Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Panel Stripping

Published following a successful Kickstarter campaignComic Turns is a storytelling game which uses comic Panels as a means to create and build stories. Published by Jokercrow, it is designed to be played by between one and six players, aged seven and up, in twenty minutes or less. The game comes with a fifty-two card deck of comic Panels, two cards detailing the ways in which Comic Turns can be played, and a blank card. Each comic Panel card shows the one Panel, done in dark blue and white line, but without any words. Not being language dependent means that play is not dependent on the player’s reading ability or native language (the game only comes with the rules in English, but they are available in other languages). The images on the cards do though, often indicate emotions and feelings, but these are typically open to interpretation—which is the point of Comic Turns. The Panels also use the same cast of three characters—one male, two female—enabling further continuity between Panels as a story develops.

Comic Turns comes with two means of warm-up in preparation to play and three different means to play. In ‘Story Structures’ and ‘More Story Structures’, the players collaborate to create a three Panel comic strip story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and then a six Panel comic strip story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. These warm-up exercises really only need to be done once or twice with a group to get an idea of how Comic Turns works, and then perhaps again with new players, but being collaborative, either is a quick exercise before going onto one of the three other games described in the rules. These are ‘Connections’, ‘What If?’, and ‘Parallel Lives’. Both ‘Connections’ and ‘What If?’can be played as collaborative or solo games, but ‘Parallel Lives’ is competitive and cannot be played as a solo game.

In ‘Connections’, each player receives five cards. Then the dealer draws a card from the deck and places it on the table, describing what is going in the Panel, who is present, and so on. Then the players take it in turns to add another Panel after the first, describing what is going in the Panel, who is present, and so on. This continues until everyone has added two Panels to the story and the ‘Connections’ comes to an end, the aim being to create a satisfying story together.

In ‘What If?’ twelve cards are dealt out equally between the players. The dealer draws another three and places the Panels in whatever order she likes, describing what is going on in each Panel, who is present, and so on, in the process telling a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then the players take turns to replace a Panel in this story with a Panel from their own hands, and in doing so, altering the story and the events affecting the characters within the Panels. Play continues until everyone has used all of their cards or everyone agrees that the ultimate story has been created. 

Lastly, in ‘Parallel Lives’, each player receives seven cards. The dealer draws two cards and places them on the table with space between them for three cards. These represent the beginning and the end of a story. Each player uses three of his cards to create a story using the beginning and the end already on the table. This need not be done in turn order, but as soon as each player is ready. Once everyone has told their story, they have a chance to give a recap it before everyone votes on what they think is the best story. The winning player receives one card as a victory token. Then another round is played, and another, until either an agreed number of rounds have been played or the deck has been exhausted.

For example in the top story Dave tells the story of Jenny, Alison, and Michael. It opens with an interrogation by a policeman, the questioned party explaining how she and Michael were to be married, but when she thought Alison was interfering and attempting to split them, she got angry and confronted Michael. In a jealous rage she stabbed Michael and killed him! Now they will never be together as they had planned.
Louise’s story begins with Roger being angry at Bob for his lack of focus that week because sales figures were down. Bob did not care though, because he was going on holiday somewhere warm and sunny, where he could dance all night, meet the girl of his dreams, and perhaps sail away with her on a cruise...
Physically, Comic Turns is nicely, but simply done. The cards are clearly drawn, expressive, but open to interpretation. They are not just random illustrations. They share the same cast of characters and it would be very easy to assemble them in multiple strips of Panels to tell a story. In Comic Turns turns though, the player do not have the luxury of an endless supply of cards, but instead must create or develop a story with limited means, thus pushing them to make the connections, exercise their imaginations, and so on. The use of the same cast though, means that there is emphasis upon the relationships between them as part of the storytelling exercise.

Comic Turns is not really a game in the sense of rolling dice, playing cards, attempting to beat everyone else, and so on. It is though a creative exercise for the imagination, the Panels on the cards pushing the players to think about how a story can be told using just images—and a limited number of images—each time. Often they will find themselves forced to think how they can move the story onwards from one unconnected Panel to another and then another. Of course, there is luck element in that sometimes the Panels a player will have to use do not fit, but again, that should be a further spur to the player’s imagination.

Another aspect of Comic Turns is that its format is simple enough to allow you to come up with your own rules or game using the Panels. ‘Connections’, ‘What If?’, and ‘Parallel Lives’ are all simple enough, but there is scope here for the budding game designer or experienced one to come up with something of his own. Indeed, the publisher has included other rules on its website. That said, the Panels could easily be used with any number of Indy-style roleplaying games, such as Dog Eared Designs Primetime Adventures, or indeed used as an aid to creative writing

Comic Turns is not dissimilar to Rory’s Story Cubes in feeling more like a tool or a toy to encourage players to exercise both their imagination, their creativity, and their storytelling. There is though, more of structure to Comic Turns than Rory’s Story Cubes—both in the rules and in the images in the Panels—and so is not quite as freeform. Nevertheless, there is potential in Comic Turns for it to be used as an educational tool

Overall, Comic Turns is a charming set of cards or Panels, which works as both a means to explore how stories are told in comic form and as means to actually tell the stories. Both imaginative and an aid to the imagination.

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