today I played: Icarus

(I actually played this awhile ago – first in Feb 2020 and then again in November 2020, but what is time anymore really so let’s just go with TODAY I played?)

I picked up ‘Icarus’ after watching Michael Whelan’s review on Dicebreaker:

I was very new to the world of RPGs at the time, but the idea of something that was pure storytelling really appealed to me. In addition, the fact that the game was GM-less also piqued my interest because I didn’t have any friends who could run games for me (yet) and I wasn’t brave enough yet to venture out into the real world to find them (**pats late-2019 Sam on the head**…it’s going to be awhile).

After searching online stores and finding the stock limited, I gave in to my FOMO and I bought a physical copy, only going on what Wheels had told me.

In ‘Icarus’, you use a series of prompt cards to create a civilization, piece by piece, telling the story of its rise to power, and then charting the hubris of its citizens. During the game, you create a dice tower in the center of the table and eventually that tower will fall and so will your world.

My first play-through (Feb 2020) was not very elegant. I invited over two friends and, along with my partner, we played the game. Turns out, storytelling games are not my partner’s cup of tea. He told me it “felt like work” and lost patience with it about halfway through – he kept playing but his heart wasn’t in it. My friends were also very new to the genre, but they chugged along and we eventually had our post-it notes covering the table, though I barely remember what happened to our civilization in the end. It was my first time trying to play a game like this and also my first time trying to TEACH a game like this, so I learned a lot about how to do those things but my friends probably didn’t get the best experience while I struggled to explain how it all worked.

Fast forward several months, mid-pandemic and yes I backed Icarus creator Spenser Starke’s new game Alice is Missing on Kickstarter. The Roll20 version was released and I found some people on the Hunter’s Entertainment Discord group to play with. I kept in touch with one of them and in the late Fall, I mentioned really wanting to try ‘Icarus’ again. He said he had access to a very basic online edition of the game and if I could get some people together, we could give it a go!

This play-through went a lot better! All four of us were into storytelling games, even if two had never experienced something quite on this level, and after playing Alice is Missing, I think I had a better handle on creating ideas for the story that would help move things forward and better understanding the mechanics of the game.

screenshot of the final stage of the online ‘Icarus’ game.

Hunters Entertainment published “Free Content Fridays” which included a few scenario suggestions for ‘Icarus’ in the set. We went with one that started out feeling very Dinotopia – with humans and dinosaurs coexisting in an amazing city, but as events unfolded, we revealed a darkness and betrayal hidden beneath it all, with the humans using the dinosaur blood and bones for health benefits. When a plague hit the land, and the dinosaurs became ill, everything fell into chaos and the final moments of our civilization were filled with references to Jurassic Park and the dinosaurs getting their revenge by eating up our characters!

You really have to get the right group of people together for this game. You need storytellers, you need people who understand the “yes, and” at the core of improvisation. This is not a competitive game, one to be won or lost, it is all about the journey. While you create a character for yourself, no one player really owns anything in the game, and the group collaborates and expands on each other’s ideas to create a city that you can all admire and then all mourn when the dice come tumbling down.

Honestly, it was hard to even think about picking up this game after the events of March 2020, as it felt like I was seeing the dice tower wobble in real life (there is even a card in the game with a pandemic as a prompt!) so poor Icarus sat on the shelf for awhile. But by the end of the year, I just wanted to play ALL THE THINGS and even if I didn’t actually get to open up my copy of the game since we were playing online, I was really glad I revisited it and experienced it now that I am a more confident player. I hope to play it, online or offline, and create another world to explore with my friends.

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