Yes Please, Shanna Germain!
I sat down with Shanna Germain to talk about MCG’s newest Kickstarter, No Thank You, Evil!.
So.... first question has got to be - Why a kid's game??
That’s a great question! The idea started forming when we began to read blogs and social media comments from gamers who were running Numenera with their kids. It was surprising at first, because we never designed Numenera to be a kids’ game—the world can be pretty dark and weirdly complex—but we quickly came to realize that it was the rule system that appealed to them, because it’s pretty streamlined compared to many RPGs. So parents were running Numenera, but they were incorporating things like Disney princesses into the world to make it more appropriate for their kids. Watching kids play with their parents—something that many of us didn’t get to do when we were kids for whatever reason—was so incredible that we knew we wanted to help facilitate that.
Since a lot of our readers are interested in game design, can you tell us a little about the process?
For me, the process starts with what I call magpie-ing. I start collecting things and ideas. I read everything, watch everything, and play everything I can get my hands on. Once I have a little stockpiled treasure of ideas, moods, and mental images, I can start writing about the big picture feel of the game. I do this on a giant whiteboard that just gets fuller and more bizarre looking as time goes on. Once that's done, I write a draft. And then it's time for feedback from many, many playtesters.
I have heard you talk about what a great team MCG is. Let us in on a little of the magic sauce. Does someone with an idea 'pitch' it? And once a game is a go, does everyone have a specific role to play in bringing that to market?
We have a fantastic team -- I feel so grateful all the time. There are six of us, and we do all play different roles, but everyone has lots of skills, so we can fill in gaps for each other. One of the great things is that we're all creative people, so our early brainstorming sessions are often full of "Ooh, we could do this! And this!" and then we have to go, "Okay, we can't do all of those things. We have to choose." Bruce, Monte, and I make up the core of the creative team, in that we do most of the writing and game design. Bear Weiter is our art director, so he works with artists, does layout, and just basically makes us beautiful. Charles and Tammie tackle customer service, marketing, fulfillment, and the business details of running the company. We all help out on Kickstarters, social media, and pretty much everything else that comes our way.
We also play a lot of "tenth man" where if we all agree, someone has to look at it from the other side and argue against our decision, just to see if we can uncover any potential pitfalls.
Sounds like a fantastic environment! And speaking of Kickstarters, I see No Thank You, Evil! has funded and stretch goals are happening.
One of the things I love about working for a company whose mottos is "Make what you love" is that we get to take risks to make things we're passionate about. No Thank You, Evil! felt like a risk. Would players want a game specifically designed for families? But we were too passionate about it to not at least try. I'm so delighted by its success so far.
What was it like playtesting with children?
Playtesting with kids has been incredible. And humbling. I've been a writer for almost 25 years, and I consider myself to be pretty creative, but then you sit around a game table with a bunch of kids and they just blow you away with the things they come up with. We've done a lot of playtesting with kids who have physical or cognitive concerns like dyslexia and autism, and it's been amazing to watch them find a way to express their characters within their comfort zones and skill sets.
What's the youngest kid you had at the table?
The game is really designed for kids 5 and up (or possibly 4, if they have some prior roleplaying experience), but we've had kids as young as 2 join in. At that age, they're really just doing their own thing and hanging out with the "big kids."
Did the older kids take over and run the show, or is there something in the game design that levels the play for littler ones?
The rules are specifically designed to allow different ages to play together, because most families don't have three 5-year-olds. They have a 5-year-old, a 7-year-old and a 12-year old. So we wanted to make something that was fun for all the players (and the parents as well).
We did this by creating three different levels of complexity in the character creation, so younger kids can play characters that require less choice and allow more action, while older kids can give their characters more nuance and depth. And there is no 'right way' to play, so the game can reward players for whatever actions they take, whether they want to have a tea party with the monster (it's surprising how often that is what the youngest players want to do!) or they want to sneak by it, or they want to fight it. There's also a special stat Pool you can use to help each other out, and we're finding that older players use this Pool a lot to help out the younger players at the table.
Once a player is old enough that they want to take over, they can try running the game for younger players.
Many parents I know are really starved for games that everyone in the family can enjoy. In the future, will we see new adventures for No Thank You, Evil!?
I hope so! We just hit the stretch goal that added an adventure book to the game, so that allows us to include some really cool adventures out of the gate. The one I'm writing right now has a time machine that's on the fritz, which means that all kinds of crazy things can happen. We'd love to do an expansion pack to the game, with more adventures and characters and creatures, but of course a lot of that will depend on how the Kickstarter does and what the demand is like. It would be awesome if this really opened doors to all kinds of great new family RPGs from companies.
Just reading that makes me grin.
I know we need to wrap up, but is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
One of the things that I've learned from watching parents who are involved in the playtesting is that so many of them are passionate gamers who have been wanting to share their hobby with their kids, but weren't really sure how. So it's been wonderful to watch them intuitively figure it out as they helped their kids create characters. Getting kids into RPGs isn't as hard or complex as it might seem. Just jump in with some dice and a character, and see what happens!
I don't have kids of my own, but I plan on taking No Thank You, Evil! to family gatherings and recruiting a new generation of nieces and nephews into gaming!
That's awesome! I love hearing that. Thank you for the great questions.
Thank you, Shanna!