Designed by Tova Näslund and Published by Pelgrane Press as part of the 7 Wonders Anthology Available at the Pelgrane Press site.
Pelgrane Press has recently published a fantastic anthology of story games, titled “Seven Wonders”. I will be preparing short reviews of all seven games within the book as part of my “Indie Gems” series. The fourth of these is a game by Tova Näslund, titled “Acceptable Losses”.
The introduction begins as follows.
Acceptable Losses is a freeform story game of family drama set in a dystopian near future, where people live in a self-sustaining building, large enough to holds hundreds of thousands of people. The social classes are represented by which floor you live on – the higher in the building you live, the higher your social class. Your social status can change depending on how hard you work; an “employee of the month” is announced at the end of each month, and is allowed to move up a floor, while a family that doesn’t fill their work quota is sent down a floor to be replaced.
This game takes place in the slums of the lower floors of the building, where a community of maintenance workers are based. It looks at the daily lives of those maintenance workers, and how they either sacrifice their own hopes and ambition of the good of their families, or break away to pursue their own best interests.
This game describes itself as a freeform story game, and the description seems apt. Acceptable Losses feels, to me, as a curious hybrid of Montsegeur 1244 and Archipelago. Like Monsegeur 1244, it describes a rich web of dramatic relationships between pregenerated characters. Like Archipelago, it uses a set of prepared cards for resolution, with each card saying something such as “Yes, and” or “No, but”. This combination of rich relationships, and simple dramatic resolution, pairs together in a beautiful way.
I think that the elegance of the game cannot be overstated. The mechanics for the game are relatively minimal, with a simple rules to handle any conflict which arises. Instead, the designer focussed their efforts toward crafting a compelling situation, rife with possibilities and drama. The game is set in a corporate archology, barely self-sufficient in the dystopian world. The crushing poverty and class-based oppression bear down on your characters, who are torn between their following dreams and caring for their family.
The game offers premade lead characters from the same family, a cast of minor characters, and evocative locations to enable interesting story moments. You define these locations be answering a series of leading questions, which help you define the world your characters live in. A question about the police station is “What do the holding cells look like, and what happens to those who are contained there?” Similar questions exist for the bar, the harsh exterior walls of the archology, the upper floors, and the character’s communal apartment. Each fact anchors the setting in the collective minds of the players, helping them understand their character’s lives.
Acceptable Losses is a clever game and well-crafted work of art. It is worth your attention.