Die Die My Darling

I’ve feel like I’ve reached the limits of my knowledge. I sometimes doubt the wisdom I’ve inherited from my forefailures. It was fun for awhile—writing in such a self deprecating way—but I want to write about my design work in a living world, now, and not as party of some anonymous board game eulogy. It’s impossible to look forward when you’re always looking back. That said, we’re going to take a look back at two games that I refuse to give up on, and how I’m moving them forward.

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I recently read a great blog post from Micheal over at Gravitas Board Games, in which they discuss rebooting their current project, Fusion. In particular, it was about killing their darlings. Michael is a really nice guy, and we had a brief discussion about the topic. The idea stirred something in me. Naturally, I did what any writer worth their salt would do, and stole the idea. I started to think about the darlings I’ve killed, and those which’ve yet to be killed.

Having only been back from GenCon for a few weeks, I’ve been really focused on the the games we brought with us our first year there. So, let’s start with those, Kaiju: Deck Destruction, and Side Effects May Include

Kaiju: Deck Destruction was a fantastic game idea, had some really novel design concepts, and it was just completely broken. We thought we had a 95% completed game, when in reality it was closer to 50%. Then, some guy offered to buy one of the prototypes from me right there in the Playtest Hall. I told him the game needed more work, but I knew.photo 1

It would sell.

So, I took the game back to the lab. I gutted it. I hit snags, took detours, and just lost it completely. Then, inspiration hit and I made a Kaiju more akin to a duck’s back then a chicken’s neck. It was great: several viable strategies, quick game play, and people just enjoyed it. But…

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The Kill Your Darlings Journal with cover art by Guy Shield.

The idiom, Kill your darlings is now about as cliché as, dark stormy nights, silver linings in clouds, and cat’s who enjoy ripping out tongues. Everyone know that it’s a quote from Faulkner. Wait, now I thought it was G.K. Chesterton. No, its definitely Ginsberg. Stephen King? Turns out, it’s earliest known usage was in 1914, from a lecture given by Arthur Quiller-Couch at Cambridge.1

It’s always the quiet ones.

Everyone knows what it means, right? The answer is yes, but mostly no. We’re doing it wrong. We’re not killing our darlings, we’re casting dark ritual spells to ensure their souls never leave their bodies again.

This so often helpful idiom’s use and abuse can push creators beyond the pale. It can take the soul out the act of creation. Designs can become streamlined to the point of sterility. Not just in games, but in architecture, fashion, graphic design. Any creative act can be destroyed this way.

Don’t kill all your darlings, just the ones who have it coming. Keep the rest chained up in your basement. Because you can go a few darlings too far, and end up with nothing but a box full of hand sanitizer and some dried up baby wipes—those things don’t stay good forever, people, and they will mold. You don’t want all your darlings lying on the floor in pools of blood. You won’t have anyone to talk to when your, real, friends aren’t around.

So, I’m bringing my favorite darling back. There will be Kaiju on a board destroying buildings and fighting each other for control of the City, the way God intended. That’s what was supposed to make Kaiju special. That’s what people enjoyed when they played it. That’s where the real fun was. So version 3.0 of Kaiju: Deck Destruction is in progress.

Side Effects May Include… Let’s leave that one for another day.

If I’m not back here by next Friday, send in the rescue party.

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1  Slate.com – Who Really Said You Should “Kill Your Darlings”? by Forrest Wickman

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5 thoughts on “Die Die My Darling

  1. Michael

    Hi Gary, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you as well. Thanks heaps for splashing us all over your header – much appreciated. Loved the line “I did what any writer worth their salt would do, and stole the idea”. Very funny.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the risk of going too far. Our main problem wasn’t that the game wasn’t fun or interesting – it just went on too damn long. It is much simpler now, but there’s a real concern that some of the tension has gone as well. I *think* we’ve maintained it, but it can be very hard to be sure. The downside to “killing your darlings” is that there are several large changes at once. Play-testing, play-testing…

    The “Deck Destruction” concept – does that mean you’re trying to remove cards from your deck? How does it differ to the standard idea of thinning your deck in most Deckbuilders?

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      1. Michael

        Going pretty well, thanks. Our game is doing much more of what we want it to do. We’ve had one play-test with a couple of friends, which was interesting… one guy played very defensively, and ended up winning, but only because at the crucial point his opponent didn’t spot a play he could have made until too late. The interesting thing was that the first guy didn’t mean to play defensively – he just really liked the defensive cards, as opposed to building up his core attributes that would have allowed him to attack. So I’ve limited slightly the hand-size of defensive cards, that will hopefully push players towards spending on the harmful attributes.

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