This game markets itself as a game about language and how it dies, and that is a subject that has always deeply interested me . When I saw the way this game sought to capture groups of outsiders who had a common language and a common feeling of hostility or isolation with the outside world, I must admit I was very interested, so much so that I actually helped fund this book on kickstarter, which ended up getting my name in small print towards the end of the book in the last list that is part of the acknowledgements and thanks. I think this game was definitely worth my own investment, and although it is not easy to find a group of like-minded language nerds to play the game with, this is certainly a game I would like to play. As part of my investment I ended up with an online copy of the rules and cards and so that is something that could happen anytime I could get them printed out. I hope this will not be too big of a task for me to manage, but I would definitely enjoy hearing about how others enjoy the game as well.
Part of what makes this game exciting is the setup. The rules of the game are pretty simple and straightforward and involve a lot of story-telling as the players sketch out the details of the scenario they choose. All of the scenarios contain a few common elements, such as the players being a group of people in isolation who develop a common language out of a common experience, all of them being in some sort of opposition to the world around them, either a hostile physical world or social world or both, with a division of the game into three ages: the early development of the language out of a group of outsiders or misfits, the maturation of the language in the face of threat/opportunity, and the dying out of the language as a result of unsuccessful resistance to assimilation, a hostile environment, or invasion by more powerful enemies. The game has a decidedly downbeat tone, as almost all of the endings for almost all of the potential scenarios: a martian outpost, a survivalist outpost, misfit machines left behind by people, a thieves’ cant, or any other number of scenarios created by early players of the game. In all cases there are three acts with a legacy at the end that points to some sort of influence of the language even after it is no longer alive.
Despite the downbeat tone of the game, though, there are at least a couple of elements of the game (and its rulebook) that have some clear relation with the real world and a sense of optimism. For one, the book involves some insights about the nature of sounds and how languages change over time from linguists. Some of the most enjoyable aspects of the rulebook include the nuts and bolts of how words are formed from roots with various suffixes and affixes attached to them, or how new words are formed out of the combination of words or parts of words together, or how words can have different meanings depending on the different subgroups who use them. The other aspect of this game that has particular relevance is the way that the game’s creators encourage people to help preserve real languages and the worldviews and mindsets they represent, in the knowledge that when languages are lost that ways of viewing the world often perish as well, and we are somehow the poorer for having fewer ways to understand and interpret our experience. If this game makes at least a few people more sensitive to the importance of language in shaping the way that we think, it will likely be viewed as a success.
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