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Designer Diary: Exploring Social Deduction Magic with Shamans

Cédrick Chaboussit
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Microbadge: Lewis & Clark fanMicrobadge: EurogamerMicrobadge: Alice in Wonderland fanMicrobadge: Glow fanMicrobadge: Unpublished Prototype fan
Known mostly for the design of Lewis & Clark, which debuted in 2013 and was updated in 2020, I've been designing games for ten years and haven't had many of them published for a few reasons: designing games is not my main job; the game-publishing process is usually very long; and I keep trying to dig for fresh mechanisms, which is definitely not an easy path!

This process has led to very different published games, which have all been released in a period of twelve months: Tea for 2, which is the card game War revisited with the Space Cowboys; Glow, a beautiful card- and dice-drafting press-your-luck family game published by Bombyx; Lost Explorers, a simple, quick and brainy chip-collection race game published by Ludonaute; and Shamans, a social-deduction game using a trick-taking mechanism from Studio H that is the subject of this post.

Board Game: Shamans

So let's go with my second BGG designer diary!

Birth of an Idea and Inspiration

Shamans is by far my design that creates the most social interaction. The initial spark came at the end of 2016 after numerous plays of Time Bomb. Before that, I used to play The Resistance a lot, and when I was in college long ago — and yes, I got my degree! — traditional French trick-taking games like Belote and Tarot. They all might have had an impact on this first spark.

I thought about designing a social-deduction game that would not rely only on bluffing like most of them. The situation in a trick-taking game where you have to provide a certain color seemed to be perfect: If you are allowed to play any card, you can pretend not to have a card of the color asked and play a card of another color. This principle immediately worked very well!

Then I looked for a rarely used theme that would fit and I ended up using the Blade Runner setting (which I love) to develop the prototype. The first version of early 2017 had the same core mechanism as the final published game, so sorry everybody, I will not have many big design questions and changes as is usually the case. The first idea was strong enough.

Board Game: Shamans
Oh, you can choose the Voight-Kampff tile to prove you're a Runner!

My playtesters and I played this game a huge number of times to finely tune every possible situation. The tiles/tokens were added to create variety while respecting the setting, and the player-count scaling was also adjusted. The final gameplay is exactly what I wanted, and I saw that the game could also be enjoyable with kids aged 10+, despite some "gamer" mechanisms.

Finding the Right Setting and Art Style with Studio H & Maud Chalmel

I had known Hicham for many years at Matagot before he joined Studio H, a new publisher created by the big French book publisher Hachette. I thought Hicham was the right person to show the prototype to at SPIEL '19. A few months later, Studio H confirmed that it wanted to publish the game and to have it released by the end of 2020!

When later I played Oriflamme and Hagakure, two card games published by Studio H, I understood that my "Blade Runner" game would fit perfectly in that game line.

Board Game: Shamans

Studio H brought the thematic idea of Shamans and decided to trust the talented illustrator Maud Chalmel to give a soul to this world. She managed to transform the visual aspect of Shamans into a huge plus, and I'm really impressed by her work! She said she was inspired by a former game she illustrated, (Siggil), and also by the artists Hari and Deepti.

Board Game: Shamans
Mischievous Maud and I in the Studio H offices just before Christmas 2020

Releasing Shamans in 2021

As I wrote previously, I like to explore the game mechanisms in my designs, whatever they can lead me to. Shamans is no exception and a very good example of that. It is far from the current "satisfying" games trend as it produces some harsh interactions between players. Therefore, this is quite a risk for Studio H to release such a game now, so I'm thankful and glad they did.

Board Game: Shamans
Demoing at Orléans Joue con in August 2020

Shamans has been well received in France but is still flying a little under the radar in the U.S., so I hope that Tom Vasel's April 2021 review will give it a bit more visibility.

Closing Thoughts and Future Projects

I'm sure that Shamans will make its way among the players themselves as it is a very unique game. It's not for everyone, but the social-deduction lovers should enjoy it as much as I did designing it!

Board Game: Tea for 2
Board Game: Glow
Board Game: Lost Explorers

All the games mentioned above are already released in the U.S., except Glow, which will be released in mid-2021 in many countries after a very warm welcome in France in February. Its print-and-play solo variant (PDF) was released last week by Bombyx for its tenth anniversary.

Have fun!

Cédrick Chaboussit
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