Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In Stay Hungry, Greg Porter has come up with a game that is trying to help us all not eat each other during a bad winter.
Solid great guy move, Greg!
History in my tabletop games? Ehhh…
I get it. Sneaking history lessons into other forms of media appeals to a slightly more narrow audience than many other topics. It can, and will, be an immediate turnoff for some people. Ten years ago even, in my life, it probably would have been an immediate dis-qualifier.
With that said, there have been many cases where History and Tabletop Games have been pretty comfortable bedfellows. In terms of history, wars are oftentimes the “sexier” type of content to cover – and most of them translate very well into the medium of gaming.
Stepping outside of that safe-zone of war games, however, takes a lot of guts – and also requires compelling gameplay to have any chance of success. The game that comes up a lot in this department is the excellent Freedom – The Underground Railroad Game. Doubling-down on unpopular topics, these brave designers went for not only a History game, but also one dealing with the topic of American Slavery. It turned out to be quite successful, though, and is currently in the top 300 games ranked on BGG.
Greg Porter has also decided to make a foray into History-based games, and set his in another period that doesn’t always get a lot of love in gaming circles: the age of American Pioneers.
Now obviously, no discussion about gaming and pioneers would be complete without mentioning Oregon Trail. For many of us, this was one of our first exposures to gaming period – and is also the quintessential History Education Game.
It’s also a great segue point, because Stay Hungry could probably be described as Oregon Trail Straight To Hell.
Not your Father’s Dysentery
Here’s the thing I quickly learned about the Donner Party after looking at Stay Hungry: Things did not go well.
One quick glance at the cards makes it very apparent that we’re dealing with some gruesome stuff here. We’ve got Grave Robbing, Murder, and Shame all in attendance. What is going on with the Donner party???
While everyone else was off on the Oregon Trail having a generally okay time with occasional deaths, fording rivers, and getting to shoot forests full of animals and only carry 2000 lbs. of meat back, the Donner Party took a riskier route and got stuck in an insane amount of snow.
This wasn’t a small group, either. Quite a few folks all banded together in a wagon train ended up stuck in the snowy mountains for months. The snow ended up burying what little food and the pack/hauling animals they had buried to eat later. This left a lot of hungry mouths to feed, and not much to eat. Except each other.
Cannibalism + History = A Recipe for Success.
The concept of a negative sum game fits perfectly here. Similar to the sad tale from history, there is a limited amount of resources for everyone to have in the game, with the goal being surviving until the end. In the end, there are multiple ways to act in a cutthroat manner for your own survival, but the player who is the most cutthroat will also lose because of their actions.
This seems to create a nice tightrope in the middle to walk, knowing that survival is important – but being able to live with yourself afterwards just as much.
Taking the Road Less Traveled.
Stay Hungry was a Kickstarter project that I actually ran across before the designer contacted me. The artwork stood out, and the topic had that interesting mix of history and an unknown, but compelling, topic that I hadn’t learned about before.
I proceeded to spend two hours following that first view of the Kickstarter page and read as much as I could about the tragic story of what happened to the settlers in the Donner party. Truly fascinating stuff, and well worth looking into. Because of how instantly-compelling the material was, I can also recommend checking the Kickstarter out for yourself to see what’s going on. The Kickstarter for Stay Hungry is winding down and getting close to the point of funding.