Stationfall and the Power of Narrative
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Stationfall, the “party game for hardcore gamers” in which you play several members of a wacky cast of misfits running around a crashing space station. Honestly, this game pretty much had me at “hello”.
The rules get a little complicated, but bear with me as I summarize. Stationfall is set sometime in the future aboard a space station in low Earth orbit. It’s a nice space station, with convenient features like rotational gravity, scientific labs, and a therapy garden. It’s also full of unauthorized experiments, illicit guns, and crazy people. Oh, and it’s crashing.
You’re dealt a couple of identity cards for the people on the station — some human, many not — and choose one to be the secret leader of your conspiracy. That character has objectives which determine how you win. You may want to escape to Earth with some loot. Or you may want to make sure nobody escapes the Station. Whatever your goals, you have some helpful skills and a bunch of things you need, most of which are inconveniently out of reach.
Fortunately, you’ve got friends. You can influence and activate any character on the station, unless another player has revealed themselves as that character. (And even a revealed PC may be willing to take the occasional bribe to do what you want.) So for 10 to 15 turns or so, all the characters run the station. They grab stuff, they do things, they bludgeon each other with wrenches. They launch escape pods, trigger self-destructs, and occasionally feed each other to man-eating mutant plants. It’s utter chaos, and a lot of fun.
So what holds all this together and keeps it appealing?
Stationfall the Story Generator
Stationfall has characterized as a “one-shot RPG”, which doesn’t seem quite right to me. As some of the players in a recent video pointed out, it’s hard to take on a consistent role when you’re running around as different characters for half the game. You can get in little bits of roleplaying as you don the masks of different characters, but with two or three different “actors” in every role . . . again, chaos.
On the other hand, as humans we have a natural urge to make sense of chaos. Every game of Stationfall that I’ve played or seen has turned into a series of stories about what happened and why. As the chaos grows, so does our desire to make sense of it.
That may explain why tabletop RPGs are such a good source for stories: most player characters are walking chaos machines. And it’s something I’m keeping in mind as I work on a game for my current employer. (I’m working at Nitro Games now. They’re cool.) It’s an unusual kind of game, very narrative-driven, and I have a theory that the players’ connection to the world will get stronger for every bit of weirdness I can slip into the corners of the game. We’ll see if that’s right pretty soon.