There’s always another Kingdom

(Written by Caroline)

   I don’t have the numbers — I’m not the spreadsheet guy in this game. Actually there are two spreadsheet guys (Marc and Ben, although I’m going to give the gold to Ben on spreadsheets), a sparkle who wears different cool glasses each week (Al), and a person (me) who apparently frames scenes with the fewest people in them, according to an aforementioned spreadsheet guy (2 is the right number of people for a scene folks. No questions). 

So I’m not totally sure what number of sessions we’ve done (60 maybe?), or how many kingdoms we’ve created so far (8? I really could go count those now, but I won’t). But we decided to take a little break from our Kingdom 2nd Edition game to try out some things that had been on our to-play list. 

Al is responsible for all this art. Blame them for how cute Flutterbutter looks as a Parish. (There are 131 entries in our Kingdodex. I think we have a problem)
Al is responsible for all this art. Blame them for how cute Flutterbutter looks as a Parish. (There are 131 entries in our Kingdodex. I think we have a problem)

After a very long 2 month hiatus (which included a spin-off fashion show game, see above), it was finally time to jump back into our Kingdom legacy game, Kingdomon. It’s Pokemon themed and it’s unsurprisingly amazing. You can read Ben’s write ups on it over at Ars Ludi and see some pretty cute fan art too. (We are the only fans of Kingdomon, despite how many times we’ve tried to make our friends and family listen to us ramble about this week’s Tappycat drama). 

But we’d already made everything! There was no new Kingdom to create! Or so we feared. But the beauty of Kingdom Legacy is there’s always something new right around the corner. You can Microscope-it-up (as we say in the industry) and create big ideas across wide amounts of time, as everything else gets re-contextualized and made all-the-cooler.

So yeah, we found another angle to explore what it means to be in a community with Kingdomon (Kingdomon = Pokemon, keep up). We’d already done classic battle stuff, living in harmony with them, sports, middle-school scouts, Team Trouble, Starter Town, voyaging across the sea, and a hyper-neon cyber dystopia (with digital Kingdo!).

As Al and Ben and Marc goofed off about pretzels or olives or something, I raised my little hand. Boom! My idea: Kingdomon as religion. That’s right! We’re busting out the ancient temples to the Kingdo-gods! No one tell us they are just adorable animals because we are about to take this way too seriously. 

And when we’re done with this kingdom? I’m not worried we won’t have another idea. There’s always another Kingdom.

Sunset in Santa Teresa

The air hums with energy as the sun sets the sky afire with pink and red. Classic 80’s tunes blast from the stereo of a passing convertible. The waves lap the sand in a steady rhythm. But all is not well in the beachside town of Santa Teresa, and the task of uncovering the truth falls on our Detective Pasquale (played by Morgan), his Partner Billy (Fred), his Flame Esperanza (Caroline), and of course his Hat (me, Marc).

fedora noir susnset in santa teresa

It’s a classic game of Fedora Noir, quick, fun, and full of betrayal. Not to mention some great Hat one-liners.

Our game opened (and would later close) with Pasquale alone on an empty street, looking out at the ocean and thinking deep thoughts. We then cut to a case in progress, where we learned that Billy was an intern (Partner: “Will I be getting paid for this?” Detective: “Of course.” Hat: “Absolutely not.”) and the actual go-getter of the operation, while Pasquale was a lazy layabout who let other people do his work for him. They actually made a great team, and when a new threat arose in town, they were on the case. Of course, Pasquale also had to contend with his former lover Esperanza, who wanted to get back together. Her past betrayals had hurt him too much to allow that to happen. Then someone went missing and the case landed in Pasquale’s lap. After a lot of following people around, getting accosted by drug dealers, and roughing up thugs, the climactic finale saw Pasquale and Billy sneak aboard a huge yacht and discover Esperanza at the heart of the crime ring. They got to leave with their lives, but not much else: Pasquale had to drop the case and walk away, tail between his legs.

There are many things that make Fedora Noir work well. First is the dynamic between the Detective and the Hat. Playing these characters is a joy because it’s basically tag-team storytelling. During this game, I’d suggest something the Detective should do, and Morgan would immediately and deliberately not do that thing. It created a lot of hilarious moments, but it can also make some serious dramatic tension when the Detective knows something but isn’t saying it aloud. 

Second is the pacing. The game is set up in a number of chapters, and each one is carefully crafted to move the story forward just enough to keep things going, but not so fast that we don’t have time to learn about our characters — who are, in fact, the true focus of the story. In our game, every act fed into the next, and by the end we’d told a cohesive story almost effortlessly. 

Third is the characters. As I mentioned, the dynamic between the Detective and Hat is good stuff, but the conflicted relationships with the Partner and Flame also add a lot of drama. In our game, the Partner was optimistic, competent, and big source of comic relief, while the Flame was very much the femme fatale, offering the Detective a chance to make it big if he’d only compromise his morals.

Fedora Noir is on Kickstarter for one more week. It’s easy to play online (like we did in this game) and perfect for a short, one-shot gaming session. I hope you’ll check it out! 

Posted by Marc

My Haven for a Hat

(posted by Caroline)

  I would rather hide under a rock than talk about my own games. I’m just very shy and busy (hello parenting). But! Getting ready for the Fedora Noir kickstarter pretty much exactly 7 years after I did the Downfall kickstarter got me comparing the two games and thinking about my own journey as a game designer.

Downfall and Fedora Noir are very different games. In Downfall, you lovingly create a world that you know is doomed to destroy itself. It’s a game about the macro reflected into the micro — we see a doomed civilization reflected in its doomed Hero. It’s typically pretty epic stuff. Fedora Noir, on the other hand, is very focused on small-scale conflicts, like the tension between a detective and the people who care for them (or used to, anyway). As different as they are, both games are stories that focus on a single character. 

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I play and design GMless games because I love sharing narrative control with my fellow players. The way that our different perspectives and voices pull and weave a story together constantly amazes me. Equally sharing authority over the story is, to me, what makes story gaming so wonderful. That’s an easy thing to do in an ensemble game, where no one character is the main one. We just take turns swapping player characters, and every player gets more or less equal screen time. But how do you make one character the main one while still sharing the spotlight between players? 

In Downfall, I decided to tackle that issue by designing the game so that each person takes turns playing each of the roles. We create a nuanced Hero (and Fallen and Pillar) by sharing them. We learn more about a character as another player develops them. Then when it’s our turn, we can change that character or explore them in other ways. When it’s your turn to be the Hero, you are the focus of that round’s scenes. But everyone gets a turn, so over the course of the game we all get to be in the spotlight about evenly.

In Fedora Noir, the rules handle the problem of sharing the spotlight by dividing the role of the main character between two players. One player is the Detective, narrating their speech and actions. And another is their Hat, narrating their inner thoughts. By splitting the character between two roles, we balance the stage time for players while giving the character a ton of depth, not to mention dramatic irony.

fedora noir kickstarter icon city 2

The other two roles — the Partner and the Flame — are defined by their complicated relationships to the Detective. Even when the Partner or Flame frame a scene, it’s about the Detective and their relationships. When you play the Partner or the Flame, you’re a supporting character, but you also drive the central conflicts within the game. 

The game pushes you towards intimate conversations with conflicting motivations, and by focusing on one character split between two players, we intensify the drama. A conversation between the Flame and the Detective about what their future holds is made more dramatic when we hear the Hat’s true feelings… and then see the Detective do something else. 

In Downfall, we explore how the Hero changes and is changed by their world… but in Fedora Noir we see how the Detective is challenged by their relationships and their own inner voice, the Hat.

Fedora Noir is on Kickstarter from July 20-August 10, 2021. The video is hella embarrassing (but also kind of great).