What seems like an age ago, I backed a kickstarter campaign for the Machine of Death card game. For those unfamiliar with the Machine of Death, it’s a simple premise.
The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn’t give you the date and it didn’t give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words DROWNED or CANCER or OLD AGE or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN. It let people know how they were going to die. [Machine of Death - About](http://machineofdeath.net/about)
That premise spawned two books of short stories and artwork and, finally, this card game!
The game is quite simple and is based more around collaborative story-telling than being competitive with each other. I’ve played it in two different ‘modes’, the classic assassination mode where you collaboratively take on contracts from a mission book (or make up targets of your own) and then proceed to assassinate them and a mode the rules bill as ‘Psychopath mode’, which plays a lot like Cards Against Humanity except with less wrong and more murder.
The classic mode felt a little complex at first, what with setting up different decks of cards and figuring out the order of things. However, once we got to grips with it, the game was a lot of fun. Essentially, play would revolve around us selecting a target and their predicted death, after which we would then draw 3 items from our pool of cards with which we had to achieve the murder. Then, we up-turned the timer and rushed to use each item. Whether we succeeded or not was based on dice rolls against target numbers which we decided earlier, based on our pre-agreed plan of attack. If we succeeded in using all our items, job done! The extra fun came in when we failed and our pre-made plan went to shit. We can to draw a card, work out how to achieve our goals with the new item, and then carry on.
We had to do all this in 90 seconds.
Naturally, this results in crazy, madcap rushes and poorly made hacks on the fly. Any remaining time on the clock was for dealing with the aftermath of the murder and trying to gain bonus cards by achieving aftermath goals, which would make life easier for future missions.
In a few games we ran out of cards and failed, in others we never completed a mission in time and failed too, though winning our way through a set of 4 targets from the mission book was a great feeling. We tried our hand at ‘endurance mode’, which basically was continuing on as long as possible, rather than ending the game on a win at 4 murders. So far our record is 6.
Psychopath mode was incredible and I really enjoyed it. The basic premise of the game is that each player is a psycho with 5 hostages, each with a ‘death card’. Each round, a psycho grabs a random item (one of the item cards) and uses that to go on a murder spree. The other players put forward one of their hostages as a likely candidate to be killed by that weapon in a way that satisfies their death card and essentially lobby the killer as to why their hostage should be killed. The killer chooses their favourite and awards the player their item card. The next player becomes the killer and everyone draws death cards back up to a hand of five. The first to 5 item cards wins.
We had some great, ridiculous stories grow out of this game, especially when we decided to try and be as abstract as possible with the item cards. We had one situation where the killer was using an ‘artifact’ to murder people and defined that as a JPEG artifact. I played mannequin as my death card and made the following pitch:
You send the target to a particular place on google maps where they see a strange rendering artifact on the map. They scroll in, closer, curious. Closer, the artifact begins to form into a corrupted shape, than a humanoid as they scroll and zoom deeper. Soon it's clear it's a mannequin but as they scroll closer they see a face, their own on the impossibly contorted figure, screaming it's eternal torment from the abyss of the screen into their very souls, sending them spiralling into endless horror until their heart gives out and they die.
Yeah, I won that round.
All in all, I’ve really enjoyed playing the game so far ad am looking forward to playing it some more! If you enjoy improv and collaborative games and have a dark sense of humour (murder-ha-ha!) then I highly recommend it!