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Dark Tower Games interviewed the creators of Emergence: A Game of Teamwork and Deception. Emergence raised over $93,000 on Kickstarter in April, and the game is now on shelves in select retailers!

A Game of Teamwork and Deception

Emergence, Part 1: An Interview with the Designers
Joi Weaver October 24, 2016

Emergence is a hot new board game, crowdfunded on Kickstarter, and now available in local game stores (including Dark Tower Games!) In this game, artificial intelligences (AI) have taken over the world, and only a small human resistance remains. Each player in the game is an AI or a human, and must work to outwit the other side. Game designers Billy Sheng and Benjamin Morgan sat down for an interview with Dark Tower Games:

Dark Tower Games (DTG): First, tell me a little bit about yourself, how you got into game design, and why you’re excited about this game in particular.

Billy: Our group of friends originally met over 10 years ago while attending high school. Over the years, we all managed to keep in touch with each other and would often meet at a local game store to hang out and play board games. About a year ago, one of us had entertained the idea of creating a board game due to the interest we had built over the years. What started off as a small idea then grew over the next couple of weeks as we sat down and brainstormed ideas of what we all enjoyed the most from the games we played. Once we came to an agreement on the general mechanics that we wanted to employ (e.g. deduction, deception, teamwork, etc.), then came the fun part of actually putting together the game and figuring out ways to allow others to play it as well!

Benjamin: Our team is built up of people from various different career fields ranging from medicine and engineering to account and finance, so it was interesting to see our group dynamic in action as we carried out different roles for the project. Emergence presents a unique take on persuasive dialogue between players that must also be balanced with strategic movements and actions. This then opens up the possibility for different styles of play, ranging from players who may try to sway others using more charismatic arguments to those who let their actions on the gameboard do the talking. We’re hoping these two aspects will not only increase the level of replayability for the game but also make it appealing for a wider range of players.

Billy: It’s crazy to believe it has already been a little over a year since we started this project. We had no idea it would take off the way it did when we launched the Kickstarter, and we can’t express enough gratitude to our backers for helping bring everything to life! We’ve enjoyed watching our game grow the way it has and we hope you all enjoy playing Emergence!

DTG: Artificial intelligence is a hot topic right now. It’s the subject of movies (Ex Machina), TV shows (Westworld), video games (the Portal series), and books (Madeleine Ashby’s Machine Dynasty series). Why did you choose to talk about AI with something as analog as a board game?

Billy: That’s a great question! After figuring out the mechanics of the game, we initially bounced ideas around fantasy or historical themes such as Ancient Rome and Greece. But we found those themes to be overdone. We ultimately came to the idea of Artificial Intelligence because of how well it could be paired with minimalist graphics. We knew from our own experience when trying to have new board gamers play a game, they would often attribute the complexity of a game to the complexity of the art. An A.I. theme presented a clean look that left a lot for the imagination. Plus, what better way to pay homage to our future A.I. overlords than a game dedicated to them!

Benjamin: A.I. is a fun theme because, as you mentioned, there is a lot of pop culture around it yet it is all still speculative as to what a future with A.I. will look like. This gives the players a lot of room to exercise their own imagination regarding how they think artificially intelligent beings would act while playing the game. Furthermore, being a deduction game, a huge aspect of Emergence is information, which fits perfectly back into the theme of A.I. and the future as we ourselves progress into the Information Age.

DTG: What was the most challenging part of creating the game? What was your biggest surprise during playtesting? The biggest obstacle to overcome?

Billy: It can be pretty tough spending many hours working on a game mechanic only to have it shut down when presenting it to your group. But you learn a lot from hearing other people’s ideas and opinions. At the end, there’s nothing malicious about it as we’re all working toward the same goal. In terms of game components, it took us forever to figure out how to build the scoring box.

Benjamin: The biggest obstacle was trying to keep the energy going from start to finish. After about 200 times of playtesting your own game, it’s hard not to feel a little burnt out. As for designing the game itself, finding a balance in how much information players could gather from different actions was a huge challenge. At the beginning of the game, A.I.’s are in the majority yet they are unaware of who is on their team while the human players do. So we had to think carefully about the processes for A.I. to be able to figure out who else is on their team while still giving humans a fair chance to keep their identity hidden.

Billy: The biggest surprise for me happened during playtesting where you would sometimes see true “veteran” tabletop gamers having difficulty picking up the game while others simply just “got it.”

Benjamin: I had a similar experience to this when demoing at Emerald City Comic-Con. This 13-year-old girl fooled me into believing she was on my team until the very end when she and her father made a pretty advanced combination of moves to steal the game away and win.

DTG: What do you hope players take away from the game?

Billy: I really hope players will see this game as another gateway-game similar to Catan, but employing elements of deduction and cooperation. I want people to feel comfortable sharing and playing Emergence with any of their friends regardless of their tabletop experience and/or play styles. Then hopefully, this can help open up the possibility for them to explore even more tabletop games!

Benjamin: I agree with what Billy said. The combination of social dialogue and strategic movement allows for so many approaches to playing Emergence that I think it will appeal to a wide variety of gamers.

DTG: Finally, do you have any advice for those wanting to create their own board games?

Billy: Start it now! I think like any passion, most people are afraid that what they create won’t be good enough for the world so they don’t even take the time to start or put it off for later. I say start now because that is the only way you are going to learn. Trial by fire. Sure, your ego may take a hit but you will never regret the fact that you did it! Other than that, if we are talking more about the process, take the time to brainstorm and create a playable prototype as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter what means you go through to make it, just make it! Heck, our first prototype was made from cut-outs from Amazon boxes and images we got from Google! We went through 4 or 5 prototypes before we had our final version, and with each one it looked better and better!

Thanks so much to the Emergence team for a great game, and a great interview! Stop by Dark Tower Games to pick up a copy of Emergence, or swing by our Friday Board Game Night to try it out, completely free! And watch this space for part two of our discussion of the future, AI, and board games.
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Daniel Robison
United States
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Hey! Dark Tower Games! I'm in Lynden and have heard nothing but great things about you guys. I particularly appreciate the coverage you give to boardgames on your facebook page. I'm going to have to make it in one of these days.

I had a chance to play this at PAX West in September and it really was a fun game (Particularly because we cam out with a win). I'm glad it's getting traction. Thanks for doing the interview, it was an interesting read, especially for someone that's dipping his toes into game design.

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