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A Song of Tales Designer's Diary: Origins

A few years ago, now I was at a wedding of a close friend and I ended up in a conversation with a stranger at my table centering on two things, that I was a game designer and that I lived near Canterbury. The stranger asked if there were games based on the Canterbury tales, I said that there were, but none that captured its spirit. It was that conversation that lead me to begin designing our latest game, A Song of Tales.

As I said, there are games based on the Canterbury Tales, but they tend to be about moving along the path of pilgrimage, either as a race game or a resource management game of sin and faith. None (that I know of) attempt to create, or re-create the sort of game that the Canterbury Tales is. By which I mean, the Canterbury Tales is a story of a game, or at least a contest, between its characters, they are competing to tell their tales. Now, there have been competitive story telling games in the past, but they all centered on purely adversarial story telling. Which is to say, one player would tell their story, scoring points, until another player wrested story control away from them to start their own telling and score their own points. This has a few issues, primary among them that if anyone actually enjoys the story their friend is telling they are in the unenviable position of needing to stop something fun and interesting in order to score points and win the game. A central idea of any game design for me is to never make stopping the fun how you win. What wins the game and what is fun in the game should always be the same thing. These existing story telling games take a format of ‘No, but’ rather than ‘Yes, and’, breaking the central rule of improvisation. They also go against the flow of the Canterbury tales themselves, where characters interrupt to add to tales before letting them continue, bigger and better than before. Lastly, these existing games often put players in the position of simply sitting back and waiting for their chance to interrupt rather than truly listening to their opponents, which is not how any conversation between friends should work.