Katherine Cross writing for Boing Boing’s new gaming blog Offword about Microscope, “a fractal role-playing game of epic histories” created by Ben Robbins.
The three concentric circles that form Microscope’s logo are perhaps the simplest description of the game. You begin by bookending the history you wish to explore, defining the limits between, say, cavepeople and interstellar colonisation, or something more focused like the founding of a religion and its ultimate schism. Once set, players take turns being “lenses” who set the focus for a given round of play, say a specific era in that history or a specific point in time, person, or event. During this round, every other player takes turns adding something to the setting and its history. The main rule is that they cannot contradict anything already established.
The game emphasizes the crisp spontaneity that emerges when time has no meaning for you. You can, at your leisure, wander through history filling in the blanks as you go. You can nuke a city and then travel back 5000 years to paint in all its little details for the rest of the evening, or travel forward in time to when the city is rebuilt. Only when the lens zooms in on a specific moment in time where character interaction is involved does everyone come together to roleplay a given scene. Here the microscope lens is at maximum magnification: You take a historical moment, say the assassination of an empress, and act it out in detail, explaining what happened and why.
The game forces you to answer that crucial question, why, again and again, and this is where it chisels away at tropes.
Fantasy worlds that break history’s back