I think that in game design it's important to learn from other things on the market and to see what lessons they can offer. From time to time I've referenced other games and the attributes of them that I think I can adapt to my own projects, but I think this might be the first time I've decided to devote a post to picking a particular game apart. Recently I've come across a singularly unique kickstarter project that I feel deserves this kind of treatment. Ladies, gentlemen and everyone in-between, I give you The Emperor's New Clothes.
Regulated Operator Optical Screening (ROOS)
Now hopefully none of you are going "That's just a pile of blank cards and paper", but on the off chance that somebody is I should talk to you about their ROOS (pronounced "Ruse") technology. This unique printing approach allows game art to be printed in such a way that they can only be seen by true gamers, people who are not true gamers will simply see blank card. I'm not sure how I feel about this decision, on the one hand I'm against exclusivity and would like to see a world in which everything is available to everyone. On the other hand I've written before about how a game can be more successful by ensuring that it is played by a limited audience. This means that the game will be more tailored to that specific audience, but it does stop it from being a runaway success and might stop enthusiastic gamers from sharing it with friends who'd otherwise get something out of it. If the game is successful I can imagine there being a call for a non-ROOS version of the game will become available as a stretch goal or expansion in the future.
Role Selection Mechanic
A video of the game being played is viable here and a pdf of the full rulebook can be downloaded here. When selecting roles players take a role and pass the remaining roles to the player next to them. Obviously detecting who has taken the conman tailor role is important, as there are a lot of points in unmasking him at the right moment. This mechanic means that the second player knows for certain which role was selected by the first player, which has pros and cons. On the plus side, it develops an interesting bluffing game. For instance if the first player selects the child (Who has the easiest time pointing out that the Emperor is naked) the second player might select the conman as this will imply to the third player that the first player picked the conman and the second player selected the child in order to unmask him. Ultimately it makes the over the table play in the game more enjoyable and counteracts the advantage in choosing first very effectively. The downside is that the mechanic doesn't come into its own with less than four or five players, rendering the game less playable with smaller groups.
When rolling the player is permitted to reroll any unfavorable results up to two times. This means that if a player rolls four unfavorable symbols they can reroll all four dice and having done this can once again reroll any dice still showing such symbols. As a result the odds of getting a final roll of four of these is minuscule (about 4.59 x 10^-10) which has given the game designer some interesting flexibility. I mentioned in my previous post on critical hits that it's nice to be able to have a system that allows for rare turnabouts, so the game feels like it still rewards the skill needed to get ahead while making sure that a losing player always has a chance to catch up, no matter how slight. This is a solid implementation of this feature, though in some respects doesn't go far enough. With the roll being so unlikely there was an opportunity here to include any mechanic no matter how outlandish, as it would influence the vast minority of games. I think it might have been interesting here to include a mechanic that somehow turned way the entire game worked on its head rather than simply making a big difference to the scoring. Of course this outcome is far more interesting if you are playing the optional live action rules, but I think it's important to house rule that those photos won't make it to facebook.
There are a lot of big names involved in this project, for instance John Kovalic, who has stepped outside of his usual distinctive art style to work on this project. I think that he's excelled himself here, but I think with something so experimental there's a serious risk to the reputation of artists working on the project.
There are a number of backers who have got involved in this project despite not being able to see that beautiful art. They are convinced that this is some sort of elaborate joke and to be fair the designer, Jonathan Liu, hasn't helped to discourage this school of thought by setting the project completion date for April 2nd with an announcement to be made on April 1st. Backers who have willingly signed over money to someone who could legitimately take it and deliver them nothing but paper that appears blank (to them) are taking a big risk with their money. They'll be angry if he simply delivers on what is promised, which he would be well within his rights to do. Many are banking on the April 1st announcement somehow justifying the money they've put into the project.
It is an unfortunate aspect of human nature that people in this position will not blame themselves for clicking to put money behind what appeared to them to be a blank box and cards, but will feel that they have been tricked. I find the project highly transparent, especially with the availability of the print and play version, which both allows you to check that you can see ROOS and to make sure that the game is to your liking. Backers who see blank card would really have nobody to blame but themselves if that's what they received, yet the reality of the world is that it would create a backlash that would reflect poorly on all of the talented people involved and could have serious business repercussions for them.
Coming up with something that satisfies everyone who's put money into this project, whether they can see ROOS or not, doesn't cancel the project and doesn't harm the reputations of the people involved with the project will be a tall order. People unsatisfied by the announcement might fail to cancel their orders in the narrow window before the project completes and this could lead to unsatisfied backers, calls for refunds and lynch mobs. I look forward to seeing how Mr Liu will meet this challenge with the same aplomb he's shown in his unique game design.