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TOPIC: Donner Party Kickstarter

Donner Party Kickstarter 27 Sep 2016 12:14 #235036

Yes, I'm a new user...

However, uba invited me to post about this and had a specific question about the game, so put the flamethrowers back on ‘simmer’ (for the time being). First, if you know nothing about the Donner Party, go read this. Second, the Kickstarter is here, and for a more commercial plug I'll refer you to the Kickstarter itself.

So, uba wanted to know "why the Donner Party?", which I guess means "what on Earth made you design a card game about cannibalism?". For half of that, I blame GenCon. After 4 days of non-stop gaming and too-little sleep, my friends and I face a 10-hour drive home in the middle of the night. In this altered state and as a means to help keep people awake, I come up with a game idea and we hash out the prospective rules while running on fumes and Red Bull. In 2015, the post-GenCon trip idea turned into "Cannibalism: the Card Game", and from that I actually had to make something useful. The Donner Party turned out to be the best of the historical examples with which to turn the tasteless premise into a decent game.

If GenCon is one half of "why?", the compelling story of what happened is the other half. Heroism, sacrifice, villainy, murder, martydom, desperation, the works. When word got out about what happened, it was huge news, and books and newspaper articles and sensationalism about it went on for decades. And so from a game design standpoint it stopping being a card game about cannibalism and started being a historical card game where cannibalism is something that is a player choice and a moral choice.

So, the game is not about cannibalism per se. That just happens to be big part of the historical backdrop. If it was just about cannibalism the competitive aspect of the game would turn into a murder-fest as everyone tried to eliminate everyone else's settlers. Instead, the game is about surviving and keeping your family together in the face of unimaginable hardship, and cannibalism is one of the difficult choices you have to make. You see, the game has a Shame mechanic to represent unsavory things you can choose to do to keep your group of Settlers alive. And if you have the most Shame at the end of the game it doesn't matter what your score is, you lose (similar to the Corruption mechanic in Cleopatra and the Society of Architects).

So there is a push and a pull. You need to keep your Settlers as healthy as possible for the best score, but at the same time you need to make sure the actions you take to do this are just a little less awful than that of at least one other player. Which is a guessing game, because the Shame cards have a small range of random values and no one gets to see them (including you) until the game is over. So, your 5 Shame cards might be more shameful than someone else's 6 Shame cards.

How nasty a game gets really depends on the players. If no one has a lot of Shame, no one else is going to want to do something that makes them collect a lot of it. On the other hand, if someone else does have a lot of Shame, you know that you can likely get away with something Shameful. Getting some Shame is inevitable. Donner Party is a negative sum game. It is designed so that there are not enough resources to go around, so getting enough for your Settlers with the minimum amount of Shame is the trick. Act too ethically and you starve. Act too shamefully and you lose. Every game is going to be a little different, since the cards representing the winter weather and forage are a subset of the total. One game might have a relatively mild winter, another might have an awful one. And like the settlers, you don't know which it will be.

All the cards and events are drawn from the historical record, mainly from the diary of Patrick Breen, who chronicled things as they happened, and all the cards have excerpts from the diary and other survivor's recollections.

So uba, I hope this answers any questions you might have had. I am using hunger-based dark humor in some of the promotion of the game, but the game itself takes the subject matter quite seriously. It is a competitive/cooperative game that has a surprising amount of nuance to it, but I guess whether or not it is something you can swallow is a matter of personal taste... ;)
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Donner Party Kickstarter 27 Sep 2016 12:38 #235037

This sounds really, really interesting.

"You see, the game has a Shame mechanic to represent unsavory things you can choose to do to keep your group of Settlers alive."

Cool.

My pioneer ancestors were able to cross the country in part because of the Donner party.
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Donner Party Kickstarter 27 Sep 2016 14:02 #235043

People play Axis and Allies, which depicts the greatest murder event ever. People play Puerto Rico, which depicts the enslavement of the Taíno.

This is kind of mild.

People lost their shit over Tomorrow, so whatever. Haters gon' hate.
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Donner Party Kickstarter 27 Sep 2016 23:01 #235066

It sort of reminds me of the RPG https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogs_in_the_Vineyard, where there are religious/moral tensions at play.
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Donner Party Kickstarter 27 Sep 2016 23:53 #235069

Interesting. I was kind of expecting that the reason was just to be tasteless and for the shock value. The morality is relative aspect intrigues me.
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Uba WANTS a lot of shitty opinions and HAS a tray of Maker’s Mark
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Donner Party Kickstarter 28 Sep 2016 06:08 #235077

Glad to have the opportunity to exceed your expectations. But don't worry, if this gets funded I have plenty of genuinely lowbrow stuff waiting in the wings.
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Donner Party Kickstarter 28 Sep 2016 08:31 #235081

Pax Pamir has sort of conditioned my expectations as far as the art on these sort of historical card games, but then again Pax Pamir cards are hard to read.



Are the rules floating around?
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Donner Party Kickstarter 28 Sep 2016 08:45 #235084

There is a link to the rules in the Kickstarter (and here), and down at the bottom of the Kickstarter, a note on why I chose the art style that I did.
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Donner Party Kickstarter 28 Sep 2016 08:48 #235085

Actually the PAX PAMIR cards are way easier to read than PAX PORIFIRANA.
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Donner Party Kickstarter 28 Sep 2016 09:00 #235086

What's the best recipe for long pork?
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Donner Party Kickstarter 28 Sep 2016 09:15 #235087

Deep-fry it in baby oil, just like you would for whole friar parts.
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Donner Party Kickstarter 28 Sep 2016 21:29 #235134

BTRC wrote:
There is a link to the rules in the Kickstarter (and here), and down at the bottom of the Kickstarter, a note on why I chose the art style that I did.
Art: This was actually a tough call. Some are going to like it, some are not. That is always going to be the case. The spectrum of possibilities for Donner Party ran from purely historical (or faux historical) to Munchkin-esqe, each of which would add its own personality to the subject matter. I eventually went with "serious caricature", a simplistic style that does not ignore the horror and drama of that winter, but does not treat it as total slapstick either. Where possible, the settlers are based on available photos, otherwise dramatic license has been taken. The art has gone over well in playtesting, but half the time new players have their cards turned sideways and are paying more attention to the historical info.
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Donner Party Kickstarter 29 Sep 2016 11:48 #235153

I've posted a couple new "actual play" pictures to the BTRC Facebook page (BTRCgames), and also to BGG, though the latter have not been approved yet. One is below. Did a 3 player game with a new player in about half an hour. Mild winter, only 2 Settlers out of the 15 in play died (one martyred himself and the other was murdered). It helped that the "Final Rescue" card turned up in early March 1847 (I was completely out of food at that point). One player ended up with no Shame whatsoever (quite rare), but lost in points, while the other two had a tie score but one had the most Shame and knocked himself out of the running. Appropriately enough, it was the player who did the murder who lost.

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Donner Party Kickstarter 30 Sep 2016 07:19 #235226

An article from bestplay.co:

www.bestplay.co/making-history-gameable-donner-party/

This repeats some of the stuff at the top of the post, but goes a little more into the design process.
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Donner Party Kickstarter 30 Sep 2016 13:35 #235258

The pitch on this is amazing. Hopefully the gameplay carries it through.

We need a lot more stuff like this.
- Matt Loter: Internet Social Justice Warrior or Idealist Thug?
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