Una Memoria: Post-Mortem
I am very happy with how our game turned out and I think it achieved both the assignment goal of breaking the players as well as our team’s goal of making a narrative Uno game that leads the player to not want to play Uno in an optimal way. It is successful due to the chosen topic, the structure for building the narrative and the integration of the existing Uno mechanics.
The topic of death is a universal one and I think it contributes most strongly to both goals of breaking players and creating a successful narrative game. Having a character who is dying leads to immediate empathy as well as curiosity in the players, both of which are essential to building a narrative. Most people do not want to die, but given its inevitability for this character, the players want to find out more before the game ends, and they get the chance to impart whatever qualities they want on their turn. I think people are less afraid of making mistakes in the story, or making weird tangents because they know that the character’s story is going to end. Even the smallest memory shared is important because it is being remembered by the character at the end of their life. The fact that the death is imminent and all the pieces of the story shared are in the past, it frees up players to share memories of any time in the character’s life, either sequentially based on what has already been said, or freestanding. It provides support for players who need something else to build a story off, and it enables more creative players to really flex their narrative muscles and build unique aspects to the character.
Adding to the structure that the topic of death imparts, the structure given to players based on the suits also felt appropriate and led to positive results. Due to the discard mechanics in Uno, most of the time the discard pile will consist of several of the same suit in a row. Drawing the connection between suit and the type of memory that is shared leads to a relatively natural mode of thinking that is believable for the dying character. It also gets all the players on the same wavelength for the general feeling of the story. If four proud memories are shared in a row, players will be thinking about all the great things the character has accomplished. It packs more of a punch, then, when the suit suddenly changes to the unpleasant memories, and players have to spend some time wallowing in the sad and regretful times of the character’s life. Due to the openness of the game, players may either want to share mostly positive memories, mostly negative, or a balance, and the game provides those options. This contributes to one way in which players are broken, which is when one player’s narrative goal misaligns with another player’s narrative goal, because they are both describing the same person. It can turn a cooperative game into a competitive one, it can turn a long game into a short one, a good character into a bad one.
Based on the playtests we have done so far, the game can still be improved in several ways. One thing that stands out is the prolongment tokens, which seem to not add much to the game, or are at least not as integrated as they could be. I think they are a good marker of players breaking the rules and playing in a suboptimal way, just to either extend the game or make the memories more positive. They also work as information for the rest of the players about how you are playing the game. I think the game lends itself to people doing this kind of “cheating” anyway, due to motivations to play a longer or more positive game, which we wanted to recognize, but maybe it doesn’t need to be at all.
Another aspect that could be refined is the beginning of the game, which currently gives no details about the character, leaving a blank canvas and also causing some players to struggle creatively in their first few memories they share. Instead of this, we could give certain scenarios of death to the players based on the first card turned over. Whether this would be 4 extremely vague options based on suit (name and age), 13 slightly vague options based on card number (name, age, and country), or 52 options based on the exact card (name, age, country, profession, death circumstance), we would have to playtest to get just right.
Overall, I really enjoy playing this game and I see the potential for it as a somber yet fun and meaningful narrative game. I think the next steps for the game would be make the changes above and to rethink rules that we have kept from Uno, such as reversing and skipping, and make the face card rules more in-line with the game while still providing some variation and intrigue. We should also try some alternative memory categories, such as changing them to being age-based, or perhaps having the number on the cards influence another dimension of the memories (e.g. location).