Friday, January 26, 2018

Humor in Infamous

Humor in board games is a tricky business. First, the experience of humor is a highly subjective one; more so, I think, than preference for particular board games. As such, some people might find the humor within a game to be a real boon to the experience, while others might find it to be a complete turn-off. Designers walk a delicate rope when they decide to inject humor into a design. I look at something like Galaxy Trucker (and its subtly clever & humorous rulebook) as an example of successful use of humor in a board game.  I see the recent KS campaign of HATE as a poor use of dark humor that is potentially turning away potential backers.

Perhaps most importantly, the theme and mechanics have to match the level and type of humor involved. A heavy, thinky Euro is probably not going to be a great place to inject slapstick humor (but it might very well be an appropriate venue for a more subtle, "sophisticated" humor?). Similarly, a casual family game that presents itself too seriously - imagine a grimdark adventure game for kids! - is a poor fit.

When it came to Infamous, I tried to let the humor come naturally. After I made a critical decision (between v1 and v2) to enhance the narrative element of the game, writing became a more central design component. There was going to be a LOT of flavor text in this game, and the purpose of it was to bring the characters to life and give the players a sense of living inside of a comic book. Each henchman and villain needed a description, so that it was easier for the players to develop feelings of attachment for their team. And perhaps most importantly, the contracts needed significant flavor text for Success and Fail states so that your actions in the game contributed to an overall narrative. Consider how important the flavor text is in games like Eldritch Horror. If you just conduct the skill rolls without immersing yourself in the story of what's happening, you miss out on so much of what the game is offering.

So the question became:  would the contracts be humorous, or would they take themselves fairly seriously?  My natural inclination led me towards humorous. These were supervillains, after all - and they were engaging in periodically horrific acts within the game (kidnapping, domestic terrorism, subjugation of the entire planet, etc.). If these acts were taken too seriously, the game could fall flat or potentially be offensive. I ended up leaning more towards Despicable Me vs. Dark Knight.

Instead, contracts provided an opportunity for these villains and henchmen to fail spectacularly - in often hilarious ways. This had the added benefit of taking the edge off of contract failure. You almost want to see what happens if you fail a contract; the story is amusing, and the effects are often persistent (e.g., Injuries, Powers).  Now you have a story to remember about that time your henchman was bit by genetically-modified sewer rats, or overdosed on super-fertility hormones.

With the decision to embrace humor in the game, the presentation had to follow appropriately. The theme matched, the relatively light mechanics matched, and now the art needed to match. This is probably the biggest reason why I really wanted to get Rob Guillory on board to do the art for Infamous. His artistic style is very dark-humor; stylized and clever and immediately funny.

Infamous is a game centered around the central tenant of FUN. The mechanics provide lots of opportunities to make fun, small decisions that influence the game-state and your likelihood of victory. The story that you and your opponents will create together is all about fun. Perhaps you'll laugh out loud, chuckle softly, or just groan at some of the humor in the game. Regardless, it's there to remind you - to remind all of us! - that games are meant to be fun, and sometimes nothing is more satisfying than sitting around the table with a group of friends sharing a laugh.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear that fun is a priority of yours. It has shown in your designs thus far.