Someone Has Died Interview w/ Richard Ruane
I sat down with Gather Round Games Adi Slepack (Lead Game Designer) and Liz Roche (Designer and Community Manager) to talk about what makes this warm, light-hearted game about such a grim topic so compelling.
Someone Has Died is an improvisational storytelling game about the reading of a will and the strange and unique characters trying to claim the deceased’s estate.
We’re looking forward to having Liz and Adi at the store to Spotlight Someone Has Died on Wednesday 12/19 @ 7p. Participants can learn to play, meet the designers, and get their copy signed!
Richard: Tell me a little bit about Someone Had Died? How would you describe the game?
Adi: Someone Has Died is an improvised storytelling game that is set at a will arbitration. One player takes on the role of an estate keeper, who tells everyone else who has died, how they died, and what is left behind. Everyone else gets a hand of cards that they make characters from and they're ultimately trying to prove that they are the most worthy of the deceased's estate.
Liz: We like to think of it as a mixture of a judge-based party game with a tabletop RPG, in that it gives players a chance to build a character in a shorter, more accessible way.
Richard: So tell me more about this idea of a story game.
Adi: I think storytelling game would be a better term... these take lots of different forms, but in our case, we hope Someone Has Died prioritizes the experience of making a strange argument for why you deserve a dead dude’s stuff over the win condition. Like, you're supposed to convince the estate keeper that you're the most deserving of the fortune, but we honestly prefer it when players lean into their characters regardless of how good or bad it makes their prospects of taking home the estate.
Richard: So even though there's a winner, it's more about character building?
Adi: Yeah, exactly.
Liz: Because it's a subjective win condition, we find that most players will pretty much sabotage their chances of winning the fortune if it means telling a better story or making everyone around the table laugh, and that's something we tried to incentivize while designing the game.
Richard: So I've played the game, and I loved how charming the characters were. I know the two of you have played and demoed the game a lot now. Are there any memorable characters people have played that really stick out to you?
Adi: I almost brought up a story about the girl who needed the fortune for a butt transplant, but I don't know if that qualifies as charming.
Liz: Adi, I think you were telling me about a game over the weekend where someone played the Smart Baby as just an above-average-intelligence baby, and spent the whole game only saying "googoo gaga."
Adi: That must've been one of our booth helpers, but that sounds amazing.
Liz: I also played a game where someone was Poseidon, and they spent the whole game plotting against their mortal enemy, Aquaman.
Adi: So – for some context – we spent this weekend at PAX Unplugged in Philadelphia. Someone who played at a different convention nearly 6 months ago came by our booth this weekend. The two of us were able to piece together how he played Spiderface and used his Instagram page to spread awareness of his condition or something like that. It was pretty remarkable. As you can see, it's hard to pick just one memorable story.
Liz: I love when people come up to us at conventions and just start talking about their characters from games they played at earlier events.
Richard: So Someone Has Died is a card-based game and the illustrations on the cards are inviting and distinctive. Who did the art for the game and what role do you think the illustrations play in shaping the game?
Liz: Our other design partner, Ellie, did all the concept drawings, and then Adi is the one who digitizes and colors everything. I think the art draws people in initially, and then once they sit down to play, the silly art style really sets the tone of the game, so players realize that they have permission to be ridiculous and not really be bound by logic.
Adi: We were hoping bright, colorful, and silly art would work against the somewhat morbid theme of the game. I think it tells the player that they're going to have a fun, comedic experience. Basically, what Liz said.
Richard: So what can someone expect at the Spotlight at Twenty Sided?
Liz: It's very easy to learn! Gameplay typically lasts about 25-45 min, depending on the number of players, and it's great for people who are new to storytelling games or for people who have plenty of roleplaying and improv experience.
Richard: Since this is the holiday season, who is this game a perfect gift for?
Adi: Your friend who does improv but you don't want to go to their shows, or your friend who's too intimidated to play D&D with you. Some people told us they played with their families on Thanksgiving. That's hecka cute.
Richard: What's next for you as creators? I know you've been working hard to promote this game, but is there an upcoming project you're ready to talk about?
Adi: We're starting to tinker with some new ideas, but nothing that's ready to properly announce quite yet.
Richard: What did you learn from the process of building Someone Has Died that you'd want to apply to a new project?
Adi: Aside from everything we've learned business-wise, I think we've learned how much we care about making narrative driven experiences for people. The look on someone's face when they realize they can actually weave a story together while playing Someone Has Died is a really priceless thing. While we're not sure that our next project will be quite the same, we want to be sure to create a memorable playing experience that's more about the story being told and about player interactions than it is about winning or earning points.
Liz: Like Adi said, we're really interested in games that focus on narrative and story, so the challenge for us now is creating something that has a similar focus on story that Someone Has Died does, but also creates a new experience for them.
Richard: Any final words for anyone thinking about picking up the game or coming on Dec. 19?
Liz: Do it! But really, we've had so much fun making this game, and we're so happy that it's had such a wonderful response from people who've picked it up. We meet so many people who think that storytelling games aren't their thing and then sit down and surprise themselves with the weird stories that end up coming out of the game, and it's such a wonderful experience for us as the designers to see.