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Patrick Lysaght
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The UNAUTHORIZED Story

Every game design has a story. It is a unique reflection of the game designer, the challenges posed by the design, and the environment. Some of these things are within the designer’s control, but most of them are not. When finished, a game represents the combination of these elements. “Unauthorized” is no exception, and I wanted to take some time to share the story with you.

“Unauthorized” was born on the second Thursday of the month in late 2014. We were living near Kansas City, and the second Thursday was my night to visit the weekly game night at Tabletop in Olathe. Those of you living in Kansas City know how good this store is. Anyway, weekly game night brings in about 30-50 people for free play. There is always something new to learn, and always someone willing to teach. I had been testing “Commissioned” over the last few months, and had finalized the design. We had not yet decided to self-publish, so I went to game night hoping to just relax and play something new. As it turns out, I ended up playing two very different, but very awesome games. First, I played my first game of “Terra Mystica.” If you haven’t played it, “Terra Mystica” is a meaty gem that always leaves you wanting to play again. The other game I played, however, ended up leaving a significant impression. “Resistance” is a social deduction game in which government spies are trying to short circuit a growing resistance to the government’s control. It involves, voting, lying, explaining, maneuvering, and lots of other interaction that can really shine with the right group of people. Also, it is short, sweet, and a big hit with larger groups (5-10?).

In college, I had played games of Mafia, and by 2014 I was well aware of the Werewolf phenomenon from some of the game conventions I had attended. As I was driving home that Thursday night, I was pondering the goodness of the social deduction games. Primarily, I think these strengths are: super low barriers to entry (easy to learn), fast playtime, & intense interaction. I believe games are about building relationships, and social deduction games provide an excellent environment for this. The weakness to many social deduction games is the inherent advantage given to extroverts. Introverted players (like myself) immediately appear suspicious by our lack of vocal participation. Additionally, the dependence on lying as an core capability compounds this problem. Many games have double-crossing, broken alliances, or misdirection. Many social deduction games, however, require overt lying to win. Now, people have different stances about lying in games. My personal perspective is that it is wrong for a game to force someone to do something against their moral code. This led me to start thinking about how a social deduction game could be restructured to provide the same interactive, uncertain environment without biasing the game toward extroverts or forcing a player to lie.

To help answer this question, I started trying to envision an environment in which a Christian might feel pressured to lie in order to protect themselves or someone else. My mind immediately went to some news stories I had recently read about the persecuted church in the Middle East. These people had stood firm in their faith despite losing their homes, churches, businesses, families, and even their own lives. How different their Christian experience is from my comfortable church pews and small group Bible studies! Then it hit me. Social deduction games could provide a way to tell the story of the persecuted church by placing players, for the briefest of moments, into the uncertain world of an underground church. I arrived home and immediately scribbled some notes I promptly forgot about them.

In November 2014, we decided to launch Chara Games, and all of our time and energy went into legal actions, business planning, and art development for “Commissioned.” Nibbling at the back of my mind, however, was the social deduction concept. In December 2014, we were getting ready to travel to see family for Christmas, and I came up for air long enough to put some energy into a new design. The social deduction idea would not let me go. I have been around long enough to know that when something keeps coming up uninvited, it is something I need to pay attention to. So, we got to work.

The early design came together pretty quickly. The key design challenge was to recreate the uncertainty, faith, and boldness of the underground church. Their environment is uncertain because they do not know whom they can trust, but they are called to act anyway. This led to the idea of changing player loyalties, and the goal to sway the group toward your side (State or Church). We believe this is a unique aspect of Unauthorized design, and are proud of the way it works. The next challenge was to craft player interactions in a way that eliminated the requirement to lie, but did not necessarily exclude the possibility of lying. Essentially, this required balancing the amount of hidden information each player controls, and the way this information is released. The public role cards allow each player to use their ability to influence. Why they choose to act the way they do provides a context for the player uncertainty, and for the game’s narrative without forcing a player to lie. I felt this was a good balance, and was excited as the playable prototype came together before we got together with our family for Christmas.

Once again, we used our family as guinea pigs again (SORRY!), and it went over like a lead balloon. They were very gracious and played 3-4 times, but the game was just flat. My brother’s insightful complaint identified a key problem in the design. He expressed that the game left no room for individual player choices. Instead of creating interesting choice, the influence mechanics created by the role cards were dictating player actions. NOT GOOD! As designers of games we want to explore Christian issues in a way that is approachable to people of all faith backgrounds, we definitely had to confront this problem head on. This discovery ultimately led to the introduction of wild cards into the player experience decks. Together with decisions about which cards to play face up, the wild cards created space for the player’s decisions to meaningfully impact their loyalty while keeping the game balanced. Our playtests immediately started to come to life, and once again our process was derailed by life.

In June 2015, we moved overseas. Moving is always hard on a family with small children, but we timed it so that Kat was 33 weeks pregnant just for added fun! Suffice it to say that between the move, the birth of our fourth child, the new job, and the “Commissioned” Kickstarter campaign “Unauthorized” spent several months collecting dust on our shelf. Fortunately, “Commissioned’s” success connected us with some very dedicated individuals willing to playtest for us. Over the second half of 2015 and the first half of 2016, the feedback from these playtesters led us through 7 different rule sets. Primarily, the changes impacted specific role power balances, game length, and the number of cards in your experience deck. We are very appreciate to these playtesters for their help finding “Unauthorized’s” sweet spot. We simply could not have done it without you!

Another of “Commissioned’s” key benefits has been the amazing people who came out of the board game industry to encourage us as a new company. One of these people is Scott Nicely of Jovial Graphics. Scott linked up with us looking to use his industry-honed graphic design skills on our next project. We are certainly glad he did! His art vision has brought “Unauthorized” to life. He has worked over the course of 2016 to provide stunning and unique art for us. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Now we are approaching the home stretch of activity leading up to the “Unauthorized” Kickstarter campaign. Video production and reviews are underway. Manufacturing quotes have been gathered. The campaign page is starting to take shape. We are truly excited about “Unauthorized,” and we hope you will join us in bringing it to a table near you!

Respectfully,

Patrick Lysaght
President, Chara Games
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Phil K
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This looks really fun, after reading a preview on Opinionated Gamers:
https://opinionatedgamers.com/2017/02/04/unauthorized-kickst...

I love that neutral players also have abilities. Will keep my eye on this one!
 
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Patrick Lysaght
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Thanks for stopping by! We launch at 8AM Eastern on Feb 7. Hope you will join us!
 
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