Hannah and Alanna talk phobias. Babies, bed bugs, and the gut-twisting horror of clowns. Can you design a game around a topic you can barely engage with? We give it a whirl!
Intro Segment & Media Check-in
Alanna: Buffy episode – Nightmares (Season 1, Episode 10). Things get weird at Sunnydale High when nightmares start to become reality.
Hannah: Buffy episode – Bargaining, Part 2 (Season 6, Episode 2). Her friends try to resurrect Buffy after her death. When they believe the resurrection spell has failed, Buffy is forced to claw her way out of her own grave.
Hannah: Heffalumps and Woozles from Winnie the Pooh. Perfect representation of being chased by your own phobias.
Defining The Phobia Game (5:12)
Where do we draw the line between a fear and a phobia? A fear that butts up against a social norm? The word irrational keeps coming up in our conversation, even though we don’t like that label. Who has say over what’s a rational vs. irrational fear?
Hannah defines it as “an experience at the crossroads of a fear and an anxiety.”
Alanna calls on the Merriam-Webster Definition: “An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.”
The Players (11:00)
Everyone’s a player here to some extent. Some people are playing on casual mode, some people playing on hardcore mode.
You can be playing on easy mode in one category and iron man mode in another.
We talk about our own hardcore mode phobias. Conversations about bed bugs, non-arachnid creepy crawlies, pregnancy, and clown phobias.
The lucky thing for me is that one does not encounter too many clowns in the wild. – Alanna
Parts of the Game We’re Most Interested (25:00)
Alanna finds the gap in understanding fascinating. When something that impacts your life begins impacting others as well. What happens when you can’t attend a friend’s performance because of your fear of clowns?
A game that tests the limits of other people’s empathy.
Phobia blackjack. The risk of overplaying your hand. What’s the card that will push you over?
Phobia Jenga. Increase the intensity bit by bit until the tower comes crashing down.
The closest we get here is a deck-building or card passing game with different win conditions: I don’t want to be caught with the bed bug card, you don’t want to be caught with the clown card. But when the clown card is in my hand it has no special meaning to me.
Trying to explain pregnancy phobia in a game. Elements of parasitism, reverse Operation game (putting things into a body instead of taking them out), having to deal with cards you didn’t ask for.
The clown game would be like…someone’s just smiling the whole time but they keep handing you cards that say, ‘I’m actually going to kill you.’ – Alanna
Finally, the razor thin line between a phobia and a fetish.
As summer rolls along, so does our progress on Noirlandia, which we’re on target to ship to backers in October! Here’s a roundup of the behind-the-scenes work we’ve been doing over the past couple of months.
Creating the Quickstarts
We’ve received all of the first drafts for the stretch goal quickstarts, and after a round of feedback and revisions, almost every writer has completed their final draft. The quickstarts had some tricky parameters, and it’s been great to see how everyone approached our weird project guidelines!
Here’s a snippet from the Tiraval quickstart, from Choice of Games author and editor Rebecca Slitt:
One of Evan’s big July milestones was to complete another full-page illustration for the book. The following illustration is the supernatural crime scene unlocked as part of our community stretch goals!
Right now, Evan is diligently completing the remaining rulebook art, then it’s on to noir portraits. We’ve received some amazing portraits from backers, and we’re excited to be working on them all! There’s a lot of art to make, but it’s going to be awesome!
Writing the Rulebook
In terms of writing, we’ve composed a new draft of the rules with an emphasis on clarity and flavor. We’ve also added example text, actual play samples, and a more careful ordering of game concepts. We’re currently working with our editor, Joshua Yearsley, who we interviewed earlier this year about the game editing process (interview here).
In a few days, when we get our final rules “okay” from Josh, it’s on to the layout phase!
In preparation for the Kickstarter, we researched all of the sources for materials going into the deluxe editions of the game. Now that we know how many deluxe editions we’ll be making (nearly 100!) we have the opportunity to find better prices and quality from bulk distributors. This looks different for each of the many components involved in putting together the deluxe edition, so we’ll be testing and sourcing materials from lots of different places, including Amazon, Make Playing Cards, and Pouch Mart.
That’s all from us for now. In the meantime, stay cool. We can’t wait to share Noirlandia with you in October!
The party shark, the party jellyfish, the party sea cucumber
And the aquarium keeper herself!
Parts of the Game We’re Most Interested In
The art of hosting
The delicate game of bringing someone else to a party
Designing the Party Game
Why don’t parties, like game conventions, have community guidelines?
Hidden objective games
The game of Clue, and moving from room to room
We almost argue about LARP vs theater
Cats at parties
I had to cut down the episode for time, which means that Stephen’s final analogy about the game Two Rooms and a Boom didn’t make it into the final version! Not only is it a party game, but it’s the perfect gamified version of a party. In Stephen’s words:
You have to move around and talk to people. Even if you don’t want to, that’s just how you do it.
Everyone has their own hidden objective. You have no idea how any individual person is expecting the night to end.
You may have friends, but not know where they are. Even if you find them, they may go off to another room leaving you behind.
Stephen was a fantastic guest. Support the heck out of his work!
In May, we were joined by special guest designers Caroline Hobbs (Downfall), Ben Robbins (Microscope), and Kira Magrann (Mobilize, Strict Machine) to talk about crowdfunding RPG projects of different shapes and sizes.
Caroline lent great insight into the excitement and terror of Kickstarting a game that made over 2000% of its original goal, Kira talked about crowdfunding RESISTOR, a zine featuring original games, artwork, and fiction, and Ben shared thoughts on budgeting, timelines, and all those crucial parts of a project that are easy to mismanage.
Check out the video below for the complete hour-long talk and hear us discuss what makes a good Kickstarter video, backer communication, stretch goals, unexpected challenges, and how to stay sane through the whole process.
Want to join us for a future teatime? Teatime and Game Talk is a once-monthly live hangout, featuring designers, GMs, and players of games.
Like most of our episodes, this was recorded weeks before it aired. Between the time we recorded and the time the episode was edited and published, 49 people (predominantly queer people of color) were murdered in a dance club. This week has been a time for grief, and while editing the episode, it was hard to connect the crying we talked about a few weeks ago (crying about ghosts, crying over board games) with the crying I’ve done this week—an unstoppable, body-shaking sort of crying. Crying over loss of life.
I did a lot of public crying this week. Maybe you did, too. If you didn’t, that’s okay.
I guess I’ll end with a piece from my favorite Carl Sandburg poem, The Right to Grief. It’s feeling especially salient today.
TAKE your fill of intimate remorse, perfumed sorrow, Over the dead child of a millionaire, And the pity of Death refusing any check on the bank Which the millionaire might order his secretary to scratch off And get cashed.
Very well, You for your grief and I for mine. Let me have a sorrow my own if I want to.
I shall cry over the dead child of a stockyards hunky. His job is sweeping blood off the floor. He gets a dollar seventy cents a day when he works And it’s many tubs of blood he shoves out with a broom day by day.
Good Dog, Bad Zombie is a cooperative game for three to five players. It can be described as Homeward Bound meets The Walking Dead. It’s a game about doing everything you can to build a place to call home. It’s a game about dogs rescuing humans. It’s a game about sticking together, through thick and thin. It’s a game about dogs fighting zombies. It’s adorable and horrifying, all at once.
As I develop the game, I’ll be making periodic updates about the game design process to share. I feel comfortable starting this effort now, as the core mechanics of the game have stabilized (hopefully, fingers crossed), though there will still be plenty of small and medium sized changes to make.
In Good Dog, Bad Zombie (GDBZ), players are chasing away zombies in twelve different locations (ranging from “the Kennel” to “the Spooky Swamp”) in order to save humans, and then bring them back to their home territory. (Kind of like Lassie, but with zombies instead of wells.) Each player is playing as one dog in the pack, and if the dogs bring home ten humans, the humans are able to build a new home – and the players win! However, if too many dogs and humans die (or “go to the farm,” as it’s called in GDBZ) and if there are too many zombie outbreaks, then the feral tracker will reach 10. Once this happens, the pack of dogs becomes feral and wild, and they no longer care about rescuing humans – and so the players lose.
In addition, players must interact with events. Some are good, like “SQUIRREL!”, while others are bad, like “A really, really loud thunderstorm.” These either have immediate effects or present decisions players must make as a team or individual. (There are some occasional longer story-prompt events as well that tell the overall story of the zombie apocalypse.)
Recently, I play tested the sixth iteration of Good Dog, Bad Zombie. Overall, it went really well. (The playtesters even asked to play another round after we finished the first one, which I feel is pretty much the best game design compliment possible.) At the same time, there was still room for considerable improvement. Here’s what I learned about what worked and what needed work.
The flavor. People really seemed to enjoy the cards in the game, and the temporary “art” that is being used until custom art is produced. There’s a lot of humor in the game. The juxtaposition of adorableness and horror also played off each other nicely. There was a lot of laughter, awwws, and groans. People were pretty frequently shouting “YES!”, which felt good
Dogs getting adopted. There’s a mechanic in the game where after your dog rescues a human, the human adopts your dog. You discard your current dog and take a new one. People thought this was cute and also allowed them to see more dogs. (Seeing more dogs had been a request from a previous playtester.) But because most dogs have different abilities, it also made sure the game didn’t become stagnate.
Call of the pack. This is a mechanic that I came up with to try to emphasize participation even if it’s not your turn, while also de-emphasizing quarterbacking (one person telling everyone else what they should do). That’s a general thing that many cooperative games struggle with, and so I wanted GDBZ to address it head on. With call of the pack, if a player plays a card with a dog symbol on it that matches a card with a dog symbol you have, you can play that card with the matching symbol even if it’s not your turn. So basically the current player starts a call of the pack when they play a card, and any player with a matching symbol may respond to the call if they have a card with the matching symbol. This also allows for some fun combos. In previous playtests, I had players say this was an aspect that really kept them attentive and focused the whole game, and they liked being able to contribute on other player’s turns.
Helping each other. In GDBZ, there are some features that don’t give you the choice between helping yourself and helping everyone – you just have to help everyone. For example, there’s a mechanic called “Sniff” – it allows not only you to draw a new card, but all players to draw a new card. This emphasizes interactivity even when it’s not your turn.
Core System. Even though there were plenty of rough patches and things to fix, people commented that the gameplay was fairly smooth and easy enough to pick up, and that the core system of the game is solid. That’s a relief.
Chasing Away Zombies. In order to chase away zombies, you roll a custom “dog die.” Four sides have a paw. If you successfully roll a paw, you remove a zombie token from your area. However, one side of the die has a HIT, and another side has a DOUBLE HIT. If you roll a hit, your dog takes one wound and you don’t remove the zombie. If you roll a double hit, it’s the same but your dog takes two wounds. This means that the attempt to chase off a zombie is likely to go your way, but there’s the possibility that a zombie could harm you instead and you’ve lost one of the precious actions you get on your turn (measured by “sleepy tokens”). This can ruin the best laid plans. This balance seemed to go well and was fun.
What Needed Work and Possible Solutions To Try Out
Problem – too many dice. There were too many dice in this version of the game. The primary culprit was the fact that at the end of your turn, you had to roll two dice: one was to determine if you were drawing an event card or adding zombies to the board, and the other was determining what places you were adding zombies to if you were adding zombies. Two sides of this die said E (draw an event), three sides said Z1 (add one zombie to each place you’re adding zombies to), and one said Z2 (add two zombies to the places). Besides having too many dice to roll and pass around, that’s just a clunky and un-intuitive and confusing way of doing things. Solution to try out: Eliminate the zombie/event die, and just roll the number die at the end of your turn, and always just add one zombie to each Place that has the corresponding number. This means drawing event cards needs to be triggered by something else. (More on that below.)
Problem – Scaling of the game was a bit off, it needed more zombies! Once the players got the upper hand on the zombies, the game was pretty much on lockdown. And while it was still fun to play, their wasn’t much tension. This even happened when we played a second time, at a harder level setting. Solutions to try out: I actually think the above solution with altering the dice will help out with this problem too, as it’ll ensure that zombies are added to the board every turn, no matter what, instead of there being a 1 in 3 chance that it’ll happen. But also, I think reducing the number of zombies there are allowed to be on a space from four to three will be a big factor. Once a place is maxed out with zombies, any human on that place gets eaten, and there’s a zombie stampede – which means zombies spread out to all adjacent places. Only a couple stampedes happened in the last version of the game. With this new model, I think we’re more likely to see the spread of zombies. In addition, I’m scaling back some of the power of some of the dog’s cards, which will make it harder to remove zombies.
Problem – Ambushes, a boring and clunky mechanic/gameplay feature from an old version of the game. In the very first version of Good Dog, Bad Zombie, the whole game was based around ambushes. You went into a place, you found a human that needed to be rescued, then you were ambushed – maybe by zombies, maybe by evil humans, maybe by a colony of feral cats, a zombie with no legs, and so on. This was a completely different game. But this mechanic was so important that dogs even had special stats based around ambushes. Slowly, as the game adapted, ambushes became less important, and they were even folded into the events deck. But still, they were there, and the dogs stats based around them were still there. But eventually this feature got stripped down so much that the ambushes just became boring cards that made you roll the dice a whole bunch of extra times. The difficult thing about just deleting the ambushes, though, was that they did serve one important role: giving dogs extra wounds and making it so you had to occasionally discard rescued humans you had (and send them to the farm). Solutions to try out: Delete the ambushes entirely, and then increase the difficulty of the event cards themselves, thereby transferring the role the ambushes served into the events. Also delete the Dog Stats that had to do with ambushes, therefore making the dog cards simpler, too (another pro!)
Problem – when to draw events. As mentioned above, drawing events was previously a part of rolling a zombie/event die at the end of the turn, which was way too clunky. It also turned out to be unreliable. Sometimes we were drawing way too many events and not adding enough zombies, sometimes we weren’t drawing enough events at all (and sometimes, too many of those events were ambushes, which wasn’t fun). Solutions to try out: Instead of rolling the die to see if you’re drawing an event, incorporate the events into the Places. A few places had “clearing this place of zombie” effects – namely, drawing a Reward card, healing all dogs (like at The Vet), and so on. So in dialogue with my playtesters, we determined that it’d be fun to actually make you draw event cards after you clear places of zombies. I did have to do some tweeking of the rules to make sure players couldn’t just avoid clearing spaces and therefore drawing events. But hopefully this will now turn into a strategic decision: do we unnecessarily leave zombies on the board, which is a risk, or do we draw an event, which is a different risk?
Problem – Dog Stats. Certain dogs were overpowered or underpowered. Certain dogs had too many abilities or not enough. And if one dog had two abilities, and the same number of actions as every other dog, well that the player playing as that dog was just going to have a lot more to do. Solutions to try out: Diversify the dogs a bit more. If one dog has a lot of abilities, scale down how many wounds they can have and the number of sleepy tokens (actions per turn) they can have.
Problem – Too many humans: The inverse of the zombies problem was the humans. Once you rescued a human, you rolled the die and added two new humans to the board. And remember, you need to save 10 humans to win the game. While this had a multiplying effect, I figured it’d actually make the game harder, because there would be more humans to be eaten by zombies, which would cause the zombies to spread and the feral tracker to move up. But because the zombies weren’t totally working out, there were just a ton of humans and it was way too easy to win. Solutions to try out: Make the game have more zombies (see above), and limit the number of humans there can be on the board at a time to five. Also, only make a Place able to have one human at a time. This means if another human would be added to, say, The Old Downtown Now Covered in Wreckage, but there’s a human already there, you just don’t add the human to that Place.
Problem – a lack of balance between abilities. There were way too many cards that allowed you to heal dogs (which made it so people never lost a dog), and not enough cards that allowed you to do some of the other game mechanics (like bark, bite, sniff, etc.). Some players ended up with just a huge amount of healing cards in their hands, which didn’t feel great. Solutions to try out: Pretty simple, just try to redistribute the number of abilities between the different cards and see if it feels any better gameplay wise.
Problem – discarding didn’t feel very fun. Even though players didn’t mind it, I didn’t like Events that made players discard cards. It just felt non-interactive; I don’t like taking away players opportunities to do things. The game should be able to punish players, but just like the mechanic of “skipping turns” – which is probably one of my least favorite of all time – I don’t like making the game harder by making it less playable.
Well, those are the highlights of many of the things that went well, in addition to the problems and the solutions I’ve brainstormed. Hopefully these work out! Find out next time on… Good Dog, Bad Zombie progress report!
As of writing this blog post, Noirlandia has 677 backers on Kickstarter. (Whoops, make that 678!) We’re simply blown away by the support and enthusiasm our friends and the larger indie gaming community have shown for our creation.
There’s 32 hours left to go for Noirlandia’s Kickstarter, and we just got past our stretch goal to include amazing casebooks with every level that gets a physical copy of Noirlandia. Now, we’re on to our final stretch goal: at $22,500, we’ll produce these amazing custom Noirlandia playing cards for the Private Eye ($75) level and above.
While we’d love to create these playing cards, our main goal is get Noirlandia into the hands of as many people as possible. We’d deeply appreciate it if you helped us spread the word to anyone you think would like the game, as well as on your social media platforms of choice.
We can’t wait to share the final product with you, and hear all about the mysterious cities and murder mysteries you dream up. Thank you so much once again.