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The magic moment when everything clicks

Posted by Jason Tagmire on

There's a great moment in designing and developing games where everything fits right into place. It happens once or twice on each project and feels magical.

For our upcoming wallet game, Smoke & Mirrors by Chip Beauvais, it was when the theme fell perfectly into place. The initial version of the game was called Finished With Lies (a They Might Be Giants song title), and it was essentially very similar to the current version, but it was virtually themeless. The game was a bluffing game where players had one card from each of three drastically different decks, and had to use those cards to make a number value, starting with one. So player one would use 1-3 cards to make a value of one. Face down, of course. And if other players challenged it, the cards would be revealed. Then player two needs to make a value of two. The next player needs to make a value of three, and so on. This continued until players were eliminated after being called out for false claims.

The game was a blast and fit very well into our Wallet Line, but it needed a theme. We got together at the Button Shy HQ and started throwing ideas out there, trying to nail the essence of this game. It's a game about one upping your neighbors, and a few things came out right from the start. Literally one upping your neighbors was a theme idea, where you are improving your house and trying to be the best house on the block. That's funny and all, but you would have to take a funny spin on it for it to work, and funny isn't always best.

So we started to consider themes like a strong man competition, a battle with bigger and bigger weapons, etc.. Something was off with all of them, so we looked into something completely different. Maybe it was a race game, and the one upping was in pimping out your car. Race games are usually a little tough and it would be interesting to take a very different spin on the theme... but it still didn't fit. The big thing that was missing from all of this is that you are potentially one upping your opponents, but it's all very secret and mysterious. Nothing is in plain sight.

MAGIC MOMENT #1: The theme emerges.

I think I was DMing Chip Beauvais all of the various theme suggestions (DM seems to be our prime method of cross-country development these days), and in the midst of all of the themes, I suggested a tournament of magicians. This was one that crossed my mind before, but I never went into any more detail. But in this conversation I mentioned ideas for the magic theme and Chip followed with a ton of great ideas. There was no other theme at this point. 

Over the next few weeks it all fell into place.

As the greatest magicians in the world, players will compete for the top spot by trying to go bigger and better than the previous magician using a limited number of tricks. But the players need to watch how much they share, because once their secrets are revealed, they are out!

MAGIC MOMENT #2: A perfect name.

For a few weeks I was dead set on calling this "The Greatest (something or another)", in trying to get the feeling of ascending numbers into the title. The Greatest Illusion. The Greatest Magician. Etc.. I think we would have ended up with some variation of that until Chip said "Smoke & Mirrors".

It took a few hours for it to click (probably because I was set on the ascending numbers thing"), but when it clicked, it clicked. It's simple and perfect. And we tied it into the theme in a big way. There have always been cards in each of the three decks that clone another card, or cards. So if you are holding a 1, 4, and clone card, you could essentially make 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 or 10. With the new theme and title, the clone card became a mirror, a very important tool for a stage magician. 

Next time, we'll discuss a third magic moment when I decided to scrap my card art and get Fabrice Weiss on board. Fabric creates magic in the form of art, as seen on the cards below.


Join us on August 16th for the Kickstarter campaign for Smoke & Mirrors, North South East Quest and Fever Chill!


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