Some sci fi games feature hard science settings with very realistic rules for gravity, faster than light travel and high tech weapons. Other games are basically designed for space operas. These games feature artificial gravity, ship travelling as fast as they need to to get to the plot and the only limitations on weapons are how cool they are. Then, there is …In Spaaace! by Greg Stolze. If Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a genre and there are other stories in it, this is the game to play them.
The game is fairly short, both the setting and rules encompassing only 15 pages but that is really all that’s needed for the subject. The setting information takes up the first half of the book but in those 7 pages players get all they need to know about the ridiculousness of living in this particular future. Much like the world in Hitchhiker’s Guide, the ideas presented in this book are nothing more than the trends that currently exist in the real world taken to their logical, ridiculous extreme. And there’s more than a hint of philosophy thrown into the descriptions for good measure. For instance, Artificial Stupidity is just as important a part of Machine Consciousness in …In Spaaace! as Artificial Intelligence. This makes perfect sense since we constantly rate whether or not a computer is self aware based on how much it acts like a human. A computer can be perfectly logical, far more logical than humans and thus quite intelligent but it is not considered sentient because it does not have emotions. And less face facts, emotions generally make us do stupid things in one way or another. Thus, it is the flaws in the machines that make them self aware just as it is our own flaws that make us individuals. Other science fiction tropes like cloning and aliens are presented as well and given the same insightful yet ridiculous treatment. A surprisingly complete vision of the world of …In Spaaace! ends up being given in those 7 short pages.
The remainder of the game explains the rules system behind …In Spaaace!. This system is known as Token Effort and I have had the fortune of playing this system twice with Tim Rodriguez of Dice/Food/Lodging fame. This system is exceptionally good at freeing people to tell wild utilizing a shared set of rules. Rule Zero puts the goal of the game into sharp perspective. If someone does or says something in character that makes you laugh, you must give them one of your tokens. In both games that I played, the tokens flowed like water as everyone attempted to top each other in how ludicrous they made the story.
Beyond Rule Zero there are not many other rules in Token Effort. It is a diceless game and, in fact, there is no randomness at all. Instead, each player and the GM start the game with a certain number of tokens. When a player wants to take over the narrative, he secretly bids a number of tokens depending on how much he wants his story element to take place and the GM secretly bids a number of tokens as well. Whoever bid the most gets to narrate that portion of the story and hands over a token to the other person. Thus, even if a player loses, they get a token, making it more likely that they will be able to narrate a portion of the story later in the game and vice versa for the GM. The only exception to this rule is that if the bids of the player and GM are tied the player still gets to narrate but has to give up all the tokens that he bid.
Of course, this would make the game nothing more than trading tokens back and forth if this were the only rules. Characters in Token Effort also have traits and GMs have plot points with which to construct the challenges that the characters are going to face which are then translated into traits for those challenges. Each of these traits has a value between 1 and 5 and essentially serves as free tokens that can be used in each situation where the trait applies. These traits are fairly free form and can be anything that the player comes up with. Examples from the game include Hyperintelligent Chimp, Space Pirate, and Make Things Explode With My Mind, amongst others. Clearly these traits can be used in a wide variety of situations and players are encouraged to be creative in how they are used. In situations where players are not directly facing a challenge created by the GM, the GM sets a base level for the bidding exchange based on just how unlikely the player’s request is. “I find a hydrospanner that is the right size in this garage” would have a level of 1 for example whereas “I find a fully functioning pilot robot in this dress shop” would have a level of 5.
…In Spaaace! is a fun, freeform game with rules simple enough that a group could throw together a session and play it in a single sitting but utilitarian enough that a group could just as easily run a full length campaign. In either case, so long as the group accepts and follows the concepts of both the setting and the system, they will find themselves laughing uproariously every time they play.