The main reason that I haven’t been blogging much lately is that most of my free time had been taken up by a boardgame design contest. The Champaign-Urbana Design Organization is sponsoring a competition called CUDO Plays, which encourages locals to collaborate in designing, playtesting and manufacturing their own games.
I’ve always had a lot of boardgame ideas percolating in my head, but have had a lot of trouble turning them into something playable. When the contest was announced last fall, I thought it might be the chance to finally complete such a project.
At the kick-off event, I found myself talking to a couple other random gamers (who shall be known as Bryan and Paul, as those are their names) and the three of us decided to form a team.
Bryan already had a semi-fleshed out concept for a game called Monsterville, which would’ve placed the players in charge of districts of a city besieged by monsters. For a brief time we turned the concept upside down and had the monsters running the town, defending it from humans. Eventually, we threw out both ideas in favor of something loosely inspired by one of my favorite films, The Cabin in the Woods.
Cabin Full of Monsters casts the players as vaguely evil forces, each of which recruits a team of creatures to stalk and dispatch the unfortunate human visitors to a certain woodland cabin. The bodies of the deceased are then placed in one of four graveyards depending on the successful monster’s preferred method of mayhem: Terrifying, Surprising, Gory or Creative.
The game is meant to be semi-cooperative. The players must work together to keep any of the graveyards from being emptied (each turn, one or more bodies are removed for reasons that remain ill-defined). Should that happen, all players lose. On the other hand, all players can win if the supply of potential victims is exhausted, leaving only a “sole survivor.”
In addition, each player has an individual goal (for example, at least 12 points’ worth of victims in each graveyard), many of which overlap. After eight rounds, players check to see whether they’ve completed their victory condition.
Bryan and I share a love of monster movies, and we took the opportunity to fill the cabin with homages and in-jokes. Naturally, there are Cabin in the Woods references (Redneck Zombies, Unicorn, Merman). There are gamer memes (Gazebo, The Darkness). There are cryptids (Chupacabra, Skunk Ape). And there are swipes from movies including The Crawling Eye, Lifeforce, Death Bed and Flash Gordon (“No, not the Bore Worms!”).
The game required a crapton of art, and a local teacher named Carmen came to the rescue, recruiting her students to depict many of the monsters. The results were often wonderful, sometimes bizarre and always charming. (The Skunk Ape, a Down South cousin of Bigfoot, wound up as a literal half-skunk, half-ape.)
Components include 192 cards; 160 tokens to represent victims, monsters and “blood” (the game’s currency); a large gameboard detailing the cabin and graveyard; and eight smaller boards for the individual players. Oh, and a cloth bag from which to randomly draw the victims. I asked a coworker of mine for help making a bag, and this is what her clever daughter crafted. (No matter what else happens with this game, I am keeping the bag!)
To make the tokens, we utilized the University of Illinois’ community “fab lab” and its handy laser cutter. One of the best things about this whole experience was learning about the resources available to folks who want to exercise their creativity, and I’m looking forward to making my own tchtochkes in the future.
It took a full four months from our first meeting to the final product, which we turned in to the competition committee last weekend. This coming Sunday we’ll get to see all of the finished designs and find out who won. For me, the real prize is seeing a complicated game to completion, and perhaps the opportunity to make my own copy to play with friends.