50 Games in 50 Weeks: Freemarket

Jul 25 2011

Freemarket cover

Freemarket © 2009 Luke Crane and Jared Sorensen

As part of RyvenCon, the online gaming con, I played a quick game of Freemarket.

Freemarket’s a fascinating system and world, which I honestly had trouble wrapping my brain around. That’s not a complaint or a suggestion that either system or world are deficient; they’re just sufficiently unusual for me to feel lost on mechanics and their consequences.

Freemarket is set on a space station, in a post-capital society of plenty. Everyone has enough food and clothing. Matter printers can regenerate your body, so you can’t die. There’s no money. You create things, and if people like what you create, they give you “flow,” which can be redeemed for access to more space and certain station resources.

So, you can set up a coffee shop in your tiny living space, and make coffee for people, and do it all for free. You can operate that for years without having to spend money (there isn’t any). But hopefully, folks will appreciate your coffee by donating flow, which you can trade in for a larger space somewhere else on the station.

Back to mechanics. Character creation took about 2 hours. Characters have genelines (a family that suggests their tendencies), experiences (skills), interfaces (internal tech), technologies (physical possessions), short-term memories, long-term memories, a generation, and more. It’s overwhelming.

At the end, though, you have a well-defined personality for your character. Moreover, the character creation process defines the group that the PCs are part of (the “MRCZ”), so once you’re done creating your characters, you know why they’re all together, and you have some hooks for the story.

The conflict resolution mechanic involves cards, risking tokens, using cards based on tags on your abilities, and a poker-style decision to “call.”

Each player begins with a couple of cards (based on their abilities), then draws cards each turn. Some cards give you points towards winning the conflict, while others can be used to sabotage or otherwise affect others’ cards. At any time after the first round, anyone can “call,” which ends the conflict. The cards laid out determine the winner(s), loser(s), and effects of the conflict.

This allows for a more nuanced conclusion to a conflict than “I won,” at the expense of a much more abstract, weird process. I couldn’t map the drawing of two cards on my turn to anything in the actual conflict. Granted, that’s probably part of the point.

The system and the setting fit together like a glove, and I love what I saw, but it’s clear this is not a pick-up game. I think I’d have enjoyed it more if I’d played a couple of sessions around a physical table. This is nothing against our wonderful GM Dan; this was caused by Freemarket’s fundamental weirdness as both a system and a setting.

Thanks to Dan Clery the GM, and fellow players Ryven Cedrylle and Adam Minnie.

Purchase Freemarket. More information on the game.

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