This game was written for the True Meaning of Friendship Design Challenge at the knife fight. My challenge was to write a game for the person described by this blurb:
I’m a warehouse manager, but I also enjoy programming, cooking, and dreaming up games. I enjoy playing a whole host of games, including Weapons of the Gods, Buffy/Angel, and Heroquest. I would really like to play a game that took place totally in the kitchen.
Being that I was one of the people managing the challenge, I knew who submitted this blurb, but I am trying my best to suppress this knowledge. I’ll spill at the end of the post.
This game relies on a deliberate off-reading of the challenge; I think you can interpret “a game that took place totally in the kitchen” to mean “a game whose imaginary events happen in a kitchen,” but to me, “a game that must be played in or near a kitchen” is much more interesting as a design challenge.
I have based the system for this game on that of Shadows by Zak Arntson. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Emily for Heart of the Rose (sorry, no link), Vincent for Otherkind, and Char for TOR (no link).
This game is an experiment in tools and forms. It’s intended for a group of adept and swift cooks with a well-stocked kitchen. Besides the kitchen (and consequent food, silverware, etc.), you’ll also need a number of six-sided dice in particular colours (I’ll tell you which colours in another post), some drawing materials like paper and charcoal, and some play tokens (like coins, poker chips, whatever), three per player.
This game is inspired by that particular brand of Mexican magical realism that you find in such as 100 Years of Solitude or Like Water for Chocolate. It’s set in a timeless, rural Mexico, a place with rolling grassy hills, deserts full of saguaro, agave, and eagles, cold dry mountains, and old Indian dwellings carved into the cliffsides.
Playing Los Mangos…
I suggest that you get yourself an idea of the kind of place you want to use as a setting first thing: Will the story be set mostly in a manor house a little bit away from the village, or maybe in a city? Maybe it’s a farming settlement or a frontier town?
You will play a group of people from this place. At the start of the game, all but one of the characters are members of the same extended family. Make up a family tree together, which spans at least three generations and has at least twice as many living members as players. Think of reasons that about a quarter of them aren’t around right now, but could be.
Out of the remaining three-quarters of the family, everyone picks someone to portray. One person shouldn’t be a member of the family—make up an outsider, someone who’s tied to the family socially but not by blood, like a suitor or a governess or a fellow army veteran or something. Each of you draws a picture of your character when they are happy and another when they are upset, on the same sheet of paper. “Upset” can mean what you want it to mean—sad, hostile, angry, jealous, afraid, etc.—choose one that fits the character you have in mind. On the back of your drawings, write the names of the other characters in a long column down the side of the page, so you have room to write a comment after each.
Get a distinct bowl—one that no one will mistake for a food bowl—and put your dice in it. Print out a copy of the pantry list.
Everyone takes three tokens.
Get in the kitchen. Bring your stuff. Sharpen your knives.
Some Rules about What You Can Say and What You Can’t
You can’t usually say how a character that someone else is portraying feels or acts. If no one is portraying a character presently, that character is a person of no consequence and you can say whatever you like about them. If you cook something and feed it to the players, then you can make a dinner roll, which means you get a chance to tell other players how characters they are portraying feel, but they still get to decide what they do about this feeling.
You can’t usually say anything about stuff that happened in the past. You can give a player a token to describe an event that the character they are portraying was involved in, defining some moment in their history. You can’t give yourself a token for this. That’s silly.
Apart from those things, you can say what you like, and if someone has a big problem with it then you should either talk it out or have them cook something and make a dinner roll (See below).
Playing the Game
The game always starts with the characters hanging out somewhere, except for the outsider, who bursts in and interrupts the festivities with bad news. As Zak says, “What happens after that is up to the players…”
Sometimes you’ll want to pause the game for a dinner roll.
Sometimes the characters in Los Mangos… inadvertently do magical things. They don’t perceive these things as magical, nor do they see them as commonplace; they fly right under the radar. This isn’t a psychologically realistic game, you see, and these magical things are a language of metaphor that’s addressed to the readers. Much like characters in books can’t usually tell when chapters end and begin, characters in this game can’t make the intuitive leap that “Oh goodness, maybe everyone is so sad and needy all of a sudden because I cried into the soup!”
To make a dinner roll, you have to cook something and serve it to the other players. The character you’re portraying also has to do something, but it doesn’t have to be cooking, as long as the other characters are able to observe it. For instance, your character could start knitting and knitting until bits of afghan blanket are bursting out of every window of the house, or scream so loudly everyone in the valley hears it, or cut his wrists and the blood creeps all over town so everyone can see. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate here, and think of your description in terms of 8 colors of crayon rather than subtle layers of oil paint—speak simply and boldly.
Now choose one of the main ingredients in your dish and say what you have chosen and what its effect is on the characters. For example, roses infuse people with romantic passions. I’ll make another post with an ingredients list, telling you what the effects of different ingredients are. No fair using something that’s not on the list and making up your own effect!
If everyone’s cool with this, then that’s what happens. If someone thinks your food/action should cause something else to happen, then he pulls two dice out of the bowl. One is the colour that matches your ingredient’s shelf—a category of similar ingredients. The ingredients list also indicates what shelf each ingredient is from. For the second, he names a second ingredient in your dish, one that comes from a different shelf. He should pull out that die as well and describe its ingredient’s effect.
Now you ask if anyone else would like to add any ingredients. There can be at most four ingredients in a dinner roll. Go around the table starting at your left. Just like the previous person, each person may add one die, as long as the ingredient they name is both in your dish and on a different shelf than all the other ingredients. The third and fourth player may also choose the special ingredient, salt. Salt duplicates the effect of some other ingredient, in the same way that salt used in cooking brings out the flavor of food.
Make a check on the pantry list on each shelf from which an ingredient is being rolled. See if it’s been a season of any of those shelves, and if so, talk over what will happen at the turn of the season. See the section below.
Now, finally, pick up all the dice, remind yourself what they mean, and roll them. The highest die indicates what ingredient takes grip and has its effect on the characters. If there is more than one highest die, then your die takes precedence over the next guy’s die, and so on.
But, tokens! Don’t forget them. After somebody else makes a dinner roll, you can interrupt before she narrates the result and give her a token in order to make her reroll a die of your choice. You can’t pay yourself to reroll dice. That’s silly. You (and anyone else) can keep giving the other player tokens until everyone’s satisfied, gives up, or runs out of tokens.
The Turning of Seasons
When you use a lot of ingredients from one shelf, a season turns. Something happens in the world, and the cast of characters rotates. First, follow the instructions for that season (to be found in the ingredient list). Then, the player with the fewest tokens chooses a different character to portray. If necessary, make a new portrait and stuff for that character, and set aside the old character’s sheet for use later. If the season introduces a new character, then consider using this character, but apply common sense. It might not be that much fun to portray a newborn.
If there’s more than one player with the fewest tokens, set all their old characters aside first, and have them all choose between characters that have not been active in the last season.
A season is five checks long.
My …victim… is Jason Petrasko.