We played Unheroes on a gaming weekend in the country. Unheroes, written by Joanna Piancastelli, is one of the freeforms that came out of the Golden Cobra competition for short freeforms. It had been voted Most Appealing to Newcomers and I’ve seen a bunch of people on G+ have fun with it. I hadn’t thought I could get it on the table, we had a busy schedule of hiking, canoeing and boardgames… but all the way at the end we had two hours left to kill with seven people. Perfect!
What’s it about?
The basic premise of Unheroes is that you are a superhero team that failed to save the world. In the end, one of you changed reality so much that there are now no superheroes or villains in the world. No one even remembers any different. Except you all have a nagging memory of how life used to be and how you failed the first time around. When those memories burst to the surface it’ll be time to decide what the world will look like, for once and for all.
I had read through the game once or twice and it was easy enough to figure out how to quickly get started. Even though we all knew each other, we properly did the warm up introduction of your person and your favorite superhero (which I shamefully admitted is Captain America at the moment – he’s a paladin who doesn’t suck, what more could you want in life?).
You randomly distribute character cards with a superpower on them. Everyone was quite happy to receive those and check out how awesome they were. Pew pew powers!
There are also cards with memories of the situation back in Herotopia. Those were harder to distribute. This is where a lot of story building happens, and where you collaboratively give shape to the situation you ran away from and how it got so bad. My group didn’t really have a good sense of Herotopia yet, and we weren’t that rooted in the genre, so thinking up a story on the fly was a recurring problem.
In the end we settled on the armies of Hell invading the world. Our lead tactician wanted to fight only with other supers and ignored the human armies that could have kept the world safe and lost the war. My destructive character, sick of the others’ inaction, blew up the gates of Hell, which unraveled the fabric of reality. One of our heroes died trying to keep the gate up.
After this, you also hand out relationship cards where you fill other people’s names into the blank spaces. A nice mix of grudges, romance and drama. It definitely gives you enough to get started and gives some handholds as to characters’ age and demeanor.
We decided that in this boring world of unheroes we were all in a therapy camp with the Mind Reader character as the psychiatrist. We started the game with a group therapy session – a nice opener but that made it hard to pair off later for smaller scenes. With eight, paring off at all is a bit hard. The only small group freeforms we played before this were highly scripted so it was a bit odd to just run around with no guidance… like preschoolers in the school yard.
Synchronize watches and play!
Probably the coolest thing about Unheroes is that each power comes with a timestamp. To make sure everyone is on the same page, you synchronize watches and then program in a timer for your event. At that time, say 20 minutes into the game, something happens and a bit of your power is revealed or comes back to you.
My character was very destructive and random shit started blowing up around her whenever she was pissed off. This was one of the first signs things were very, very wrong. This was a very fun way to simulate a GM’s hand in the story, and there was an exciting tension whenever someone’s phone started beeping. The final timed event triggers the end of the game – which means the game will always last only 60 minutes. I quite like that, as well!
The story evolves quite organically in the course of the game. Memories get uncovered, fights happen, grudges may or may not get resolved. The end always comes too soon.
In our game, I felt that we were so wrapped up in recovering our memories and fighting in our conflicts that we realized at the last minute what had caused everything to go so wrong: we were a horrible team with not enough loyalty to each other and not enough team spirit! By then we had no time to improve our status. We were forced into a decision and we decided to give it another go. Our epilogues were a mixed bag of very good things (“And then I become president of the world”) and death and disillusionment.
Wot I think
It was a fun way to spend the last two hours of our gaming weekend, and it was nice to be able to play a roleplay game with our large group. But the genre wasn’t really our thing and the end conversation got a lot more metaphysical than dramatic (“So if we destroy this world what happens to the people here? Did we kill a global population?), which made the story slow down a little.
But the format and the set up of the game has most excited. Low prep, low-time investment freeforms for 5-10 people? I want more!