|Bullwinkle and Rocky Role Playing Party Game|
TSR, Inc., 1988
There are many reasons why we keep this particular game separated from the others. The Bullwinkle and Rocky Role Playing Party Game just doesn't sit well with the rest of the collection. The garish orange box and goofy contents clash with all of the other games in the collection. But once you're talking about Rocky and Bullwinkle, a certain amount of goofiness is inevitable, from bad imitations of the dialogue ("Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!" "That trick never works!") to the truly hideous puns of the show. Not only that, but the game components should be a hint that this game isn't serious. Even John Tynes's Puppetland, a game specfically about puppets, doesn't actually include puppets, and it would be very jarring if it did. But hand puppets are appropriate for the Bullwinkle and Rocky Role Playing Party Game. One wonders if the insistance on using the full title in the rules is because it lends a certain zaniness, or because it's a way to separate the game from the television show, and a certain legal department demanded it?
For those of you who don't already know, Rocky and Bullwinkle were the heroes of a cartoon series shown on television starting in 1959. It long ago acheived cult status. The animation was extremely crude, but the true pleasure of the program was found in the earth shattering puns and verbal wit. While Rocky and Bullwinkle headlined the program, each show consisted of a Rocky and Bullwinkle story, broken into three episodes, interrupted by other tales: Fractured Fairy Tales, Aesop and Son, Mr. Peabody's Improbable History, or Dudley Do-Right of the Canadian Mounties. There are DVDs of the original episodes floating around. (Check your local public library.) A couple of live action movies were made in the 1990s, and they pretty much sank without comment.
The show was very much in the style of old-fashioned movie serials, with numerous short episodes, each ending in a cliffhanger that promised certain doom for the heroes, only to have an improbable escape at the beginning of the next episode. The primary setting was a cartoon version of the cold war world from the early 1960s. Bullwinkle and Rocky were our heroes; Boris and Natasha were the villains. Other characters were added as needed. The heroes were foolish and easily conned; the villains were foreign spies, masters of disguise and all around rotters. But the main point of the show was the humor. Every episode was designed to allow the characters and narrator to make jokes and puns. With a variety of sub-settings (the Canadian backwoods, fairy tales, history) the writers could set their jokes anywhere.
The BRPG was broken down into three sub-games: the Narration Game, the Everybody Can Do Something Game, and the Graduate Game. While the Narration Game was a story-telling game, not an RPG, the Everybody Can Do Something Game was definitely an RPG: players took the role of characters in a game world, and they spoke for their characters.
Physically, the rule booklets were rather flimsy, on thinner paper than TSR normally used. Perhaps this could be justified by the cost of the other game components. The box was a full "bookcase" size, matching the quality and dimensions of bookcase wargame boxes of the era, and sturdier than the boxes of most other TSR products. The cards were sturdy and could stand up to use. The spinners were on good cardstock, and the diplomas were heavy paper stock. The rulebooks were copiously illustrated with cartoons of the characters. The rules were written in a jokey style appropriate to the show. There were three ways to play the game, each requiring more creativity and, well, role playing.
The Narration Game
Players chose a story from the stories booklet. There were six stories each from Bullwinkle and Rocky and Dudley Do-Right and quick descriptions of how to create stories for the other cartoons: Aesop and Son, Peabody's Improbable History, and Fractured Fairy Tales. Each story in the booklet was organized into sections: Who's in it, the story so far, the ending, the goals (separate for good guys and bad guys), and some great ideas (idea seeds for the players). One player read The Story So Far and The Ending out loud to the group. The cards were shuffled, and five were dealt to each player. The cards depicted minor characters, places, items, and events. Players then took turns. Each player narrated a piece of the story and played a card, working their card into the story. Players were given multiple opportunities to swap their cards for new ones in the deck. When everybody had only one card left, everybody was supposed to play their card to the middle of the table. The first player to put their last card down got to end the story, using their card. Properly, stories should end as described in the story booklet, and the player was obligated to come up with the worst pun they could. Diplomas were awarded all around.
The Everybody Can Do Something Game
This was the role playing part of the game, built on the narration game. The players chose a story, drew a hand of cards (discarding cards they don't like, drawing new ones to replace them), and chose a narrator. This time every player chose a character. (While it is recommended that players chose characters appropriate to the story, they could choose any characterfor example, Dudley Do-Right in an Aesop and Son fable.) Players set up their character stand up, with the player serving as narrator also taking the narrator microphone. Players were encouraged to use their hand puppet. These played no part in the game, but are there to encourage silliness. The Narrator took the part of the referee, organizing the action, and recognizing which player got to act in the scene. Unlike the narration game, players acted for their characters alone, and they could only take a turn if the Narrator let them.
Unlike the narration game, players were not required to play cards. The heart of the Everybody Can Do Something Game were the characters' powers and spinners. Every character had powers on the back of their character stand up: Bullwinkle, for example, has Mighty Moose Muscles, a Personal Prophesying Bunion, The Stomach that Never Forgets, and The Galloping Dumbs. Some of these powers always worked; others must be spun for. (Bullwinkle's only power that needed spinning was The Galloping Dumbs. Anytime he did something requiring thinking, he's had to spin to see if he succeeded.) Spinner results were Yes, No, and believe it or not, On the Line. Spinning on the line usually meant spin again, but not always.
When a player failed, the Narrator announced the consequences. The Narrator was supposed to play a card to see what happened as a result of the failure, and the Narrator role then passed to the left. Player characters could not be killed as a result of a failure, but they could be sent out of the scene, unable to participate directly until the Narrator role passed to somebody else.
Players could choose to fail, but if they wanted to succeed for sure, they had to play a card, as in the narration game, working the card into the plot. Unlike the narration game, the Narrator could have players oppose each other: Bullwinkle and Boris could both grab for the fallen scrootch gun. In this case, both players spun to see who succeeded, or one player may play a card to increase their chance of success. While cards were normally automatic successes, in opposed situations, they could be trumped: while cards automatically beat a power that needed to be spun for, powers that didn't need spinning beat a card. If both players used cards, then they both spun to see who succeeded. This is where an on the line result made a difference: if one player landed on the line, both spun again. If both landed on the line, nothing happened, and the Narrator selected another player to act.
Players were aiming for contradictory goals. There were Good Guy goals and Bad Guy goals. Whichever team made their goal first won. But to make the goal, a player had to play their last card and spin. You always spun for the play of the last card. If they succeeded, the game ended. If they failed, they drew one or more cards at the player's choice, but no more than the number they started the game with, and the game continued.
As for the narration game, at the conclusion of the game, diplomas were given out. But diplomas had a purpose: players could turn in two diplomas to allow a re-spin of their spinner, or turn in five for an automatic success (except not for their last card spin).
The Graduate Game
In the Graduate Game, players could create new characters to play. To choose powers, you spun on five different lists: the Good Stuff List, the Pretty Good Stuff List, the Well I Guess it's Okay List, the Powers Man Was Never Meant to Have List, and the Oh No Do I Have To list. The lists generally gave powers already held by the established characters, and the player spun for each one. Probability dictates that a created character should have a few good powers and a few handicaps, although there is a slim chance of a character having tons of great powers and no flaws, or maybe no powers at all. Players could also make up their own powers, provided the other players agreed. The player then chose a spinner, came up with some background, and drew a goofy picture.
Players could also make up their own stories using the characters...but by now, we're getting into more traditional role playing territory.
Was it a party game? An introduction to role playing? A way to make some money on a popular license? Probably all of the above and then some. The game actually had a few interesting ideas inside the silliness. The rotating Narrator role made the game fast and easy to play, and the cards generated a high level of cartoon style zaniness. The character quotes inside the stand ups helped a player stay in character and maintained the game's mood. On the other hand, it's probably a bit more work to be in character for players if they didn't already know some Rocky and Bullwinkle.
As an introduction to role playing, it wasn't a bad effort. The narration game allowed people to get used to the idea of telling a story in front of a small audience, and the Everybody Can Do Something Game was a nice, simple way to role play. The cards and rotating Narrator role were not only interesting mechanics, but also fun. The Narration game was very similar to Atlas Games's Once Upon a Time, so it was clearly good enough to borrow.
A fast look at the internet shows that this game is considered a real turkey. We suspect that has to do with the intended audience: people who weren't already fans of the show would get little joy from it. It's not that the game is just for insiders; we simply feel that one can't come to appreciate the characters without having been exposed to them. If you're going to introduce this game to non-fans, we suggest a DVD session first.
I bought this game because I liked Rocky and Bullwinkle. I tried the Narration Game once or twice, found it cute, but not much more, so I left it to collect dust on my shelf. I certainly didn't consider it as proper for the Museum: it was too goofy, too garish. But a visitor to the museum asked about it, and it is a rarity, after all. I found my mistake while evaluating it for the Museum: the Narration Game is only the introduction. The Everybody Can Do Something Game is where the real fun seems to be. I bought some DVDs, wrote a new adventure, and I've got my eyes open for a chance to give it a real shot.