Playing Capes: Mayhem in the Museum
I went to Ubercon in New Jersey this last weekend to run full-session demos of indie games. Our first real session of play was on Friday night, when another scheduled game failed to go off, Russell Collins and I played Capes with a globe-trotting Australian (he had scheduled a stopover in the tri-state area specifically so he could come to the convention).
Our Australian friend was a good-natured and enthusiastic player, and after the first turn he quickly grasped the Capes mechanics and was soon playing like a pro. I believe this was Russell's first time playing Capes (although I may be wrong). I have played it several times in demos, taught the rules to several people, and run a full session with a couple of friends. This was, however, the first time the rules really clicked for me.I think the reason for this was that I had finally gotten to a comfort level with the rules to allow them to fade a bit into the background, and although I was pursuing conflicts that I wanted to win, as well as introducing conflicts with the express purpose of earning story tokens, I was also engaged with what was happening in the SIS. My previous play experiences had ended up very mechanistic, and I had some trouble engaging with the characters in any way in previous sessions. Interestingly, I think it has a lot to do with the play styles of those sitting across from you. In order to really enjoy this game, you have to equally enjoy the superhero story you are creating along with enjoying the game aspects of the mechanics, such as earning story tokens, getting rid of debt, and earning inspirations.
The basic profile of the game was two villains (me and the Australian) and one hero (Russell). I set the scene as a museum opening with all the leading lights of the city in attendance. My character was a Mind-Reader/Seducer, up against the hero Shapeshifter/Hotshot. Another villain, a Teleporter/Older-but-Wiser, was there as well. One of the things that made the three-way work so well was the fact that neither villain had the same goals in the scene. The teleporter was working some angle to replace the mayor of the city, while my mind reader was trying to lift a jewel from the opening. The two villains working against one another is what allowed the sole hero to be effective in the scene.
My favorite moment, however, was when the Australian, having earlier been thwarted in his Goal: Get the mayor to resign, won a conflict Event: The wall collapses on the exhibit. Russell's hero, having moved the civilians out of the way during the back-and-forth on this event, let the Australian's villain win that one, not really caring about the outcome at that point. The Australian promptly narrated that the wall collapsed on the mayor, killing him (and later convinced the hero character to run for mayor in the deceased man's place). This guy really got the mechanic of the game, and we were all surprised and delighted at how that one turned out.