I am happy to report that I did in fact host my party this past weekend, and in spite of a flurry of winter flus and colds, I had plenty of fabulous and creative people in attendance. Challenge met.
I have a great interest in experimenting with social gatherings (otherwise known as parties) and creating different social experiences for people. I’ve been most intrigued by designing parties that encourage mingling, meeting new people, and getting to know slight acquaintances better (as opposed to sticking within already established friend groups and/or the people you came to the party with) and parties that cultivate creativity. (I’m also interested in the idea of fostering deeper connections between people, but I haven’t experimented much with that yet.)
The Albion experiment:
Some months ago I read about Emily Short’s San Tilapian Studies, a “narrative entertainment” for 30-40 players, and I instantly wanted to try it. Check out her post for a detailed description, but in summary, there are three different color stickers, and each person gets two stickers of the same color. One color is an item, one color is a descriptor, and one color is a function. The goal of the game is to put together three stickers, one of each color, into an awesome item (or in the case my game, a magical artifact). Then you put the stickers in a book and add drawings and/or text about it.
I used the rule mechanics almost exactly as stated in the blog post, with one exception: I changed the part about one sticker being a vile forgery, so people could match up both their stickers if desired. I re-themed the game to be high fantasy and titled it “Reclaiming Albion.” The story went that we were all native Albion scholars researching our magical heritage, which had been stamped out centuries before when an evil empire had conquered Albion.
Results and Observations:
I waited an hour after the stated party start time to launch the game; I wanted a critical mass of people present to give more possible match options. Time from the launch of the game until it finished was about three hours, with another half hour for sharing, although most people were not playing for the majority of that time.
After I handed out the stickers, there were a couple of really fast matches, mostly between significant others and tight friend groups. I was a little worried that the game would be over extremely quickly, but after that initial burst, players began to be more picky with their matches and explore options before deciding. The matches also became more difficult with less stickers in play, requiring more exploration. People began to mingle outside of their immediate circles. Did everybody do this? No. But it did give more opportunities for people to approach each other and get to know each other while working together, which was really cool to watch.
Perhaps because my party was smaller (~20 players), there were a couple two-sticker matches that couldn’t find a third sticker that was a good fit. In those cases, I waited a while to make sure a match wouldn’t materialize, and then provided a third sticker that would complete the artifact in a fun way.
1. While this party was certainly more flexible than a standard mystery party, it still mattered that players were present at or near the start time of the game because later on, there were less stickers in circulation. I’d emphasize arriving early-ish in the invitation next time. That being said, for people who didn’t care about playing, arriving later was fine because there was more socializing happening then anyway.
2. I received a few suggestions of changes in implementation that could be interesting to try. One was to hand out four stickers at the beginning of the game instead of two, although I’m not certain about this one, as it would increase the options so hugely at the beginning. Perhaps another way to achieve something similar would be to have two rounds. The other suggestion was to make an explicit rule to encourage more mingling: for example, that everyone is only allowed to collaborate with each person once or that no collaborating is allowed with anyone you came to the party with. I tend to like to have as few rules as possible, but the results of either of these rules would be interesting to observe.
2. I provided paper to glue into the book to avoid a bottleneck of people wanting to draw/write/etc. and having to wait for the book. However, many people wanted to wait for the book anyway. I think perhaps if I had provided fancier paper, people would have been more excited to use it. (That being said, people began to use the paper once they realized how long a wait it was.)
3. I provided many different colors of ballpoint pen, as well as black gel pens and markers. I thought I’d gone way overboard, but people loved having a big selection. Next time I’d be tempted to provide an even larger variety of supplies.
4. At the end of the evening, several players were very eager to share their work and see other people’s work. I don’t know why I didn’t expect this! We sat around in a circle for storytime, when I showed all the illustrations and read the artifacts and text out loud. It was quite entertaining, and it allowed people to share their experiences from the evening.
5. I didn’t realize the book would be as amazing as it is. People took the opportunity to be creative and ran with it. Included with the stickers were: many drawings of artifacts; a map of Albion and surrounding areas, complete with broken seal; short stories; a limerick; and magical recipes concealed in a specially folded paper. It made me realize how excited people can get when presented with the chance to be creative together. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise since kids are the same way, but I see it in practice less frequently with adults.) I think having the atmosphere be fairly low pressure helped minimize feelings of self-consciousness as well. (Contrast this with indie RPGs that require improv, which provide very creative experiences but are too stressful for some people.)
All in all, a fun and successful party! And I made enough stickers that I could do another one. I think that re-theming the party could also keep it fresh enough for several parties with many of the same guests. (Or maybe I just think that because I’d love to do a science fiction theme.)