I recently had the opportunity to participate in a playtest of Paul Czege’s “Traverser.” In the game you are science fiction women soldiers, after the war, trying to integrate back into a new, post-capitalist society. You have quantum (time travel) powers, but using them erases or messes up important parts of your past.
I just played a single session with a gamemaster and one other player and it was… really great. Like, one of my favorite single sessions of all time. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why and it’s hard to say. This is the best I could come up with: playing Traverser is like falling in love. The rhythm the game follows is a series of openings and closing: you see beauty, and then you lose it. You make a connection, and then it’s gone. You risk everything, but it turns out differently than you had hoped. But all the while there is a sense that something is rushing towards you, that you have no control over, and that will change everything.
I realize that is vague at best, but it is an honest encapsulation of my experience with the game. I’d say it’s like The English Patient the movie, but I hated that movie. Ah, fuck it. It’s like English Patient, the movie.
In the games there’s certain things you do that trigger mechanics, like moves in AW. These are definitely leading questions, but they’re formulated so well and aimed with such precision at one specific target that I can’t fault them. When you do the thing, it triggers a bluffing mechanic between two players with outcomes ranging from positive, to complicated, to negative. The first few times we did this it was between a player and the GM, and then about halfway through we started making these moves between characters and… holy shit, wow. I don’t know if this is how it was meant to be played, but whatever: it worked.
These moves, and the bluffing are all about expections: “I show you this beautiful thing hoping that doing that will have this desired impact on what you do or how you feel.” But as in real life (falling in love), expectations are difficult to manage and responses can be impossible to predict, so the fiction twists or changes suddenly and this can be surprisingly beautiful or heart-wrenching.
There is a lot of the setting that we didn’t touch on (ultra-violent, hi-tech weaponry etc) but for our game that was fine. We were damaged individuals, trying to live our lives, emotionally awakening for the first time in a long time and that was enough.