35/52 New Games: Femten mand (Fifteen Men)

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.

The cover for Femten Mand

Recently, I had the opportunity to play Femten Mand (Fifteen Men), a Danish Fastaval scenario from 2011 by Simon Steen Hansen, Niels Jensen and Anders Troelsen. It’s set in a pirate world reminiscent of The Treasure Island. In the beginning, the crew has just unearthed the treasure chest when someone shoots the captain.

As the game progresses, the titular fifteen men kill off each other on their way to Tortuga. As a player, you have objectives and play your pirate until he gets killed, at which point you get a new pirate. The objectives are randomized and the conflicts are handled with a card mechanic.

In a sense, the game is boardgame-like, with the action proceeding according to the dictates of tokens and cards. However, the world of the game comes alive powerfully in the evocative character descriptions. The portrayal of this series of rogues is great fun. As a player, I found myself trying to get my character killed on purpose because I was looking forward to seeing the next one.

There’s a rule that you can only kill someone a certain way once. The next time, you need to come up with something else. This means that the methods of execution become increasingly outlandish as the game progresses. This makes the game carnivalistic and grotesque as the players get inventive.

Although the game has very clear, streamlined mechanics that strongly control play, I liked they way it constantly promoted player creativity and coming up with fucked up ideas together. Every new scene leads to murder because the players are all already thinking about ways to off each other’s characters. Or their own.

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