When you're a game developer, it's difficult to create something that you can be proud of, or that has enough originality to not be shattered by the hatred of people referring to your game as a "clone" of something older.
However, #DrawingDead creator #JohnFiorillo has tried his hand (pun intended) at a hybrid card game that takes the best elements of Poker and card drafting games to make a fast paced game of deception where the stakes are, in theory, your life.
The Joy Of Creation
First, I want to take a moment to recognize the care that the developer of Drawing Dead went into with creating this game. It's one thing to develop concepts, stories, and rules, but it's an entirely different process designing game pieces, character cards, and the overall aesthetic of a game.
These tokens came as part of a special edition of Drawing Dead available through the Kickstarter campaign that ended on November 22nd. With that in mind, the first topic I wanted to cover with Fiorillo was what gave him the inspiration to take up physically making assets for his game.
I got interested in carpentry and hand made things for a few reasons. For one, I've always been an artist and loved sculpting and creating things with my hands, but had lost the passion for it in favor of playing games competitively, followed by designing games.
What better way to combine two passions of mine than to make game pieces and illustrate components of the game, to make them stand out and look amazing. I both enjoy doing it and take pride in the finished product. Like finishing a painting or a sculpture, when I finish a game and it's look/style I am proud to show it off and see peoples' reactions.
The extra work that goes into something like this really shows when you take time to examine all aspects of a game. I can also heavily relate to a person whose passions fuel their success — writing is something I've enjoyed in short bursts, but discussing books, video games, and movies have always been an interest to me. Thanks to Quest, I've found a home for my writing and met Fiorillo.
Inspiration From Poker And Citadels
Citadels is a game about building your own city using cards. A stack of character cards is passed around and each player takes one. Then, as the characters are called out, each player takes their action based on their character card.
Players must choose a new character card each round and some character cards are removed each round to add variety to the selection. The first person to build their city with eight cards wins.
This is just one example of a drafting card game. Coup is another popular drafting card game; however, Fiorillo took inspiration from Citadels.
Poker, or more specifically Texas Hold 'Em, is a more complex card game that involves creating a combination of five cards, two in your hand and three drawn from a deck on the table, to win a pile of currency of some form. The game has a variety of options for players to enact each turn including quitting, waiting to see how other players act, or adding currency to the center of the table as a bet.
Both games require some level of strategy to win; however, their similarities gave Fiorillo the inspiration to combine the two games and balance out their strengths with their weaknesses:
The biggest pet peeve I have with any game is the feeling of something being over well before the game actually ends. So, the first thing I wanted to solve was the issue about coming from behind. I had a bit of a eureka moment when I realized that Poker was the perfect compliment! A strong hand can be made or broken with just a single card, but as I thought more about it the synergies were even stronger than I had initially realized.
Poker is a perfect mix because of the skills that it tests, too. Reading people and playing the odds are exactly the type of things you're doing in a game like Citadels. Any drafting game also tests how well you know people and are able to predict what they might do, poker is similar.
So I knew poker added something to the role drafting experience and tested skill sets that were harmonious in a cool way, but was the reverse true? Did role drafting add something to poker? And I think the answer is a definite yes for some groups!
Looking at the rules for Drawing Dead, there are similarities to these games: the game's basic structure is a game of Poker; however, players choose roles that give them advantages each round. In Poker, one person sits out as the "dealer" role, but Citadels is all encompassing, and the same is true for Drawing Dead.
The number of players for both games is limited by the number of cards available, yet Drawing Dead's Kickstarter page recommends the use of multiple card decks to multiply the amount of player spots. All in all, it's clear that this hybrid was created with inclusion and improvements to gameplay in mind, but the work Fiorillo put into this game does not stop there.
Dedication To Excellence
Coming away from my brief interview with Mr. Fiorillo, I was struck by his determination to make Drawing Dead the best it can be and utilize all of the resources available to him to achieve that goal:
Sure, the story might be something that not everyone cares about. The subtle nuance of the strategy might be lost on some. The art might not be something that everyone appreciates or even pays much attention to. Some players might say, "who cares if the chips look nice or you have specially designed playing cards?" The answer is someone does. And because someone does, I do. If I can spend that little bit of extra effort to make all of the aspects of this game be as good as they can be, I will. Every time.
That's the dedication I was hoping to find when I took on this indie game project with Creators. People like Fiorillo want people to enjoy their game and want people to have fun playing something different because it's different and because it's innovative. This isn't a project that was thrown together haphazardly within the span of a few months to make extra money on brand association alone. This is a legitimate game made from a guy who wants people to have a good experience with a card game.
Excellence Begets Authenticity
The question I asked Fiorillo that I feel resonated most strongly in the interview was, What makes your game unique?
At the time, I felt like it was a bit of a standoffish question because it's just a blunt way of viewing a project. However, he took it in stride and gave a multitude of responses that have been expressed throughout this article. That being said, I wanted to keep this last bit for the end:
In the case of these games and peripheral products I design, I want people to see them and appreciate the time and effort that went into it. Having something hand made, to me, shows that in a way that isn't normal in the industry, but people love.
In fact, there are a bunch of business that are made around hand made goods and peripherals for games they didn't design or that you use to play. I just thought both making a game and the awesome hand made products people love in one place lends a level of cohesion that is hard to get when it's done separately since the artists don't see the creators' vision.
Fiorillo makes an interesting point here — artists for products may not actually communicate with the creators of those products. This is a common issue with book covers; the authors usually don't have a say in the covers of their novels that the publisher chooses. Instead, an artist is given a basic synopsis of the book and told to illustrate something to that effect.
While that usually works for the novels themselves, it lessens the authenticity of the product, and that's what Fiorillo is addressing with Drawing Dead. Given everything I learned from my brief conversation with him, I'd say he reached that goal and then some.
Ready To Go All In?
I'll leave you with his final thoughts from our interview:
There are tons of variants on the game of poker and there are lots of other drafting games out there, but this one is something I'm proud of, which is saying a lot. If you are into magic drafting, poker, citadels, coup, role playing, fantasy art, deep characters, the wild west, hand made poker chip sets, or the day of the dead, you should really check it out.
If this becomes a reality, you'll get an awesome looking deck of cards, some cool characters with great art, some poker chips and a really kick-ass game. For just 20 bucks. I promise you, it's a steal.
Genre: Tabletop, Adventure
Release date: TBD
Developer: John Fiorillo
Are you excited to play Drawing Dead?