Left Coast


Left Coast

Steve Hickey Games

A poet I know went off Philip K Dick the moment he realised the novels weren’t entirely made up. Another friend – a critic – deplores him for grassing up Tom Disch to the FBI. I, like many others, admire his speed-freak refusal to suborn his creativity to the collective. But I wouldn’t have trusted him to give me a lift to the shops.

Now there’s a story game based on his life. It’s lovely. Only Jane P Richards, it seems, is Phil in disguise – an analogue for the twin sister who died in the womb and cropped up in Dick’s novels as the dark-eyed girl who led so many of his protagonists astray. A Jungian might say she was his anima.

One of us is Jane, the Author; another, the Weird, which is to say the strange conspiracy invading her life; the rest of us play supporting characters – boyfriends, employers, crazy Californian whack-jobs, sex-cultists and ne’er-do-wells.

We’re going to MESS HER UP.

It’s okay. She has five dice when the game begins. Every time she scores a 5 or 6 on a D6 it counts as a success. Two successes and the scene we’re playing ends well for her. One success and it’s a sort-of ‘yeah, but…’ partial success. No successes? You guessed it: dial ‘F’ for freaky.

And the thing is, she loses a die every scene. Her life is gonna get Weird, no matter what she does. Pink neon beams. Ganymedean Slime Mould. The radio in the kitchen saying: “You’re really a pain, Jane.”

The other great piece of the system is the double-knock on the table to end scenes. If I could change one thing about story-gaming – there isn’t much, I love its circularity – it would be the propensity of players to shut one another down. Left Coast encourages you to ramble on a bit. It compares the feel of the narratives it creates to an indie movie: breathe easy, give people some space. If one person knocks, they think the scene should end. The moment the second person knocks, the scene is over.

It’s the best of both worlds: a collective edit with creative freedom for each and every player. Aggressive knocking could, of course, occur – but at least it’s negotiable without breaking the flow of the story.

A number of people are credited with assisting the game’s editing process: Dan Maruschak, Manu, Zed Lopez, Simon Carryer, Mike Sands, Ivan Towlson, Avery Mcdaldno, Ron Edwards and Craig Hargraves.

They’ve done a wonderful job. It reads like Dream Askew: very approachable with a pick up ‘n play quality. Playing blind would be no problem at all. Steve Hickey – the game’s designer – says the game has been ten years in development. It doesn’t show. To work that hard on something and for it to turn out so breezy and fun and deep… well, I’m envious.

I used to rip off Philip K Dick for my Mage: The Ascension scenarios. I don’t need to anymore. The Weird has won.

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