Shenanigans: The Musical

Today we’re taking a brief diversion, away from discussing game design and exploring the creator’s journey. Shenanigans is launching in just five days so I want to write something that’ll introduce it to anyone who’s started reading these posts more recently. If you’ve enjoyed my previous posts, please share this one so that I can keep doing what I’m doing. Don’t worry, regular posts will resume shortly. If you’re new, then I wish you a warm welcome. I have something I’d like to share with you, I call it:

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“They call themselves an artiste, but their ego is larger than their talent. They are ruining this orchestra, they have to go” – The Manager

“She cares only for profit! She dares to drive me away? Who cares for how instruments are ‘supposed’ to be played, I am the heart and soul of this orchestra.” – The Artiste

EVERYONE IN SHENANIGANS

Shenanigans is a card game about an orchestra in crisis and the characters who inhabit it. The Manager hunts the Artiste with relentless determination. Meanwhile the Troublemaking Trombonist is trying to trip them up, the Part Time Drummer seeks recruits for his band, The Romantic Violinist is looking for love and the Overlooked Viola Player just hopes that somebody will notice her.

Which one will you be? Or are you the Artiste?

Each player has a hidden role and can use its power to look at other players cards, force them to swap with each other or try some other ruse. After three turns each the Manager reveals themselves, listens to what everyone has to say and kicks someone out of the orchestra! The whole game is focused on this choice, the manager wins by catching the artiste, the artiste wins by escaping and everyone else wins or loses depending on this choice and its consequences.

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The base game offers 24 unique roles and is available for a pledge of only £10 (including shipping). What’s more, we’re also throwing in three (3) free (£0) expansions! Each of these adds something significant to the game:

Artiste’s Conspiracy adds alternate Artiste’s to the game, to make it even harder to figure out what he’s up to.

Performance adds characters that require the players to perform, giving you the option to play an all-singing all-dancing version of the game if you so choose.

The Lovers brings the magic of love to the game. Adding characters who can make players fall in or out of love and changing their victory conditions accordingly. Maybe, just maybe, the conflict between the Manager and Artiste can be ended.

Lovers 1

By supporting Shenanigans: The Musical you’re also helping out a real life charity orchestra. While they don’t profit from the project directly, being able to print some extra packs of cards gives some extra merchandise to sell alongside their concerts and the project as a whole helps to raise their profile. So if you like the idea of making the orchestra accessible to anyone – regardless of status, colour, creed or whether we already have a million bloody saxophonists – then please help to support this game.

Our campaign launches at 3pm GMT on Monday April 11th. You can find the preview page here (unless the campaign  has already launched in which case that’ll link to the live campaign!). If you can’t pledge, then please share the project.

Thank you.

 

 

 

Shenanigans launching in a couple of weeks

Shenanigans: The Musical is slated to launch on April 11th.

When I started doing this stuff I figured that with experience it would all become old hat. Launches would get less exciting but also less scary. It turns out that this isn’t remotely true, I’m nervous as hell that things aren’t going to go well and excited at what we might achieve. I thought that I might use today’s post to go over my pre-launch checklist, as a means to share ideas with other creators and to invite my readers to point out the absolutely fatal thing that I’ve forgotten to do.

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1) Have a game.

The difference between a scam launch and a real launch is actually having a game. Soemthing well tested that’s getting good playtester responses. Sure pretty much everything is going to come down to persuading people, which is mostly style, but all of the flash in the world is wasted if there’s not something substantial to back it up.

If you’ve been following the TPO projects blog you’ve seen months of agonising over how all of the parts of the game fit together. You can see the cards here. It’s definitely real. Check!

2) Have a page.

It’s a pretty sorry Kickstarter launch that doesn’t have a page. Fortunately we do: It’s right here!

Of course above and beyond having a page, it’s important to have a good page. There are a LOT of elements that go into that, I couldn’t hope to cover it. We want images of the final thing, infographics for people who don’t read, text for people who don’t graphic and videos for people who do neither. We need to say all of the things that need saying and show off all of the great things about this project: Fun! Quick! Cheap! Good for musicians! Good to introduce people to the genre! Supports a charity! Fun yet quirky art style!

Ideally all of this will fit into a video of 10 seconds or less and no more than 30 words.

Like game design itself, there are a lot of trade offs that go into making a page. And like game design, you can’t just look at it and pick the objectively best one – you need to solicit feedback and improve based on it. Our page is still going through this process – if you look closely you might spot one graphic that’s been suggested as an addition but does not yet have a professional touch.

It’s there. But it’s still improving. Check(ish).

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3) Have an audience

The sad fact is that you could create the most amazing game possible and have a Kickstarter page that shows it off perfectly, but still not get to make the game. A lot of people will use “How many people are already backing this?” as their metric for whether it’s worth being involved in. That means having a bunch of people ready to go on day one, who’ve already heard of the game and think well of it.

Erm. Hi! *waves*

This blog is something of a drop in the ocean in that respect though. My list of people who said “Email me whenever you’re making a game” is approaching a thousand strong these days. There’s also the TPO’s existing audience and their musicians too. I’m reliably told that they’re gearing up to get this thing going.

I don’t do very well at organising these things on social media though. It’s meant to be a huge outlet but somehow – and this might seem odd for someone who writes so much here – I never really feel like I’ve got anything to say.

That weak point aside, we’ve got a lot of interested people. So check!

4) Third party shenanigans

You know who thinks something is great: The person who put lots of effort into that something.

Everyone else knows that too. So it’s super important to make sure that you get a ‘reality check’ from a bunch of smart people. If they’re also articulate this is a double bonus because they’ll communicate the (hopefully) good points of the thing and help with that whole audience building experience.

Plenty of reviewers have got their hands on the Shenanigans prototypes and I’m chewing through my nails waiting to hear their thoughts. It doesn’t matter how well something does in playtesting, I’m always nervous about what the experts are going to say once they’re in a position to hand down their judgement. I don’t imagine I’ll see most of it until a couple of days before launch so there’s really nothing to do here but wait and hope.

My bit’s a check but that doesn’t mean it’s really good to go yet.

judgement

5) Preparation

Sometimes people are caught off guard by their own success. Supposing there is a successful launch, there’ll be lots to do in order to keep the campaign running!

It’s good to have some posts and updates prepared in advance. It’s also super important to have the budget, manufacturing and shipping plan nailed down so that backers who ask tricksy questions can get straight answers. Contacting people who like to talk about live Kickstarters in advance via a spreadsheet of a hundredish places to send press releases to are also good tools to have to hand.

*looks around and piles of e-notes* Check.

6) That thing that I forgot.

There is always at least one of these. Unfortunately you never know what it is until it’s too late.

Still – perhaps this time – launch number four – will be the first time that nothing catches me by surprise on day one.

What do you think gentle reader? While I still have a couple of weeks, what’s the best direction for the last minute flail?

Storytime

I’ve had an interesting meeting talking about the difference between how I approach gaming outlets and how The Peoples Orchestra approaches music outlets. I tend towards something objective-informative: What genre of game is this? How many players? What sort of players? They tend towards narrative, asking if there’s an interesting story to be told around the production of whatever piece of music is coming up next. I see the merits to that, a lot of people are reading for entertainment and writers are trying to serve them, so a story centric approach is perhaps a more helpful thing to do. Thus today is now storytime.

storybook

Once upon a time a master jeweller was challenged to carve the most magnificent diamond. The genie that had produced it said to her that if she could carve it with 10,000 equal facets then she could have three wises, but if she failed she would be bound into servitude and the genie would go free.

The jeweller thought about this and asked if she could have her wishes in advance, so that at least she would get to enjoy them before she were trapped, should she fail. The genie agreed, but on two conditions: First she would have only a week to enjoy her wishes before she would have to show that she had completed the work and secondly she could not wish the diamond cut.

She thought about this and agreed. Firstly she wished to be able to do 10,000 days of work in a day, thinking that this would get around the genie’s prohibition. However she continued to experience the work and her life came to resemble the servitude she sought to avoid. So she used her second wish to copy herself many times over, believing that this would help her to finish quickly. Alas she was holding the diamond when she did so and so each copy had its own diamond. With her final wish she wished to be someone else, who would receive the best of the diamonds that the many thousand copies of her now made and in doing so escaped her fate.

This is of course the story of how AI was used to balance the cards in Race for the Galaxy. Playing against itself many thousands of times to perfect an impossible task, ultimately to benefit another.

galaxy

There once was a penniless sitar player. He played day and night and always tried to delight those around him. While he was hungry in body he was rich in spirit and the townsfolk loved that he was ever present to delight them with his music. When times were good and they had much to spare they were happy to share it with him and to dance to his tunes.

But good things do not last and there came a time where times were tough. Even well-to-do townsfolk were struggling to feed and clothe themselves. In such a time who might find anything to spare for the player? Struggling and destitute he found himself left with no option but to sell the one thing he had left: His sitar.

However as he resolved to do so, he discovered that his music had reached much further than he had ever hoped. An angel and a devil approached him, arriving from opposite directions. “You are a bringer of joy” said the angel “and so you shall be saved. Simply bring joy to just one more family in these cold winter days and you will be rewarded.” The player wept for joy and reached for his sitar, but found it missing. The devil had stolen it while the angel spoke.

This is of course the story of The People’s Orchestra getting diversification funding. It is outstanding that we got some support at a time that let us bring more joy to people, but complicated by the requirement that it must be done in a manner other than playing music.

A student approached her master and asked
“What is the oldest game that a person has invented?”
“Ahh” her master replied “That would be chess.”
“What about Go?”
“There has always been Go.”

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The sitar player remembered an old friend, one who had given him advice once before. He thought that perhaps his friend could help him to find a way of spreading joy that did not require a sitar. So he sought her out.

After many days of travelling he found that fortune had favoured her and that she had become a scribe at the royal court. Together they hatched a plan, he would tell her of his music and she would write the tale of his exploits. He did not need a sitar to describe the beauty of its sound in a way that could touch the most jaded heart. He was confident in the quality of his friends writings and of his own experiences and so they embarked upon the venture together.

Little did he know that his friend not only did not listen to the sitar, but understood nothing of it. She was so talentless in this regard that she would not have recognised the instrument were it before her. What would they do when it became apparent that she knew nothing of his world, that she was tasked to represent?

This is, of course, the story of how I came to be hired to write Shenanigans: The Musical. I do not own a cd, mp3 or any other music playing device. I’ve never listened to music for fun, generally if I am in alone my house will be filled with blessed silence. Or the sounds of XCom followed briefly by me swearing at XCom. There was something of a learning curve in writing a game about music, what with it being a subject I’m so divorced from.

silence

One might think that the sun would know not of the moon. The sun has dominion over day and the moon over night and never the two shall meet.

But yet, the two must know of each other! How else would the moon know to depart before the sun’s arrival? Or to know when in turn it must rise? Surely there is some accord between the two.

The truth of the matter is that there is no accord – how could there be, the two do not meet! It is a simple matter of instinct. The sun and the moon know where they belong.

And yet. And yet it is apparent that they are two sides of the same coin. The bond between them must be loving and strong and unbreakable. The moon must know of the sun, by seeing the effects of its passing. Why is the world warm at the start of each night when it only ever gets colder? The sun must know of the moon the same way.

They yearn for each other, do the sun and the moon. Their differences are smaller than their similarities and they understand each other’s importance. So they found a way to play together, despite the distance that can exist between them. Do you know how? You should.

They play by creating together. Things that prove that they’re real to each other and that they recognise each other. The sun can see flies that glow in the dark, the moon recognises that the sleeping animals must wake sometime. The sun understands the nature of the moon through its creations, just as the nature of the sleeping bear tells the moon what sunlight on fur must feel like. And so they are close.

The sun wishes to play with the moon.

Thus they created life.

This is, of course, the story of Mijnlieff. It’s creation was inspired by finding ways for minds of different kinds to relate through experiences that they could share in their entirety despite the obstacles. It’s a great game for crossing intergenerational obstacles, gulfs of experience and divides of all kinds. So that sometimes…

Soleil levant derrière les montagnes
This brings us nearly to the end of storytime. The tale of the sitar player and the scribe remains unfinished, but then so does the reality that it’s based on. There’s plenty more that could be a part of that story: The way in which the scribe interviewed other performers to learn about their world, why it became necessary to blind the readers of the early manuscripts (and the consequences for doing so) and perhaps even the forbidden stories of how the pair found unexpected help in a nest of vice and sin. I don’t know which elements will turn out to be important to the final story, so I suppose this is where it rests for now.

If you have some insight into the things that lie behind games I’d love to hear the stories of some of your favourites.

If you’re a blogger, podcaster or similar and would like me to come and talk about this project in some way (either allegorically or directly) give me a shout. Apparently I’m in the business of sharing stories these days 😉

 

How not to drive reviewers away from Kickstarter

I’ve been writing to a lot of reviewers over the past few weeks, to try to make sure that there are some live reviews of Shenanigans when it launches. I’m a big fan of informed choice. As I’m sure you’re already aware, some reviews won’t touch prototypes for games on Kickstarter. I don’t write to reviewers who explicitly state on their sites that they don’t do KS – that’s rude – but I always end up talking to a few who don’t by accident or because the policy change is recent. This time I’ve been asking people why they don’t do Kickstarter, partly out of curiosity but also to improve my own practices so that I don’t contribute to other reviewer’s negative experiences of the platform. I thought that it might be interesting to share some of my results.

 

No KS

Continue reading How not to drive reviewers away from Kickstarter

Developing Outside the Bubble

Shenangians has been an interesting project to work on, because it very explicitly needs to work for players who aren’t generally tabletop gamers. What’s more, while this is usually a difficult group to recruit playtesters from (who’d have suspected a link between being really into games and being willing to volunteer time to their development!) I’ve had access to a steady supply of new players through The People’s Orchestra.

yarr

Continue reading Developing Outside the Bubble

Rules for Taking the Piss

Humour is a great tool across the board and game design is no exception. It won’t carry a game on its own, but it can go a long way towards making a good experience great. It’s also a fantastically volatile tool, if it doesn’t work at best it’s a little embarrassing, at worst it’s outright offensive. Doing it badly can utterly sour what might otherwise be an enjoyable experience. Yet trying to get it right is also undeniably attractive, when I found out just how far musicians go in mocking each others foibles my first reaction wasn’t “Better tread carefully and keep that out of the game”. It was “Fantastic, that’s going in!”

legojester

Continue reading Rules for Taking the Piss

Kickstarter Page Design

The Shenanigans: The Musical project has reached the point that we’re designing a page to launch it on Kickstater. I’ve spent a few years launching games on Kickstarter now and have raised around £80,000 (I didn’t get to keep any of it). That’s a pretty good record contrasted with the ~70% of UK based games Kickstarter projects which fail to fund, but a pretty poor one contrasted with projects that raise more money in their first day than I have in years. I thought that the wind up to the Shenanigans project might be a good time to talk about how I design the page, both as a means of helping people who’re having less success than me and opening myself up to suggestions from people who’re doing better.

KS

Continue reading Kickstarter Page Design

Shenanigans: Review Process

Shenanigans: The Musical has returned from its dormant state and is once again undergoing active development. The gameplay and art are now complete and we’re increasingly putting development time into the crowdfunding campaign that will breathe life into it. Today’s post is about the process of getting reviews for the game, that’ll help people decide whether it deserves to live!

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Continue reading Shenanigans: Review Process

Multi-game scoring

I’m in the process of addressing what’s quite a pleasant problem to have with Shennaigans: The Musical. The game is quite quick to play and as a consequence some players who are enjoying it are playing a lot of games. Obviously that’s great, but it’s generating an emergent phenomenon: They want some sort of way to play multiple games as a cohesive whole with an overall winner.

grapes Continue reading Multi-game scoring