I read The Rules for Hearts a few days ago, and let’s just pause for a moment to love the title and cover, shall we?
There are very few ways in which that isn’t the exact cover for Touch that I’ve had in my head, and there are very few ways in which the title isn’t, in fact, better than anything I’ve come up with. Which is perfect, because The Rules for Hearts and is precursor, Empress of the World, are precisely the genre Touch is aiming at.
Specifically, the genre is romantic lesbian high school drama.
Now, the game is actually much more inclusive than that. Characters can also be gay boys (she said, promisingly). They may even be possibly or probably straight. On some level, the gender of the characters is beside the point—on another, of course, I am very much in favor of the game actively working towards queer and non-heteronormative relationships. But in terms of the fiction, the most relevant criterion is the sense of confusion, uncertainty, and a degree of awkward tension tied into each relationship. It is very important that we—the players and audience—very much want the characters to just work everything out and live happily ever after. It is of equal importance that we are just barely prevented from realizing this—as much because the characters don’t really know what they want (and even if we in the audience think we do, we’re probably wrong in some way) as because of any external factors pushing against their relationship.
As far as Touch goes, this means that there must always, always be some flaw in each relationship that’s on the table; this might be written onto the relationship, or it might come out of it through scene dynamics. The flaw might itself be, or be referenced by, another relationship (which is both pleasantly recursive, and would cleverly give us a way to shift scenes around to different characters). There needs to be a level of dynamism in each relationship—the problems need to resolve and change, otherwise we get Dawson’s Creek, rather than Sugar Rush.
And most importantly, nobody should really know exactly what’s going on. Currently, I think I want to get a balance where the players whose characters are participating in the scene set the scene with system interaction, and then don’t interact mechanically at all. The other players at the table interact solely mechanically, playing cards against each other and the scene’s resolution, mechanically annotating the scene being acted out before them. There are some deeply tricky bits there; we’re asking half the players to read the intentions of two and write the scene’s subtext. There’s a lot of room for miscommunication. That’s intentional, of course, but it needs to be calibrated in just the right way so as to keep everyone’s emotions tethered, and ensure that the drama stays fictional.