…Explorers about to pass through a magical or technological portal into an unknown world…

Over the weekend, I got to playtest Constellation Cards at a small local gaming event. The results were pretty good! I think the biggest problems actually came from my own failure to use my prep.

But I upheld one promise. “This game will be unlike anything you play here.”

The Game

We had four people aside from myself.

After people drew character cards, I asked for interpretations. I heard “sleeper agent” and “soldier” immediately ran with that - this was my first mistake. I should have stuck to the framing.

That said, we ended up in a war scenario. The time frame was very fluid at first, but we collapsed onto a modern world with drones and other high tech by the end.

The plot was a few people found themselves trapped in an abandoned factory in a town in the middle of a war zone. Soldiers were closing in, and they had to leave.

One of the PCs started with a son. Along the way, they picked up additional Ensemble Characters: a scared couple and one of the PCs’ first loves, now turned quisling for the enemy.

Together, they escaped the town through a sewer system, got into some fights, and made a dash across no mans’ land to a hunting lodge. The story ended there.


Here are the points of feedback I captured after the session ended:

  • My new “What If” concept worked, but needs development and expansion. Explaining it, with examples, will be crucial.
  • Part of navigating “What If” is basic storygame skills, which I can’t just design around.
  • The game is for people who want to play something that isn’t well represented already.
  • The GM Agenda cards - Facilitator, Lorekeeper, Referee, and Storyteller - are useful and putting in more notes on how to use them will be helpful.
  • It’s awesome that any player can just play Storyteller and create ECs.
  • I should look at Serpent’s Tooth and Archipelago for other examples of diluting the GM role.
  • A flowchart or visual indicator for game setup rituals and gameplay loops would be helpful!
  • The game start rituals should include setting up a world or establishing a genre.
  • We need optional rules to let someone flip their own cards back if they propose a What If, or something else to simplify back-facing card flips.

Action Items

Here’s what I’m taking out of this feedback.

New Cards

I want to make some optional rules for how to simplify tracking your card status. The simplest is “when you pose a What If, flip one of your own cards back”, but that might be too simple. I need to figure out what problems I’m solving, and refine solutions for them.

Rules Handouts

I need some one-page handouts to cover:

  • Character Creation, including “a day in the life” rules introductions
  • What If? explanation and examples
  • Using the GM Agenda cards
  • A visual diagram of the gameplay loop - flipping cards, posing challenges

Framing Handouts

I printed up a “Tales of the Sanat Pass” handout, setting a scene in a trader’s camp on a high mountain pass. My biggest mistake was to watch people deal character cards, and not enforce this framing. Instead, I took the game in an entirely different direction with my suggestions.

I should take the Tales handout and make more like it. I’ll take out the “game sales pitch” bullets and replace those with some tips on what characters will look like within this framing.

Each of these frames should focus on stories, perhaps nesting them. Examples off the top of my head:

  • A dinner party for an eclectic assortment of friends
  • Soldiers or civilians in a shelter, spending time talking about their situation or deciding what to do next
  • Explorers about to pass through a magical or technological portal into an unknown world

Frame Cards

Another option is to create some scene-setting cards. The idea here is to break up the things you could ask for from a game, then let players pick one of these and commit to it. Examples:

  • Activity, e.g. urban spelunking, exorcism, diplomacy
  • Place and Time, e.g. Edwardian England in 1905
  • Perspective, e.g. aliens, war survivors, chosen heroes
  • Scope, e.g. a single neighborhood, a continent-wide empire, a star system
  • Genre, e.g. scifi, dark fantasy, cosmic horror
  • Tone, e.g. comedy, drama, romance, mystery
  • Based on a specific book, movie, series, etc., e.g. Gideon the Ninth
  • Pole Star, e.g. characters explore a specific topic by taking different stances on it