So, I snagged Griftlands during the EGS Sale, and I have to say, the way the game conveys this stuff is really interesting. I think there are some issues with the game I have. The combat feels a little too close to Slay the Spire for my taste, which is still plenty of fun but isn’t something to write home about in and of itself. I’m not particularly excited about it being a Rogue-like. The game was originally planned to be some kind of RPG, and I kind of wish they had stayed on that route, even if they continued with the procgen stuff. I think it would have given more opportunities for more interesting storytelling, but who could say.
Regardless of all that, though, the reason I’m bringing Griftlands up is that the conversation system is really interesting, and the way individuals and factions relate is really neat. In early builds, the game was entirely based on RNG rolls for success or failure, and I think this system is far, far more interesting and has way more potential.
The way conversation works in Griftlands is card based. Your goal is to reduce the opposing player’s Resolve to zero. Some of the cards are kind of what you would expect (attacking, defending), but where I think it gets interesting is the arguments. By playing cards, you can deploy “arguments”, which float around your character and continue to affect the conversation as it continues. Meanwhile, you can also attack your opponent’s arguments to remove them from play. Then, you can even “incept” arguments on your opponent.
For contrast, Signs of the Sojourner is an upcoming game that tries to simulate conversation with cards. But it’s a very different angle. Immediately, you can tell that Signs of the Sojourner is trying to convey connection and communication with its mechanics.
And looking at this game, it hit me: Griftlands isn’t a game about conversation. It’s about negotiation. The cards are literally called “Negotiation cards”. You tear down arguments, you puff up your chest, you rant and rave. It’s not a game about communicating ideas or connecting through conversation, it’s about negotiating your needs against others’.
And I feel like this is extrapolated outside of negotiation scenes, too. Let me tell you a short anecdote.
On my first day in Murder Bay, I made a friend. His name is Rug, a good dude. He’s a kradeshi chef who I did a favor for back at Fssh’s bar. Every once in a while, he offers me a new noodle dish he’s been working out, on the house. He’s a good chef, so I’m happy to oblige. (They also give me bonus HP.)
As I continue on my quest, I find myself working with the Admiralty often (basically a cop faction). It’s not what I set out to do. I just kept finding myself around Admiralty who wanted to work with me, and the Spree (a rival faction) didn’t have much of an interest in working with me at that point.
One day, an Admiralty officer, Lasquo, asks me to tag along with them as they collect taxes. I was looking for a job, and figured I might as well strengthen the bonds I had. But the Admiralty is no stranger to corruption. And Lasquo seems rotten. I pretty soon realize that this isn’t taxation, this is a shakedown.
Laquo’s first target? My good friend Rug. He greets me with a smile, happy to see me, but I have to tell him this is strictly business. Lasquo tells him to pay up. Rug says he’s already paid. Lasquo is stubborn, and I don’t wanna argue with her on this (her resolve is quite high on this issue). I argue with Rug, convince him to just pay up. I figured he’d appreciate this more than a hefty beating. He yields his cash reluctantly, and we go on our way, shaking down more poor grifters and old friends. Lasquo and I split the winnings and pocket our ill-gotten gains (Rug wasn’t lying when he said he already paid his taxes), telling the officer above us that we were robbed on the way back.
My pockets are heavier, sure, but I can’t say I’m much happier. Guilt is biting at my heels. I circle back to Rug, hoping I can make it up to him, buy him a drink and talk things over. He narrows his eyes and tells me to back off. “I didn’t know you were doing shakedowns these days, Sal.” He won’t even accept a drink on the house from me. He’s done with me. No more conversations at the bar, no more hot noodles by the fire, no more Rug.
All of this was the product of the negotiation of my own interests. Not only of money or of wellbeing but of social capital and relationships, too. Griftlands portrays a very specific culture for Murder Bay. It’s a fitting name; it’s cutthroat. Relationships have a lot to do with material consequences. Who you work with ends up changing what’s in your bag and who you pick fights with. The result is a network of friendships and rivalries that define the kind of life you see in Murder Bay. That network is disrupted and changed on an hour to hour basis. Your choices are meaningful. Who do I want to side with? Who do I want to stick by? Can I rely on them? What’s in it for me?
I put a pocket full of cash and an in with an Admiralty officer over my good friend Rug and his noodles. Was that a good choice? I’m not sure it was. And I think that’s the point.