More Microscope


Haven’t played it, but I did take the step of buying the game, so I’ll do something Microscope-y at some point (I hope. Despite all my best intentions, I’ve never been able to do anything with The Riddle of Steel, so maybe nothing will happen with this, either.)

A number of the reviews have talked about the world-building aspects of Microscope. Reviewers who generally like this kind of thing seem to like Microscope. (Some new reviews and discussion are at Story Games.

I had a conversation with Thor about the idea of incorporating some kind of mapping in with the history. The short of it: he talked me out of it (and for some good reasons). Much of it comes down to managing the technical problem of keeping maps.

We’ve used historical volumes as references for games before, and we’re well familiar with the kind of book that has 20 different maps of the same area showing the ebb and flow of borders or migrations or the like over time.

But since the game can move back and forth in time, if it is late in the game when it is suddenly now established that there is a range of Mountains out in the Western Plains, then there’s a problem. Now you have to add a feature to all the maps, since those are going to be timeless. But what about a pass through those mountains that was discovered only many years after the mountains were first discovered? What about a railroad that was now cut through? And when you get to the case of a small trading post that was set up a few miles away from an outpost fort that later came to be an important regional center before the wells dried up and it faded back to being little more than a ghost town, then you have your work cut out for you. It’s not impossible, but it’s awkward and unappealing.


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5 Responses to “More Microscope”

  1. lame mage » Microscope Reviews: May Roundup Says:

    […] Roger Thorm on Microscope and Maps — very smart observation about why you can’t draw maps of your world as you play… […]

  2. Confanity Says:

    I want to disagree… your problem is that you’re thinking of the maps as being controlled in a temporal fashion that has already been specifically discarded by the narrative aspect; why not discard it for the graphical aspect as well? In other words, if the story is told by taking snapshots at different resolutions from different angles, why not draw your maps at different resolutions from different angles as well?

    It wouldn’t even make for a more complicated system. Why not give players the ability to add a visual element on their turn instead of a Period, Event, or Scene? One could be allowed to draw a map of an area, or a portrait of a character, etc. Time constraints would force these to be rather sketchy, of course, and they’d still have to obey the Focus and not contradict anything previously created. And it would rely to some extent on artistic ability —

    — but the game depends on narrative ability anyway, and improv acting; this would just allow the use of a different area of expertise and thus make the game more accessible to less-verbal people. And it would allow for an added element of creativity by setting up Scenes (etc.) that you might not have otherwise thought of. Why does the Duke only have four fingers on his left hand? Why is there a circular lake in the middle of the Old Empire? Who controls the only pass between the two Republics during the Time of Knives? Why does the White Tower have no windows, while the Red Tower has many?

  3. rthorm Says:

    I am not discounting the use of a visual aid of one sort or another; that’s not my concern here.

    I had been talking about building up a map over time, doing in space what Microscope does in history. A new event is easy enough to accommodate by putting a new card in between the card for what happened before and the card for what happened after. But, with spaces changing over time, it would be necessary to keep multiple copies of maps, each one for each period in question. And, if you have 15-20 maps, and suddenly you need to add a forest in the west, doing that for all those copies gets cumbersome real quick.

    It *could* be done, but I don’t think it would work well enough to warrant trying.

    That said, I don’t see any reason not to look at questions triggered by visual cues. If it’s helpful to pull an image in, and then riff off the elements in it, that seems fine by me. That’s not unlike some tarot readings, (or see “The Usual Suspects“). There are lots of ways to generate ideas, and having more options available is good. I wouldn’t rule out anything along those lines. It’s the now-then-later that gets out of control (or else becomes constraining) with introducing the fixity of a map; that was the point I was trying to make.

  4. The Wilderness in Microscope « Rodger Thorm testblog Says:

    […] My previous posts on: Microscope|More Microscope […]

  5. ars ludi » Microscope Reviews: May Roundup Says:

    […] Roger Thorm on Microscope and Maps — very smart observation about why you can’t draw maps of your world as you play… […]

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