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A Cover Is A Promise

There is a sort of meme going on over at Story-Games.com that I find very interesting. The thread is called “When we play the game, it has this cover,” and it’s predicated on the premise that, though a game has a cover that tells you something about it, sometimes when we play, the game experience doesn’t necessarily match what the cover hinted at.

The opening post talks about Vincent Baker’s In A Wicked Age (IAWA), a game meant to create pulp swords & sorcery stories based on the random story generators called Oracles it comes with (read more about IAWA here). Here’s the cover of the game as sold (back and front):

And here’s how the cover of the game looks to the originator of the thread based on his group’s play experience:

I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Back in Master Plan #23, Ryan Macklin interviewed graphic designer Daniel Solis, and they had an entire conversation on the statement that I used as the title of this post, A Cover Is A Promise. Listen to it because it is a fascinating discussion of what covers for games say, or try to/should say, to the customer about what they have in store for them.

Does every game succeed? No, but I don’t think that it is necessarily a fault of the designer either. Some games just support a wide array of play experiences, so each group will see a different cover to the book of their game. That said, I think it is interesting to see how people’s perception of a game is so shaped by the cover, and how that can be a detriment at times based on the play experience the game generates.

It’s not that a game shouldn’t be able to deliver a variety of play experiences, but if the game consistently is delivering a particular kind of play experience which is not the one promised by the cover, then there is a problem with the original design that should be addressed with the cover and it should be changed. (See comments for why the strikethrough.)

Take a look at the Story Games thread then think about your own games. Does your play experience match what the cover of the game promised?

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  1. March 29, 2009 at 7:26 PM

    Agreed. The most annoyed I’ve ever been with a game was when it was billed as one thing and ended up being another (I have an annoying tendency to get thrown into war stories when I create a noncombatant), or when it began as one theme but then dropped into another for the last half hour or so.

  2. March 29, 2009 at 7:49 PM

    That’s always an issue when playing. I myself have fallen prey to it as GM at times, though I’ve learned to save the game, so to speak, here and there.

  3. March 29, 2009 at 11:15 PM

    Oooh. Thanks for linking to that thread. It’s an interesting twist to the axiom. “Our Experience Is This Cover” or something to that effect. Huh!

    It also now occurs to me that all art in a game book is, to some degree, a promise as well. I imagine they’re more specific promises than the cover though.

  4. March 29, 2009 at 11:21 PM

    It’s not that a game shouldn’t be able to deliver a variety of play experiences, but if the game consistently is delivering a particular kind of play experience which is not the one promised by the cover, then there is a problem with the original design that should be addressed.

    Or the design is great, and the problem is with the cover.

  5. March 29, 2009 at 11:24 PM

    @Ryan – You know, reading back my statement, that’s actually what I meant to say, not the opposite. Fixing it. Thanks.

  6. Mick Bradley
    March 30, 2009 at 1:35 PM

    I think it’s way cool you made an explicit connection between that SG thread and the convo Ryan and Daniel had in MP-23. I missed that until you connected the dots.

  7. March 30, 2009 at 3:39 PM

    @Mick – It was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw where the thread was going.

    By now it is slowly devolving into a meme with people posting alternate covers, which is a bummer because what I really found fascinating was reading how the game was different for a group based on the cover they gave it.

  1. March 29, 2009 at 7:12 PM

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