Rich Stories, Simple Games
October 16, 2014 12:21 AM   Subscribe

Crusader Kings II is a lot of fun, but I don't care about the statistics or tactics in the game as much as the random events and the way the game handles fallout from them. Is there anything with a similar story-generating vibe where the interaction is simpler?

There are many games that are known for having stories kind of fall out of them. Crusader Kings II and Dwarf Fortress are particularly known for this, but both are also well known for having complicated interfaces and being hard to get into.

Dwarf Fortress has a really detailed physical simulation so I'm willing to believe there's an element of irreducible complexity there, but the intrigue and political relations in Crusader Kings mostly seem like random events based on a bunch of numbers that boil down to a How Much I Like You score, which is made more interesting by feedback.

I've tried to find games that use a similar model and I'm coming up empty, except for maybe King of Dragon Pass. That is definitely in the right direction, but it again has more of an exposed statistical model going on than I care about - I don't want to try to optimize the acreage to use for cows versus wheat, I want to make decisions at a higher level of abstraction. It doesn't have to be multiple choice, but something more like Diplomacy than Axis and Allies would be welcome.
posted by 23 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I know exactly what you're talking about - I've clocked close to 300 hours in CK2 myself and I love the narratives that come out of it. I've also looked for other games that scratch that itch, and I think you might enjoy Seven Grand Steps. Mechanically, it plays like a Victorian slot machine - a kind of mechanical board game that's quite easy to get to grips with. But growing from that base is a kind of storytelling mechanic which follows a family's fortunes moving up (and potentially down) in social status throughout prehistory and reacting to social change and technological development.

It's a flawed gem but absolutely worth your time. I love it.
posted by Ted Maul at 3:21 AM on October 16, 2014

If you are willing to go outside of videogames, try the boardgame Tales of the Arabian Nights. It is the random-story-generator boiled down to its essentials. I recommend playing with 2-3 people and adjusting the endgame goals to make the game shorter.

The stories in TotAN are balanced to vary between "a logical response to what happened" to "way out there." For example: my boyfriend's career as a vicious criminal was brought to an end when he was attacked a wizard, was transmogrified into something edible. and eaten by a giant chicken.

Unfortunately, the closest videogame I know is XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which isn't a random story-generator so much as providing you with such a compelling setting plus characters (your grunts) who are so blank-slate that narratives just arise. So-and-so is terrified of Mutons and regularly breaks under the pressure, but in the one mission where her buddy was down she held it together and saved the team. Yada yada yada.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:29 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you tried any of the CKII mods? There's a Game of Thrones one that's well done and very faithful to the books.

There are also the rest of the grand strategy games in the line that start with CKII, from Paradox Games. After CK, there's Europa Universalis, then Victoria, then Hearts of Iron. You can import your game save from each into the next.
posted by mkultra at 5:05 AM on October 16, 2014

You might look into the work of Emily Short. A lot of the games she makes are all about making a narrative that emerges over time based on your behavior and choices, especially Blood and Laurels and Galatea.

This is a little bit further afield and less traditionally "game-like," but it still might be of interest: Aaron Reed's 18 Cadence is a fun and absorbing interactive work for creating stories from pre-existing snippets.
posted by aparrish at 6:21 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Galatea is a great choice. And here's a kind of outside suggestion: Nested by Orteil. It's kind of a.... multiverse simulator in nested list form. Not a game, more of a toy - but there's surprising potential for narrative emergence. It's also, simply, very cool.
posted by Ted Maul at 6:41 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

FTL has some amazing "stories" that emerge...

The invaders teleported over to my own ship and began massacring the crew. Desperate, I tried to vent the atmosphere into space while keeping my crew in an oxygenated area. But the attackers broke in, destroyed the door controls (jamming all the doors and airlocks open), and killed all but one of my crew before suffocating. The last, lone crewman worked as fast as he could to repair first the door controls (to re-seal the airlocks), and then the oxygen machine (to replenish the atmosphere) but ultimately couldn't get the O2 machine back online before he ran out of air. He died alone, cold, and freezing in an airless spaceship.

...but it very heavily mechanics-driven and I wouldn't really define it in the same class as something like DF which has much more "crazy stuff just happens on its own".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:53 AM on October 16, 2014

Prison Architect.
posted by empath at 8:54 AM on October 16, 2014

Disclaimer: I have not actually played this game. But The Yawhg has been on my Steam wishlight for a while and is a sort of choose your own adventure thing that might scratch that itch.
posted by selfnoise at 8:56 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think that text adventures and similar choose your own adventure games like The Yawhg are what you are looking for. I think what you want is what the creators of Far Cry 4 recently called something like an 'anecdote generation engine' -- a game with many simulated systems that interact in unpredictable ways that enable you to tell stories about the outcome that are unique to your experience rather than being pushed down a scripted pathway.

Prison Architect and FTL and other Dwarf Fortress derivatives, Minecraft/Terarria, Far Cry 3, The Sims, Spelunky and other roguelikes and roguelike-likes, and survival games like Day Z are what you want to look out for.
posted by empath at 9:35 AM on October 16, 2014

I have heard good things about The Last Federation, which was designed with this sort of thing in mind - gameplay that generates cool stories, much in the vein of CK2.
posted by NMcCoy at 9:54 AM on October 16, 2014

Also. Fallen London and Sunless Sea. And Rimworld.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:27 AM on October 16, 2014

It might be too action oriented for your taste, but you might be interested in the new game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Read the first few paragraphs of this review and its description of the game's nemesis system and see if it sounds like something you'd like.
posted by cali59 at 7:54 PM on October 16, 2014

I think a game just came out that'll work for you: the incredibly depressing This War of Mine.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:21 PM on December 1, 2014

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