(see previous post on test-driving story games.)
So, starting with the one we didn't finish: Faust & Friends, by Mendel Schmiedekamp. Schmiedekamp writes chewy game theory articles and comes out with at least one game a year that seems designed to highlight some particular aspect of gameplay/game design. This one's clearly about relationships.
F&F uses a deck of cards to determine relationships between people. During character creation, you choose cards to give the other players so that they can create people in your characters' life that they've had various types of relationships with. The particular hand I drew had the other players creating relationships for my character that had interesting power-dynamics -- two of the ten possible relationship-types are 'master' and 'servant,' and giving my character a 'master' required adding texture to a character that had started out as pretty bland. (in this case, the 'master' was a blackmailer, which meant we had to come up with what she was being blackmailed about.) On the downside, I was the only player who got this positive an experience -- I'd have thought that choosing three-of-six-cards would have given us reasonable amounts of flexibility, but it mostly turned out feeling arbitrary and awkward. So I suspect that my positive experience with this was more about my appreciation for explicit power dynamics between characters, rather than any of the game structure itself.
I'd been looking forward to playing with the increasing addiction to demonic intervention … but we never got there. The game structure encourages us to roleplay toward creating a relationship with somebody that matches one of three cards in our hand. But we've got no story-based impetus to do so… why would my character go chasing after a relationship that I as a player intend to become a nemesis, rival, unrequited love, etc.? It's nice to have characters with relationships, but I find I also need my characters to have values & motivations. It seems that the gamist encouragement to create new relationships was supposed to create some momentum, but I wasn't able to translate that into anything useful to shove my character out of her starting situation which, despite my best efforts, was kind of static.
So we sat there and stared at our cards and wondered, why would I want to do any of the things these cards suggest? In retrospect, I probably should have paid more attention to my own response to what the game-designer freely admitted was an important part of the game: the vote. "Faust and Friends has been designed to act as a sounding board for how the players think about relationships and what people do in and around them" was all fine (and a big part of what drew me to the game in the first place), but "you have to convince the other players that the relationship is present" didn't sound so interesting to me, and my lack of interest in the "convince other players" part shows up in all the bits that didn't work for me (like keeping the cards secret and chasing relationship-types with no story-based motivation).
After chewing on it for some time, I think I'd like to add a layer of complexity: Put down a card, and then the other players create a quandary for you that is closed by creating the relationship on the card with somebody. So if the card is 'rival,' there becomes an immediate threat that will include the creation of a rivalry in its denouement. That said, I'm not going to be spending my time making variants of other people's games -- I'm pretty sure I'd run into the same problem I have with making my own game.