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Chris Handy Speaking on the Silent Co-op Game, SHH

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The Inquisitive Meeple
Chris Handy Speaking on the Silent Co-op Game, SHH

Interview #8 with Chris Handy in our Pack O Interview Series. This time we look at the seventh game in the Pack O Game series, SHH. In this 2-4 player game, players will "...cooperate as a single team to spell words in order to rid their hands of as many letters as possible. The catch? Silent play proves challenging when one doesn't know his teammate's hand."

Note by The Inquisitive Meeple: Unlike most our interviews, in this one we will jump straight in to talking about about the game. This is something we plan to do with all the Pack O Interview series outside of the first interview. The first interview in this series, was the introduction interview (found here) with designer, Chris Handy, where we not only talked about the overall Pack O Game series, but got to know Chris a little as well.

The seventh game in the series of the Pack O Game family is SHH . What can  you tell us about the game and how it is played?

Chris: SHH is a cooperative word game that is played in silence. Vowel cards are placed in the playing area, along with several PASS cards. Players are dealt the remaining alphabet cards (consonants) and may not share them. Players take turns adding a letter to the active word until it is valid. Each turn, a player may either contribute a consonant from their hand, or use an available vowel card or PASS card. Players try to completely rid their hands of letters, before running out of PASS cards or losing as a result of an invalid word. 

What is the story behind the creation of the game?

Chris:  I wanted to see if I could design a game for the series that was cooperative and uses a single card for each letter in the alphabet. It was the third game I designed for the series, and was originally called "GAB."

Well, I can see that Hanabi influenced your design in SHH - was there any word games that influence it as well?  

Chris: I like Scrabble and Boggle, so I suppose those have somehow influenced this game.  But it's a very different kind of experience. It doesn't really feel like a word game.

One of the things we see in SHH is vowels are not part of your hand and can be seen by all players at all times. Why did you decide to make this choice and what does it bring to the gameplay?

Chris:  I made this choice to make it easier.  Originally, all the cards were dealt out, and the vowels could be reused by taking a previously played vowel card into your hand, instead of playing a card.  It created a difficult "virtual letter" mechanism, that was just too much to ask people to grasp.  Also, the images on the cards draw people to the game, and I wanted to make sure it wouldn't turn people off because it was too difficult. So, we figured out a way to keep the vowels I play at all times. It's easier and better this way, but still challenging.

Making a word game with only 30 cards (and some of those are Pass cards) – has to be hard. What is the distribution of letters in SHH

Chris: There's a single card for each letter, and 4 PASS cards.
You are no stranger to word games, you have previously published both Plext and Linkity with SimplyFun, both of course, word games. What draws you to make word games?

Chris:  It's the same thing that draws me into wanting to use poker in more games.  It's the idea that you ask people to bring a knowledge base with them to use in the game.  A caveman could learn to play HUE and TKO, but never a game like SHH. I don't generally prefer to play word games though, so even I find it strange that I've made a few.  Of the ones I've designed, I'm proudest of this one by far. I see this getting lots of play.

What are some of your favorite word games that aren’t ones you have designed?

Chris:  I mostly enjoy Scrabble, Upwords, Boggle and Overturn

Do you feel this being a co-op word game; it gets rid of the “problem” of playing against a player that has a better vocabulary then you? Will those that are not good at word games or those that a “normal” vocabulary enjoys playing SHH?  

Chris: Yes, I do think that the wordsmith problem is not an issue in SHH.  The goal isn't to be clever with strange words, it's to find common ground with people, take risks, and leave words as open-ended as possible.
How does the 2-player game differ in rules, or overall feel, compared to bigger games?

Chris: The more players, the more difficult the game is. In a 2 player game, I know that if I don't have the letter "D", then my partner has it. You have to take more risks and leave words more open in a 3-4 player game.
One thing that stands out about SHH is the art style. Usually word card games have the “bland, but simple” look- you, however, have a simple look that is anything but bland. What made you decide to go the route you did with art, instead of taking a more traditional route?  

Chris:  The vivid, real pictures was something I've always appreciated about a great party/couples game called, "Compatibility."  When I was experimenting with the letter cards, the vivid pictures were so interesting to look at that I knew that would only make the game that much better.

What was the best piece of feedback you received from a play tester when you were still prototyping the game?  

Chris: Early versions were too difficult and had virtual elements that caused confusion and a much higher barrier to entry.  One night after introducing it to some non-gamer friends, I said to my wife, "We have to change it, and make it more intuitive.  It doesn't matter that we can easily play it and understand the virtual letter aspect. Many people are thrown off by it, and it will kill the game."  So, I knew the aspects that needs to change, and the Vowel Row being public fixed them.
What was your favorite part of designing SHH?

Chris:  It was fun seeing so many great reactions to the game. This one really draws people in when you play in public. 

What was the most challenging part of designing it?

Chris: It was really challenging trying to shape the game to a level of ease that was appropriate. I really had to watch people and where they were struggling to improve and revise it.  Even my parents weighed in on early designs, which is a bad sign. The early version made people want to "fix" what they didn't like about the mechanism, rather than want to play the game. I wasn't sure I could fix it and make it simpler, but in the end, I got it all figured out.  But even now, in it's "simpler" form, it's still challenging and has a way to increase the level of difficulty like many co-ops do.
When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed this game?

Chris:  I'm thrilled by 2 things. I love that there's only 1 card for each letter. And, the vivid, real pictures are still fun to hold in your hand and look at. 

A slight follow up to that question, as the series designer of the Pack O Game games – what in your mind, does SHH bring to the overall series? Also what would you say makes it stand out over the other games ?

Chris: It has several unique aspects. Its co-op, it's a word game, it's played in silence, and it has vivid pictures instead of illustrations.

Finish this sentence in 12 words or less. SHH is ________.

Chris: a cooperative word game in which players try to rid there hands in silence.

Thanks Chris. Stay tuned for our next game Pack O Interview series (BUS) coming soon.

What's that you say? Inquiring meeples want to know more?
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