Social games are a rare experience here in Perth. It’s not often that something like an escape room shows up, and it probably goes without saying that this is true of past playups too. Playups usually have a bunch of different games in the room that don’t take too long to try out, but this time was a little different. First, we had a special venue: Carpe Coffee, which was generously kept open late just for us. Second, instead of getting as many devs into the room as possible, the evening focused on Anthony Sweet’s Mafioso-inspired work in progress: Grand City. Controllers were traded for conversations and the smell of betrayal was in the air (as well as a good dose of upbeat jazz), and it was evident that Anthony got plenty of ideas from watching our organised crimes pan out.
The basic premise of Grand City is that the players are Al Capone wannabes in 1930s Chicago, vying for a place in one of three big families. The game was introduced to us, by Anthony, as an eclectic mix of smaller games that came together through socialising and, uh, murder. There was a little card trading, some territory control and a whole bunch of other mechanics that fed into who you talked to and who you, uh, murdered. With that in mind, I donned my new persona of Allegra DeLinguini and started grovelling to the first head honcho I could find.
After the basic mechanics were explained, three family bosses were chosen, each appointing a right hand man/woman. From there, it was up to each player to get chatting, pick sides and complete tasks for the bosses to try and earn respect for the family. The trick was that the bosses couldn’t get their hands dirty, so it was up to the underlings to do their organised bidding. Of course, the underlings might want to rise up, and there were plenty of freedom in the game to let someone gang up on someone higher up, or pull off something even more devious.
About an hour into the game, people started noticing two unaligned criminals making a name for themselves. I had to act before they started getting a little too much respect to be dealt with, so I started planning out a hit. No one really understood how a hit was carried out, but this was organised crime, and I had a card up my sleeve. Literally; I had a Contract Hit card, but I wasn’t sure how it worked. If was there was one thing that needed improvement, it was the way game mechanics were explained to players, but there was a lot of fun to be had in having secrets floating around the room.
The word was spreading that a hit was being planned, but who exactly was getting hit wasn’t out yet. Paranoia was in the air, and it didn’t help that these two unaligned crims owned more cards than everyone else combined. At the rate they were going, they were on their way to declaring themselves a new family… Which they did. It wasn’t that we were told that we could make a new family, but Anthony was more than happy to accommodate a new lineage of organised crime. I really enjoyed that fluffiness of the rules, since it also allowed me to kill off poor old Glen (pictured below, post-death) after a sneaky last-minute target change.
… Trust me, he was way cheerier after I killed him.
It wasn’t easy watching the life fade from another man’s eyes, but the respect I’d earned for the family made it a bit easier to gloat about. Glen may have been sleeping with the fishes, but the original problem still remained. The two card-hoarders were cementing themselves as the new unofficial family to look out for, and no one else was willing to rub them the wrong way. So, some of the families started bargaining with the powerhouse duo to try and get the game moving again.
See, the new family wasn’t a problem because they were getting the most respect, but they were stifling up the card economy by holding onto everything. The card aspect of the game worked by getting ‘tips’ (or jobs) to complete using other cards, like baseball bat cards for a stick-up tip, which gave out respect and new cards. The tip cards were never reshuffled into the deck that everyone drew from though, so when those two rogue gangsters held onto all the cards, there was no way to get new cards. My first reaction was to try and kill them, but then something funny happened.
I don’t know if it was part of the game, but the person who rewarded us for finishing jobs kinda broke the rules. Without letting Anthony on, she snuck a tip card into my hand. Remember what I said about the flexibility of the rules? Turns out that it ran both ways. This was, for me at least, the best part of Grand City. Here we were, supposed gangsters and kings of organised crime, playing with poker chips and clearly defined rules (for those in the know, at least), but breaking them was totally fair game. Despite the generosity of this corrupt jazz club owner, there was only a few minutes left in the game, and my family’s fate was sealed.
Anthony called time and unveiled which family ruled this town, but he also explained a few other things. His intent is to use the game at something like a dinner event, which sounds spectacular. I can just see a room of well-dressed gangsters eating politely while the evil eye circulates like a family tommy gun. The other thing Anthony mentioned was that he intended for the cards and other items to be used by the players however they wanted, even destroyed. For a social game, destroying valuable items offers a lot of potential for mind messing, but the general response was that this would need to be made abundantly clear to the players from the start.
Regardless of a few opaque rules, everyone thought that Grand City was a great game brimming with potential. It was clear at the end of the night that Anthony had taken a lot from what had happened, and I’m excited to find out what changes are made going forward! Of course, a huge thank you to Carpe Coffee for hosting the event and everyone who helped out running the game! As for the next playup, I’m sure we’ll announce something soon, so stay tuned!