Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend GenCon 2012 in Indianapolis. While I was there, I was able to indulge in my love for story games to the fullest. There was a special room setup called Games on Demand and it was staffed by Indie Games Explosion. They broke the day down into two hour segments and would put games up on a board and you could come in at the beginning of each time segment and try to get into any of the myriad story games that were being run. The bulk of my gaming at GenCon was to occur here.
My first evening at GenCon, I attended the Gen Con Social which was a diner and meet and greet hosted by Jen from the Jennisodes and David from the Podgecast. I have nothing but raves for the event as everyone was friendly and it was a blast to get to meet so many of the podcasters to whom I listen. One meeting that turns out to be serendipitous was meeting the folks from The Walking Eye. It was awesome to meet them and tell them how much I enjoyed their podcast and how they helped me getting started in running the Dresden Files. They were not able to stay for very long but I was able to find a way to meet up with Allegra to play a game at least once during the convention.
It turns out that she was playing Dog Eat Dog with the designer, Liam Liwanag Burke at Games on Demand and graciously allowed me to tag along and play the game. I was blown away by the game and went directly to the booth where the book was for sale and bought the deluxe package which included tokens and dice. I knew that this would be the first game that I was going to review from GenCon.
Dog Eat Dog, to quote directly from the cover of the book is, “A game of Imperialism and assimilation in the Pacific Islands.” Just roll that a round in your mind for a bit. It starts out with a really rough topic and just pushes forward from there. At it’s heart, this is a story game very much in the vein of Fiasco. The players get together and set scenes to tell the story of an island that has been conquered and how the natives and the invaders interact. Setup is fairly simple. The players go around the table and provide a descriptor for the natives. After each player has provided a descriptor, they then name the natives. This process is then repeated for the occupation. The player who gets to play the occupation is determined by who is the richest person at the table. The person playing the occupation then hands each native player three tokens and then takes three tokens for themselves for each native player plus one. Each native player then picks a name and gives themselves a personal descriptor. Play begins with the native player on the occupations left. They set a scene to tell about how they react to the occupation and may include any other natives or the occupation if they choose. If you are not included and playing a native you may request to be included. If you are the occupation, you can include yourself and there is nothing the native can do about it.
Do you see the pattern here? This game is all about unpacking privilege, colonialism, assimilation, and superiority/inferiority. It starts off by kicking you in the balls with the choice of occupation player being determined by who is the richest player at the table and does not let up. The token economy is another aspect of the game which further illustrates the point that the game is trying to make. At the end of a scene that has the occupation as player requires the occupation to make a judgement. Did the natives follow the rules and the first rule is always the occupation is superior. Yeah, I just wrote that and it is in this game. It is really tough stuff. If the native didn’t follow the rule, they lose a token putting them closer to running amok and death. If they did follow the rules, they gain a token and come closer to assimilation and losing cultural individuality.
This was my first exposure to a game about social conscience and education. I was both uncomfortable by the way some of the scenes played out in the game but awe-inspired that the game created a space wherein we got to deal with this issue. I have to admit that I was ignorant of this type of story game and was very happy that Allegra allowed me to join her in playing it.
Despite my effusive praise for this game, I understand that this is not something that will be everyone’s cup of tea. It requires a group that is willing to try out something that is going to make them somewhat uncomfortable. Once begun, It can lead you places that you really didn’t foresee occurring. Despite dealing with an uncomfortable issue, I still think this game is a wonderful educational tool. Allowing you to deal with these issues in a safe environment is something that can be difficult to do but this game does it and does it well. The book itself also provides the design ideas behind how things were set up in addition to a brief history of colonization in the pacific islands.
Hell,I plan on mentioning Dog Eat Dog to my librarian friend who is in charge of the teens at her branch. This game is something that they would gladly try and come out at the end learning an important lessons.