Last Wednesday I played Night Forest with the excellent folks at Dames Making Games, here in Toronto, and we had a wonderful time with it! I thought I’d do a quick post about our experience and things I learned from the experience! If you attended, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, I always want to hear them.
First up: playing with candles is wonderful, but they work only under very controlled conditions. In our case, despite everything else being in outer favor, the faint breeze kept blowing them out. Folks spent maybe half the time trying to relight theirs. That said, having a tactile object that requires some care-taking honestly probably helped everyone get past their awkward first instincts and gave hands something to do while cards were mulled over. It was also a great common ground for everyone.
We played in a public park in downtown Toronto, so it was not a private space and we weren’t alone – but all the one-to-one conversations still had an aura of intimacy over them that created some immersion, despite the noise and distractions.
Now for my hacks and edits:
Firstly, I feel very strongly that safety and consent are core to community gaming, and we started our session by getting everyone to submit their hard lines – content they did not want in the game at all. We also gave every player an x-card.
What I call hard lines are from Lines and Veils, though you’ll find similar tools under other names in Microscope and other games. I use the anonymous index card submission method now, and compile a list myself from the players’ cards, so there’s no individual pressure.
Night Forest has a group-reading of the instructions built in, and these also highlight and prioritize player comfort, which is part of why I chose this game for community play.
But back to my hacks: the other thing I came prepared to add, after some reflection and based on what I know of this community, was the loosest setting framework, encouraging folks to extend their storytelling into the far future. This gave folks the option of obvious fiction.
Then as a group we identified an additional thing needed for playing in the small public park – clear body language signals to differentiate between contemplating a new card and being ready to share stories. We also very quickly talked about storytelling: structure and length. This game is immensely hackable – but part of its magic is the huge open spaces the base game leaves for players to explore. I didn’t want to close that off at all if I could avoid it.
Sidenote: Evan Torner was talking about elliptical play the other day on Twitter, and I think it’s a concept that might tie into the huge spaces Night Forest leaves in the larger narrative. Something to mull over if you play it!
So we played with guttering candles and cellphone flashlights and skateboarders around us and folks: it was still so magical!
There was a point when I turned around after telling a story and found 5 ghosts silently listening behind me and it was SPOOKY.
All in all, I highly recommend playing. The cards are beautiful and the art in them is so evocative and surprising; the structure creates a powerful sense of intimacy even in public places; the compartmentalization of the shared experience builds but also prevents consensus. Two spooky thumbs up!