Zhang’s Journey

Last Saturday I managed to make it to the London Indiemeet for the first time in 6 months and got to run a playtest of the Alternative Histories idea for a follow up to Intrepid.

I knocked together a map the night before based on the journey described in this reddit comment (and this map) which follows a 2nd century BCE Chinese explorer called Zhang Qian. Here is the map after the game…

Zhangs Journey 1

The game started with this introduction to the world:

“Under the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, c. 139 BCE an emissary named Zhang Qian was dispatched along with 99 men (including a non-Chinese guide) to penetrate the military blockade the Xiongnu Empire. The Emperor had sent him to find a long-lost kingdom called Yuezhi that had become nomadic wanderers after the Xiongnu had displaced them from their ancestral homeland, and convince them to aid the Han military in retaking the area.”

Upon which the players each added a function detail about the world (see World Facts on the map). Only one of the three facts really came into play in any significant way but I don’t think that hurt the game at all, they all helped set the tone.

We then also created 5 characters, giving them a name, trait and relationship… 3 from Zhang Qian’s expedition, one from the Xiongnu and the last form the Yuezhi. While creating these characters in advance felt important, a promise of what’s to come, the actual content (name/trait/relationship) felt a little weak, especially when I played Marquis of Ferrara in the next slot which comes with lots of excellent characters you can still make your own. Something needs to be done here.

The game then proceeded to play out 3 scenes at each stage of the journey (as you can see from the map I removed Kangju to improve the pacing) in a fairly standard pick a character, frame, free narration kind of way. Framing scenes did a lot to flesh out the locations on the journey, which was good and I hope to encourage.

Each scene ended when all players had put a card in the middle of the table, pick one at random to get a good/bad ending for the framing character. Kind of like a cross between Intrepid’s crossroads and Fiasco’s black/white dice. It was serviceable and introduced some reasonable twists into the story. I don’t know yet if I want to to be more or less.

All in all we got a decent story with some unexpected twists and interesting characters. The world building was a little shallow and I think the character setup wasn’t as robust as it could have been so I’ll need to work on those before the next playtest. I’ll probably stick with Zhang to see how different two playthroughs of the same scenario can be, but after that I think Napoleon’s march on Russia will be next.

I may have now played a game of it but it still doesn’t have a name (unsurprisingly).

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