Joshua BishopRoby’s Sons of Liberty

Through a fortuitous meeting with Judson at Gen Con, I got the chance to playtest Joshua BishopRoby’s Sons of Liberty: A Roleplaying Game of Freedom and Badassery.  I cannot thank him or Josh enough for the chance to get to this play this game.

I was able to watch it being played after hours at the Embassy Suites, so it was not a blind playtest, but getting to see the game once and understanding how it is played are two wildly different things.

Sons of Liberty takes place in an alternate history during the Revolutionary War where George Washington is riding around in a clockwerk Mecha fighting the steampowered forces Benedict Arnold and his British soldiers.  It’s the upstart Colonials vs. the evil Imperial Britians in an epic Battle Royale of incredibly odd dimensions.  Awesomeness and choas ensues.

In both cases, the games were played with three players which I fear is not optimal for the game.  It is not that we did not have fun playing the game, but there are special rules that apply to games with three players.  I wished that I could have had a four player game, but I could not get the scheduling to work out.  The mix in each case was myself (who I consider to be somewhat indie game experienced), a non-gamer, and a person with a moderate amount of traditional gaming experience.  We played over lunch, which kept us time constrained to a Travel Scene and the Primary Objective Scene.

In the playtest document, Josh noted five questions so I will order the comments made by the players according to the questions asked.

1.  Card Play rules:

The card rules were somewhat clear.  We understood how to play the Patriots, but we had a question on how Torries play cards.  There are rules for how the Patriots can play single cards, but I was a little confused as to where the Torries place their cards.  Do Torries play cards on the Patriots’ runs and sets or are they separate?  We played the first game with the Torrie cards being separate and the second game with Torrie cards being played on the Patriots.  In the first game, the Torries won and in the second the Patriots won by a landslide.

I think the biggest problem we all had with the rules was that they are too open.  Just about anything can happen.  In the first game, no one really minded that Benjamin Franklin knew kung fu and threw down with the British (nor that he published several treatises on the subject after the beating.)  It was also perfectly acceptable that Benjamin Franklin was trading raunchy letters with the Queen.  However, things started to break down when the Torrie player had a run of cards allow him to make up arbitrary rules.  Suddenly it was against the law to be out at night and againt the law to be out during the day, congregating in bars with more than two people were forbidden, etc.

Those were the cards that the Torrie player drew, but there was a sense that we were well outside the box of what could reasonably expected.  I guess it became to hard to suspend disbelief despite the fact we played the rules as we understood them.

It was also difficult to keep the goal in mind.  In the first game, the players determined a VERY specific goal.  That backfired because Sons of Liberty seems to be a game about large city or nation shattering events rather than one-on-one conflict.  The first goal was laid out with steps on how to accomplish it.  When I realized that was a problem, I tried to make a broader goal in the second game, but players still lost sight of the goal once the silliness (ie the game) started.  Only during narration of the conflict did we loop back to the goal.

Lastly, there was no sense of margin of success.  I did not see in the rules where a 2 of a suit was any different than an five or a King.  The players felt uncomfortable that they could narrate very powerful effects in the game with a two and with a face card.  They wanted the lower cards to generate less effect.

2.  Challenge- In the first game, the Patriots felt it was difficult to win.  The Torrie player won handily in both scenes, though I think this is because I misread the meaning of “Steal a Queen.”  I am guessing I could not pull her into my hand like I thought I could.  My confusion, though, goes back to how exactly a Torrie plays (see section 1.)

3.  Attention- There were some complaints of people losing track of what was going on during the Primary Objective scene.   For instance, in the second game, one player sat there with an amazed look on his face for literally the entire scene. 

I think that everyone was used to playing standard card games where there is time to think rather than the chaos of Sons of Liberty.  To counter the chaos, we tried running the Primary Objective scene using a turn-based scheme where a Patriot would act and then the Torrie, then the next Patriot and so on.  The other players reported they liked playing the game turn based far better than playing the game freeform, despite the fact I think the game suffered.  The time to think actually limited the amount of crazy, out of the box thinking.  Still, overall the other players found it more fun.

4.  Intriguing Fiction- When I asked this question, everyone always laughed.  In the first game, we had Benjamin Franklin opening strip clubs on every corner because they were exempt for the British rules about congregating in bars while Ethan Allen fought to reestablish the American court system while in prison.  In other words, we had a great time playing this game.

One thing that I did notice was that none of the players ever talked about the clockwork gauntlets, steampunk mecha, and other wild elements.  As the Torrie player, I started the travel scene with these elements, but they never were picked up by the other players.  It simply never came up.  One player mentioned that none of the character biographies make any mention of any alternate history (could George Washington be growing organic robots or Benjamin Franklin made part of his money by selling technical manuals?)  I think that would have helped them get into character.

5.  Fun- We had all kinds of crazy fun.  So much fun that it inspired one of the players to start working on his own board game.  The one thing every player did say was there was little sense of accomplishment.  There was not a lot of dramatic tension, so no one felt like they had been run through the wringer.  However, everyone seemed to understand that Sons of Liberty is game about acting silly and having a good time.  Across the board that was enough.  No higher purpose needed.

All in all, I am really excited to see the game in its finished state.  We all had a great time, even the more quiet player who I was afraid might not contribute as much.   That player was actually empowered and emboldened to act silly.


~ by Chris Perrin on September 12, 2007.

3 Responses to “Joshua BishopRoby’s Sons of Liberty”

  1. […] Chris Perrin’s Lunch Hour Playtest, in which Franklin opens strip bars… for […]

  2. Chris, sorry my response has been so long in coming.

    First of all, you mention feeling like the game was a little too far off the chain… let me assure you, no, that’s normal. 😉 Having the Tory outlaw congregating in bars and so opening strip clubs instead is frighteningly close to historical precendent, where the Sons of Liberty created shell businesses to conduct their rebellion. You’re spot-on there.

    The Tory player plays cards right in front of him to the table. They do not have to go into sets and straights. They just go down as single cards. The Patriots can then use those cards, capitalizing on Tory excesses, but as long as they stay singles they do not count towards the final score.

    Card rank does not matter at all for Patriots. A 2 of hearts and an 8 of hearts are played exactly the same. They count for exactly the same score at the end of the round, too. Also note, the card does not allow you to narrate doing things; it works the other way around. Narrating things allows you to play cards. This means, yes, you can punch Tories in the face all day long without playing a single card. You’d lose, but you could do it.

    Playing with turns is an interesting option, and one that I will be including in the Options Screen that will appear in the final product. However, going Patriot-Tory-Patriot-Tory will almost certainly result in a Tory win. Go around the table (Tory-Patriot-Patriot-Tory…) instead. This results in a “War of Clever” rather than a “War of Awesome” — players are far more likely to create well-considered, very clever plays, rather than the gushing torrent of half-thought-out crazy-awesome as in default play. It’s a fun play experience, don’t get me wrong; it’s just a different play experience.

    I plan on having expanded biographies for the figures in the final product, as well, which may help on that background detail point you bring up.

    I am totally ecstatic to hear about your game, Chris, and I want to thank you profusely for giving Sons of Liberty a try. I will be making sure these rough spots are smoothed over; you’ve been a great help!

  3. “One thing that I did notice was that none of the players ever talked about the clockwork gauntlets, steampunk mecha, and other wild elements. As the Torrie player, I started the travel scene with these elements, but they never were picked up by the other players. It simply never came up. One player mentioned that none of the character biographies make any mention of any alternate history (could George Washington be growing organic robots or Benjamin Franklin made part of his money by selling technical manuals?) I think that would have helped them get into character.”

    Agreed. More references in the rules (especially the Patriot/Tory descriptions) would help here, I think.

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