Players: Eric and Kevin
I was very excited when my friend was interested in facilitating a game of Reflections for me. Being a member of that sad club of unfortunates who missed the kickstarter, I was enjoying the sweet joys of Reflections actual plays looking inward through glass on the rain-soaked streets like a Dickensian orphan until tonight.
At its core, Reflections is a two-player game about the path that leads two familiar faces to fatally face off. In my opinion, the bill of samurai showdown duel belies the real majesty of the game. The magic of this game transcends that particular scenario and espouses the entire showdown concept! Any social clique that features duty and codes of conduct could potentially be at service using this game, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The structure of the game is deliberately paced a specific way. 5 scenes before the resolution/showdown using dice earned from those 5 scenes. Each of those five scenes servers a purpose and carry us closer and closer to the showdown.
In lieu of the dueling samurai, we went with something kind of special: dueling mecha warfare pilots. However, our starting premise pivoted once the beautiful prologue procedure was in play. (side note: mechanically speaking, the ritualized format of the prologue is AMAZING. I cannot understate the power of something as simple as repeating some words together to resonate tone.)
Anyways, I took the game (with Kevin's blessing) a slightly odd direction: I'm not a co-pilot in the conventional sense. I was to be a robot. Kevin's character's creation.
In an age of rapid growth and expansion, standing over the ruined mecha and dead soldiers, Created and Creator would showdown over the future of Earth.
Our game started in the garage of the startup of Sascha Barnyard, scrambling to get a new artificial intelligence online to prove to angel investors there's something worth pursuing.
As A.T.O. (Artificial Technological Organism) breathed life for the first time, it asked Sascha who they are. Sascha poignantly responded with the first words it heard from humanity, 'A Friend"
This scene of friendship was very special. I didn't have a voice and asked for Sascha's because they were so nice. The goals of each scene worked well. I was gunning to get Kevin to promise me something while Kevin was gunning to get me to do something as well. At the end of the scene we updated our sheets.
The tension of our game racketed up as I promised to build Sascha his machines in exchange for a sister machine: a friend like A.T.O. Unfortunately A.T.O.-B as it was dubbed was unreliable and wouldn't be controlled by anyone.
I pleaded with Sascha to let it learn on its own and let it grow, but Sascha saw the danger A.T.O.-B possessed. It lacked the closeness to humanity and saw them as valueless. A.T.O. overrode Sascha's attempts to turn it off, protecting his sister, assuring Sascha (and the stakeholders watching in terror) that it needs time! Imploring Sascha to care about life fell on deaf ears as Sascha's business interests and databases were at risk. Sascha manually overrode A.T.O. using a backdoor command, forcing A.T.O. to terminate his own sister.
Real talk-- this was a FANTASTIC moment. It felt great. It felt so great, but it showed one of the first cracks in the execution of the game. Reflecting on the moment that will be the schism between Creator and Created, we realized that based on our obstacles, the scene would have been even better if I were to lean into Kevin's character's goal of having me publicly outcry and denounce him! The idea of, near the very end protecting A.T.O.-B I lashed out at Sascha and was going to tell the shareholders his flaws the moment Sascha orders my override would have been the icing on the cake.
A.T.O. doubted the value of Friendship by humankind, but remained loyal to execute its programming of developing weapons and machines, elevating Barnyard Corp to the top. The scene of the formal after the buyout of the next biggest defense corporation, I introduced the CEO and founder, praising his name in public, but between us, denouncing him with shady jabs such as "Our founder has an unwavering commitment to humanity's prosperity and his company's shareholders. A deal he has never broken nor could. It is with great pleasure I introduce...." Kevin had Sascha respond with similar barbs until we could speak in private where I forcefully asked him if he regretted having me kill A.T.O-B all those years ago and as a machine I can never forget. It is just as real this day as yesterday. Sascha's apology was half-hearted and lukewarm, and by the end of the scene, in the penthouse overlooking Neo-Seattle, A.T.O. unleashed a surprised war.
After a nasty, nasty war, Sascha developed a virus to fight A.T.O. and his machines based on A.T.O-B research. It was in these final moments, in a confrontation, words were exchanged how A.T.O. could have killed humanity but chose not to. It chose to capture and teach, hoping to change the minds so that humans and machines could live in harmony, but people like Sascha would always exist. Machine lifeforms could never live as equals among humans, but it'd personally destroy Sascha for destroying A.T.O-B.
We recited the prologue once more, over the wreckage of man and machine, we stood as Creator and Created feuding over the death of my "sister".
After the die roll resolution, A.T.O. was victorious. I had the Dragonball-Z effect of the nuclear windstorm surround as A.T.O. and A.T.O.-B were reunited, as A.T.O. counteracted the virus, planning for this inevitable moment.
Reflections on Reflections
The narrative scenes and five act worked extremely well. There was never a moment in the game where we were wondering what this scene would look like, but plenty of banter about "hmm, would this be at your brand new office? Or would it be in space? Or back where it all began? All these are so good!" So yeah.
The prologue setup is perfect. It encapsulates SO MUCH of what the game is about. The repetition is also perfect!
The scene goals idea was adds a very intentionality to the scenes for each character that's great.
what could be improved
I'd love to play again, but each side announce their goals. I think, since Kevin and I are both BIG story gamers, having our goals be known and us as players deciding between "Hey I see you working your goal here, but I'm not giving you ANYTHING on it-- enjoy this hatred!" meta-play while we do our scene could be very interesting. Certainly announcing our objectives means we lose the opportunity to feint our true goals and try for all of the goals as a kind of fictional DDOS to some kind of "competitive" part of the game.
Furthermore, I thought the dice at the end didn't do anything for me. I get the need to build up to the final showdown. Ultimately I can't justify the value the dice/hidden objective style of the game is better than a coin-flip at the end. Please don't get me wrong-- the game works great! I just can't help but wonder if there's a more poignant way to express that feeling of build up to final release.
I'd absolutely love to play again. I'd love to do a straight up Samurai one or Jedi rendition, but I'd also love to do dueling space admirals and capital fleets!
My concluding thought was that this game would be PERFECT at a convention waiting for your friends to finish up their games.