Downfall was super popular–14 games played in total!
I ran three sessions of Downfall during the con, and had a fantastic time with each of them. Here’s a brief run-down of my games.
My character (Hosanna) had roadrunner as her favorite animal, and the other players chose armadillo (Seline) and snake (Sam). There was just one snake, but many armadillos and roadrunners. Each of us focused on something different during our game: for Hosanna, it was all about building paths throughout Eden. Sam wanted to understand why snake said spiders were evil, but other animals and humans didn’t feel the same way. Seline, after an encounter with a bald eagle in which the eagle said she was only good for food, wanted to figure out her purpose, and how to prove to the eagle that she wasn’t just prey. All of this resulted in Seline beating up Hosanna for trying to build a path through Seline’s oasis, and Hosanna leaving Eden without ever seeing the bridge Seline built as an apology for her violence. Very tragic.
What I found so great about this game were a few things: for one, we played fast scenes, which really moved the story along. Updating the map each round made it feel like Eden was changing with us, so that was great too. We also interacted with one another frequently, in both cooperative and combative ways. But my favorite element of the game was something of a revelation for me: I love seeing characters come to the realization that they are not their favorite animal. It’s kind of the whole point of the game, really! Your character either becomes more human, or becomes more like their favorite animal. This played out beautifully with Sam, who, in a last-ditch effort to gain insight, brought snake and a spider-loving human together and demanded they explain themselves. Both continued to exhibit all their worst traits, and finally, in a moment of insight, Sam dropped one of my favorite lines from any game of Eden so far.
“A snake is a snake. A spider is a spider. But I am not a snake or a spider. I… am Sam.”
Eden is a storytelling game about talking to animals and learning of good and evil. During the game, players collaboratively draw a map of the Garden of Eden, create human characters who live there, and role-play scenes as those characters, in which they interact with the animals and other humans. There is no GM, and players all share control of how the story turns out. The game is made for three to five players, and is meant to be played in a single session of two to three hours. The game is played in essentially three phases: Map the Garden, Create Characters, and Explore Eden. A typical tabletop during the game will look something like this:
That’s just about the most basic summary I can offer. Now let’s dive into a couple of the game’s core mechanics for a closer look at how everything works.
The Map of Eden
The heart of the world you’ll explore during the game is the map. You create the map together, taking turns describing and drawing the various lands of Eden on it. Eden is a supernatural paradise, which means you can have a frosty glacier nestled cozily beside a tropical beach if you like. Animals abound in The Garden, but you’ll only select a few to focus on; in fact, your first choice of the whole game is which animal will be your character’s favorite. This choice is critically important, and I’ll be doing a post in the future about how this choice affects gameplay.
Here’s an example of a map from a game of Eden:
As you can see, this map has a lot going on! We’ve got a beach and ocean area, some rolling dunes, a rocky cliff, a savannah, a flowering garden, and a forest with a lake. There are bunnies, elephants, a shark, hummingbirds, and other animals visible. You may be wondering about the line of circles all the way around: that’s The Wall, which surrounds and constrains the Garden of Eden. The only way out is through The Gate, which you can see in the upper right corner. All three players in this game contributed to this map, which makes it a truly collaborative effort.
Making characters is Eden is very straightforward. Your character will be a young adult, innocent and naive, barely cognizant of good and evil. They have a favorite animal, a skill they learned from that animal, and a moral lesson they’ve acquired through observing or talking to their favorite animal. You’ll also have a relationship with the characters on either side of you, based on helping and harming each other. The way you create these skills, lessons, and help/harm connections is narrative; everything you say about your character is supported by fiction, so the whole process is interactive and full of unexpected surprises.
After mapping Eden and making human characters, the rest of the game is devoted to playing scenes. Each character gets one scene per round, and then everyone updates lessons. That’s it! The scenes themselves follow certain guidelines: for example, your scene must shine the spotlight on your character. A great part of the game is playing as animals in other people’s scenes–being a talking animal is just fun, and I often surprise myself with what I end up saying or doing in that role. Scenes generally alternate between asking your favorite animal for help, and trying to apply your lessons to your interactions with other humans, often with mixed results.
So where can I get the game?
Look for Eden on Kickstarter this Fall!
Oh, and as an addendum to the game in the photos… sharks are super wise.
I’m so excited to announce that Downfall received the Indie Groundbreaker Award for Best Setting this week at GenCon! Wahoo!
To me, the award being given to Downfall highlights that it’s players that bring worlds to life. After all, I didn’t make the setting, you do that every time you play. Because, really, Downfall’s setting is created each game—by the players at the table. So this award goes out to all you gamers! Keep making those awesome worlds. <3
Our game began with the creation of a map of Eden. Tim chose chameleon as his animal, and placed them in a jungle. Evan selected termites and drew a devoured forest with termite mounts. Alex picked dragon as his favorite animal, and created a deadly swamp where the beast lived. I chose meerkat as my animal, and drew a dusty savannah for the meerkats to inhabit. We then added a few more creatures and details to our map: a river and lake with salmon, some elephants in the savannah, some leeches in the swamp, and a phoenix on some mountains near the forest. Next we added the wall, which was made of massive (like 50 ft diameter) steel beams. The Nod Gate was a corrugated steel door with a handprint scanner (not that our innocent characters knew what that was, but we did).
Next we made our characters. I played Iah, a young woman who knew how to watch for danger and believed that we should educate others for their own benefit. Tim was Sisera, a woman who knew how to hide in plain sight and thought that we shouldn’t let others see our weakness. Evan was Orpha, a man who knew how to build with wood and thought that we should rely on our friends, and Alex played Othniel, a young man who knew how to traverse the swamp and believed we should trust others to be strong for themselves.
The story got underway with Iah asking meerkat for help. Iah was upset because Sisera had kicked her out of a hiding place when they were being attacked by the dragon. The meerkats suggested that because Sisera had caused harm to a member of her “tribe”, she was no longer fit to be a member of the tribe, and had to be dealt with. This one conversation led to big changes in Eden. While Orpha, Othniel, and Sisera each tried to make amends for things they’d done wrong to one another, Iah began a recruitment campaign for “the tribe”, starting with Seth, Namah, and Kish (secondary characters). She managed to get most of the humans, the dragon, some meerkats, and the phoenix to join, which resulted in the dragon killing the non-tribe human, Namah. This outraged Orpha, who was her friend, and he attacked Iah, leading her to retaliate. Orpha – “We have to kill the dragon, because he killed my friend!” Iah – “She wasn’t in the tribe, so she wasn’t your friend!”
After all was said and done, Orpha had been thrown out of Eden, Othniel and the dragon spent more time together, Sisera had gone into hiding with the chameleons, and Iah ruled the tribe, with the heads of anyone who wasn’t a member on spikes around the fire pit.
A really solid session. I’d made a change to the rules that has players quickly jot down some secondary character names at the game’s outset for use later, and having those available was really handy. It allowed us to easily introduce (and remember to create) other humans besides our player characters, which is what I wanted it to do. A fantastic game all around.