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Subject: The Secret History of Monster Factory rss

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Donald X.
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Why doesn't this game have a secret history? The world may need to know this stuff someday.

I met Nina in 1995. At the time she was known for her comic Nina's Adventures, which appeared in some weeklies. Nina's Adventures ended many years ago; these days I think she is best known for making the movie Sita Sings the Blues.

Nina had some tiles, which she called Optical Confusion tiles. Each edge was either blank or had 6 line endings. You could connect them up and make little optical illusions or just funny things. Nina wanted to make a game for the tiles in order to sell them. I made a game and she showed it to a publisher that wasn't interested. It wasn't a very good game.

I suggested making a new set of tiles that made monsters. Nina said she'd been thinking about doing something like that. I initially suggested 4 kinds of sides (blank, thin, thick, pillar, so the monsters would be draped around pillars). She preferred 3 kinds and I did not feel so strongly about it. In retrospect 3 kinds of sides is probably way better. We brainstormed what the tiles would be. I suggested stuff like the salt-shaker and the guy being held; the hatch, for some reason I really wanted a hatch in the side of the monster. The grossest stuff is all Nina - the nose, the exposed brain, the hairy bits. Probably way more of the art concepts are Nina's, although a lot of it is pretty basic, you just run through the topologies and basic animal parts.

I made a game for the tiles, in which you tried to build the biggest finished monster - an incomplete monster was worthless. So, you want to be big, but not too big. Nina thought this game was too competitive. I made a new game, the "dots" game - you were trying to complete monsters, and prevent your opponent from completing monsters (as per the pencil-and-paper game, Dots). This game wasn't as good but Nina ok'd it and showed it to a publisher that didn't want it. And she had lunch with fellow cartoonist Matt Groening and gave him a copy.

Nina went back to building the biggest finished monster, but split it up so that each player had their own area - I had it as all connected in the middle. Also there had been confusion over what counted as the end of a monster - if the graphic shows two separate monsters, it counted as separate monsters. She dropped that and it was just, a bunch of connected tiles are one monster.

She played that version with some friends for a while in this time period, we are maybe at 1996. At some point the topology mix changed. In the original art there were way too many 4-way purple tiles for this particular game.

In 1997 I showed the game to Wizards of the Coast, on my first visit there to try to impress them. They were interested in it and enthusiastic but then immediately afterwards stopped making games that weren't trading card games (for several years). So, so much for that. Then Wizards got bought out, and Richard Garfield personally showed the game to someone at Some Big Company on my behalf. My contact said, oops I just switched jobs, here is the new guy. That guy said, well we look at games on periodic trips around the country and sure we can look at yours, set it up with my secretary. The secretary did not believe a word I said. Who did you talk to at Wizards? That's not the current games submissions guy at Wizards. Finally she said well I'd need to sign some releases for them to look at anything, what was my address? The forms never arrived. True story. Sometimes game companies are no better at looking at my games than I am at showing them to them.

In 2006 I made Dominion and decided I should try to get some of my games published, including older ones. I showed Jay (Rio Grande Games) ten games at Origins in 2007; he took Monster Factory and Dominion.

Jay didn't like that players got eliminated - you finished your monster and then stopped playing until everyone else finished or failed to. You might have won but you still just sat there. So I added the minions - you build second and later monsters, but they don't count for as much, the focus is still on making the first monster as big as possible but not too big. To make the scoring work out easily I settled on counting tiles with eyes on the minions, which was about one in three tiles. The tiles weren't made with this concept in mind; eyes were just what I could latch onto.

We were hoping Nina would do the art, but she was busy now. Jay signed someone else up who then failed to ever do the art. True story. Then I suggested using Nina's original art, but having someone else color it - the original files were in black and white, although Nina had hand-colored some actual tiles. Nina agreed to this plan and that's what happened; the drawings are Nina's, and Marco Morte colored them. Nina's hand-colored versions used green and purple so we kept that. The eyes are consistently yellow to make them easier to spot.

There were not quite enough thick ends for an optimal mix; so, since we couldn't get new tiles that matched, we just repeated a few of the existing ones. This is why the tiles aren't quite all unique. I took the name from another prototype; we had been calling it Monster Tiles.

The game came out in 2012 and has survived to get a 2nd printing.
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Bryan Doughty
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Thank you Donald! Great story. I'm glad I was able to help you find something to do today.

I picked-up my copy of Monster Factory earlier this year. I'm glad I did. Everyone enjoys the funny pictures. The challenge of growing a big/not-too-big monster is just right for a quick light game.
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Ken Hill
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I was involved in a number of the different demos that Donald did for Jay back at the fateful Origins. I really loved Monster Factory at the time and I was thrilled to finally see it released.

There was another game besides "Castle Builders" which became Dominion and Monster Factory that we played that I don't think has ever been published. I only vaguely remember it but I do remember thinking that it should be release.

Donald, whatever happened to that game (assuming you know the one I'm referring to...)?

Ken
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Donald X.
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KenH wrote:
There was another game besides "Castle Builders" which became Dominion and Monster Factory that we played that I don't think has ever been published. I only vaguely remember it but I do remember thinking that it should be release.

Donald, whatever happened to that game (assuming you know the one I'm referring to...)?

I think you are remembering someone else's game. The group that included Scott and Valerie that Jay got to try out Monster Factory and Dominion did not try any other games of mine. Scott also tried Nefarious (which he went on to publish) at that Origins, but the rest of that group wasn't there for that. Jay was tentatively interested in two more games (Infiltration and an unpublished game called Evolution) before he decided that two games of mine was enough for now, but there was never a point when he had the prototypes.
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Josh Lamoreaux
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Interesting story! Thanks for sharing. It's interesting that you had the concept way back before Carcassonne was released, I thought for sure it was your take of that mechanic.

Anyway, I've introduced many kids games to my daughters (4 and 7), their friends, my nephews, etc and Monster Factory is always the biggest hit. Seriously, kids go crazy for this game! Non-stop laughter. You and Nina really hit a home run here. I always tell other parents about this game.

PS. We just played Greed at the office during lunch and it was also excellent.
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Mel
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I love the art on these tiles and the way the funny looking monsters are built. I bought the first release and later bought one for a family member. I would love to see more monster art and shapes. They make me think of The Exquisite Corpse which is a surrealist game.
 
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8bg
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donaldx wrote:


The game came out in 2012 and has survived to get a 2nd printing.


Had never heard of this until a friend brought it to a kids' game day I host. Fantastic! I'd play this by myself

Just begging for an expansion!
 
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