Andre Monserrat

Last night I had some friends over to play House of Whack. Most of them had played the version that comes in the box, but I wanted to show them the version that comes *outside* the box. This was the version I had always wanted to play. It’s not something that can easily be explained in a manual as you really have to experience it firsthand due to its emergent, organic game play.

Before we set up, I asked each player to describe what made a game fun for them. Nick said he enjoyed player interaction. So I then asked for another player to take on the responsibility of making sure Nick had player interaction. Julia volunteered. Next, Jen said she really enjoyed being able to hoard money in a game. So Cory volunteered to introduce financial tension in the game. Jake liked games with bidding. Nick offered to oversee that aspect. In fact, when Julia said she wanted a game with multiple end goals, Nick made everyone bid for the right to manage that. Jake won by bidding two blue beads (at this point Cory had yet to reveal the value of any of the beads in play). Finally, Cory said he liked games where player actions had lasting ramifications. Jen took on the responsibility of making sure that element was in the game.

Everyone then chose a playing piece from a selection of D&D minis and HeroClix figures and placed them on the Start tile. I then said, “The rules say you start out with three Drama cards each, but what do YOU say?” The players proposed that everyone should get five cards instead, except for Nick, who got only two. He was outvoted.

I explained that the information printed on the cards should be used as a last resort, if the players had difficulty inventing an alternate purpose for a card. I said that the name of the card and the artwork were actually more important than any rules they might find there. Nick immediately played the Destiny card, but called it the “High 5” card as it showed a hand on it. He announced that whenever two players high-fived, they got two gems. I pointed out that Nick had now made an offer to the other players. The players then had the opportunity to agree with this new “rule” or modify it. I discouraged outright vetoes.

The players began exploring the House. They decided to ignore the movement rules and say that you could use an Action to automatically move to an adjacent room. When a new room was revealed, I asked the player to tell everyone about the room and if there was anything special we should know about it. For instance, if someone entered the Clone Chamber, they had to face a horrific clone duplicate of themselves. One of my favorite inventions was the Whack Ball room. Nick decided that players could engage in a gladiatorial sport called “Sun Fighting.” Each player started with an arm extended above their head. You won the battle by pushing down on your opponent’s fist so that it went down past their shoulder. At one point, Nick and Cory got swallowed by the Dire Frog and discovered a room inside the Frog’s belly. But then Julia played the Impostor card and switched their position with Jake.

I should point out that Nick never chose a playing piece. It was discovered that Nick and Cory were somehow grafted together like conjoined twins. Wherever Cory moved, Nick was there too. This also gave each player access to the other’s Drama cards. When they tried to high five each other to gain 2 gems, the other players protested, saying it was actually just clapping, given their circumstances.

A few rooms were in play before Cory realized that he had no idea how to win. Jake, thinking of Julia’s desire for multiple end goals, proposed that there be multiple ways to win. This was put to a vote. Each player then came up with a way to win or end the game. So, in this instance of the game, a player could win by having the most money (but Julia could win if she had the least), or if they rode the Walking Room, or if they ever had 15 cards in their hand, or if they recovered all four of the Sacred Artifacts, or if there was no more room on the table for more room tiles, or if someone sang the best rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

During this game, most of the action was in the Drama cards. Only about five rooms made it into play and about six Whack cards were drawn. The Guest cards were never used. Jen caused a tower to rise up in the middle of board. Jake used the Architect to build himself a tiny green house which allowed him to charge rent for anyone who landed in that room. And I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but Jake sent an army of ninjas off to retrieve something that Jen was trying to steal, but they ended up getting destroyed in a war. Cory played the Scarf Trick card on Nick, who had recently taken up knitting and was literally knitting a scarf during the game. His trick was to instantly change his sad face to a happy face behind the scarf. It was one of those things where you had to be there to appreciate it. This applies for the entire play session too.

I was really happy with everyone’s inventiveness concerning the Drama cards. I felt that each of the players was able to tell an interesting story with their cards and make convincing cases for actions they were trying to perform.

The game ended when Nick entered The Gate and discovered the Walking Room, which he was able to ride. Jen won the game because she had the Hope card in her hand, which granted 10 Gold Hearts at the end of the game. Cory revealed that the hearts were indeed the most valuable currency in the game, worth much more than the red, blue and gold beads.

Overall, I couldn’t have been happier with how the game went. It was exactly how I imagined the game would be played. The actual “rules” that come with the game were rarely referred to. So hopefully this account will inspire you to try playing the game in a completely different way.

This is cross-posted from my blog:

I was in Dallas this past Thursday through Sunday for BoardGameGeek.con, a fantastic board gaming convention. It was a smaller, more laid back type of con than your GenCon or ComicCon, with perhaps only 700 attendees.

I cajoled Cory into going at the very last minute, so he, Nukes, Majcher and I headed up there Thursday morning. The con was at the Westin near the airport. The only thing nearby was a Denny’s and a Shell station. That Denny’s must make bank as it was the only source of reasonably priced “food” within several miles, as we found out.

The con itself was spread out between a large ballroom, a smaller ballroom and an overflow room. Plus there was a foyer area and a games library. The games library was this heavenly wonderland where you could find every game you had ever heard of, no matter how rare or out of print. Games that would cost you $300 on eBay could be checked out and played, even taken up to your room overnight. That right there should tell you about the top shelf quality of people at this convention.

I got to see Mischa again! Mischa is a gaming dynamo. I came down one morning, at what I thought was an early time (maybe 7:30 or 8AM) to find Mischa embroiled in a game of Galaxy Trucker. He had gamed through the night with no signs of stopping. Later that afternoon, I began to suspect the use of illegal stimulants, or, at the very least, a clone. How could someone do this? The secret to his staying power was revealed a few days later, but I shall take it to my grave.

I had the most fun playing obscure games, out of print games or games designed by my friends. Kapitan Wackelpudding left a deep impression. Shipping a stack of coffins and video games to Dracula land is no easy task. Tales of the Arabian Nights stole my heart. It is a game I should have been playing during my childhood at the same time as Talisman or Cosmic Encounter. It is essentially a Choose Your Own Adventure board game with role-playing elements. Thankfully, Z-Man is coming out with a new version next June. I learned the ferocity of soccer moms vying for the best looking garden in Garden Competition.

I played Dan’s Monkey Lab again, outwitting my opponents. I also had a chance to play Majcher’s Honeypot, which is a brilliant abstract strategy game. I was also delighted by his prototype of Fluffy Bunny Tea Party. It involves bunnies sitting around eating cakes, drinking tea and being horrifically polite to each other. Dan sold out of Chains of Fenrir, Majcher sold out of Honeypot and Ian sold out of Taktika. We were all really happy for Ian. He walked around in this kind of daze, unprepared for how well his game would be received.

I brought 12 units of House of Whack and managed to sell 6 of them! At first I was really overwhelmed. I felt kind of stunned by what it was I was trying to do and a deep terror grabbed hold of me. I didn’t think anyone was going to like my game. I wanted to give up and run far away. But on the morning of the flea market, I went down to the show room, claimed half a table, and set up a display for House of Whack. When the browsers flooded in like a Zerg rush, I kept my head and hyped the game to everyone who came by. My very first sale was to Aldie, one of the guys in charge of the convention. That was cool.

Friedemann Friese, a famous game designer was there as the guest of honor. He hung out and played games with everyone like a regular guy. You could always spot him in the room due to his shock of bright green hair. He always looked like he was searching for something, entering a room, head craning about, trying to spot something just out of view. I talked with him about what it was like when he had finished his first game and he said that he felt like he had no idea what he was doing, but, after the first game, nothing else quite gives you the same feeling. I get that.

Sunday morning found us packing up our massive hauls of treasure gleaned from the math trade and the flea market. If I had an extra $100 (and more trunk space), I would have matched Jake and Jen’s impressive finds. I think they got Arkham Horror and Descent for $40 total. Nice.

And then we came back to Austin.

The End.

Oct 162007

I dusted off the Ubermause prototype and brought it over to design night. I got to meet John finally, who turned out to be interesting and pleasant. I had not really looked at the game in about a year and only had a ream of printed notes with the rules scattered throughout. I was able to convey the basic concept of the game and we played until John had to go. We got a lot of things wrong, mainly because I misinterpreted Drey From the Past’s notes to me, Future Drey.

One of Dan’s strong suits is creating elegant designs. I tend to throw tons of ideas into a design, fill it with all kinds of bells and whistles and options, but I often end up with this unwieldy beast.

Dan had some brilliant ideas to simplify the game and actually increase the fun factor. His idea was to integrate the ship power-ups into the mice themselves. That way players are immediately invested in the value of their crew even before they land on a planet. Also, we talked about making the ships themselves mini-boards, environments for the mice to move around in. For instance, an engineer could normally sit in one of the purple engine slots, increasing the ship’s movement. But if the ship got damaged, the engineer could move to the repair slot to fix it, but then you’d lose the extra speed. I was very excited about this idea as it took away several layers of complexity while adding a new fun element.

I shall mock up the new ships when I get a chance and maybe next playtest we’ll actually get to land on a planet and see the mice in action!

Let me cast my memory back to Tuesday night where Ian, Dan and I huddled around a collection of gems as we played Dan’s As Yet Unnamed abstract bead game. I had given the rules a once over (easy to understand, just a few clarifications needed) and then we started to play. An elegant game, beautiful in its simplicity, like Othello. Dan wondered if the rules were clear. At the end of the game, I opened my hand to reveal the most gems. Yes, the rules were very clear. ;)

We discussed the fact that it might be hard to pitch a game which is essentially a sheet of rules one could use with spare change or common household objects. Dan said the hook would be cool, customized pieces. Zombies, perhaps. I agreed with his thinking.

Then Ian set up a game he had thought up on the drive over. It was actually more of a marketplace/resource generation mechanic that might be useful as part of a larger game. It involved a wheel of rotating prices. Buying an item made other items cheaper for other players. It had glaring problems, but the concept was cool and I could see it work as part of another game, as Ian suggested.

I had never played Salvage, so Dan brought that out. Marc arrived shortly thereafter and witnessed Ian’s vast Tool farm. I thought Salvage was well put together, but it failed to engage me like the brilliant Monkey Lab. Dan set the bar pretty high with that one. So if it were *monkeys* scrounging around a post-apocalyptic landscape, I’d totally buy into it.

Afterwards we discussed GenCon and Ian held forth about his deep love for Reiner Knizia. He shared a few poems he had written in the designer’s honor and we all kind of had a moment.

Ian brought up the idea of a Flywheel podcast. A monthly program in which we all dissected a game from a designer’s point of view. Rather than reviewing a game, we would deconstruct it, explaining why we loved or hated specific mechanics in the game. The podcast would also be an avenue for advertising our own games and raising awareness of our projects. We all seemed very interested in this idea. Once a month would have a small footprint on our busy schedules. Ian has the equipment, we’re all pretty tech savy, and I’ve actually done podcast work before.

Marc whipped out his Pangaea game and I was soon humbled by Dan and Marc’s wicked deployment of little blocks. Since there are so many games on the market involving settlers roaming about an island, I suggested that the game be re-themed to take place on a microscope slide, a world of amoebas and paramecium. Blank stares. Then I think Ian mentioned dinosaurs. Everyone loves dinosaurs!

At the end of the evening a design challenge was posed: Take your favorite game and transform it into a dungeon crawl. The components and essence of the original game must remain, but game play must involve “kicking in the door, killing the monster, taking its stuff.” Dungeons of Puerto Rico, anyone?