Sunday, December 21, 2014

A New Concept (for 1982)

As a lad, your humble host watched General Hospital.  This was during the 'Ice Princess' storyline with its elements of science fiction and espionage.  The soap opera enjoyed unprecedented popularity and – understandably – this popularity carried over into merchandising.  Cardinal Industries obtained the license for GH and published The Game of General Hospital in 1982.

So what does this have to do with old school role-playing games?  Admittedly, not much.  However, the game was marketed as “a role playing board game...”  The back of the box reads, “This new concept incorporates the simplicity of a board game with the freedom of a role playing game.”  It certainly doesn't conform to modern notions of what a role-playing game should be nor did it conform to then current notions of what a role-playing game should be.  Yet it was designed and presented as a role-playing game – or at least something with aspects of a role-playing game.  That brings it under the purview of this blog.  In any event, your humble host fervently hopes that – in this season of good will and charity – you will indulge him as he confronts his inner demons.

On the board, there is a multi-branched track of spaces upon which playing pieces – representing characters – move clockwise.  Spaces (or areas of several adjacent spaces) correspond to exciting locations from the television series; for example, 'Hospital Reception Area' and 'Floating Rib Restaurant'.

The game is intended for two to ten players and this represents one of the problems of the game.  The dynamics of the game require a sizable number of players but its the roll-and- move nature means the game becomes more tedious with more players.  Each player adopts the role of a prominent General Hospital character, of which ten are available.  One side of each 5½" × 5½" character sheet shows attributes; the other side provides a brief character description as well as strategy tips for playing the character.

Attributes include 'Resistance to Romance' and 'Charm'.  Among the characters, Resistance to Romance ranges from eight to ten.  When a character attempts to romance another character, the Resistance to Romance of the target character must be equaled or exceeded on 2d6.  Charm ranges from +1 to +4; three characters have +1, two have +3, and five have +4.  Charm is added to the 2d6 roll in romance attempts.  As one might suspect, 'romance' plays a key role in the game.

The other individuating aspects of characters regard gaining and losing points.  The four categories of point gain/loss are:  Material Gain, Romance, Power, and Reputation.

Material Gain is a measure of money accumulated during the game.  It is presented as “x points per $5,000” with a maximum amount specified.  Heather Webber has “12 pts. per $5,000 (maximum 60 pts.)” while Alan Quartermaine has “10 pts. per $5,000 (maximum 35 pts.).”

Each character gains a certain amount of points per romance with a set maximum number; after that number each additional romance causes a loss of points.  There is also an award for being in a happy marriage at the end of the game.  As an example, Joe Kelly gains 10 points per romance (maximum two romances), –8 points for each additional romance, and 30 points for a happy marriage.

'Power' might be better termed 'social'.  Characters can 'help friends' by giving money, cards, or points (or a combination thereof) without getting anything in return.  One can also help friends by confirming or denying rumors.  Characters can also 'double cross' others by failing to comply with an agreement.  For instance, Jackie Templeton can give money to Robert Scorpio in exchange for denying a rumor.  Scorpio can accept the money but not deny the rumor.  This – not surprisingly – counts as a double cross.  Most characters gain ten points for committing a double cross with a maximum of one or two times and then receive a penalty for committing additional double crosses.  Monica Quartermaine and Heather Webber can commit unlimited double crosses.

Reputation can only cause a loss of points, not a gain.  It is expressed as “–x for every undispelled rumor at the end of the game.”  X ranges from as low as 5 points (Luke Spencer) to 15 points (Amy Vining).

Two characters of opposite gender can participate in a romance under certain conditions.  They must occupy the same location (and no other characters can be present).  Characters can engage in a romance (1) by mutual agreement, (2) if certain Fate Cards are played by one character against another, (3) one character can overcome the other's Resistance to Romance via Charm.  Romances last for three rounds or until the characters marry.  A marriage that lasts until the end of the game is a 'happy marriage'.  A divorce can result from any of three conditions:  (1) a spouse enters into an extra-marital romance, (2) a spouse “lands on the Campus Disco” space, or (3) a 'mental cruelty' or 'cheating on spouse' rumor is applied to a spouse and remains undispelled for three turns (not rounds).  Undispelled rumors that apply to a character at the end of the game apply equally to the character's spouse.  Spouses cannot play, confirm, or deny rumors on/for one another.  The game recommends “an equal number of male and female characters.”

The first character to gain 100 points wins the game.  Since some scoring doesn't occur until the end of the game, there should be a different end-game condition, such as one complete round after the third board of directors meeting.  The character with the most points would win.

The trouble with double crosses is that there is no reason to trust a character who still has points to gain from committing a double cross.  Perhaps a roll should be required when double crossing.  If the roll is successful, the character gains points as usual.  If the roll is failed, the victim gains points from the double crosser.  Perhaps the roll should become more difficult with each attempt.

Rumors are the result of certain Fate Cards.  A character may play a rumor upon another character if he or she gets another character to confirm it.  Rumors can be dispelled with 'evidence' Fate Cards or if two characters other than the victim deny the rumor.  My problem with the rumor mechanic is that rumors randomly come into play via Fate Cards and they are generic – most rumors can be applied to anyone (the exception being marital rumors).

I know you didn't ask, but here is how I would handle it if I went back in time and had nothing better to do than work on game design for Cardinal.  All soap opera characters have skeletons in their closets.  Let's have these represented in the game as 'dirt tokens' – each character has a fixed number of dirt tokens specific to him or her.  At the beginning of the game, one or more dirt tokens for each character is placed in a bag along with some neutral tokens.  On his or her turn, a player may attempt to 'dig up dirt' by paying a sum of money to the bank or by rolling doubles or whatever.  The player selects a token at random from the bag.  If the token is associated with a character, then the player can target that character, either through blackmail or hitting the character with a rumor.  The rumor can only be dispelled through evidence cards or by a majority of characters denying the rumor.  Every round each player adds a token to the bag; either a dirt token for his or her character or a neutral token, the nature of the token is not disclosed to the other players.  At the end of the game, the player takes a penalty for every dirt token he or she hasn't put in the bag.  (Putting a dirt token in the bag is risky, but it reduces the end-game penalty.)

The promise of “the freedom of a role playing game” does not ring true.  Each character is distinct, but play is constrained to opportunities presented by Fate Cards and the board.  A player cannot make his or her own opportunities nor is there a Game Master to facilitate immersion.  There is an optimal strategy for each character that is spelled out on the character sheet; 'playing a role' is reduced to min/maxing scoring opportunities.


  1. Perhaps tangential, but in Boston when I was just getting into punk music but still not quite old enough for clubs, a band called Planet Street released a single called "General Hospital". The tune was catchy and the verses were witty. They were just a local club band that never (I don't think) made it out of Boston.

    They were sued by ABC for $500,000.

    Read the story at,1260115

    You would think this would have been good for publicity, and it was to a point. But I'm not sure the net effect was positive. As I remember it, the legal costs were no joke to them, and I think they broke up soon after. Searching the internet for the completion of their story has as yet yielded nothing.

    1. That sucks. One of the problems with litigation is that deep pockets tend to prevail even when the other side is “in the right.” coughcoughDisneycoughcough Sure, companies have to defend their trademarks but this was satire and was certainly not causing “irreparable damage.” It’s like suing Mad magazine.

      In a better world, the band would have performed on the show (but not the actual General Hospital song, that would be too meta).

  2. Say, I recognize that exterior building shot. That's the Los Angeles County General, a well-known historic hospital. Wasn't the show set in New York?

    Another so-called "role-playing game" of the era is 1984's Cloak & Dagger (based on the movie of the same name with a tie-in video game). Each player has three attributes (Speed, Strength and Agility) that improve with success or degrade with failure. That's about it for "role-playing."

    1. Yes, it is L.A. County General. The show is set in fictional Port Charles, New York, but it is filmed in non-fictional L.A. I remember one of the actors cut me off in traffic once...

      Thanks for the Cloak & Dagger link!

  3. Sounds like fun but is it as good as the Dallas RPG?