Workplace Bully is a two player tabletop role playing game written by Steve Hickey. The game uses Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World as a basis, but also more importantly Avery McDaldno’s Dream Askew, which gets rid of the dice involved.
In Workplace Bully, one player is the Manager (MGR) and the other player is the Employee (EMP). An audience can be included and will actually have ways to contribute to the game.Players contribute in a rotating series of Goes, verbal exchanges referring to a list of actions exclusive from each other. When the story comes to the point that neither knows what happens next the scene ends and Evaluation begins.
Evaluation is made up of a series of subjective decisions made about the scene that just occurred. The MGR could be rewarded with Stress points and the EMP might get some Insight points based on their growing understanding of what is happening at work. If the MGR gets stress points during Evaluation they decide if the EMP has become more Broken or Transformed (into a bully). The EMP does have three uses of a Panic Button to avoid this, but in turn the MGR can spend Stress to still force the EMP to have some sort of public outburst at work.
Stress and Insight are spent during additional goals to use special moves and permanently unlock moves. For every point of Stress the MGR uses, the EMP gains a point of Insight. This means the more active the bullying the more the EMP learns about what their MGR is doing and their methods. The game ends when either the MGR has blown through all their methods of deflecting and defending themselves from confrontation or the EMP is either Broken or Transformed by the MGR.
Workplace Bully is a great, and sometimes overwhelming, example of asymmetrical play: a game where players have opposing goals and ways to play the game. My wife, Ariana, and I played the game twice, each of us taking a turn in each role.
In our first game I was Manager, Mrs. Farnsworth and Ariana was Employee, Mr. Felt. Our place of business was Heartstrings, an online dating Service, I took the stance of being over concerned with details to mask my personal incompetence as a leader. My main strategy as the bully was to turn everyone against Mr. Felt. Mr. Felt finally gained enough Insight to purchase a cell (more than three victims of my bullying in the office). This led to a complaint filed with the Human Resources department and ended with me begging Felt to back off. Felt didn’t have much sympathy for me and rejected those. Eventually I resigned and left the office quietly.
Ariana said we had to take a break because she was getting stressed out at the passive aggressive attacks from my Manager, so I guess I was pretty effective. Because the game is a playtest we had some confusion about how to activate tags, the main way a MGR defends themselves and an EMP confronts. Before our second game, we sat down and made sure every tag had an explicit way to earn them, which helped the second game run more smoothly.
In our second game, I was the Employee, Stanley and Ariana was the Manager, Jenny. Our place of business was Reassurance Inc., an insurance adjuster. As the employee I was starting a new career after working as a teacher for a number of years. I had a disabled son and was a single parent. I was able to find allies in fellow employees Rhonda and Stan, as well as Jenny’s own secretary, Megan. Ariana’s strategy was that every time I claimed an ally she spent Stress to make that ally neutral and in one case turned that ally into her pawn. For most of the game Stanley was moving speedily down the Broken path. I accrued a good amount of Insight and began to confront the MGR on a daily basis, faster than she could spend Stress to defend herself. In the end I barely beat the MGR who was fired and left in a very destructive way.
Workplace Bully is a very interesting game about a phenomena we encounter in our lives from time to time. While most games we play are escapist, it is interesting to play a scenario of such real weight. It was also a mental hurdle to get into the Stress/Insight points method after being so used to dice rolling. As mentioned above, Workplace Bully is an alpha playtest so it is rough around the edges and requires players to take an active role in shaping the game if you encounter errors or absences. With people of the right mindset this can be an intriguing experiment into stepping in the shoes of other people.