The Clockwork Café

The Clockwork Café

The Clockwork Café


When I wrote it, in 2010, The Clockwork Café was my first game in over eight years (in terms of time between first-run dates). This reflects a long break I took from running games and an even longer break I took from writing games rather than anything particular with The Clockwork Café itself. As a game, it had been around as a fairly-well developed idea for at least seven years before I actually got around to writing it. I can remember discussing it on my first trip to Chicago in 2003, when it was under the working title of "Richard Blanc's Viennese Café", a nod to the wonderful "Ricardo's Union Saloon" by Marc Blumberg and Drew Novick. Of course, as a name, it wasn't up to much since very few people would get the reference and it told you very little about the game. Not that The Clockwork Café tells you that much about the game, but at least it's shorter and hopefully more intriguing.

This page explains how the game came to be, provides some of the background to the game's inspiration and setting and gives details of the previous runs.

How it came to be

The Clockwork Café was inspired by, but is in no way a copy of, the wonderful "Ricardo's Union Saloon". It shares some elements of Ricardo's, but is very much its own game. To be honest, it has been so long since I first came up with the idea that I really can't remember what the original inspirations were, other than a general desire to write a game that was more larger-than-life than my typical games.

Writing the game

When I came to write The Clockwork Café, I quickly realised that it would be a fairly complex task. The game has very few rules and mechanics, but it does have very complex plots, with lots of incredible coincidences that require an awful lot of cross-referencing. The good news is that having written the plot document which ties all the plots and coincidences together, writing the character sheets was a doddle (usually I write a short plot outline document and then spend the bulk of my time writing the character sheets).


Compared to my other games, The Clockwork Café is much more over the top in both its background and characters. It draws on my many years of gaming, which serves as an inspiration for much of the non-historical elements of the game, although the specific elements are dredged entirely from my own imagination. While I do not claim that any particular elements are original, they are not specifically or consciously copied from other games/settings.

From a historical stand point, the setting does not set out to be accurate, but at the same time, it is not meant to be deliberately contrary to historical fact (see the Game Page for more details). The main inspiration, in terms of look and feel, is the excellent novel "Under Western Eyes" by Joseph Conrad.

The First Run: Consequences D

The Clockwork Café had its first outing in November 2010 at Consequences D. Even though I say so myself, it had an excellent first run and while there were some teething problems, everything ran pretty much as expected and a good time seemed to be had by most if not all the players.

Given the intensity of the plotting, it is difficult to describe the game in any detail without giving things away. As ever, the main pleasure for me was gained from seeing my characters brought to life by the players and seeing in what wonderful and unexpected directions they took them. The villains were suitably villainous, the heroes pleasingly understated and the costuming superb. A special mention has to go to Nathan Richards, who was a delightfully villainous villain (Nathan, a villain, I hear you gasp; surely not) and to Steve Bassett, who excelled as the evening's host, Richard Blanc. I could go on to single everyone out for a special mention, but that would make for a very long write-up.

The Second Run: Intercon K

The second run was in March 2011 at Intercon K and, if anything, went even better than the first run. We had ironed out some of the wrinkles from the first run and removed many of the bottle-necks which meant that things went very smoothly. Once again it was a pleasure to see how the players brought the characters to life and took them in various unexpected directions.

Costuming was once again amazing, with Matt LeVan excelling himself after my costuming hint ("dress in white"). Dave Clarkson carried on in suitable villianous vein in the role played by Nathan Richards, but two characters stand out for the unexpected directions they took. Kate Bunting, who surprised me by plotting murder (although with hindsight I now understand the motivation) and Pheobe Roberts for curing a character who I didn't realise could be cured!

My thanks also go to Tony Mitton for helping to run the game, along with the long-suffering AJ.

The Third and Fourth Runs: Brit Invasion IV

The third and fourth runs were on a Saturday and Sunday in October 2011 out in Chicago. AJ couldn't make this one, so for the first time ever, I ran one of my games with someone else in place of AJ. Thanks go to Jeannie Whited for filling AJ's shoes (what she filled them with, I don't know, but he's been walking in a very strange manner ever since).

Both runs were excellent and stood out for the radically different paths that they took. As I have said elsewhere, the principle pleasure I take as a writer is in seeing how my players take my characters in directions I never would have contemplated. In one run, the world came very close to being destroyed, while in the other we had what could best be described as a bloodless, socialist revolution.

With two runs to choose from, it becomes almost impossible to single out individual performances without writing endless pages on how brilliant everyone was. However, from the Saturday run, a very special mention must go to Keith Darron for his outstanding ability to sabotage his own game and the good grace with which he did it. Amanda Brown did a very good job as a last minute stand-in in a very challenging role, while Wendy Weaver and Jennifer Laubacher get a prize for confusing the hell out of me for half the game. And, of course, my thanks to Ben Brown for very nearly bringing about the end of the world!

The Sunday run was very different in outcome and feel, but no less fun. Special mentions are even harder, but Quinn was outstanding in her portrayal of something different, while Maggie Peck and Anita Szostak were just evil, particularly to the long-suffering Marc Blumberg. It was also a joy watching Kristen Pierson and Kerry Freedman's verbal duels.

The Fifth Run: Consequences G

After a break of two years, I brought The Clockwork Café back, this time with the help of Matt LeVan and Lise Fracalossi, who both played in the original Intercon K run. This started off as a very challenging run to cast: normally I expect my players to be 50/50 male/female, give or take a few players. However, for the Consequences G run, we had 24 male players and just six female players, making the choice of roles for the female players limited in the extreme!

Fortunately, with the cooperation of the players, I managed to sort the casting out and the run itself was amazing, surpassing my wildest expectations. The ending was particularly impressive, with Ryan Myint, Daniel Taylor and Ian Law coming up with a solution that I had not even begun to conceive of. I love it when my players make so much more from their characters than the simple sum of the parts. While all this was going on, congratulations must go to Jim Ashby and Alison Rider Hill for quietly going about their business of taking over the world while no-one was looking, the first time this has ever happened!

I would also like to give a special mention (and thanks) to Elina Gouliou, who, five minutes into the game, came up to me and said "I hate you". This (trust me) is always a good sign from the player of her character. She then proceeded to repeat this to me at 15 minute intervals until the end of the game.

The Sixth Run: Intercon N

The Clockwork Café was back three months later at Intercon N, where I was reunited with long-time collaborator (sufferer?) AJ Smith. We also had a much more reasonable 17/13 male/female split which made casting a whole lot easier. The game went well and I was particularly impressed with Elisa Ford's emotional rollercoaster playing off Chris Weil, while Matt Ender was a wonderful host in Richard Blanc. Eric Reuss continued a long line of delightfully villainous villains.

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