When I first read the rules to Archipelago I felt it was a mostly Sim supporting game but I thought it had some design issues that were either holdovers or were in contradiction to the Sim CA. As I was requested recently to explain my reasoning I felt that I should reacquaint myself with the rules and upon completion I was even more convinced that the game is a thoroughly Sim CA supporting game. From the get go the game works to get the players to invest deeply in those elements of the setting that they decide are of interested and important. Whatâ€™s important is the process is designed in such a way that players are told that they have "ownership" over these elements and while all the players may use them it is up to the owning player to make sure that those uses and further additions â€œfitâ€ the nature of said element. These elements are also brought into play in personally important ways. Finally these elements are not quantified or abstracted in any way but are verbal creations that inherently come with their own internal and normative logic. This is all how myth functions. The game is set up such that the world/Setting will â€œgrowâ€ yet there are normative subjective processes in play to secure the integrity of the world/myth. This protecting the integrity of the world (the normative effect of the aesthetic of the myth) can be seen functioning via the â€œOwningâ€ player making subjective judgment calls on his area of ownership or the players using the phrase â€œTry a different way.â€ This bothered me the first time I read it because in mythic cultures or my favorite metaphor, improve jazz, the creative individual is expected to be skilled enough not to make creations that break the aesthetic normative bounds of their respective activities. One does not want to break the flow of myth production or improv music playing to make a correction as it is extremely jarring. But there is no inherent reason why this process cannot be explicit. Yet one player reported to me that the use of â€œTry a different wayâ€ was extremely jarring which tells me that the player was deeply embedded in mythic thinking and was disturbed by the action that pulled him outside the myth. A very strong Sim tell.
The game designers go to great lengths to tie the characters to each other and the world at large. Not just tie them together but to make those relationships meaningful both to the character but also in a way that makes the world meaningful. This process of creating meaning is precisely what myth functions to do. It attempts to create order while establishing a normative aesthetic. Itâ€™s a way of musing about life, the world and oneâ€™s place within it using interlocking and ever growing meaning structures.
The rest is about how this myth making process is made to function in an RPG environment. There are no abstractions to signify anything about the characters. The process is extremely open ended with the general guiding rule being make this character a doer and not a homebody and that each character must have some indirect relationship with a common third character via some sort of strong emotional relationship (meaningful). Here, again, we come back to meaningful relationships. The character is to have a goal that they are working towards and the game is spent getting there with the other players taking on various GM roles. The PC is usually caught in some event larger than themselves (involving the Setting in some way â€“ one of the spheres that the other players â€œownâ€). There is no moral question or challenge but growth of the player and the world through play as the player finds their destiny. Interesting quandaries are pushed with the â€œharderâ€ phrase that another player can use. This caught me at first but then this is no different than the game I play in except the DM will amp up the dramatic pressure via NPCâ€™s (common 3rd characters in this game) or Setting elements (an invasion by a gaggle of Orcs or an invasion by Harondor, etc.) If things are getting slow a player can call for a Fate card to spice things up. Again this bothered me at first but I later realized that in a GMless game this would be the same as a GM prepping some events before game and bringing them into play or a player rolling a â€˜1â€™ at a particularly inauspicious moment. The result is the same, to make the game more interesting. If a player takes the easy way out of a conflict another player may call â€œThat Might Not Be Quite So Easyâ€. This is usually employed when a playerâ€™s solution to a conflict starts breaking the aesthetic of the world (breaking the normative aesthetic of the myth). Normally this would be handled by a GM to find a suitable way to handle this problem but again this is a GMless game. This too troubled me when I originally encountered this mechanic because in mythic cultures (and improv jazz) good creators typically donâ€™t make these kind of mistakes so the correction process is implicit and self controlled. However there is nothing about making this process explicit that breaks myth though it might pull a player out of the subjective moment which weâ€™d like to minimize as much as possible.
There are a couple of other tools available to the players to use to make the game more interesting or to spotlight something of interest which is still all what myth can and does do.
Most intriguing are the resolution cards which always have entailments and that is pure 100% bricolage at work. Other non Sim games may employ such cards but whatâ€™s particularly interesting here is that frequently the entailments include the Setting becoming involved in some important and meaningful way. They are not used as Task Resolution or Conflict Resolution but are a manifestation of the idea that any action will have consequencesâ€¦and that is pure myth (and bricolage!). This leads to an ever expanding world and a conflict structure that keeps growing and growing which is how myth (and bricolage) works. Itâ€™s brilliant!
Iâ€™ve written all this from an academic point of view as Iâ€™ve never played the game. When I read the rules I felt that the game would to be too slow to really get the players deeply involved but I have been told in no uncertain terms that the game does get the players deeply, personally and emotionally involved in the world! Success! One has simulated the deeply personal and subjective experience of what it is like to live in a fictional reality and it was all accomplished by focusing on the SIS with some external tools to help keep the game moving and interesting.
Just some quick thoughts.
Addenda â€“ the map system used in the game is a brilliant method of getting the players tied to the world they are creating. Kudos! Again the game creators are making the Setting a vibrant and personally meaningful part of the game. Wonderful!