Patrick Rauland: Hello everyone and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast. Today we're going to be talking with Adi Slepack and Liz Roche who are the designers behind Someone Has Died which is an improvisational party game which funded on Kickstarter last year. Welcome to the show.
Adi Slepack: Hello.
Liz Roche: Thanks for having us.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah, great. First of all, this is obviously two people. How did both of you get into board game design?
Liz Roche: We're actually two people stacked on top of each other in a trench coat. It's common error.
Patrick Rauland: Oh, I didn't know that. All right.
Patrick Rauland: How did you get into design?
Adi Slepack: I guess it sort of started with me. Liz and I went to college together at Wesleyan University and over the course of that time personally I had a nerd awakening where I started to be introduced to board games in the first place. In my last semester of school the film department, of which I was a major, a student, decided to offer some video game classes for the first time and one was a lot more computer science focused and the other was more aesthetic based. I clearly went for the film aesthetics one and did not learn how to program, so all of our game projects were analog, they were all tabletop.
Adi Slepack: Someone Has Died was one of the games that I made in that class and once I graduated I decided to keep with it because I was fresh out and hungry and unemployed and needed some stuff to do. A couple of months in, once I decided that I wanted to really see it through, I brought Liz to the team to help me out, bounce ideas off of and handle some of the logistical stuff that I didn't foresee.
Patrick Rauland: I'm curious, so Liz are you also in a similar program or did you just go to school together and you're in the theater department or something totally unrelated?
Liz Roche: No. We were roommates throughout college and I was actually an English and gender studies major, so nothing to do with film at all. After I was kind of in the same boat as Adi after graduation where I was like: What do I do now? Adi was doing this really cool thing and I got jealous so I came on board about six months afterward, after kind of unofficially helping out at some local conventions and things like that, doing some play tests. I officially joined the team December, 2016.
Patrick Rauland: Adi, you said you had a ‘nerd awakening'. Was there a specific game that got you into your awakening or a show or what was that?
Adi Slepack: I would say that probably a lot of people … I mean not directly in college, it was tabletop on Geek and Sundry that really introduced me to it but it was just the environment of students that I was with at school that were more likely to share interest in film and in games and in comics and kind of introduced me to a lot of that stuff that in high school I didn't really get the chance to explore.
Patrick Rauland: For the people who don't know, what is Geek and Sundry?
Adi Slepack: Geek and Sundry is Felicia Day's empire of Geekdom, I suppose. For several years on that website, I think, Wil Wheaton hosts a YouTube show where he and a bunch of semi-celebrities play various tabletop games. I was like: This is the greatest thing ever.
Patrick Rauland: It is absolutely great. I've seen a few of those ones with Wil Wheaton and they're really enjoyable. Liz, what about you? Was there a game that got you into the nerd world? Was there a show or Geek and Sundry?
Liz Roche: I think again, like Adi, growing up I had friends who were interested in board games, especially in high school, we played a lot of the more traditional games, so we would play UNO and Clue and things like that and those were fun, but it wasn't until college that I kind of learned about other games out there and the one that stands out to me, which Adi introduced me to, is this very small, I think kids game, called GUBS.
Patrick Rauland: What is that?
Adi Slepack: That's the first one that I picked up on a whim at some comic convention or something. I was like: I'm gonna start playing games.
Liz Roche: How would describe GUBS, Adi?
Adi Slepack: It's like … I've heard it described to me as like Magic light and I've never played Magic so I don't know if that is true, but essentially you are building a colony of GUBS.
Liz Roche: Little [crosstalk 00:05:16]
Adi Slepack: And you have various little cards that allow you. Yeah. I don't know if you picked up on it but it's ‘bug' backwards, they kind of look like little bugs.
Patrick Rauland: Oh, okay.
Adi Slepack: They're really creative. You can add GUBS into play from your hand, you can protect them with various mushrooms and butterflies and toad hoppers I think is one. You can also lure them from your opponents and kill them too, which kind of sounds like a turn. But the most interesting part of the game in my mind is that there are event cards that you shuffle into the deck randomly.
Adi Slepack: Three of them are ‘G', ‘U', ‘B' and they're shuffled in and once you draw all three, the game is over so you never know how long the game is going to be. The other ones are like whoever draws it discards their whole hand. Whoever draws it has to pass their stuff to the right, so it'll be like environmental hazards that affect the game play, which I found really enjoyable.
Patrick Rauland: Sure. I'll have to check it out. One of the best things about this podcast is I now have a ‘want to play' list that is massive.
Adi Slepack: Oh, I bet.
Patrick Rauland: But I want to check this one out. I really want to talk about your game. Someone Has Died is an improv game. Maybe I have like a … I do have a computer science background so maybe I'm all about probabilities and statistics and numbers, and an improv game is so abstract to me. How do you even design an improv game and maybe you can talk a little bit about your game just to give people an idea of what it's like.
Adi Slepack: Sure. Someone Has Died is an improvised will arbitration. You have one person who plays an estate keeper, a lawyer essentially, who sets the scene by deciding who died with the help of an identity card, how they died and what they left behind. Everyone else at the table gets a hand of identity relationship and backstory cards from which they establish a base character and you maintain that same character over four kind of legal-themed rounds of play. Wow, talking is hard sometimes but … Over the four rounds you build upon that character and more cards are added into the mix and you ultimately are supposed to try to convince the estate keeper that you are the most deserving of whatever the deceased left behind.
Patrick Rauland: Where did the idea come from? I hope it wasn't someone in your family …
Adi Slepack: No, no, no. Thank goodness, no.
Liz Roche: [crosstalk 00:08:13] all the time. Maybe we should just make up a story of like my great aunt Hilda who died and I had to go to her will reading.
Adi Slepack: If you want to, you are welcome.
Liz Roche: How we came up with it: My great aunt Hilda died … No.
Adi Slepack: The real story is in that class at Wesleyan where the prompt for the assignment that ultimately ended up being this game was to create a social game and we were given Werewolf and Mafia as examples. Those games are great, arguably perfect games, and in those games people die every round. When we kind of got stuck and couldn't come up with anything we said: Okay, what if we start with a dead person? And the idea for the will arbitration came shortly after that.
Patrick Rauland: Oh, that's such a great, I want to say twist because also I hate being in those games and you're like killed on the first turn. You're like: Okay, well I'll just sit by myself for the next half hour.
Adi Slepack: Uh-huh. You've got to have a very entertaining god character to make that entertaining.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Okay, so it looks … I believe you self-published, right? You launched it yourself with your own little Gather Round Games. How did you decide to self-publish this?
Liz Roche: Yeah.
Adi Slepack: Liz, do you want to speak to that?
Liz Roche: Well at least from someone who came in kind of late, I think as Adi and then later both of us were bringing the game to other people and building an audience and finding this indie game design community in New York, we met a lot of other indie game designers who had done Kickstarter and done the self-publishing route. I think part of it was that we had so many resources who were so knowledgeable about that strategy, like how to go about that and what to do and what not to do.
Liz Roche: That's hugely helpful because I think any indie game designer will tell you that help from other designers is so, so important and not just about the actual mechanics or the play testing, but about how you actually get the game into other people's hands. I think for us it was a way that we saw we could get it into people's hands and we had a network of people who could help us figure out how to do that.
Adi Slepack: Yeah, it's almost … It was only afterwards that we found out about other avenues that we could have done it, like to become a part of Unpub, which is a network of game designers who bring prototype games to conventions and then they sit with publishers and actually try to sell the thing. We didn't even … As a matter of circumstance, we did not know that was even an option until after the fact, just because everyone that we ended up being acquainted with went the self-publishing route.
Liz Roche: Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: That's kind of fascinating that you're, I guess I want to say in a bubble where … You know what I mean? If you're surrounded by people and they all self-publish, then you don't even consider that you can talk to a traditional publisher and they'll publish it for you.
Liz Roche: Yes.
Patrick Rauland: I think that's really interesting.
Adi Slepack: Yeah. They're both … From what we've heard and sort of picked up, they're both very different as these ways to go about it.
Liz Roche: I feel like we've only now recently started to learn more about what that would mean to approach publishers of the game, so yeah, that's still something … We're always learning.
Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Speaking of learning, you co-designed this game and I'd love … You're the first people on the show where I've interviewed two people at the same time. I'd love to know: What are the challenges and benefits of co-designing.
Adi Slepack: In the case of this, it was a project that I sort of started and then brought Liz in for feedback and advice. The game was in a playable state when Liz came in and then at one point while we were working together Liz pitched the idea for the recess round of the game, which is after a couple rounds where the estate keeper is sort of in charge, the estate keeper says: All right, no new backstory cards. We're going to take a break for lunch and each player gets to ask one question of another character in the game, which is a wonderful part of the game because one of our biggest feedback points throughout play testing was: We want more ways to interact with each other because our characters are so weird and a lot of the way the game was structured was hindering that a little bit.
Adi Slepack: When Liz pitched the recess round, it really opened it up because we had in place cards that allowed some interaction, but this was like a full round where the characters had the forefront to interact with each other. Moving forward, probably we'll be discovering some of those benefits and conflicts as we're coming up with ideas at the same time.
Liz Roche: Yeah, so far.
Adi Slepack: I think it went pretty well.
Liz Roche: We could always … You never know what tomorrow [crosstalk 00:13:47]
Adi Slepack: We can spend time together and we can have a murder.
Liz Roche: Yeah, because I wasn't part of the initial conception of the game and I was able to witness the way it changed over time from a school assignment to six months later when it had been played by people in New York City at game events. I feel like I am kind of an accidental game designer. I've learned a lot about designing games through this process, showing this off at conventions and meeting other designers and play testing their games that are still working. But yeah, I kind of jumped on board as the train was moving.
Patrick Rauland: I just want to go back to one point. I think you said … Darn it, this is what happens when I have a short-term memory. I think you said: We haven't had a problem yet. You two lived together, you were roommates so I'm guessing you can work through a lot of issues.
Liz Roche: Both of us are non-confrontational people.
Patrick Rauland: Cool. Moving forward you're probably going to start a design together.
Adi Slepack: Yeah. That's our next step after fulfillment.
Patrick Rauland: Ah. Oh, you're still fulfilling the game.
Adi Slepack: Yes, we are.
Patrick Rauland: Got it. I forget … I think for me being mostly a consumer in this world, I forget that after I press the ‘Back This Project' button that the people on the other end still have to do work. I think I forget that.
Liz Roche: Yeah. I think a lot of people forget that too.
Patrick Rauland: Okay. Let's say you finish fulfillment and you wake up the next morning. What type of games do you want to design?
Liz Roche: We want to continue making storytelling games and I think specifically cooperative games. I've always been a huge fan of cooperative games and I would love to kind of combine that element with this great storytelling aspect that we found in Someone Has Died.
Adi Slepack: Yeah. When we say ‘storytelling' I think we don't specifically or particularly mean like the outright telling of a story the way that we have in this game. Maybe it's more of like an environment for storytelling or a mood for storytelling. We definitely want to experiment with the different ways that board games can tell stories.
Patrick Rauland: I think that's really fertile ground. I went to my first Protospiel a couple of months ago and someone … I said: What game do you have? I just sat down and he said, “A storytelling game.” My first thought was: Oh, this is going to suck. That was my first thought. He pulled out his game and it was great. I guess I feel like there hasn't been enough good examples of a storytelling game so I look forward to seeing whatever you come up with because I think there's a lot of … I think the ground is fertile for storytelling, it's really fertile.
Liz Roche: I think that's also a pretty common reaction because when we're at conventions or events and people sit down to play, a lot of people will sit down blindly to play the game and when I give them the pitch and say: This is a storytelling improv game, I can see the fear in their eyes. Their eyes just widen all of a sudden and I kind of have to ease them into it, like it's very open and loose and just have fun with it. I've always said that this game is a way of having the fun role-playing parts of like D&D without actually having to play D&D or any other role-playing game that can intimidate people with the big booklets and the statistics and all that stuff.
Patrick Rauland: Sure.
Liz Roche: I feel like being able to distill other elements of tabletop RPGs into more accessible board games or card games is something that we're very interested in.
Patrick Rauland: I like that. Are there any games out there that are inspirational to you?
Liz Roche: None.
Adi Slepack: Oh yeah, absolutely. When we went in on this like sort of gloomy-but-funny theme, definitely Gloom was a big one where aesthetically it's kind of like dark and spooky, but then all the cards have prompts on them that rhyme and you're encouraged to tell a story but not forced to tell a story as you're kind of intentionally killing off your family before everyone else dies.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. This game has like transparent cards, right?
Adi Slepack: Yes.
Liz Roche: Yes. It's such a good game. It's much better than our game.
Patrick Rauland: Oh. I think I played it like a long time ago. Yeah.
Adi Slepack: Yeah.
Liz Roche: I'm just saying.
Adi Slepack: Thanks, Liz. You're not wrong, but this is a promotional interview. Another one that definitely inspired us along the way was Fiasco, where even from the point of when we were in the class, the first iteration of the game we presented, our professor was like, “You should try Fiasco and then do this again.” Fiasco really pointed out the importance of relationships in storytelling games and that has come into play in some of the things we did with … That was certainly inspirational.
Patrick Rauland: I like it. One of the things that … I don't think I noticed board game designers until I started getting into board game design myself. I never looked at the name on the box. Are there any designers whose games you just love or is there any designer who's done something cool that you're following?
Liz Roche: We're definitely huge fans of the indie designers that we've met along the way. We have some friends who made a game called Complicated Board Game, the Card Game, and just recently a game called Status Report! Yeah, I feel like I'm such a huge fan of the indie designers. What about you, Adi?
Patrick Rauland: Yeah.
Adi Slepack: We like our friends, primarily. Definitely a guy who we've gotten to meet more recently who I certainly look up to is Matt Fantastic, who has his hands in lots of different pools of the industry.
Liz Roche: Yeah.
Adi Slepack: It's just a marvel to see how he's managed to like … He's full-time and it's super … He has done like every kind of game. I think he has a storytelling game on the horizon and he's done an X-Files game that just came out, so he's everywhere. That kind of versatility is very admirable and also just like being very nice, despite his success he's very nice and willing to help.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. You mentioned he was a full-time designer. I kind of got the like he's full-time and that … I think the way you phrase it made me think that's like your ideal of success. Is that what success looks like for you in the board game space?
Adi Slepack: I'm not sure because Liz earlier said the phrase, sort of like ‘accidental game designer' and I definitely relate to that as well. This wasn't part of my career that I anticipated or not even career, like a hobby that I anticipated. Whether or not I want it to be a full-time thing I'm not 100% certain on. Over the past few months … Well month only, we have a couple of months to go, Liz and I have been part of a creative residency where we are primarily working on the game and that's been pretty pleasant because I get to work on that stuff and be creative on a daily basis and then I feel like I don't have to race to get my game work done on the weekends. I've been taking weekends for the first time, I think, in my life and I am enjoying it.
Patrick Rauland: Oh, that sounds great.
Adi Slepack: Yeah.
Liz Roche: I think just from …
Patrick Rauland: What about you, Liz? Do you feel the same way or?
Liz Roche: As you were saying talking about the full-time designers, I think it's more just like how inexplicable of a thing that is. It's more of like … That seems like an impossible thing they're doing, so God bless them for figuring out how to do it. I don't think I necessarily see myself as a full-time game designer, just forgetting the completely inexplicable part of that. I think I've always enjoyed games as a hobby and fun and I think I … I feel like it's a good place to kind of have other aspects of my life and form like game design and my place in the game community. I don't super see myself doing like a full-time game design thing.
Patrick Rauland: Hmm. I like it. Okay, so-
Adi Slepack: That's what we said … Sorry to interrupt but just because you said: Is it a metric of success? As far as I'm concerned, we've exceeded beyond what we ever could have thought we had. Every couple of contentions or whatever we set a new goal and then it falls into our lap. Not to say that we aren't working for it, but we have been very pleased with the ride that we've been on so far.
Liz Roche: Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: I have always really liked the expression: Luck is a combination of preparation and opportunity. I just want to make sure I'm giving you credit here because: Yes you've had opportunity. I'm sure the right people looked at your game at the right time or the fact that you two roomed together in college, that's an opportunity. But you also put in the work, so I don't want to make it come off like you just got lucky. You did the work AND you had the opportunity.
Adi Slepack: You don't get lucky if you don't work either.
Liz Roche: Yeah. We also had that trouble too where we'll talk about the opportunities that kind of fell into our lap or like the moments of luck we have.
Patrick Rauland: Cool.
Liz Roche: We have to go like: But we worked really hard too.
Adi Slepack: Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Take credit. Both of you did something amazing. If I ever publish one game, I'm going to … I don't know, like retire or something because I'd be so happy with that.
Liz Roche: I'm not sure as far as like a metric of success. I think if someone has an idea for a game and gets people to play it, I think you've been successful. That's a hard thing and doing it at all I think is a success.
Patrick Rauland: Love it. Okay, so you've gone through the process. What one resource would you recommend to another indie game designer or an aspiring game designer.
Liz Roche: I think definitely find any local events that are happening in your area. For us it was Playcrafting, which is an organization that holds events where indie designers, either video game or tabletop can bring whatever projects they've been working on so they can be very new, they can be polished and ready and just get people to play them. That was a great thing for us to get other eyes on the game to like play test it and also just to prepare for taking it to bigger conventions, like PAX. For play testing purposes we went to the NYU game center a lot. Every Thursday evening they have students come and show off projects they've been working on and it's open to any designers who want to come and, again, show off what they're doing, have people play it and give suggestions.
Liz Roche: I would say to anyone who's trying to make a game, find those local small things and just go. Even if you don't bring your own project, just to go and see what it's like, play other people's games and meet other people and then maybe the next time you can bring your own thing. Just see what the vibe is like and talk to some people.
Adi Slepack: Yeah. In New York we are lucky enough to have these kinds of resources, but in other places, like Meetup.com is where game designers or people who are interested in testing games, you take groups to either play [inaudible 00:27:30] games or intentionally to give feedback on other stuff. If you don't have something like an NYU or a Playcrafting, that would be the first place I would look.
Patrick Rauland: Okay, so I want to ask some followup questions about the different types of events in a second, but I was actually going to bring up New York because it's so massive. I don't know, there's like ten hundred million bajillion people there, so there's like every meetup and group there. I live in Denver, which is a pretty big city, and we have one Playtesting meetup and I'm so happy that we have one. But I live in a bit city, what about … Maybe here's my question is: If someone lives in even a smaller city than Denver and they don't have a meetup, would you recommend any online communities or how would you find that community if you're just not lucky enough to be in a big city?
Adi Slepack: For designers there are a handful of Facebook groups that were made to give design advice, art advice, Kickstarter-specific advice. That is very much at the designing and marketing stages, I would say. Before that, probably just like BoardGameGeek. I don't think we had a need to go online first before we were meeting people in person, but BoardGameGeek is constantly running design contests and has a billion different forms. If you know how to read those kinds of websites and want to get into it, go for it.
Patrick Rauland: Love it. Okay. Going back to … Oh, one more question here: I always want to ask this because I find gamers tend to be cheap, and I include myself in that. I don't ever want to pay for software because I don't know, it's in my DNA. Is there something that you spent money on that was like 100 percent absolutely worth it and you would recommend it to every other game designer out there.
Liz Roche: I'm just glad that my cheapness can be attributed to being a gamer now.
Adi Slepack: Maybe like signage, I guess.
Patrick Rauland: Signage at like events?
Adi Slepack: Yeah, like whether it's like you're buying a standy at Staples just to stick a piece of paper in there and have a presence for yourself or once you're showing at bigger events you can sink some money into a banner that you will hopefully use over and over again. Maybe that's it, or like Adobe Photoshop [crosstalk 00:30:21]
Liz Roche: Yeah. I don't think there's big purchases that stood out to us because it's been a lot of like: Oh, we have to order business cards, we need T-shirts and things like that. Yeah.
Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. That's good to know.
Liz Roche: Well you do, but it's going to be spread out.
Patrick Rauland: From your answers I got: I don't need to spend a ton of money to do this, which is actually worthwhile to know.
Adi Slepack: No. Not when you start.
Patrick Rauland: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Got it. Okay. All right.
Liz Roche: No, I don't think so.
Patrick Rauland: At the very end I like to play this little game, it's called: Overrated/Underrated. Have you played this before? Excellent. Was that Liz? What about you, Adi?
Adi Slepack: No, I have not.
Patrick Rauland: Okay. Basically, I'm going to give you a topic and I'm going to force you to take a position on either if it's overrated or underrated.
Adi Slepack: Regardless on our knowledge of the subject?
Patrick Rauland: Yes.
Adi Slepack: How nice. Okay.
Patrick Rauland: First of all …
Liz Roche: I'll go underrated.
Patrick Rauland: The first one's a softball. Storytelling games: Overrated or underrated?
Adi Slepack: Yeah, under.
Patrick Rauland: Okay, and like a one-sentence reason why.
Adi Slepack: Stories are fun.
Liz Roche: Overrated.
Patrick Rauland: Love it. All right. New York state, overrated/underrated?
Liz Roche: We've got good pizza and that's it. Get out otherwise.
Adi Slepack: Probably overrated.
Patrick Rauland: Ooh. I've never been. Why? All right.
Adi Slepack: I don't feel quite so negatively about it, but I mean the state as a whole is like enormous. The city has its pluses and minuses but [crosstalk 00:32:11].
Liz Roche: New York has that weird phenomenon of having one of the biggest cities ever, and then if you go like two hours upstate you're like: Where am I? Where did all the people go?
Patrick Rauland: All right. What about zombie-themed games, overrated/underrated?
Adi Slepack: I'll say overrated only because they play repetitive after a while. One of my favorite game franchises ever is The Walking Dead Telltale series. But that is interesting because of the human survival story, not because there are zombies running around.
Patrick Rauland: Yes.
Adi Slepack: I tried the TV show but [crosstalk 00:33:02]
Liz Roche: I'll also go with overrated. I don't feel super strongly about that one though.
Adi Slepack: I'm going to say overrated.
Patrick Rauland: Overrated. All right.
Liz Roche: I would also say underrated.
Patrick Rauland: The last one: Comic books, overrated/underrated?
Adi Slepack: Underrated.
Liz Roche: No, I just find …
Patrick Rauland: Ooh, any comics in particular?
Liz Roche: I admittedly am not huge on like the superhero movies, like any of them. They're just not super for me but I love looking up the differences between the movies that are out now and the original comic books because they're so vastly different. I find it fascinating, the difference between where a franchise started and what movie Marvel just put out last month.
Patrick Rauland: I'm not that bit into that world. Is there just like an example so I can start this Google poll?
Liz Roche: I remember after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy II I immediately looked up the plot. Again, I'm not into comic books either. If I had to go into comic books or the movies, I would definitely go to the comic books first and looked at the plot and I just had to know if there was a character named Ego in the original comic book because who would have guessed that the character named Ego was going to be the bad guy? I had to figure out who had written that down.
Liz Roche: Then I got into a wormhole of reading about the original Guardians of the Galaxy comics and they're just incredibly different. I also looked up the original Big Hero 6 stories and the comic book Baymax is hilariously different. He's like big, green and like … He's essentially just like a big lizard man, if I remember right.
Patrick Rauland: Very cool.
Liz Roche: I have a feeling I'm remembering this entirely wrong, but oh well.
Patrick Rauland: Well thank you for playing my game. Thank you for being on the show, Adi and Liz. Where can people find you online?
Liz Roche: Well we can find our game at someonehasdiedgame.com. They can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @SomeoneHasDied. You can find me on Twitter, but I'm not really tweeting anything so don't bother.
Adi Slepack: I guess I'm on Twitter @curliQtube.
Patrick Rauland: All right. Thank you again. By the way, for those of you listening, if you don't like this podcast, don't leave a review and then Adi and Liz will show up to your will arbitration meeting and they will undoubtedly swindle you out of your inheritance. They promised that they'd do that for me. Thank you everyone for listening. We're just about done here. You can visit the site at indieboardgamedesigners.com. You can follow me on Twitter @BFTrick. Until next time, happy designing. Thanks. Bye bye.