Channel A: The Life of a Card Game

(A guest post by Ewen Cluney)

494bb2c8ce284dcb939e61f3f268ce41_largeI hit on the idea for Channel A during the ridiculous rush of inspiration that came from discovering Cards Against Humanity. I’d had tremendous fun playing CAH with my friends, and being that rare creature, a tabletop RPG fan who isn’t much into board games, I desperately wanted to explore this new design space of card games that are more about words and social interactions. I also wanted to make something that was less Cards Against Humanity (“A clandestine butt scratch.”) and more in keeping with my own shiny anime-inspired aesthetic.

It’s a bit less true now, but particularly in the 80s and 90s anime titles tended to be made up of a strange word salad that had an oddly compelling internal logic. That was how you got titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Aura Battler Dunbine, and Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon. I very quickly hit on the idea of having those kinds of words and building a game around putting them together into titles. It was ridiculously easy to put together a list of anime title words to put on cards. I call these Title Cards, and the other key element of the game is Premise Cards, which give difference concepts, genres, and elements (vampires, cyberpunk dystopia, racing, slice of life, post-apocalyptic, catgirls, etc.). Players would assemble a title from up to four of their hand of title cards, and aim for something that fits the two premise cards chosen for the round.

I started off by putting together a prototype I could print up on cardstock and cut out at home, and in fact modeled it on the 2”x2” cards of the print and play version of CAH. With tabletop RPGs I generally just write things up in a word processor and maybe kludge together a character sheet, and then make sure to bring the right dice along for playtesting. For a card game there’s this whole “prototyping” phase that’s actually kind of fun, though it gets repetitive when you have a game that uses 300+ cards and do multiple prototypes. As humble as the look of the cards was, the game quickly proved to be tremendous fun. I’m very interested in creative constraints, for how they provide both a helpful starting point and a creative challenge, and the combination of holding to the Premise Cards and being limited to your own hand of Title Cards has fascinating results.

I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted the final version of Channel A to look like, and I found that I could get pretty close to it by myself. I commissioned artwork of a set of six chibi characters from an artist (Dawn Davis – http://artyprophet.tumblr.com/) and use what Photoshop chops I have to put together card designs. The Premise Cards have the premise text in a simple typewriter font, while the Title Cards each have both an index for easy viewing while you have a hand of cards and a fancy logo version of the same word. Making the logos was basically a matter of getting creative with fonts and layer effects, and while a professional graphic designer can do a lot more, I was able to get pretty decent results from things like color choice, drop shadows, gradients, etc. I used a site called The Game Crafter (www.thegamecrafter.com) to get an updated prototype printed. TGC is a Print On Demand service for board games, sort of like Lulu with less books and more meeples. The results were excellent, and I got a whole lot of play out of that set. I went on to do another iteration with some minor tweaks, but overall I was very satisfied with the game. I had kind of lucked out and stumbled on something that didn’t need a huge amount of playtesting and reworking, as sometimes happens.

The big question was what to do with the finished game. It was easy to put it up for sale on The Game Crafter, but even allowing myself only around a dollar of profit on each set solid it still cost $35 plus shipping (which added another $10 or so). In order to reach any audience to speak of beyond some friends who had extra money to toss around, it needed to be cheaper and easier to come by. With any kind of printing or manufacturing the more volume you get made the cheaper each unit will be, but board game manufacturers generally don’t take orders of less than 1,000 units. My two options were to eventually try to do a Kickstarter to publish it myself, or to seek out an existing board game publisher.

We’re not totally past the era where Submission Guidelines are a thing, but publishers that have them are getting rarer, especially in a niche like tabletop gaming. Even so, finding a publisher was more appealing to me because I don’t know the board game market well, and because I’ve always been more focused on creating things. I’ve done demos and run booths and conventions and enjoyed doing so, but for me it’s an exhausting kind of fun, and I can’t keep it up the way some people do. Looking for a publisher was frustrating though, since few were explicitly accepting submissions, most explicitly didn’t want party games (they’re easy enough to make that there are a lot of bad ones out there), and hardly any gave any indication that they had some clue when it comes to anime. I could write a whole other essay about authenticity and anime fandom, but suffice to say I’ve seen entirely too many game products from publishers who just don’t get anime. I was lucky to come across a publisher that was both receptive and knew anime, namely Asmadi Games (www.asmadigames.com). The main guy behind Asmadi is Chris Cieslik, who designed a game called Whack a Catgirl (which is about throwing plushies and such at a catgirl at an anime con) and who routinely does demos and whatnot at anime conventions (and every kind of con, really).

It’s easy to see finding a publisher as an insurmountable obstacle, and I understand how ludicrously lucky I was to do so without getting a single rejection letter. On the other hand it wasn’t solely luck; when I contacted Asmadi Games I was making a careful, laser-focused choice. I picked a smaller publisher that wouldn’t be getting a massive volume of submissions, that has put out games in a similar niche without being too similar, and that shows the ambition to accomplish a lot of things I couldn’t pull off by myself. Asmadi is currently running a Kickstarter funding drive to launch the game (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1889906682/channel-a/), and over the course of that they’ll be showing it off at four separate conventions. If it works out (I am crossing my fingers so hard right now) we’ll be able to share this game with a ton of people, and hopefully I’ll get to design some of the expansions I’ve been thinking about.

– Ewen Cluney

Steven Savage Steven Savage (2590 Posts)

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.