RESTART is a future story of sentient machines struggling to survive in Ghana. While it would be easy to simply enjoy playing robots finding their way in a bewildering world, RESTART has so much more going on underneath the hood. It subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) introduces themes of cultural alienation, community, minority struggles, and the socio-economic impacts of globalization. It's no mistake that the game is set in a country that constantly grapples with human rights issues. All of these elements are expertly incorporated into a rich narrative of endurance and freedom. If anything, the judges felt like the game needed a little more time to fully stretch its legs than the mere two hours that were the contest's parameters.
As many ways as we know to craft character and story, there are still more awaiting our discovery. With keymaster, J Li helps us explore one of these. Calling it a 'short ritual of dramatic identity,' Li lets us become our own Greek chorus and divine together the nature of a shared world. Doing this through a simple, iterative game structure, suited for deeply invested play--perhaps to introduce a group to the world they'll explore in a larp--or as a light, spontaneous activity for a group of friends. Keymaster tunes the group's imaginations into populating the real world with mythic meaning, be it a bustling city square or a leaf-lined, wooded path. I chose keymaster because it took the challenge to play in public and found new applications for tools of live freeform--ones that connect modern role play with traditions of poetry and drama that are as old as human inventiveness.
In his game Active Shooter, Tim Hutchings writes "This was a hard, uncomfortable thing to write." Reading it was equally harrowing, and playing Active Shooter would be at best sobering and more likely quite traumatic. I chose it for an honorable mention because it addresses a serious, difficult topic directly and unflinchingly. Perhaps too unflinchingly - all the judges felt that it needed a much more robust series of safety mechanisms in place as written. But the core game is solid and appropriately horrific, the Shut Up rule is inspired and evocative, and overall Active Shooter feels both mature and well realized. It would be hard to play, but not everything needs to be easy. One of our hopes for the Golden Cobra contest was to encourage work on the edges of established theme and technique, and Active Shooter totally delivers in this regard.
Sometimes a game can seduce you and make you feel dirty, and somehow it isn't to blame. Snow is such a game. Submitted with gorgeous, eye-popping artwork and a simple one-page explanation, Snow just cannot be ignored, no matter how hard one tries. It's playable in a cold car in winter (which is coming) among people who want a few more disturbing memories to share with their friends. I chose the game because, in the end, freeform does not have to be complicated to be bold and meaningful. Snow is fearless, committed design and can take players to the kind of dark play a group might otherwise not venture, whilst allowing the players to gracefully end the game at any time.
Judges' Note: Though this game was recognized with an Honorable Mention, it was later discovered that the game did not meet eligibility requirements for submission due to a misunderstanding. The committee continues to congratulate Agata on her accomplishment with this game, but has retracted the award.
Sara Williamson's game is a pleasure to behold. Cleanly written and expertly organized, with thoughtful incorporation of best practices, it's the whole package when it comes to game design done right. The game itself is a hilarious romp of mismatched personalities trying to find love—as organized teams! We won't spoil it for you, but this one game you don't want to miss out on playing.
Ever want to play a game that is a cross between a Charlie Kaufman film and a Virginia Woolf novel, via the muppets? Group Date may just take you there. Sara gives us a great mixer game, that looks to be as perfect an ice breaker as it is an advanced class in personal reflection and relationship analysis. All with a light hand, a sense of humor and clear rules for keeping yourself and each other comfortable and safe.
Group Date appears to have burst forth from its author's brain fully-formed. Incorporating best practices from the Nordic and American larp/freeform communities, it firmly-but-politely guides new players into the activity of emotionally-heavy role-playing. Many dating RPGs were submitted to the Golden Cobra contest, but this is the one that I'd run for both my students and my grandmother in the same session. (Actually, maybe that'd be kinda weird.)
Group Date takes a very familiar live action conceit - the dating larp - and hones it to a razor sharp edge of fun. Sara Williamson's well-written and carefully organized game is instantly accessible, easy to implement and iterate, and promises total n00bs a good time.
"Three former superheroes walk into a bar...." and the game plays itself from there. A catchy premise that anyone can jump into, with crystal clear play designed to have a payoff every time. Unheroes takes the real world and warps it into the setting for a pervasive freeform larp about power, responsibility and second chances. A tightly written game, with great awareness of player safety and accessibility.
Unheroes gives us the rich inner lives of superheroes without any of the messy power-point-allocation baggage. From the suspense beats to the time-activated powers, this game is above all cleverly paced and ready for unexpectedly public superhero play. Bravo.
Joanna Piancastelli's game of amnesiac supers, Unheroes, builds on a rich tradition of conflicted bricks and speedsters, humanizing these colorful protagonists and expertly adapting their tropes to the contest parameters. The result is a smart, assured and very playable game that will be appealing to anyone who has ever read a comic book.
Unheroes is about a world where the past has been erased, but comes creeping back anyway. Amnesiatic protagonists discover their super hero past, and the fact that as super heroes they seriously screwed up. With incredibly solid design and a captivating narrative not rooted in whether the Hulk can beat Thor, it's an inviting game that is a fine cap on the current tradition of super hero freeforms.
A meditation on memory and identity that cleverly taps into our emotions to make our experience of the world the playing field. A reflective amnesia game that foregrounds the quiet exploration of self.
Glitch Iteration immediately starts building a world before any of the characters can figure out who they are or what's going on. Actually, that's kind of the point. This is not so much a game, as a game coupled with a whole new worldview for public spaces. It does what freeform does best: transform our bodies in spaces into things of anxiety and wonder.
Glitch Iteration not just embraces the contest challenge of "must be playable in public" but transforms public space into a weird wonderland where every stranger, and every contour in the landscape, is suddenly part of your collaborative machine-ghost. It's elegant and beautiful. Underneath its sci-fi trappings it is a game about memory and loss and ethics and, possibly, regret.
Jackson Tegu's game flattened us all with its ability to so elegantly tackle the issues of identity and meaning while harnessing a public space for play. Technological, transhuman, and boggling in its layers, the game is beautiful and vivid and like nothing we've ever seen before.
A refreshing and thoughtful metaphorical freeform larp that keeps us moving forward in thinking about the potentials for role play. Throwing out assumptions left and right, like the need for plot, action by the players, people as characters, and focuses on stillness, interior play, subtle changes in position and being with the people and issues around us.
Still Life gives us the opportunity to larp as the inanimate, to live and breathe passivity for 2 hours without being bothered to make a power play or do something beyond simply communicating (and building from there). We as judges insist that this game be played.
Still Life grabbed each of the judges immediately and wouldn't let go. We kept returning to Still Life and marveling at it. While many contest entries tread familiar ground, the designers of Still Life took the weird path into rocky country (sorry). This weirdness pays off immensely in a game that is at once bonkers and full of strange pathos.
Wendy Gorman, David Hertz, and Heather Silsbee's game is instantly inspiring. It's so cunning in its vision that each judge wanted to play it almost at once. Many of the structures of play that are usually taken for granted are effortlessly tossed out the window by this game, and players are left with a broody and subtle experience. Who knew it was possible to yearn so hard for the experience of pretending to be rock! We would have said it couldn't be done, but with Still Life we have been proven wrong.