DOBOTONE is a party game made by the Argentinians behind VIDEOGAMO. It consists of a console plugged into a projector and four controllers with two buttons each. The console allows you to switch between mini games and allows you to control in-game variables like gravity, zoom, and video distortions. The console’s design and its controllers seem inspired by old consoles like the Magnavox Odyssey, which also had integrated mini games. The retro aesthetics and the diversity induced by the person in charge of controlling the console keep the game interesting.
Unlike other party games such as WarioWare or Super Bishi Bashi, DOBOTONE is not centered on the player’s performance when following instructions, nor in having plenty of mini games to keep the challenge fresh. DOBOTONE is designed so that the player can introduce variety using the console, akin to a GM (Game Master) in charge of a role-playing game.
The concept of a Game Master emerged from role-playing games — it’s the person in charge of controlling the game world variables and the plot of a story in which the players are the characters. Although plenty of people see role-playing games as a battle between a GM and their players, in truth these are cooperative games, and a mean GM who enjoys ruining their players’ experience will have a very short career.Their job is to create a fair experience in which the players have the necessary tools to navigate a given fantasy setting.
Several boardgames toy with the idea of an evil GM and manage to keep the power imbalance from being frustrating for the player. For instance, Aye, Dark Overlord! is a game in which each player takes the role of a minion who has to explain to their evil overlord why they failed a given mission. The players make up an excuse together and try to incriminate the least eloquent of the group. The player who controls the overlord is in charge of choosing who will pay for the failure and of punishing those who are inconsistent or who get into feuds with other players. The overlord has to look at a player judgmentally three times before he is able to punish them. It’s a game with no winners which only has one loser.
There’s also games like Mansions of Madness, with a GM who is also an antagonist in charge of putting obstacles in the player’s way as he tries to escape alive from a lovecraftian mansion. The player is at a disadvantage, but he has the tools that will occasionally allow him to persevere and triumph in a given match. Those tools are useful because the GM has limitations at the beginning of the game, such as a limited amount of actions and skills, but gains power over time.
Overlord and Mansions are centered on power imbalance and on how the weak can use their wits to save themselves from the tyranny of omnipotent entities. None of these cases change the system at its roots, but they allow the players to find tools to persevere and thrive. DOBOTONE is unlike these games in that it sets up a system where the players are completely at the GM’s mercy: they compete among themselves to win and survive, but they don’t stand a chance against the console’s operator.
The only way to interact with the GM is to do so outside the game. You can ask for help, mercy, or you can insult them driven by anger. It’s a really fun game, especially for the person in charge of controlling the console, but I would have liked to have more tools to face the system. Sometimes I had no choice but to give up and watch my character become paralyzed by the excessive gravity or watch how the goal expanded out of reach. In DOBOTONE it’s impossible to resist the GM’s will.