Edgar Allen Poe has so many memorable stories, why did you pick this one for a theme?
When I first read Masque of the Red Death in grade 9 English class, I instantly fell in love with it. It’s so evocative, it left a real impression on me. I had always been a fan of kids horror stories when I was younger; like the Goosebumps and Fear Street series. Hearing a short story like Masque from one of the true masters of horror was eye-opening. I remember picking up a Poe anthology afterwards and reading a lot of his other works.
Despite being a huge fan of the story, it had been somewhat out of mind for 16 years. I was just getting started in board game design when I came across Masque of the Red Death again. When you’re designing games, often an idea will just grab you… it’s new and fresh and exciting. That’s what happened here.
When I rediscovered it and read through it again, I realized it’s perfect for a game: it takes place in a closed setting that seems tailor-made for a game board – 7 rooms, each in its own colour, connected to two adjacent rooms. The large masquerade full of nobles gives you lots of characters to work with, allowing for a high player count. The story itself has a building sense of dread, and I knew I could replicate that in the game’s story arc.
In 2015 a Canadian Game Design Award Judge said “This is the first time I felt legitimate fear playing a board game.” What do you think this game do you think invokes that kind of response?
I think the game makes you feel this fear and tension for a few reasons:
For one thing, the theme is just so rich. I’ve always included the entire story in the rulebook, and encourage people to read through it before they play (it’s not that long!). Masque of the Red Death leaves the reader with a chilling reminder about the inevitability of death, and when you start out with that sense of hopelessness fresh in mind, I think it evokes more feeling in the players.
Next, the game is all about balancing gaining popularity (to win), and gathering information (to survive). Tension is developed when you don't have time to do all the things you want to do. You need to balance both popularity and rumors to succeed, which means you will not have perfect information. And on top of that, you might have seen rumors that you no longer have in hand. Adding in a slight memory element makes the situation all the more stressful. You’ll know some things for certain, have a fuzzy memory of others, and then have some gaps in your knowledge. With all this you need to plan out your movement to avoid the Red Death, because you know he’s coming for you.
Lastly, I feel the game makes people feel something because they are truly invested in their character by the end. The survival instinct is strong… they want to get through this! Having something to lose – your life itself – makes you so much more invested during the tense reveals at the end of the game.
Do you feel is the optimal player count?
I always like playing it with as many people at once as possible. I think it plays best with 7. There are more nobles in the abbey to interact with, and more of them are going to die at the end!
How did partnering with IDW GAMES come about?
I took the game to Origins Game Fair in 2015 to pitch it to publishers, hoping for a good reception. I had a table at the designer-publisher “speed dating” event, which for anyone unfamiliar, doesn’t involve finding a life partner but DOES involve a lot of nerves and sweating and talking too fast. I had several pitch meetings during the show, and even more the day after the speed dating event. I had upwards of 7 publishers that wanted to take a copy of the game home for evaluation… I was still getting emails about it a couple weeks after Origins.
But it all came to a head the afternoon of the last day of the show. I had a meeting with Nate from IDW Games and I knew it had gone well. He had grown up a huge Poe fan and was really digging the theme, game play and the potential for the game’s art. Our meeting finished and I immediately had a text from another publisher that wanted a run-through. And then another. These were all happening at booths in close proximity to each other so there was a representative of another publisher kind of lurking around keeping an eye on it all. It was thrilling to have so much interest in the game – it’s exactly what any designer wants! While talking with one of the potential publishers my phone starts ringing – it’s Nate calling to say they want to offer me a deal and outlining some basic terms. It didn’t take long to make the decision to sign with IDW. IDW Games always have fantastic art, which I felt was very important to do justice to the game and the story.
It’s been great working with the team at IDW. They keep designers very involved in the process, and I cannot wait for the Kickstarter to launch!
What do you feel Gris Grimly’s art adds to the game?
When IDW told me that they had signed on Gris Grimly to work on the game, I immediately spent a couple hours looking over all his amazing work (and then buying a couple books!). He has illustrated several Poe stories before, including Masque of the Red Death itself, in his book Tales of Mystery and Madness.
His style is absolutely perfect to complement the game and I think it just enhances the immersion in the game even further. It has been so exciting following him on Instagram and seeing the progress pictures as the art develops. He brings a big following of fans to the project, and their enthusiasm for the game just makes me more pumped up for it to come out! In short, the art is awesome and I can’t wait to have a print of the cover on the wall of my games room.
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