The Case Study: Thematic Mismatch

Writers sometimes say that they didn’t make their characters act in a certain way; rather, the character him- or herself let the writer know what needed to happen next. Games, I’ve found, can do the same. One means for the game to be like this, but it becomes clear that the plan is not a perfect fit; the game wants to be like that.

I’m trying to figure out whether Over the Next Dune is in that place. Currently, the capture-and-rescue rules seem to be working very well. However, the play is undermining the theme. After a rescue the searcher just kind of keeps going–surely the Axis soldiers would be a bit more attentive. Furthermore, rescue missions can lead to a sequence where two or even three players are captured and rescued in turn, lending the whole situation a bit of a Keystone Kops feel. The mechanics have stopped lining up with the gritty narrative of desperate Allies and dangerous Axis.

I hate to alter the rules having just gotten them to a satisfactory state, so I’m tempted to look to the theme instead. At this moment I’m considering embracing the Keystone Kops notion. Playing out an escape from a comical jailhouse, running wildly about the prison yard while Benny Hill music plays in the background, might actually be a lot of fun. OtND has never been a detailed simulation; rather than trying to fit it into a wargame mode, it might be more fun if the the game ran with its broad-strokes, almost cartoonish approach.

On the other hand, “criminals fleeing” could be a controversial theme–and I’m not sure playing it for laughs will resolve detractors’ concerns. (Of course, war is also a theme that should be handled with some care.) Picking a narrative for OtND that offends is certainly going to make it less fun for some.

This isn’t a question that needs to be finalized right away; there are lots of backstories that could fit a game about sneaking around, and the mechanics are not so tied to the theme that the details have to be set in stone in advance. For now, I’m going to keep an eye out for situations where OtND’s gameplay isn’t matching its theme, and I’ll be trying to listen for what the game might have to say about narratives that would work better. If OtND says something to you about this, please let me know. 🙂

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