Seven Wonders is a collection of seven stand-alone games all from UK game designers. All seven of the games focus heavily on improvisation style of playing and are relatively free-form drama games. This review of only one game in the collection, more reviews will follow as I am able to play them.
“Imagine the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They visited a magical land, fought battles alongside talking animals and centaurs and won a war against a powerful and evil enemy. Then they returned home, no-one believed them and they were back to war time rations and maths homework. What did that feel like? How did they live with the memories of what they experienced?”
While one player takes on the role of a therapist (GM), the remaining players take on the role of patient seeking treatment.
While this is an improvisation style of game, there are a few simple mechanical procedures that need to be followed to ensure game play is smooth.
Creating safe spacing – Everyone collectively sets the tone of the game. This game does explore real disorders and with that might come real experiences from a player’s past. Creating the safe space allows for everyone to give input on taboo topics. Thereby setting the initial boundaries.
Character “client” creation – There is a simple process for creating a few parameters for your character and how they are linked to one another. Linking them together can be challenging, but the author has included some great resources in the book to help if players get stumped. The following areas are what makes up a character: name, age, occupation, and a short physical description. Character development then explores a psychological disorder for your character and then it’s on to connecting with the other characters.
Creating a shared fantasy world – The last step in the game prep is creating a shared fantasy world that the group adventured in as children. Players will define one common memory from their shared childhood experience and then create a like of “seed” words to be used (potentially) later in the game itself.
Be vulnerable – During game play, players are expected to rationally explore their disorders and how their relationships with one another have gone horribly wrong over the years because of the disorders. Players should always approach things with a “yes, but” or a “yes, and” mindset. This allows players to draw other players into their narrative and create that shared narrative experience. Play the game in character at all times! Need a break? Ask the therapist if you can take a five minute break to clear your head, use the restroom, etc. This also lends itself well to an immersive and deep experience.
The last thing I want to point out here is that all throughout the game rules, there is a constant reminder that this game can be deep and psychological disorders are real and that all players need to be very respectful at all times.
When I can actually play a game, I like to explain how our game went.
We played with three clients and our therapist. The character creation process was pretty smooth until we had to build connections with each other. While not overly difficult, one of the players I had never played with before so we were just feeling each other out in terms of personalities, play styles, etc. In the end, the connections were pretty cool! I was married to one player and the employee of the other. All the while suffering from OCD where I was compelled to hoard things.
I should mention that our list of banned topics included many of things you would expect like rape, sexual assault, child molestation, graphic violence, and other similar topics. This collective list really did set us on the right foot for the game itself. None of these areas were talked about or even eluded too which was great.
Playing the game itself was a little weird at first and I really did feel uncomfortable as if I was sitting in a real therapist’s office. That feeling subsided only slightly as we got comfortable with the game and rising and falling conflict between the characters, but it never really left me.
At the end of the game, we all noticed that we explored the modern lives and very real disorders we were suffering from more so than the shared fantasy past we created at the beginning of the game. For me, it was challenging to connect modern characters to their shared past. We did make a few connections and some of the story seeds were used during game play, but it felt forced from time to time.
I should also note that our therapist really felt out of the game. While he did a fantastic job at steering conversations between us, he could not directly influence the conversation or the topics. This was something we all talked about at length after the game was over. We did throw around ideas on how we could get the therapist more involved as a player, but in the end, nothing seemed to fit right. We fully understood that the therapist is the game master for intents and purposes, but it did leave him out of the narrative creation process.
Unique topic for a game
Very deep experiences during game play
Advocating respect and safe play spaces
Hard to connect (for us) the present characters to their shared past
Therapist is not fully engaged in the narrative
Could possibly “trigger” player’s real experiences
After playing When the Dark is Gone I fell like there is lots of room to explore and we didn’t explore as much as we could have. I like the game experience, it was deep, it was a little stressful (in a good way) and overall I would play it again. I do have a few suggestions for would-be players. First, always be willing to rotate as the therapist, that way, one person is not always out of the shared narrative. Second, decide up front if you want to explore more of the modern characters’ lives or their shared past. If you can find a balance of the two, even better! Lastly, before you play, research some fo the very real disorders out there. It will help you more fully develop your character concept for use during play while remaining respectful of the real disorder.
This game will not be for everyone, but it is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. The play experience is rich, deep and worth the effort you put into it. Final thought; I want to play again to see where it goes this time!