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July 13, 2009 / jadettman

Microscope, First Play

Yesterday, we played Microscope, and it was good.

Specifically, Peter, Britt, and I got together at Meg’s Daily Grind in Rockford to try out Microscope because the rest of our gaming group was busy.

Microscope is a make-your-own-history game designed by Ben Robbins of Lame Mage Productions. The premise is that you get together with some of your friends to create the history of an imaginary/alternate world. This can be an alternate history of our world, the history of your D&D campaign world, or the future history of your Dune/Star Wars mash-up. Whatever world that your groups wants to create, you can.

The first thing you do is decide what kind of world you want, as a group. As I said, it could be anything. Then you create an arc of history to create boundaries (a start point and end point) and a theme for your group to play within. Are you going to play out the rise and fall of an interstellar empire? You start with the humble beginnings and end with the burning of the Imperial Home World (or whatever). These are choices that the group makes together so they can be whatever you want them to be.

Our arc yesterday was about the rise and fall of a group of magical sky-cities. Our start point was The Scourging of the Land. Our end point was The Scourging of the Sky. Apparently we were feeling a bit dark yesterday.

Once you’ve got your arc sussed out, the group creates the Palette. This is where you get to decide whether specific elements will or won’t appear in the game. Do you not want psionics in to exist within your interstellar empire? Put it in the No column of the palette. Do you want Brain Slugs? Put it in the Yes column. The Yes column tells you what things your fellow players want to see in the game, the No column tells you what they don’t wantto  (and therefore won’t) appear in the game. You could probably negotiate over the Palette, just so long as everyone is happy.

Our Palette had [1]dragon-riders and [2]griffin cavalry in the Yes column, and [1]psionics, [2]mundane means of reaching the ground (stairs, ladders, ropes, etc.), [3]gunpowder, and [4]breaking the bond between Dragons and Elves in the No column. (That last one was added mid-game, which I’m not sure is by the book, but we were cool with it. That’s the way we roll.)

Once you’re done with set-up, it’s time to make history.

One player starts the game as the Lens. This player gets to decide on the Focus for her turn. The Focus is a theme that everything that you make up that turn is about. Then, the Lens starts everything off by creating two nested elements within the timeline.

Britt started us off with an Event called The Befriending of Dragonkind (which she placed under “The Scourging of the Land” Period) and, because she was the Lens, a Scene in which the king of the Elves and the king of the Dragons meet to discuss terms on a mountain top. The Question for this scene was, “What are the conditions of the bargain?” Pretty cool, yet open-ended. We did some roleplaying (which, I admit, it took me a moment to switch gears) and determined the fate of the Elves and the Dragons.

This is pretty much how the game goes. One person decides on a Focus, everybody creates a new Period, Event, or Scene and then, maybe, there is some roleplaying. (The roleplaying is optional. If someone prefers, they can just author a scene, too.)

We ended up playing out just one round, each of us taking a turn being the Lens. We were somewhat constrained by the size of our table (because you write down all of the Periods, Events, Scenes, and the Palette on index cards the game can really start to take up space) and the fact that Britt and I want to teach Peter how to play Race for the Galaxy, a really awesome Puerto Rico-esque SF themed card game.

In the end, though, we all agreed that [1]Microscope is fun, [2]we want to use to create our next campaign world, and [3]we’re going to play it again soon.

If you have the chance, give Microscope a play.



Leave a Comment
  1. Dan / Jul 15 2009 12:17 pm

    Sounds interesting. If only I played board games these days…

  2. James / Jul 16 2009 7:28 am

    Wow sounds like fun. I am sad that I missed it. I know Megan really wanted to play as well. Hopefully we will be able to talk everyone into another game soon.

  3. J.A. Dettman / Jul 17 2009 5:57 am

    @Dan – It’s not a board game, it’s a story-game, Dan. I think you’d like it.

    @James – I don’t think you’ll have any difficulty getting us to play again, James. It was fun and definitely interesting.

  4. Britt / Jul 17 2009 9:01 am

    Yeah, Dan, it’s a story-game, Dan. Really, I expect more of a game snob.


    It was quite a bit of fun. I think Dan, James and Meghan would all enjoy it.

    (My reCAPTCHA: “Shirley bottling.” “Yes, I am bottling, and don’t call me Shirley.”)

  5. Dan / Jul 19 2009 3:37 pm

    How foolish of me to have confused the two. I would certainly enjoy it I am sure. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to play boardgames these days. Or story games. It’s just that I have a lack of people with whom to play them.
    However, at Origins I was informed that Loony Labs is located in College Park and that they have some kind of game nights fairly regularly. So I should really check that out.


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