This is an exciting one for me. I haven’t gone much beyond re-skinning a thing or working within someone else’s framework, be it Savage Worlds, Fate, or some horror one-shot, in some time. And while yet another Apocalypse World hack may feel like a re-skin, my goal for Untamed Suburbia is to design a game that does something new for me: take a core idea from conception to fruition intact. I’ve pondered a number of projects over the years (one about school kids as an Encyclopedia Brown meets Bruce Colville supernatural adventure series, or something that scales out a bit like Reign as has you playing both PCs at ground level and the major players in the setting working behind the scenes at the same time), but none of them quite landed. There are notes, but few of them got the nudge they needed.
When I started talking about Untamed Suburbia, folks were interested. The opportunity to play animals, not anthropomorphic or magical or talking animals, but animals: four feet, eat off the ground, sleep in a nest animals as PCs resonated with folks. I have wanted to do a card-based selection for character creation for a little while and this seemed like a good time to put it together. So notes became a short rulebook became cards became a session at Midwest Gamefest!
more “Midwest GameFest 2018, Pt. 5 (Untamed Suburbia)”
I’ve had the highest number of games in the shortest amount of time recently, averaging a game of Heist every two days for a couple weeks. I’m about due for a new printing of this one, so I imagine it’s time to discuss what I’ve learned. I’ll start with a heartfelt thanks to my playtesters at KantCon, my household game nights, and visitors staying with us. I promise there’s a plan in development to make it easier to play a game if you are further than a short drive away from Kansas City.
The game itself is a card game about team and resource management where you take on the role of an international criminal competing with rivals to steal the most interesting things in the shortest amount of time. You hire a crew, buy gear, and play event cards from your hand (all of which are resource cards and can be spent as money) to make it easier to attempt one of the jobs face-up in the middle of the table. Each job has a number of complications which add to the difficulty, but can also add to the reward if completed successfully. The items themselves are a collection of (mostly real) objects stolen throughout the modern age, including famous works of art, classic cars, national icons, rare collectibles, and some local jobs like corner stores and small banks. By matching your crew’s skills to the jobs, you can avoid taking heat, which is the attention of the authorities. Gain too much heat on your crew and someone is going to jail. The player with the most prestige at the end of the game wins, but rivals don’t know if you are hiding extra prestige cards in with your resource cards. Victory is not a foregone conclusion just by having a lot of points showing. more “Heist Playtests (KantCon and Others)”
I pushed through and wrote a new card game in about a week (ignoring years of pondering the idea and sketching out some earlier builds that are lost to time). Rulebook one day, and then about a third of the cards each over the next few days. It helps that I sit on this stuff for a while, because it means I’ve already sorted out the flow of the game in advance. This one, however, had some help that previous ones did not: It came to me in a dream.
Literally. I hadn’t pondered doing a faux-70s Ocean’s 11 heist card game until I woke up one morning and jotted down some notes from a vivid dream where I was in a friend’s garage and we were playtesting my new game. There was a card table covered in cards and a Twister-style vinyl playmat where we had just finished a getaway driver minigame after one of us completed a heist where other players were the pursuing cops and we had escaped successfully. We debated the merits of the getaway sequence, whether it added to the overall game or brought the pace down, how it interacted with the existing heat mechanic for drawing attention to your crew… It was very specific and my dream friends had a lot of good thoughts on what worked and what didn’t. By the end of the dream I was confirming my hunch that the getaway sequence was either a separate game or better served as an optional expansion or add-on than being integrated with the base experience of managing your criminal network.
I still fight a bit with myself as to where or how this game fits into my existing worlds, which doesn’t exactly feature a Batman: The Animated Series-meets-Archer sort of faux historical look at crime and the international masterminds who commit it. I considered moving it forward to fit with Cabal’s dystopian cyberpunkness, but it got real techy and didn’t fit well enough. I considered shifting it backward to competing steampunk air pirates in Steelheart Skies, but that felt even more forced. Ultimately, it seems to have settled somewhere in the orbit of my Captain Excelsior golden-era comic book setting (created for a murder mystery, complete with professional comic book art) and that works for me. We’ll see next week how it plays and if dream-logic translates to game logic. Who knows, there might even be an Incredibles-influenced supers vs. criminals playset next.
The next game coming down the pipeline is a social game called BITE. It grew out of wanting to write something that could be played during a Halloween party without pulling everyone away from socializing or grabbing something to eat. It’s a Werewolf or Mafia-type bluffing game played in shifting pairs, with players chatting and then playing action cards on each other. We started calling it “Speed Dating for Vampires.” more “BITE Playtest”