Jeff's World of Game Design

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On a mission from God

Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
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"You Said This Would Be Fun", a book about game design, available at Amazon and DriveThruRPG
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Come talk design at the Jeff's World of Game Design blog!
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I suppose this will seem a bit Puritanical, but I don't entirely understand why the showrunners at Amazon and Netflix and Hulu and HBO and so on have determined that every single show needs to have "edgy" (one might even say "salacious" depending on one's sensibilities) content. I miss the days of having TV, but mostly I'm ironically appreciative of the role those Saturday afternoon movies played in letting me see R-rated films at a far younger age than I otherwise would have simply by dubbing out the curse words and cutting out the edgy stuff. And one of my favorites, which I would not have otherwise seen as early in life as I did, was the Blues Brothers.

We talked about how adventure archaeology movies elide the possibly dubious implications of looting a lost temple by couching the protagonist's mission in an unimpeachably righteous cause. Well, the Blues Brothers does the same thing, taking two morally dubious characters and cloaking them in righteousness by giving their adventure a moral imperative.

The scene in the Triple Rock where Jake, and then Elwood, are transfixed by the proverbial light from the heavens is a masterstroke by Ackroyd and imposes a narrative logic on a story that otherwise revels in its inchoate absurdity. Thus it was somewhat amusing to me when, out on a walk today with my son Marck, I had a similar epiphany (literal translation: epi-phanos, "to shine upon"): why in the world isn't there a game about putting the band back together?

The game practically designs itself. It must necessarily be a two player co-op, and must include in the box two pairs of (knock-off) Wayfarers, which are worn by the players at all times (*).

The players travel the greater Chicago area trying to re-recruit the members of the band, performing to build audience enthusiasm so as to position themselves to cash in on a show at the Palace Hotel Ballroom and earn enough money to pay the tax bill for the orphanage. In their travels their actions will annoy all sorts of people, who will then cause problems for them for the rest of the game. But they'll also need to enlist the help of "cameo" performers to bolster their songs in ways that help their performances. And they'll need to utilize their assets, most notably the Bluesmobile.

bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj:bluetaj:

Games about music are notoriously hard to pull off, because most game mechanics don't give any sense of actually playing music. We used to play Katzenjammer Blues, a fun little Knizia about forming cat bands in the alley, which is pretty abstract but I think it does a decent job (and has a title that's one of those fun German puns to boot). I had an idea of a music game that used deck-building, representing riffs that you knew; thus we take turns playing something on our instrument, and the other players can "follow", supporting that idea, or take the lead, but the cards you have acquired determine how effective you're able to be: are you better at providing support or taking and maintaining the melody, etc? Lots to figure out but it could work, maybe.

tantaj:tantaj:tantaj:tantaj:tantaj:tantaj:tantaj:tantaj:tantaj:

But a Blues Brothers game has to have an element of music, and thus I think most of the game's action has to revolve around the film's musical numbers. And I think the way to do it is that Jake and Elwood each have a hand of song cards, and most of the action in the game entails going to a locale and performing a song there by playing a song card from your hand.

Now the songs each have several "parts": rhythm section (Dunn, Hall, Dunne, Cropper), horns (Rubin, Marini, Malone), lead (Elwood, Murphy, Rubin again), and vocals (Jake and Elwood, obviously). Maybe keys is a separate thing, not sure. And each song has a different set of requirements for each of these. "Think" doesn't need much in the way of horns, but it needs more vocal horsepower than the Brothers alone can supply; "Shake A Tailfeather" needs 3 vocalists and a wizard on the keys. And so on.

So, you have songs, and you need the personnel to perform the songs you have, but you assemble the band piece-meal, and in what order do you do that, and do you play a song that you don't yet have exactly the right ensemble for?

The idea seems to be that you're balancing between (a) playing songs that play to your band's current strengths, but (b) also recruiting the personnel you need so you can play the other songs in your hand, while (c) capitalizing on the rewards your song cards provide (an 'underwhelming' performance won't get you many fans), and (d) accepting the burden that certain actions and certain performances will make enemies, that will create problems for the rest of your game. And all the while the clock is ticking because the tax bill is due in a week. (Maybe that means the game lasts 7 turns, one day per turn?)

Having been "Joliet Jeff" in a Blues Brothers cover band in high school, maybe it is indeed my destiny to be the one to design this game! But if someone else does it first that's cool.



(*) Of course it goes without saying that Carrie Fisher's character is chasing the Brothers from the jump, and thus the only time Jake is permitted to remove his glasses is to resolve a threat from her. But like the Mandalorian, doing this incurs some consequence as well, maybe.
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