We wanted to design a card game that had partners in it as we were big fans of the game TIchu. We came up with some interesting mechanics that made the game feel like we were playing volleyball. Knowing that games based on sports are hard sells (how many jock/geek combo people are out there really?!), we came up with an idea to turn it into a game about juggling.
When we made the prototype we made the pictures on the cards with higher numbers, harder things to juggle – like chainsaws, raw fish and even cats (hey have you every tried to juggle cats? Steve Martin can tell you how challenging that can be). We thought this added a fun element to an otherwise logical game. We called it Up in the Air (as this was years before the George Clooney movie came out).
I had the chance to show this game to R&R Games at a convention and after playing a few rounds the gentleman to whom I was showing it said something like, “I’m sure this is a fine game, but I thought it was going to be more of a goofy game based on the fact that you’re juggling cats.”
This was an important lesson for us to learn. Does the 30 second ‘elevator pitch’ for the game match the game play and mechanics? So we could have taken this two ways – either make Up in the Air’s theme a bit more serious or make the game play more goofy (or a third option would be to ignore the feedback and try showing it to another publisher!). We decided to look into the mechanics as we wanted to keep the partner aspect and the goofy juggling concept – but were wondering how to make the game play goofier.
We brainstormed a bit and one wacky idea that was thrown into the mix was, “since it’s about juggling, what if there was some sort of dexterity or balancing aspect to the game?” Now that’s a silly idea for a partner based card game, but something about that idea got us thinking about it. We had yet to design a dexterity game and we tried to think of what it would look like.
After more brainstorming and then prototyping, we came up with an amazing idea that involved cards and balancing blocks. However, now the theme of juggling cats didn’t fit at all with these new mechanics so we abandoned that theme altogether and renamed it Junkyard. Not only did we abandon the theme, but even the partner aspect was abandoned as the game had changed so much and it didn’t need that any more.
So far Junkyard has been shown to 5 publishers including Hasbro and Mattel. We’re still waiting to find a publisher that wants to publish the game.
The lesson we took out of this experience was to make sure the title and theme match the gameplay mechanics. Does the title sound like a kid’s game but in actuality it’s a pretty challenging strategy game? Or vice-versa? Think about the games you’re trying to get published and if the title and theme matches well with the game play.
For each game that you’ve designed, write down the title, theme and a one sentence pitch on how you’d explain it to someone else. Objectively analyze if that matches the kind of game that it is when it’s being played.