More stories from Happy Birthday, Robot! (Plus advice from frequent players)


Today brings you three tales of Happy Birthday, Robot! courtesy of very creative players ranging in ages from single-digits up to grown-ups. (Also some advice about recurring mature-ish themes in actual play.) First on the lineup, a story from Petrie's, a store with a strong focus on community-building around gaming. Together with three kids, they wrote two great stories.
Happy Birthday, Robot!
Tiny Robot plays with balloons... Oh, happy Robot!
Robot’s friend plays balloon-catch and tag.
The dog ran and ripped the balloons which scared Robot and his friend the goofy-looking professor.
“Aah!” said Robot and he blew out the flower cake’s candles.
It was time to open the sparkly presents.
Robot happily played with his shiny new toys and said proudly “Happy Birthday to me!”
Robot’s doggy kept trying to take Robot’s toys with another happy robot.
The End
It's cute when you can tell a player just wanted to use an extra word. That's when you get stuff like "flower cake." You can read the second story on the Petrie's blog post. It features moms throwing bullies in storm drains. Seriously.

Jonathan C. Dietrich and his family posted their very first story just tonight!
Happy Birthday Robot!
Robot went outside to smell the air and it smelled bad.
He and Dad loved the bad air.
Robot's friends hated the air and thought that they would miss his
party.
Robot started crying because he would miss his friends.
Robot's friends came back to the party to smell the air but fainted.
Robot didn't care.
Robot ate cake.
The End.
Another new story comes from Seth Ben-Ezra, as played at Go Play Peoria. It's a slightly darker tale, thanks to early input from one of the boys playing. You can read it on Seth's blog. I am very curious about how often players write Robot crying or introduce mature-ish themes. Though Seth says he still had fun, I asked him how he'd approach the game in the future.
"If I were to do it over again (which I probably will), I'd communicate the "cute" and "happy" expectation up front. And then, if we got into the game and someone was going against that, I could point at it and yell. ;-)"
Heh. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. ;) I've read plenty of stories told with the HBR system that wouldn't have made it into a book intended for little kids. Those stories were told with the expectation of something a little more mature in tone. Few people have more experience telling grown-up Robot stories than Marc Majcher and his cohort of improv friends. He offers this advice from the last time he played HBR.
"It veered off into super crazytown in the middle, but we got it back to sweet-and-funny-land eventually. In my experience, it sometimes comes from people who are trying to "win" the game by screwing up other peoples' contributions."
Definitely seen that happen, too. That attitude usually passes with some strong peer encouragement or just more frequent play. Because HBR is intended to be an introductory storytelling game, I didn't offer a thorough structure for setting "lines and veils" or narrative precedents. HBR's strengths are that it plays pretty quickly and any discordant contribution is limited to just a few words. Plus, that discordance is half the fun of the game. (It's also part of why I think HBR would make a great engine for an Axe Cop story game.)

One of my favorite stories was the one where a player (a grown adult, mind you) had only two words to contribute. He looked at the story. It was early in the game and the sentence thus far was "Robot searched around the forest for his ____ ___." Whatever Robot was searching for would play a prominent role in the story going forward. He would set the tone for the rest of the game. He leaned forward and scribbled his contribution. He held up the paper, announcing his masterpiece.
Robot searched around the forest for his butt medicine.
Mature themes for mature players. Yup.

» Petrie's Family Games
» Jonathan C. Dietrich's blog
» Seth Ben-Ezra's Blog: A Dark and Quiet Room
» Go Play Peoria
» Art by Rin Aiello
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.