I’m on a study project to improve my understanding of roleplaying games. To this end, I already have two reading projects, A Game Per Year and An Adventure Per Year. This is the third, with the goal of reading or playing 52 games made in the last few years. Originally I considered making this “A New RPG Per Week” and that’s where the number 52 comes from, even though a weekly schedule is probably not within my abilities.
Star Crossed is a two-player roleplaying game where the characters feel drawn to each other yet are kept apart by their circumstances. Romance is at its core but in the form of yearning.
For a boxed release, the basic setup is unusual in the sense that a session lasts for two hours, no prep is necessary and there is no GM. The game feels much more ready-to-play and productized than is typical in the field of roleplaying games.
The mechanics are built around a division of roles between the Lead, who takes initiative, and the Follow, who decides when scenes end. Each has actions they can take in situations prompted by a scene deck. The scenes are extremely vague, for example “close, quiet & alone”.
This means that the game can adapt to many different settings, as long as the basic tension between two characters who are attracted to each other is there. One example that runs through the game is an Empress and her Vizier. Their relationship would be a scandal, yet they cannot help how they feel…
The other example is two male gym buddies. The game obliquely suggests that the problem between them might be that one or both identifies as straight but the text doesn’t say so outright. Indeed, the concept of love in the game is quite courtly, reinforced by the chaste visual style.
The basic emotional tension is modeled with a Jenga tower. As the characters make their moves, the players remove and replace pieces. In a nice touch of emotional design, when you talk in character, you have to touch the tower with your fingers.
Once the tower collapses, the characters can no longer restrain themselves. This is the epilogue scene. Based on how things have progressed so far, they end their courtship in one of different ways. If the tower stays upright and all scenes have been played, the characters never give in to their feelings.
To me, one of the most interesting things about Star Crossed is the nuanced understanding of the Jenga tower and its emotional affordances. There’s even a graph that explains how it should be placed for maximum emotional resonance. (Slightly to the side so it doesn’t block the sightline between the two players.)