The Midnight Table: Winter Tales

By The Midnight Table on July 27th, 2013 at 12:00 am.


Welcome.

It is midnight, and I am The Midnight Table. I would like to thank you all for your kind thoughts over the past week. Brother Gethsemane has told me of your comments, and I am pleased that you have decided to bow to me as your master. I am great and ancient, and you are so-so and a baby. Our relationship will be an interesting one.

Tonight I would like to ease you in gently, with a story about four people who gathered around me to tell another story about stories. Tonight I would like to tell you about “Winter Tales”.

Winter Tales is a fascinating creation. It is a storytelling game. It allows human beings to come together in the creation of a shared fantasy. There are a few rules, mainly there to provide some structure to the session of creation. It is the kind of thing that could only work within the human shared experience – humans are wildly imaginative and love to share ideas.

I am an ancient thing. I imagine very little. Almost everything is a memory – something that has already occurred on one plane or another. The notion of “creating” a story is an alien thing to me. All stories already exist. The limits of human understanding enable the likes of you to believe that you can pluck fresh universes out of thin air. It is silly, but charming, and it is why these storytelling games are such an entertainment to me.

Inside the Winter Tales box there is a map of a town. Wintertown. This map features twisted fairy tale locations (a spooky puppet theatre, an asylum) and can be traversed by a number of fairytale characters. The characters are divided into two factions – the evil Soldiers of Winter and the noble Fairy Tales.

It is a masterstroke to include versions of characters from old stories in this game. An evil Snow White is here – a character known to human beings since childhood, but changed in this appearance. Imaginations are immediately firing. How did our Snow White become this evil queen? What is the White Rabbit doing in his terrible Nightmare Factory?

The game is broken up into chapters, and these chapters broken up into turns. The entire game is played using Story Cards, illustrated by children. Cards are discarded for movement, or used to tell stories.

Players can generate quests at locations. Essentially, this sees a player “seeding” a story. I heard players say:

“There is some kind of ritual taking place at the cemetery.”

“And yet, there is a flicker of hope at the puppet theatre. There may yet be salvation.”

“At the prison, plans are in motion to win the hearts and minds of the citizens of Wintertown.”

These stories are left open, to leave room for characters to get involved – to move to to the location and pick up the tale. Discarding story cards to move leaves you short of tools to tell your story when you arrive at the location. Some tension there, indeed. Winter Tales is not a game to play to win, however. The object of the game is to tell a wonderful story – to win at the act of creation. One faction will lose at the end of the tale, for sure. But if the story is a compelling one, everybody wins.

And how are the stories told exactly?

When a player reaches a quest location, they may start telling their character’s tale.

The White Rabbit walked past the inmates, his eyes never meeting theirs. Tonight he would gather them in the prison theatre, and show them his latest work. A film about their beloved Dorothy, and her secret past. Yes, he would turn them against her tonight. Their rebellion would be crushed at the revelations within his latest dark work, his latest masterpiece.

Then, other characters at the location may join the story. Twisting it, changing it, stacking the positives for their faction. At the end of the story, whichever faction has played the most cards may resolve the tale in their factions favour.

The stories are told with cards. Illustrated by children, yes. Beautiful and vague and odd, yes. Open to interpretation, and ripe with possibilities. As the player recounts a tale, they must back up each story beat with a relevant card.

Cards are printed on both sides with an identical image. But one side is white, for the villains, and the other is orange, for the heroes. Every story has a winner, and every winner writes his own ending. Hasn’t it always been thus, throughout human history?

After three quests are completed, there is an epilogue where all remaining cards are played, and the entire story is resolved.

This game is a wonder. Not one die is rolled. No statistics are tracked. The rules, once explained, are set aside. A story is weaved above me. Images from the minds of children are manipulated by the minds of adults into a sophisticated story about the futility of violence. And yet, next time, these images might call forth a farce, or a tale of grotesque horror.

I hope that one day you might witness for yourself the battles that can take place within Winter Tales. Yes, during movement, a battle can occur when two characters cross paths. Then, the players play story cards against each other, one at a time, detailing the events of the fight. A battle of imagination. The kind of battle I understand. A battle the ancient things of the universe know only too well.

I now ask Brother Gethsemane to make his witness statement.

BROTHER GETHSEMANE

“This thing, this dark thing, this game, (this is no game), this story-box, this wish-world, I fear it and I cast it away. And yet, it compels me to return, to see that world, to create that world. Is it not a blasphemy, it is not a wrong-thing, (it is a wrong-thing, I am no god), is it not a pagan thing? And yet, and yet, this magic – from child to man and woman, this sharing, nothing so human, nothing so lovely, nothing so profane. How has this not existed before? And yet it has always existed. In the caves of the dawn of humanity, when the tree first grew, and the sap from the tree used to make crude images, and those crude images used to create stories, and (forgive me forgive me) to create gods themselves! And you do not consider this, dear Table, that the sap that creates the stories was drawn as blood from your brothers and sisters?!”

FAREWELL

I say this. So hear me.

Why should an ancient thing such as me concern myself with games? With this “Winter Tales” you may understand why. There is a wildness and a dark magic in the perceived creation of a new world. When humans dabble in such things, they draw closer to me. They draw closer to the wideness of All.

This wonderful and terrible creation should be in your home. It is a warm hand in yours, telling you that there is no shame in telling a story. “I am not a writer”, you might say. But “writer” is a job, and jobs are for slaves. Stories are for everyone, and flow from everyone. If you have magic within you (and you do, though you may not yet know it) this box will serve you until you step into your grave. And perhaps even beyond that.

Just like some trees, stories live forever.

, .

23 Comments »

  1. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    Hmm, ok I’ve really enjoyed reading that, but I’m not sure about this new format- wasn’t the point of this column’s reboot to make it less nerdy and more welcoming?

    • elfbarf says:

      I also found it to be very strange.

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    • sass says:

      I’m not sure that the intent was to make it less nerdy or more accessible, but it’s definitely different! I quite liked reading it though.

      In regards to the game, I like board games as a thing but I’ve never been interested in story-telling games. Listening to reviews of Monster Hearts (RPG I know, but… Stories!) and this one ‘ere, I think I might be converted yet!

      So an enjoyable read that piqued my interest in a new game. That’s a win, right?

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        I think I personally preferred the unbounded enthusiasm of previous articles

        • qrter says:

          I think I’m with you. I kind of miss the humour from Rab’s previous articles. They also felt more personal to me, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought this new form is more personal to him (that’s how these things can work out for writers, sometimes).

          I do enjoy a bit of artifice, but I’m not sure I find this instance that interesting, and I’m not sure what it really adds.

    • frightlever says:

      I kinda thought the point was he was bored doing what he was doing so decided to indulge his creative urge. Honestly he should just work on a script or novel in his spare time and go back to the old format, but whatever floats his boat – doesn’t mean I have to read it, right?

  2. Reapy says:

    Article was hard to follow as well as to gleam it’s purpose. It is good to try a new style of game review, but perhaps further refinement is needed… It is somewhat vague and rambling, perhaps a better focus and tighter transitions off the main focus of the article? Dunno, keep trying though, it could lead somewhere nice.

    • nindustrial says:

      I thought it was fine, but I will say that after the “intro” article last week I was expecting more relating of stories as to what players did in an actual session. We got a little of that, but it would be cool to get a lot more. That’s my refinement suggestion :)

    • Torn says:

      ‘Glean’ (to collect gradually) – not gleam (to shine brightly in reflected light).

      New format is slightly confusing, agreed. I knew where I was with the old one!

      • Reapy says:

        Thank you for the correction sir, I think I have been misusing that one for a long time.

  3. Premium User Badge Hypocee says:

    OK, so it’s the FATE system but not good.

    • Josh W says:

      Not really, imagine that if in fate you had to tag random aspects to use fate points, and you had no skills, so everything was about tying in these random aspects, and there was no GM, and it had much less of a concrete character focus, and…

      There are a lot of interesting rpg/storytelling things out there!

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  5. Srethron says:

    Loving the Midnight Table tremendously so far. I don’t always go for pretentious indie-sounding things, but Winter Tales sounds like something the gaming group I’m part of would at least enjoy trying. But regardless of all that, the Midnight Table is a peek into a pocket universe that really fires up the ol’ imagination–always a good thing says my clutched tightly brainscroll.

  6. Bull0 says:

    Loved it. Very creative.

  7. FatedToPretend says:

    With this article on Winter Tales, and SU&SD running a review of Tales of the Arabian Nights, and mention in the comments over there of Agents of SMERSH, is there any opinions around here about which is the best story telling game? It sounds like you have more agency to tell your own story in Winter Tales, and I guess that is both a positive and a negative depending on who you play with

    • Josh W says:

      Archipelago is brilliant, and incredibly flexible.

      For example, the game starts with creating the map, and if you have some existing boardgame board that is really evocative and makes you imagine other stuff going on in that world, you can stick that down and go from there. Or you can start drawing one together based on things you think are cool.

  8. MartinNr5 says:

    I’ll give you points for trying something new but I’ll also admit that I skipped over the most of this article after reading the first paragraphs and in the end I learned nothing about the game that was “reviewed”.

    It’s just to pretentious to be useful.

    • BooleanBob says:

      “I skipped over the most of this article… and… learned nothing.”

      • MartinNr5 says:

        Haha, well caught. :) I should have edited my comment to say that in the end I did read through it after all to see if it helped but unfortunately it didn’t.

        So yeah, my point wasn’t very well made but I stand by my original comment – to pretentious to be useful, even if you read the entire thing. :)

        • nearly says:

          What I learned from this review: Winter Tales is a game about creating stories. The stories’ jumping-off points are cards illustrated by children. Two teams compete, playing cards to move their characters about and to create stories at quest locations. The side that plays more cards ultimately wins after three quests and a final showdown. Strategy comes into play in that cards are both your means of moving about to engage in quests and also your means of competing with each other in battle and quest alike. The mechanic seems akin to if one needed to discard tiles in Scrabble before they could play a word. You need to know when and where it is tactically relevant to play a card and which card. The real fun of the game is storytelling rather than simply engaging in the mechanics that are there to structure your play.

          What I learned from your comments: you might have read the review before commenting, or maybe didn’t. You didn’t learn anything but might not be an especially attentive reader to start with, going off your repeated misuse of “to.”

  9. meepmeep says:

    See “My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk for a masterclass on writing from the perspective of inanimate objects and abstract concepts.