[Kickstarter] Dog Eat Dog: a game of imperialism and assimilation in the Pacific Islands

edited March 2012 in Directed Promotion
So, after about seven years, I'm finally attempting to publish Dog Eat Dog, a story game about the colonization of the Pacific. I wrote this sucker a little after I'd encountered indie roleplaying games for the first time, in the form of Dogs in the Vineyard, and after I'd started thinking seriously about race, colonialism, and what my mother went through by leaving behind everybody she knew to give her kids the chance to grow up in America.

In Dog Eat Dog, the group works together to describe the Natives and the Occupation of a hypothetical Pacific island. One player takes the role of the Occupation, while everybody else plays Natives, and together you play through the story of the occupation. Through individual scenes you define the relationship between the two parties, as expressed in a set of Rules, and your decisions to follow or break these Rules govern whether you gain or lose tokens, and, ultimately, whether you live or die and whether the occupation succeeds or fails. The game usually takes about half an hour to forty-five minutes to play.

Here are some quotes from some of the people who helped playtest it:

"Dog Eat Dog isn't a game about how colonialism steals resources; it's a game about how colonialism steals identities. Who you were, who you are, and who you can be? That's what gets stolen, and Dog Eat Dog is about how much of that you can hold on to." -- Chris Chinn, Deeper In The Game

"Dog Eat Dog is an extraordinary breakout game....It presents colonialism stripped bare of any fantasy, without apologies or excuses. Playing it is an emotional roller coaster of power and suffering, presenting both the unconscionable consequences of a dysfunctional society and the violent consequences of breakdown." -- Ben Lehman, Polaris

"This game is fun. Really, really fun. Thanks to the pervasiveness of institutional racism(!) and systematic oppression in science fiction, this game is a great fit for sociological sci-fi in a rules-light, super accessible package." -- Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat, elizabethsampat.com

"Dog Eat Dog shook me to the bones. The first time I played it, it hit me so hard that I couldn't sleep that night....It's a game, an experience, a work of theory and a work of art. It's also a lot of fun. It should be required playing for activists, thinkers, politicians, marginalized communities, students, and dreamers." -- Jennifer Flowers, International Development Project Designer

Dog Eat Dog is a roleplaying game, but it's designed to be easy to play and quick to learn, perfect for new players. It contains many exciting design innovations from 2005, which have since been reinvented and popularized by other designers. You can use it to play the Philippine-American War, the christianization of Lithuania, the establishment of the Peace Corps, the creation of the Uruk-hai by Saruman, or the marriage of Ike and Tina Turner. I'm very proud of it, and I'd like to be able to publish it and put it out there for people to see. If you'd like to help me do that, please check out my Kickstarter.

Thanks!
--liam
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Comments

  • Elizabeth shared a few additional details about the game's structure on Twitter, when I and a couple other people asked about it:
    "[Dog Eat Dog] is a wonderfully-tight game with turn-based scene framing and distributed responsibilities. The token economy is a subversion of Fanmail, where you are rewarded for facsimiles of assimilation. It's small, tight, compelling as hell."
    I'm so excited about this. I think the Kickstarter campaign page could benefit from more details about gameplay - which is what started me asking about it on Twitter.
  • Posted By: McdaldnoI'm so excited about this. I think the Kickstarter campaign page could benefit from more details about gameplay - which is what started me asking about it on Twitter.
    Thanks, Joe! I appreciate your support, and I take your point. I've added some points to the Kickstarter FAQ about how the game generally works and what mechanics I think are most compelling. If anybody has any questions about the game, I'm happy to answer them here or on the Kickstarter page.
  • This looks like a really interesting game. And I enjoyed the video, very thoughtful. Although I don't dispute the comment about including more about gameplay, that stuff is more interesting to me for a game like this, knowing the philosophical and emotional place the game is coming from.

    Best of luck. You seem to be going strong so far.
  • Great video. And I loved the bit in the bio about being committed not to eat the dog..
  • Liam, it's been a long time since a game had me so excited. I'm aching to play it.
    Is there any chance for backers to get some kind of advance copy? Text-only would be fine. (Seriously, I'm constantly coming back to the KS page and here to see if there is MORE COOL STUFF TO KNOW)
  • Liam, I never watch Kickstarter videos, but I watched yours and it kicks so much ass.
  • edited March 2012
    yeah, I'm so excited about this game. Gaming about colonialism and its consequences? That will possibly teach you about the world and yourself? IN AN HOUR? So beyond sold. I'm interviewing Liam about it soon, will let you all know when that drops.
  • +1 on excitement. I am hoping that this game and Heads of State may signal the beginning of some sort of trend towards transparently political games. Or at least to me hearing more about the games like that that are already out there!
  • Posted By: Ice Cream Emperormay signal the beginning of some sort of trend towards transparently political games. Or at least to me hearing more about the games like that that are already out there!
    Mars Colony, my brother…
  • Thanks, folks! I appreciate all your kind words and all of the support you guys are giving me. I'm going to have to come up with some stretch goals pretty quickly!
  • Posted By: Ben RobbinsPosted By: Ice Cream Emperormay signal the beginning of some sort of trend towards transparently political games. Or at least to me hearing more about the games like that that are already out there!
    Mars Colony, my brother…

    And: Microscope, Kingdom, The Serpent's Tooth
  • Hey Liam, can you talk about why the game part of this is good?

    I totally get the pedagogical part of it and that's really exciting to me, but what about the play part? What has been your process for developing, testing and refining it as a game?
  • I played an early version of this five years ago at End Game in Oakland, that I reported on here:

    End Game July 2007 MiniCon Report

    It definitely felt a little rough at the time, but the interesting thing was what the rules we came up with meant, and judging each other based on those rules.
  • I played it as recently as last week, and found it to be tight, entertaining, polished and meaningful. I was concerned beforehand that the turn-based scene framing and token economy would feel stale in comparison to what is considered "cutting edge" these days, but the Rules you create in play and the overt power dynamics really create something new and compelling.

    I'm genuinely impressed by the interplay between the Occupation— one player controls it— and the Natives. Even though one player has a ton of fictional power and plays something diametrically opposed to the others, it doesn't FEEL like a GMed game— it feels like distributed responsibilities. I guess part of that is the amount of autonomy you discover you have as a Native is more than you would initially think, which is thematically brilliant.

    I'm planning further reflection on my blog about my DED experiences, but I think it is a really action-packed, narration-heavy quick game that is worth your time and money to experience.
  • Posted By: ElizabethI'm genuinely impressed by the interplay between the Occupation— one player controls it— and the Natives. Even though one player has a ton of fictional power and plays something diametrically opposed to the others, it doesn't FEEL like a GMed game— it feels like distributed responsibilities.
    That is something I'd like to hear more about. I find that it's all-too-easy to mistake "things that look like GMs" for GMs, so I'd like to hear how it's different. Or I can wait until it comes out and read the rules ;)
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarHey Liam, can you talk about why the game part of this is good?

    I totally get the pedagogical part of it and that's really exciting to me, but what about the play part? What has been your process for developing, testing and refining it as a game?
    Hey, Jason, thanks for your interest!

    That's a good question. I wrote the original document more or less in one piece, after a brief Dogs in the Vineyard campaign, a lot of hours spent reading blogs and forums, and a perusal of My Life with Master, which is probably the closest kin to Dog Eat Dog. My testing process has followed a more or less consistent cycle of one or two games with friends, with minor tweaks to clean things up, followed by a larger game with strangers to see how the game handles with people who aren't necessarily all on the same page. When possible I don't play in these games but rather just watch and see what people don't understand or what they gloss over and fill in with social system. The first such game was a memorable evening at Kueicon with a few game designers. After these games I generally have better feedback with which to revise, then repeat the cycle. I've gone through maybe a dozen such playtest sessions, including the one John Kim posted about, where I tried my best to not give advice on rules interpretations at all. (The most recent one, obviously, was the session about the Green Lanterns that I mention in the video -- I'll see if I can get Elizabeth to talk more about that, since she was in the game.) Overall, I find that the game is received very well -- people don't always immediately grasp the subtleties of the token economy, but after the first Judgement there's almost a visible click as they understand what the pressures of the game are. Most of my work has gone towards clarifying processes like the Rule creation, which John rightly notes was unclear and had me wrestling with phrasing and explanations for a long time.

    Obviously, though, the best people to speak to about whether the game is well-structured are the people who've played it, so I can only refer you to the quotes I have from the people who've tried it -- Chris Chinn, Elizabeth Sampat, Ben Lehman, and others.

    edit: Oh, hey, Elizabeth already posted.
  • Thanks Liam, that's good to hear. I read the endorsements but you're the best guy to speak to process, which is what I was interested in.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Ben RobbinsThat is something I'd like to hear more about. I find that it's all-too-easy to mistake "things that look like GMs" for GMs, so I'd like to hear how it's different. Or I can wait until it comes out and read the rules ;)
    While drafting posts to put on gaming forums, I briefly entertained the sentence "Dog Eat Dog has a GM, unless you hate GMs, in which case it has no GM."

    Uh, more seriously, in my author's notes I hope to talk more about this, but one of my goals with writing the game was to recontextualize the position of GM, which is already a part of a social structure with a power disparity -- so you might as well make it work for you if you're going to talk about unequal social structures. Partly I do this by giving the Occupation goals of their own to accomplish, and rules of their own to contend with -- the Occupation has a lot of narrative power, but the token economy doesn't bend to anybody. In some ways this isn't that different from Vincent Baker's efforts to systematize the MC in Apocalypse World -- just because somebody has fiat power doesn't mean you can't restrict their actions with a narrative structure, and doing so gives them the chance to have fun in "the same way" that the Natives do.
  • Liam, I could be wrong since I've never played the Occupation, but it feels to me like the only main power the Occupation has is that they can show up in any scene at any time, but you can only force your way into a scene if you're the Native framing it otherwise.

    Other than that, it seems kind of like he has the same amount of power as the person who volunteers to run the Monopoly bank.
  • So, having not read the rules or nothing, can you attenuate the power disparity? Can you fine tune from velvet revolution to Moro uprising? Or is that something that emerges from in-game choices?
  • Posted By: ElizabethLiam, I could be wrong since I've never played the Occupation, but it feels to me like the only main power the Occupation has is that they can show up in any scene at any time, but you can only force your way into a scene if you're the Native framing it otherwise.

    Other than that, it seems kind of like he has the same amount of power as the person who volunteers to run the Monopoly bank.
    The Occupation has a ton of power in conflicts -- they can always win if they're willing to. So the best way for the Natives to handle the Occupation is to avoid direct confrontation or keep it to a level that the Occupation doesn't feel like stomping on. Of course, if the Occupation realizes that, they will just do their best to drive the Natives into direct confrontations. This is why we were all so surprised that Josh didn't have any of us shot in that one scene -- our game didn't have any conflicts as a result. I definitely did not expect to survive the game, much less without suffering from the war OR assimilating.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarSo, having not read the rules or nothing, can you attenuate the power disparity? Can you fine tune from velvet revolution to Moro uprising? Or is that something that emerges from in-game choices?
    I'm not sure I perfectly understand your question, but the Natives definitely have a route they can follow to temporarily seize some narrative and conflict power away from the Occupation. It's called running Amok, and it tends not to turn out that well, but it works for a while!
  • Jason: In a sense the extent of the power disparity emerges from in-game choices, in that the extent to which the Occupation DOES interfere with and control the lives of the Natives depends on a) which conflicts, and how often, they decide to escalate and involve themselves in and b) what rules they set for the natives. But the Occupation always CAN interfere and overrule every conflict, or set rules that are as harsh and disruptive as it pleases - it's only the personal whims of the Occupation player which might lead him to be merciful. (Although non-merciful Occupations will tend to cause more natives to run Amok, therefore resulting in a certain amount of pushback (and lots of death) but not really a long term weakening of the power disparity, as Liam notes.)
  • Writing up a report of the game I played yesterday night.

    I'm stuck on a sentence and I really don't know how to go on from it. It says, "Mikros and Doran both died".
  • Backed it and gave it a shout out here on my blog.

    GL! :)

    Peace,

    -Troy
  • Ok, so I tried to make a short comment on the game, but I really couldn't - so I had to write a full blog post about it.
  • Posted By: giullinaOk, so I tried to make a short comment on the game, but I really couldn't - so I had towrite a full blog post about it.
    Wow. That's an incredible post, Giulia. I especially love the ending, where none of you have chips left to affect the fate of the island -- that's intense stuff. Thanks so much for playing the game and writing about it.

    So, after just three days we've reached our original goal! Thanks to everybody here and elsewhere in the community for your outpouring of support. I'm excited that you folks are interested in my project, and I look forward to putting it in your hands.

    The next goal is at $5,000 -- if we reach this amount, all the supporters will receive ASOCENA, a book of brief scenarios for playing specific settings or stories with Dog Eat Dog. Elizabeth and Shreyas Sampat, Joshua Hall-Bachner, Dev Purkasthaya, and hopefully other authors will be contributing to this book. Keep telling your friends -- we still have twenty-nine days to go!

    --liam
  • Thanks for the kind words, Liam - it was an intense game and I wasn't really sure how to convey it in writing. I'm glad to know that somehow it went through.

    Yesterday we played a 6-players game and there were some very interesting gender dynamics (both among characters and players). I'll report on that too!
  • My Kickstarter proceeds apace!

    I'm still hoping to get to that $5000 and make Asocena. Let's keep it moving! To whet your appetite, Elizabeth Sampat is working on a scenario which I'm pretty excited about. I'm not going to reveal anything about it, except that it might involve both hunger and games. MIGHT.
  • IT'S NOT A SCENARIO IT IS A HACK
  • I skipped the video, just skimmed the text and saw Elizabeth's quote and that was enough for me to kick it. I've been on the lookout for the game like this.
  • The video is actually worth watching for this one, Jogesh. (I usually skip them too).
  • Thanks for the reminder, Anarchangel. I meant to go and do that after seeing all the praise here, but forgot. I just did and am glad I did. Really great discussion. Now I'm seriously considering kicking in more.
  • Does anyone know of games that look at assimilation from the opposite direction? Of a minority group voluntarily moving into an area controlled by a culturally different majority, and trying to work out their place in it?
  • You could look at the situation in Rwanda for inspiration in this regard. It's not pretty.
  • Well, I was thinking about people immigrating into first world countries for work opportunities or as refugees actually. How to succeed in the new environment that you've chosen, versus keeping your cultural identity from where you came from.
  • edited April 2012

    Stephanie, that is this game too. You have to do 0 changes to make it work, except probably for the "run amok" rule.

    I say this speaking as an assimilated person of color. Choosing to assimilate is buying into the idea that some other culture is superior to your own people and abandoning them for the outsiders. That is a well-supported strategy in Dog Eat Dog.

  • Posted By: StephaniePeggDoes anyone know of games that look at assimilation from the opposite direction? Of a minority group voluntarily moving into an area controlled by a culturally different majority, and trying to work out their place in it?
    Yeah, Dog Eat Dog would work for that with nearly no changes. One of the guest authors for Asocena suggested he was going to write a scenario about immigration, in fact.
  • @shreyas,pigeon: Thanks. All I know about the game so far is from the Kickstarter page and some talk on here, so I was making some assumptions about how it works.

    I suppose... if you're an immigrant, the fail condition isn't You Run Amok, it's You Go Home, or even You Try Some Other Country, and that's the lived experience of people I know who've moved to the country where I live or headed off on their overseas experience. And the win condition of the absorbing population isn't obliterating all points of cultural difference, it's hybridising and forming it's own unique thing that takes advantage of the strong points of its multiple source cultures. Anyway, I'm really interested in seeing the game when it comes out.
  • $4,700!

    (Well, okay, $4698.02. I'm counting it.)

    Only $300 more to Asocena! Guest authors, sharpen your pens! It's gonna happen!
  • edited April 2012
    I actually sat down to play the game with some friends this weekend and had an awesome time. Here's my Actual Play notes:

    Actual Play Notes: Asaali and the Dynasts

    It was a really great session, and I'm honored that Liam let me write up how it went before the actual game has been released.
  • Posted By: MarkTI actually sat down to play the game with some friends this weekend and had an awesome time. Here's my Actual Play notes:

    Actual Play Notes: Asaali and the Dynasts

    It was a really great session, and I'm honored that Liam let me write up how it went before the actual game has been released.
    Thanks for giving it a shot, Mark! I'm glad you enjoyed it so much. I've linked your Actual Play report, as well as an exciting art preview, in my most recent Kickstarter update.

    $4,800 down, $200 to go! I have a good feeling about this.
  • Looks like you made it. Congratulations!
  • He sure did. Can't wait to see what scenarios your all-star lineup comes up with!
  • So, 6 days left, what's the next stretch goal?
  • Posted By: AnarchangelSo, 6 days left, what's the next stretch goal?
    I'm glad you asked!

    The next stretch goal, at $6,000, is a hack by Elizabeth Sampat which lets you play The Hunger Games using Dog Eat Dog. It's called May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor, and I'm really excited about it. If we get to six grand, it'll be released as a free PDF that requires Dog Eat Dog to play. Just in time for the holidays! Assuming by "the holidays" you mean Memorial Day.

    Thanks, everybody, for getting me to $5,000! We've still got six days to go, so let's not stop now!
  • To be more specific:

    May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor isn't about the cultural revolution, it's about literally the Hunger Games themselves, and the psychological struggles, small rebellions and hard choices you make when you are trying to survive the full weight of an oppressive regime that is, at that very moment, trying to steal your life and your sense of self, all at once.
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