One of the competition’s rules is that, in order to be in the running for winning, you have to playtest someone else’s entry. Since winning is the most important thing in the world, I was prompted to try out “Cars Don’t Fly” by Adam Shwaninger, a game which the author describes as “The demon lovechild of Hollowpoint and Uno, welded together and thrown out of airplane.”
This is how we got on!
I ran the game for four players, but one of them turned up an hour or so late. After running through character creation with the others, I hastily put together a scenario based around a bank heist, and the group decided they were going to need a hacker. I texted our late-running fourth player, asked her to come up with character ideas for a hacker, and got the other three started on their first conflict: freeing the hacker from the Russian mafiyas.
We timed it pretty well so that the conflict ended as our fourth player arrived, whereupon we settled into our only real “roleplay” scene. The characters reacquainted with one another, and planned how they were going to break into “Le Banque Invincible”. Experimenting how far the conflict rules would stretch, I used them to run a montage of deceptions, distractions and infiltrations as the team made it to the central vault, “The Dragon’s Lair”, home to the most valuable treasures of the world’s criminal elite.
At this stage, the party split in two. One of the characters – confronted by his former partner who betrayed him and killed his wife five years ago – disappeared in pursuit of vengeance, whilst the hacker provided remote support. The other two crewmembers, with a resounding cry of “Stick to the Plan!” loaded up the loot into the getaway vehicle, and escaped just in time. I ran these as two separate conflicts concurrently.
As a set-piece finale, the villains hared off in pursuit of the getaway vehicle, whilst the other crewmembers leapt into their own cars to catch up and take them out. With the big bad crushed beneath a multi-vehicle pile up, the players narrated a brief epilogue, explaining how they spent their share of the loot on vacations, their dream business, and an adorable younger sister’s medical bills.
I don’t really like reviewing something after only playing it once, so consider this more of a “first impressions” thing than full-on analysis.
Overall, we all had a great time, and agreed that the simplicity of the basic mechanics made it a great choice for a one-off game. The import of the Uno card system seemed to be a much more intuitive and less involved process than Hollowpoint’s dice pool mechanism, at least from what I can tell by reading it.
Whilst I owned a copy of Hollowpoint, I’d never run it before, so didn’t really know what to expect when instructed to use it as reference for how to create a mission and objectives. Turns out it basically just means “The GM decides a mission and its objectives”. Hollowpoint gives some guidance and examples, but they’re not always applicable to the new setting. Three or four one-sentence adventure ideas for off-the-rack play would be a cool addition to the hack.
I think the game might be too easy. Because anything of the same suit or higher number can beat the card in front of them, players were very consistently able to defeat obstacles in their path without difficulty. At no point did the players share cards with each other (possibly because the loss of a turn is too steep a punishment) or shuffle their hand, except for when they’d completely run out of cards. Consequently, there wasn’t really any use of the Fast/Furious/Furnishings/Family special abilities, which was a shame, because players all agreed they were a great idea.
Maybe “matching” requires meeting the suit AND raising the number? That might make things far too hard though. Perhaps establish a hierarchy of suits, and say players need to beat the target’s number and suit? I dunno. It needs more playtesting.
Whilst the game implicitly encourages people to embrace freeform roleplay between conflict mechanics, the fact that the rules only talk about conflicts shapes play such that conflicts were pretty much all we ended up with. This could be a feature not a bug – this isn’t a genre that specialises in deep characterisation – and there’s obviously a limit on what rules could have been included within the confines of the contest.
As a final note, I would play this game again, especially revised versions that reflected playtest feedback. There are great ideas at work here that are definitely worthy of greater mechanical support. I hope we get to see them!