After the opening of Christmas presents, my daughter (home from college) and I sat down to play our first trial run of Cold Soldier. Not your typical holiday fare, but the mulled wine in my glass helped to keep me in the holiday spirit during play.
Given that this was our first stab at Cold Soldier, we were trying to get a feel of the game and the mechanics, and I was especially trying to get a sense of the “logic” behind the rules–to get a sense, for example, of what it means for a card in play to get moved into the Master’s or the Soldier’s hole.
We set the game in the present. I took on the role of the Cold Soldier, who was a military paratrooper killed in combat, but whose death was accidental–the result of a parachute malfunction, which meant that I died at the very moment my boots hit the ground. My weapon became, appropriately, the “Kiss of Vertigo.” The Master was a one-eyed restaurateur who was a weird combination of Plankton from Sponge Bob and Albert Spika from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. There was some humor in the Master, but it was tempered by an underlying grimness.
Some issues and questions that emerged from our play:
If the Cold Soldier succeeds at the task, there is a narrative benefit for the Master (the GM gets to narrate the outcome), but there is not, at that point, any mechanical payoff or cost for either player. This makes that result different than the other two possibilities: If the Soldier fails at the task, he loses a card from his hole. And resisting the Master’s order also requires discarding a card from the hole. In other words, failure and resistance both require a loss for the Soldier. Oddly, a success can mean no card benefit for the Master, even though the Master had his order successfully carried out.
Consider these two sequence:
Sequence #1: The Cold Soldier starts to pursue the Master’s plan and, off the bat, draws a high card. The Soldier allows the success to stand, so neither Master nor Soldier ultimately gets a card.
Sequence #2: The Cold Soldier starts to pursue the Master’s plan, but draws a low card. So the Soldier activates a memory, gets that card for his hole, and then draws a success, which he allows to stand. So the Soldier ends up with a card in his hole and the Master strikes out card-wise (though he does get to monologue).
We were considering this revision to the game rules:
If the Soldier succeeds in the task, the GM gets to narrate as usual, but the Master also gets to choose a card remaining in play for his hole (an advantage for having his task accomplished), and the Master in turn gives the Soldier a card from his hole (a “reward” from the Master).
This rule revision would give the Soldier an added motive for carrying out the Master’s orders: Not only does he avoid the cost of failure, but he gets a card. However, this revision also might be giving the Soldier a reason to resist or fail, because he doesn’t want to give the Master an opportunity to choose a card in play. So the Soldier might be considering whether it is better to give up a card from his hole, or whether it would be better to retain that hole-card and get another one, but at the expense of allowing the master to choose one of those cards in play.
In our game, the Soldier and Master were not previously acquainted: The idea was that the Master was taking advantage of a fresh corpse to be his tool. If we play again, we are thinking it would be preferable to have a pre-existing connection of some sort between the two. This wouldn’t need to be a friendship or family connection, but some acquaintance would have added to the drama during play.
One final note to self (as well as to other players): If you are the Soldier, you should start off play considering the specific stakes available to you the end game. This will give you an added edge and pathos to the memories you recall during play, and it will make the endgame more satisfying. In our game, I was too focused on simply trying to construct a memory using an element from the scene, and I wasn’t thinking ahead to how I could combine these memories into a compelling narrative that would contribute to the stake of the endgame.
On the flip side, if you are the Master, keep your agenda squarely in mind. It helps if you have a solid sense of the repellent goal you are trying to accomplish, and you should use the scenes to build and add layers to this goal through the framing and description of the scenes.