zero's a life

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Improvisation vs Preparation

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Or preparation as play.

This post was inspired by long set-up times eating into time-crunched play time for busy adults.

As a young adult with minimal time commitment I had no problem spending hours preparing for a gaming session among friends. And there was little concern for an hour or two spent setting up a wargaming afternoon. But in adulthood these time commitments quickly eat-in to or completely consume any time that would otherwise be spent having fun, gaming with your friends.

Certain games are suited more to the preparation side of things than the improvisation side.

Consider the examples I mentioned above, a gamemaster driven roleplaying game and a tabletop war game. Certainly these are fun pastimes but they require preparation on the part of the individual or all parties involved.

Roleplaying games require, at least initially, the generation of player characters for all involved, potentially consuming the entire first play session. The gamemaster is, at least ostensibly, required to plot out a scenario for each play session, necessitating an substantial noninteractive time investment outside of the normal play session.

For war games, players must spend time constructing armies, generally away from the interaction at the table.

How does this differ from say playing stickball or baseball with your friends in an alley or a field with just a stick and a ball? The game starts when the minimally necessary instruments arrive, and continues even as players come and go. Interrupting these improvised games is an almost heinous offense, hence the saying “taking the ball and going home.”

To stretch this metaphor beyond the breaking point: in this syllogism, the polar opposite of pickup baseball or basketball would be ice hockey, something requiring potentially hours of preparation by a Zambonist to prepare the playing surface so the players can play for a relatively short time.

There are a few games that get preparation as play mechanics right, but I think there is still room for improvement.

These games all turn the world gen and character background into an gameplay activity, typically performed during the first group play session. Shock and Fiasco even do away with the necessity of a GM, allowing players to take turns serving as protagonists, antagonists, or third parties. These examples go a long way toward what I mean by preparation as play, but I don’t think the games have captured the concept entirely.

What I would be interested in seeing is a separate asynchronous type of game, where the preparation has mechanics that boil down to a solo game. The results of the each player’s solo game(s) are then somehow incorporated and allowed to influence the collaborative group play session. If you know of such a game, drop me a line in the comments or on twitter.