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Designer Diary: Panic Mansion, or Waiter, There's a Rolling Eye in My Haunted House

Daniel Skjold Pedersen
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Board Game: Shaky Manor
Panic Mansion — a big box design from me, Asger, and Blue Orange Games — is debuting at SPIEL in October 2017. We are very proud of it and hope you will have as much fun with the game as we do.

Panic Mansion is a shaky dexterity game for families and kids ages 6 and up in which you want to place your adventurer into the room with all the gold crates while not letting in ghosts, snakes, or the odd rolling eye. The twist is that you cannot touch the game pieces, so you must shake and tilt that haunted house.

No Pictures, Please?

When I sit down to write designer diaries, one of the first things I do is go through old pictures of prototypes. It gives me a sense of accomplishment looking back at the early and very rough stages of what is now a published game, and to be honest it also serves to refresh my memory. It is not uncommon that my game design work is completed 12 to 24 months before a game hits the shelves, sometimes even longer. That is just the nature of this industry.

So I started scrolling through old pictures to look for Panic Mansion almost in vain. This is very unusual. I have dozens of pictures of A Tale of Pirates, Gold Fever, Frogriders, and most of my other published and upcoming titles. Why the sudden lack of pictures? Well, Panic Mansion is fast and furious. It is easy to get carried away and forget to take pictures. Also, this is not the type of game in which I could analyze a picture of the mid-play game state afterwards for any great benefit. Finally, the development cycle was actually very short before Blue Orange Games signed and took over. I think we managed to demonstrate the fun gameplay and our vision with a basic prototype. To our luck, Blue Orange saw the potential.

Board Game: Shaky Manor
The prototype we pitched at the Spielwarenmesse Toy Fair in Nürnberg in early 2016...

Board Game: Shaky Manor
...and what it looks like now in Panic Mansion

A Vision for Two

When Asger and I look for a publisher for our games, we take a lot of factors into consideration. I don't want to derail this diary too much with boring business talk, so let me just boil all those factors down to the bare bones. Essentially we are looking for publishers who share our vision for the game and who are able to deliver a quality product.

I like to believe we have been fortunate so far, and Panic Mansion provides an excellent case in point for why such care matters. Let's turn the box over and look at the back:

Board Game: Shaky Manor
You can take the box from the shelf, turn it over, and play to see whether this is something you'd enjoy

The Blue Orange team did a wonderful job of tuning our prototype and the vision we shared into what I believe is an amazing game and product. The ability to play the game while still in shrink is a wonderful gimmick for which I can take absolutely no credit. However, the crawling spider and all the other pieces inside the box is anything but a gimmick, but now I am getting ahead of myself.

Components Matter — and Not Just for Bling Bling

Components matter. Some of you will probably read that statement and disagree; others will say it is obvious. As a gamer, I have been back and forth on this subject myself over the years. I like nice aesthetics but not at the expense of functionality. As a game designer, I have learned that components really matter but not just for the toy factor or for the ability to set up games on a table so they look like pieces of art.

In Panic Mansion, components matter. They are, in fact, a large part of the core gameplay. It is a dexterity game, after all. As you shake and tilt the haunted house to move your adventurer through the maze, you will see that the adventurer, ghost, snake, and all the other pieces serve a purpose. They support the setting of a mysterious and haunted house AND they all have interesting shapes, sizes, weights, and even textures that add to the challenge.

The twisty snake blocks the door. The eyes roll around frantically messing up your plans. And the ghost — my archnemesis when playing this game — is a nightmare to get rid of. If this is all nonsense in your ears, I will just say that you will know what I'm talking about when you try the game.

Board Game: Shaky Manor
Comparison of game pieces: published game (top) and prototype; if the adventurer looks like a certain fictional character,
it might be that the Blue Orange team was tired of all my talk about how great that IP would be...

Thinking Inside the Box

I do not recall the exact origin of the idea that became Panic Mansion, and unfortunately the lack of photos doesn't help me here, but I do know the idea came sometime in the autumn of 2015. At that time, we explored different ways to create games around the game box. After all, in most board games, you take out the contents, then put the box away, which is a shame. The box is an interesting component that rises above the table, and aside from that, it's one of the most expensive parts of producing a board game, so why not integrate it? Our prototype used both the box lid and bottom as haunted houses.

Board Game: Shaky Manor
Board Game: Shaky Manor
Board Game: Shaky Manor

Ironically in the published version of the game, you now take the contents out of the box, then put the box away. That was the small price we needed to pay to reduce set-up time and allow for up to four players in the game.

Panic Mansion is the first game to be released that was born out of that period of thinking inside the box, and there will be more chapters to write in the next years. For now, Asger and I will demo and sign Panic Mansion at SPIEL '17 on Thursday and Saturday 12:00-13:00 at the Blue Orange Games booth (3: M107). Come by and say hi!

Daniel Skjold Pedersen
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