A Divorce of Druids and the Reviewing of Their Remove, Part 2: Summer

A Divorce of Druids: Summer cover image by Kier Spilsbury. Used with the permission of Long Tail Games.

This post reviews the second issue of A Divorce of Druids. You can read my review of the first issue here.


People and places change, but traces of their pasts linger, defining their presents and influencing their futures.

That is a central theme of A Divorce of Druids and The Division of Their Domain: Spring. The second issue of the game, Summer, pursues this same theme.

Summer is explicitly meant to be played after Spring. It can be played on its own, without having experienced Spring. The game will, however, be more meaningful in the context of the preceding season. And there’s the theme at work already: our histories define who we are and influence who we become.

This review traces that theme by examining how Summer repeats Spring’s patterns while modifying them in telling ways. I describe those differences in roughly linear order, as the reader/player receives them, without giving away concrete particulars and how they’ll affect gameplay.

Color & Composition

Summer’s cover image (which is printed on a heavier stock than Spring’s) repeats the same overall composition with the same figures in the same poses and in the same settings—but with key differences in details. Each of the figures has different skin and hair tones, hair styles, garb, and accessories; around them are different plants and animals.

The most striking difference is Summer’s colors. They are much more intense thanks to the preponderance of blue rather than yellow, which was prominent in Spring’s cover. As a result, Summer’s greens are deeper, brighter, and more verdant. Alongside the isolated blues (symbolically saturating one druid’s brush and hand), the colors have an overall cooler temperature that’s balanced by the more robust reds in the druids’ skin and hair as well as in some of the scenery.

Opening the zine, the inside cover is dominated by a yellow-orange. This design choice preserves the yellow that was so pervasive in Spring’s cover and again emphasizes the theme: the past persists beneath and behind the appearances of the present.

Fiction

In Spring and in Summer, the inside front cover is home to four paragraphs that establish the game’s narrative: one druid waits for their beloved to begin the ritual divorce. In Spring, they waited on a hill, and in Summer, they wait in a glade. The particulars of the meeting are different in each and appropriate to the season, but with four key repetitions at the end of each paragraph:

  • “They always had a flair for drama.”
  • “They always had the ear of the plants.”
  • “They always had a knack for choosing.”
  • “You sense it is time to begin, but you wait. They always go first.”

The similarity in overall structure and trajectory, along with the verbatim repetition of these lines, emphasizes that, although many of the specifics of the game have changed, the overall experience has not.

Additionally, the third paragraph’s alternation between summer heat and a sudden chill recapitulates the transition from warmer to cooler colors on the zines’ covers, tying the visual changes to the verbal and bolstering the continuity between the two issues.

Druid Design

Summer starter druids by Kier Spilsbury. Image used with permission of Long Tail Games.

In Summer, the starting druid characters are visually differentiated from one another by hair style and footwear. They are distinct from, but stylistically similar to, Spring’s basic druid characters. In the previous issue, the starting druids were identical to one another, and so Summer’s internal differences serves as a further differentiation from its predecessor without losing qualitative coherence.

In Spring, each druid initially held a sickle that was replaced (through their acquired traits) by a stick. Summer’s druids begin holding that same stick, emphasizing the continuity between the two episodes. But it may be replaced when a druid acquires one of four artifacts, which further individualize each character.

Traits will still add visual character through garments (though not headwear, which is now absent in favor maintaining visibility of the druids’ different hair styles). The druids’ outfits tend to be more elaborate than those depicted in Spring, and they collectively provide a mix of familiar and new abilities to the characters who acquire them.

Mechanics

Summer follows the same fundamental gameplay process used in Spring but with a few differences in its specifics.

Two traits are retained from Spring, and they’re paired with two new abilities. One grants a powerful creation magic ability, and another simultaneously expands and severely restricts the crafting mechanic.

Complementing the changes in traits, two desires are retained from Spring and the other two are replaced. One of these inverts the game’s standard method of scoring points, creating new opportunities and strategies with their own inherent risk.

In Spring, each druid began with exclusive knowledge of certain laws, which they revealed to each other during play. In Summer, some laws are immediately known by both players, reflecting the knowledge the druids gained in the previous session. New laws have been added to accommodate new inhabitants of the land, while others have been eliminated along with creatures that no longer appear in the tracts.

In sum, Summer is a mix of old and new gameplay components. They together create a fresh experience that still maintains its resemblance to the previous session.

Outcomes

Summer, like Spring, begins with the selection of an elder druid. In the previous session, the criteria were complex and related to conditions outside the game; but here, the primary criteria is now the previous session’s outcome.

In practice, Summer’s own outcomes for all three alignments are not fundamentally different from Spring’s. Their instructions to players are mostly identical to those found in Spring, but their descriptive texts are noticeably different, and the outcomes’ titles are all original.

Having recently reviewed the previous session’s outcome, players will presumably realize that it isn’t on Summer’s list, just as some of their Spring druid’s characteristics are likewise absent from Summer. Since each druid does not have access to information about all traits, they may not realize that those—along with desires—have been modified for Summer. But the universal difference in outcome titles and descriptions is a strong cue to go back and investigate the ways Divorce of Druids has changed along with the season.

Contemplation

The Contemplation text inverts the formula of the initial, introductory flavor text. There, the overall structure remained intact but with all new details and only key phrases preserved; in Contemplation, the text is largely identical to Spring’s with certain key phrases changed.

What was previously “a land to explore” is now “a land to nurture.” And instead of saying “Goodbye” to your friend, you tell them “We will meet again.”

Spring’s conclusion emphasizes personal growth through endings and spatial separation. Summer’s instead emphasizes the act of fostering growth outside oneself while maintaining connection across time (a major motif in all of Summer’s dimensions) and denying a definite end.

At Spring’s conclusion, players were reminded to keep their game materials to use in future sessions. Summer includes the same reminder, but this time accounting for Spring’s materials as well as its own.

In its ending, this session looks back at the past to prepare for the future. A Divorce of Druids in summer has a different character, both affectively and mechanically, than in spring. It is distinct from its predecessor, and it will play a role in shaping the next season, which will surely also possess its own quirks and unique character.

Summer reminds us again that, although people and places change, traces of their pasts linger, defining their presents and influencing their futures.


A Divorce of Druids and the Division of Their Domain: Summer is available in digital and print formats from Long Tail Games via itch.io and Gumroad. The publisher also offers a subscription that will include all four seasons.

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