Sunday night was the first playtest of the new revision of Raspberry Heaven, and I think it’s promising (and a vast improvement over the old version) but in need of much more testing and tweaking. It probably didn’t help that I started coming down with a cold an hour or two before we started though. On the plus side I had time to go buy some Japanese snacks (Pocky, melon bread, rice crackers) to munch on during the game.
For those that are interested in looking at the current draft of the game:
Anyway, I was joined by Mike S., Elton, and Tim for the playtest. I’d e-mailed my current draft of the rules out to everyone, but Elton hadn’t had time to read it, so I had to explain the rules to him verbally. This is half of my usual gaming group. Although they’re a creative bunch (especially Mike and Tim), we haven’t had occasion to play many indie games yet (I’ve been working on it), and the players, myself included, weren’t always prepared to narrate on the spot. I’m not sure how much of it is simply not being accustomed to that kind of improvisation, and how much is just not being cut out for it. Anyway.
Me, Tim, and Mike got together around 5:30 p.m. and watched some Azumanga Daioh and played a couple rounds of Uno to warm up. I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really like board or card games (Magic and Monopoly helped ruin both genres for me), but I find that Uno scratches roughly the same itch that Tetris does. I guess I have a thing for simple games with some simple logic tasks to them. I’m thinking of including (1) optional rules for playing Raspberry Heaven with an Uno deck, and (2) putting together rules for a custom Crazy Eights variant card game to play.
Elton showed up at about 7, and after another round of Uno we got into character creation. With the exception of Mike, everyone only really gave their characters a name and the requisite three Quirks. The PCs wound up being as follows:
- Karin Takebashi (Elton): Tsukkomi, Tsundere, Physically Gifted
- Yui Kinomoto (Mike): Boke, Obsession (Puppets), Genkisugi
- Yama (Tim): Jock, Obsession (Eating), Busty
- Kana Ninomiya (Ewen): Space Cadet, Slow, Genius
The decision to omit the fluff (likes, dislikes, best/worst subject, blood type, etc.) wasn’t conscious per se, and more to keep character creation from dragging on even further. I might try to have some game mechanical consequences to it (e.g., you can draw a card for a scene involving your Best Subject, but you have to discard one for your Worst Subject).
- As I’ve been planning for ages, we took out my box of Pinky Street doll stuff and made representations of our characters that way. This wound up working pretty nicely, and it seems like after some fiddling everyone was pretty satisfied with that part. On the other hand I definitely need to see about getting some bases for the figures (they make them, but they’re mostly sold separately), since the dolls often fall down, and in Karin’s case the head would pop off every time that happened.
- One thing I’m thinking about for character creation and such is to have a PDF for optional Quirk cards. You could use them to tangibly pick out Quirks and ensure each one is exclusive to one character, or randomly generate a character, or use them for reference.
- Another thing I’ve been thinking about is making a small collection of iconic characters/templates that players can use to get into playing the game more quickly.
Scenes and Cards
I made a quick “Scene Template” that I think will prove indispensable to beginners playing the game. It contains all of the basic information for the core gameplay, and is a kind of visual guide as well. Everyone seemed to catch onto the mood values of the cards and the phases of a scene fairly quickly, though I think feeling out what does and doesn’t fit into a phase and the border between the narration part and role-playing part of each phase has a bit of a learning curve. We got through a total of five scenes, and ended the game where it felt appropriate to do so, partly because it had gotten kind of late on a Sunday night.
I had originally planned for the length of an episode to be measured in terms of how many times you shuffle the deck, but I also set it up so that characters get 3 new cards per scene, which means that with the base scene cards the four of us would burn through 18 cards per scene, and we’d get through as little as two scenes before needing to reshuffle. As is, those five scenes required three reshuffles. Playing with two or more decks shuffled together might be helpful–a basic Uno deck has 108 cards after all–but regardless I need to do something about the economy of cards. The 3 cards per scene did keep people from being stingy with cards as I had hoped at least.
On the other hand, I’m not sure what to do with the basic way the cards are played. In practice the free-flowing Uno-style matching game is very non-confrontational, but it perhaps excessively rewards players who wait for others to play their cards. I’m not sure having it be oriented towards high cards is what I want exactly (it was interesting to see players choosing their cards in order to maneuver towards the mood they wanted for one thing), but perhaps a more structured turn order might help. Tim’s suggestion (which Mike seemed to dislike) was to have each player get a hand of five cards per scene, and set out one face-down for each phase, then flip them over all at once to determine the narration rights by high card (the 5th card would be usable for Special Moves, but you could only use one Special Move per scene).
Each Quirk gives a character a Special Move that lets them play cards differently (such as by treating certain cards as wild cards) at the expense of needing to include something related to it in the scene, but in the playtest there was only one instance of a Special Move being used for something other than a wild card. Some of them need to be tweaked to be more useful (I’m thinking you should be able to drop the tens digit of Addition Plays, so that e.g. a 6 and a 7 could be played as a 3), and some need to be tested period (like Draw Two). Still, on the whole I think I’ve found an effective way to motivate players to bring their character’s peculiarities into the game. It also eliminates the original version’s worries about checking for conflicting Quirks, though Play Adjacent is perhaps over-used in the Special Moves.
The four girls are classmates in high school, and their homeroom teacher, Inoue-sensei, is a lazy, short-tempered otaku. The episode was about physical examinations (once a year students are weighed and measured), and anxiety about such. I’d originally thought it kind of a narrow subject for a full episode, but for the 5 scenes we played through it was about right. In homeroom, Inoue-sensei came in late, fuming that the release of the new game she’d lined up for had been delayed, and she decided to leave early. That Kana couldn’t quite tell the difference between Yui (who’d decided to jump in to “teach” the class) and the real teacher was enough to get Inoue-sensei to get back on track.
Lunch in the cafeteria led to Yama and Yui, massively laden with food, colliding in the middle of the cafeteria, while Kana watched helplessly.
Then we moved on to the physical exams. Yui gave plushies to everyone, and Kana went into the nurse’s office with a penguin on her head. Mr. Tuxedo wound up getting his own report from the nurse. Yui bragged about her own “secret weapon,” which turned out to be plushies stuffed into her bra. When it was Yama’s turn, Karin and Yui decided they needed to peek in, and Inoue-sensei (played by Elton at that point) came into the nurse’s office with a binder and started writing things down for some reason. Mike played a Joker, and got narration on the Resolution phase, so he said that the door Yui was leaning against collapse in, knocking down the privacy screens to boot so the boys could see in.
I had the next scene (which turned out to be the last) be in the principal’s office, where he was talking to Yui, Yama, Inoue-sensei, and the nurse to figure out what happened. He decided to let Karin decide Yui’s punishment. That scene wound up being all Spades, which means a Dream Sequence, so we wound up with Yui in some crazy bear costume, and then Kana waking up from sleeping in the middle of class to be scolded by Inoue-sensei.
The use of scenes, phases, and moods from the cards seems to work pretty well, though it depends on the group playing, and I’d like to see how it turns out with players more accustomed to group improvisation type games. The major thing I need to do is work on how the cards are played, both in terms of the overall flow of the game and making sure Special Moves are sufficiently useful. We never actually used the rules for Memories, and while I think those serve a purpose in the rules, they no doubt need work too.