Introducing the Meta Scenario
Sounds like a pretty kool title, right?! Well it is, so you are right. Recently, I have been playing games that have required something a little more than a normal game. These are sometimes games I have played before and sometimes they are completely new games. In these games, for whatever reason, the normal ways of thinking about a scenario and puzzling out a solution are thrown to the wind. Then the real solution reveals itself in a creative but sometimes frustrating way. Creative because it makes sense but frustrating because it doesn’t necessarily follow any set of logic that would be gleaned from the rules. These are what I am calling meta scenarios. Meaning a scenario in which the answer lies outside the normal bounds of what we see as a game and requires you to understand some aspects of gaming as a hobby.
The first game I played where this happened was T.I.M.E. Stories. In this game players are playing time travelers sent all over the place in time and space to stop time anomalies from happening. I am not going to spend to much time on it here because I have previously written an article on this game. However, one of my joys and frustrations with the game was the the rule book didn’t necessarily prepare you for the puzzles you needed to solve. The second game that I experienced this with was the new Betrayal at the House on the Hill expansions: Widow’s Walk.
Betray at the House on the Hill is one of the greatest horror games ever made, not because it is super scary or anything but because it is basically a make your own B-movie rules set. Each player starts the game as an investigator and after a certain number of things have happened a traitor is revealed and the scenario in which the traitor has trapped the investigators in is determined by various card that are drawn before this stage of the game. It is great for new players and has a huge amount of replayability due to the way the traitor scenario (or Haunt) is determined. So as far as the game goes each Haunt in the base game has very similar paradigms it follow (barring a few unique ones). The traitor is trying to do something and the investigators need to find a way to survive/escape/kill the traitor. The expansion Haunts are… well…different.
This next section may have some spoilers but I tried to keep it light and ambiguous so be warned. The first one we hit was very interesting as the investigators were not allow to talk. That is all I am going to mention but suffice it to say that the solution of this problem lied in a meta scenario. Typically there are certain actions that can be taken with items in the game. You can trade them, drop them, lose them, or steal them. In this scenario we had to do something the rule had not told us we could do with items but it also never said we couldn’t do it. Albeit we would have been fine if we remember how Buffy and Riley solved the problem, we didn’t realize we could do this to win the game, which lead to us being simultaneously frustrated and awed with the scenario as a whole. The game had not prepared us to think outside the box like this (and if you know what haunt I am talking about pun definitely intended).
At this point I am not sure how I feel about game designers throwing player for loops like this. I am not even sure which game has more of an excuse to do it. While T.I.M.E. Stories is new enough that we can adapt, it is safer to assume an expansion like Widow’s Walk would do something like this to change up a very popular long running game. But neither of the rule books prepare you for this kind of logical system. Part of me really likes that designers are taking these kind of scenarios and flipping them on their heads, so not even seasoned gamers can know what to expect. But at the same time most of these scenarios are a one time thing, so if you don’t know what to do you kind of waste that experience.
What do you all think of these meta scenarios popping up in our gaming. Do you agree they are fun and frustrating or do you have a different take? Let me know in the comments and I will see you next time!