From the time I first saw the ingredients (which were leaked a mite early) for this year’s Game Chef design competition, to the time I hit “save” and “export” on the complete game: 17 hours and change. My second fastest time!
The theme was released a day or two before the contest, and it immediately set my mind to working. A game that could only be played once, and is about the end of the world… The immediate suggestion was a game that had to be physically destroyed to play, for the first part. This is not a new concept – Sweet Agatha is the most prominent expression of which I know – but I wanted to go further than “just” cutting up the game. I wanted it to burn.
(That, ultimately, would suggest a solution to the second part: you have a candle in which to burn pieces of the game, and that candle serves as your timer. If the game’s not won by the time the candle sputters out, the world is over.)
In Sweet Agatha, the fragments of the game become artifacts to use, but I wanted to put a different spin on that: first off, the act of cutting should itself be significant, not a means to the end of getting a cut-up game. I decided that the act of cutting loose part of your game sheet was to be reflected mechanically in the game by getting a benefit for doing so. To encourage the burning part, you get another benefit, a more powerful one in fact, when you burn a piece that you’ve cut away.
What’s to stop people from just cutting up and burning their game? Sweet Agatha plays with that notion of our reverence for the physical manifestation of the game, but by now, the indie game crowd is a bit hip to that trick. Some of the other games by people I expect to be involved in the contest are exploring the pushing of player buttons, in the sense of going into difficult personal places and dealing with sensitive issues, so I embed a sense of personal attachment by having each of the portions of the game sheet be a very personal question. In the game, you literally give up something intimate about yourself in order to get access to the magic contained in the raw stuff of it.
The ingredient list, once launched, seemed to me to suggest “character types”, but I didn’t want to go down that route, so I gave each player a number of special abilities mapping to three of the four keywords, and used the fourth (Coyote) in perhaps an obvious way – as the trickster big bad behind the opposing forces to the players in the game fiction. Since I had a theme that involved Anansi/Spider and Coyote was going to be the “villain”, it made sense to take those other three ingredients and find Native American mythological analogues for them as well, though with some ecumenical mixology happening as well (hey, I taught cross-cultural mythology classes for three years, it can’t be helped). “Doctor” suggested Snake, on account of the caduceus, “Lantern” became fire from Thunderbird, and “Mimic” could only be Crow.
And there you have the backstory and the rationale for the mechanics and game abilities given to players. The specific Cut and Burn abilities were loosely inspired by thinking of each question as manifesting a particular broad archetypal emotion, and then thinking about what narrative function dredging those things up out of yourself would accomplish if they could be wielded as things.
So it goes. Anansi’s Children is now up on the Games page, in two parts: the Tale, and the Rules.