The Crowley Family
This past Thursday I had the opportunity to sit down and play a story game called House of Reeds. It's designed by a Story Games Seattle regular, Sam which is super cool.
At 30,000 ft: House of Reeds is similar to The Quiet Year in that it is a map-drawing story game only it focuses on a family in a particular house. Family and house are used as literally as you want/need. Players take turns drawing cards which prompt them to do things. In House of Reed's case, rotating one at a time, a player will draw a prompt, choose a time of the year, which characters in the family, and directs a scene with the prompt in mind. Often the prompt will ask you to update the map with something new.
The four of us, T, E, R, and J, came up with a Victorian Gaslight / Steampunk / Mad Science setting was what we wanted.
The four rooms we made up were:
The Crowleys are a middle class family auspiciously inherits a London manor. We made characters simultaneously and came up with the following:
Our game was tragic to say the least. Not in an unfun tragic, but the story we ended up telling was very sad and intimate.
Within the first few years of play, Helena lost an arm in her experimentation, Victoria is upset and keeps bothering her mother for love and affection that everything's going to be alright, and to make it all worse: the bank has showed up showing that they failed to pay inheritance fees and are to be evicted. Yikes!
The remaining part of the game flows between tragedy and joy in a very heartfelt way. Helena builds herself a new arm in the workshop and then more tragedy befalls the Cromley family as the mother, Anastasia passes away from a freak accident. Coincidentally it wasn't long after we learned more about Herr Grum and what the mysterious room in the bedroom! With so much loss, the Bank waives the penalties and offers a holiday on payments for the time being.
Victoria and Helena could never quite see eye to eye. Helena is a very cool headed, rational person while Victoria is young, naive, and idealistic. Helena wished Victoria would grow up and see the world for what it was. Victoria wished her older sister would stop being so sad and live a little. All the while, Herr Grum led on that Helena working in the workshop and lab was not shocking to him at all and offered to help (insinuating he's done so before with previous owners of the house...) Eventually Helena gets sent to study in the Royal Academy of Sciences leaving only a early teenage Victoria in the house with Herr Grum.
Victoria is a temperamental teenager and confused. Her relationships in and outside the home are tumultuous and takes it out on Herr Grumm. She berates him for imaginary imperfections to his job. (Too much ice, not enough ice, the tea is too hot etc). Herr Grum silently takes it all as butler and knowing confidant in the poor kid's upbringing. Helena, at school, sends Victoria a brand new player piano to replace the old piano in the parlor. One day in a fit of rage, Victoria destroys all of it's machinations for it's reminding her of her sister. Months later, Victoria shows her vulnerability as she opens up to Herr Grum as they enjoy setting up Halloween decorations in the Foyer.
The game ended dramatically with Victoria bringing over her friend and romantic interest Gabby where the two girls chase each other through the lab before their feelings realize themselves and they kiss. Unfortunately this joy is not to last as grim news reaches the home: Helena has been badly injured in an experiment at the Royal Academy of Sciences where she must be repaired in the place that knows her best: her workshop.
Helena and Victoria think this home has been too much grief for them to bear and wish to move as Helena is transferred to a hospital near the Academy. in Helena's close call with death, Victoria realizes that she must be with her sister and asks Herr Grum to come with her on her move where Herr Grum reveals he is spiritually bound to the house.
This game was a slow burn. I had some doubts about the game at the start. It was feeling like a Microscope game that didn't do enough on the palette, but one hour into the game things were on FIRE. We all loved the game and were greatly enjoying each other's inputs.
The game also functions heavily on the cards that you draw that prompt you. I think our game was an outlier in that we never drew a single "arrival" or "build" card which allows you to add family members or rooms to the game.
In fact, we drew basically 6 cards the whole game: Eros, Progress, Violence, Move, Tradition, Departure. This was just one of those fluke moments with randomness of a deck.. all the cards were there.
If I would change one thing about the game, I would allow each person to draw two cards and pick one. Perhaps some cards are mandatory if they're drawn? I think this might cut down on some of the huge variation.
This game is definitely a game I'd play again. In fact, I liked it so much that it's in the running for my new Story Game show, Once Upon A Game.
I hide in a cubicle all day until the night time where I play RPGs and other games and stuff.