Sep 12

Infamy: Design Diary of Travis R. Chance


Is a new board game designed by Travis R. Chance.  Travis is a buddy from back in my Magic the Gathering and Poker days who is now a published game designer.  Infamy is available for backing at this link on Kickstarter for just five more days and could use your support.  What follows is Travis’ own account of how Infamy came into being.  All of you aspiring game designers should give this a read and I hope that everyone at least takes the time to check out project listing on Kickstarter!

Without any further ado, here is Travis.

As a meandering, tangential thinker, it’s hard for me to pinpoint where this project really began. Some could look back into the fugue of time and memory and say it started when I was in elementary school and was picked out of the bleachers to try on a replica of Buzz Aldrin’s astronaut suit. Others might say it started when I procured a copy of HeroQuest in 1991 – a game that like an Indiana Jones villain I had to hide from my then very religious parents. Or perhaps it was the steady diet of comic books that I read from the age of ten all the way to the present. Sure, these are parts of the whole, but in truth the catalyst to Infamy was this simple: I randomly rewatched Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall a few days after my 34th birthday.

Mars – I have always had this odd preoccupation with Mars. When I was 17, before the Internet made everything so easy, I bought a book that conjectured on the prospect of populating Mars in the early 21st century. I was obsessed with this book and, by extension, obsessed with anything that had to do with Mars. Enter Total Recall. You see, this movie not only scratched my Martian itch, but it also introduced me to the late and great Philip K. Dick, whose story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale inspired said movie. This introduction obviously led to Blade Runner, a movie I have paid money to see again and again an embarrassing number of times. Next up: William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and John Shirley. It didn’t take long for me to realize that while I liked science fiction, I loved cyberpunk.

Flash forward to me sitting in my Chelsea apartment watching Total Recall, laughing like a lunatic at the over-the-top action and acting by Arnold – I must have walked around for a month pretending I had that giant drill, saying, “Screw you!!!” The movie ends, and the immediate thought that goes through my head is: There should totally be a board game about this movie.

Then I went to sleep.


Greek to Me

The next morning I woke up, and the first thing that popped into my head was this barely-tangible sentence: Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a game in which all the ways to score points were open information, but no one knew who would be attempting what until it was too late?

Admittedly, this hardly sounds like a eureka moment, but it was nonetheless my eureka moment. I went upstairs and started jotting down ideas, not knowing how to go about taking on such a monumental endeavor. My wife was enlisted (against her will) to cut up thousands of scraps of these ideas that, within days, would be the first prototype of Infamy (which then was the aesthetic equivalent of a 1980s ransom letter).

Having never designed a game before, I tried to distill that vague idea that had skittered across my brain that fated morning into the context of game mechanisms. Missions were the first thing I designed, my brain still latched on to the idea of Quaid running amok on Mars. These would be the objectives, and players would have to collect resources in order to complete them. At this point, I wanted to have fewer missions than there were players, to drive interaction. So the idea was that missions would be available that everyone could see, but no player could be certain which mission the others would be after.

I knew I wanted to have a map; I mean, this was my chance to use all this Mars knowledge I had accumulated over the years – but I wasn’t interested in the idea of players moving around in this environment, that is, staying on the board and going from space to space. I liked the idea that they would sort of pop up, cause a ruckus, then slip back into the shadows. I wanted to have spaces where people could collect the resources required for missions, but these would also function as the required space to complete specific missions, prompting more interaction. But I wanted another way to acquire resources, another front on which players could compete.

At the time, I was in love with the game Cyclades. In fact, I had become “that guy who comes to every board game meet up and asks everyone if they want to play Cyclades“. It was the auction element in this game that I loved and found so interesting. Without ever thinking about it, I drafted my own auction element into the design. I liked the idea of this being the optimal means for players to gain resources rather than collecting them from the board. Thematically, I thought it would be cool if the characters (now called contacts) you were bribing were the shady denizens of this world, and while the auction mechanism wasn’t “pay to play” at that time, it was interesting enough.

The last big important question was, of course, how the heck do you win? I wanted the game to have more than one path to victory, with potentially different strategies within those paths. My mind went to theme here: Take over a gang OR start your own. Reputation – called “Rep” in the game – became the former, but I couldn’t settle on an idea for the latter. At some point, the word “infamy” popped into my head and stuck.

I invited a couple of friends over to try out the game, and for the most part it worked. Looking back, a great deal of the ideas that survived through almost a year of testing were in this very rough draft: 8 of the 13 contacts, the simultaneous action selection aspect, how the map functioned, and a rough approximation of the bidding system. The auction mechanism had something to it, almost like a nasty futuristic version of poker, but I would later switch to the “pay to play” mechanism, which was far more refined. (For those who don’t know, in the game players must sacrifice bidding power in order to place bids. Spend too much time bidding against an opponent, and your currency will dwindle – but if you refuse to bid, your opponents will acquire everything.) There was a sense of risk and excitement as you tried to suss out what the other guy was doing, hoping to do it first. Long and short, it felt like a game – even though it still had a very long way to go.

The Fixer – one of many contacts you’ll encounter

One of my friends who had played this early proto suggested I join a game design group that met once a month, so I did. A few weeks later I had a more refined version and came to my first design meeting. I had a couple of gentlemen who played and saw potential in the idea and mechanisms; unbeknownst to me, eight months later I would be working with one of these fellas to create the layouts and general look of the game: Scott Hartman.

Despite having a horribly demanding and soul-crushing desk job and living in the insanity that is NYC, I managed to keep testing and tweaking for about eight months, learning as I went along, making contacts, attending design meetings, and slowly infusing my love for cyberpunk into the game. My objective was this: Slather a Euro game in theme to the point that it could also be enjoyed by Ameritrash fans, source amazing artists to make the game look top-notch, then present said game with awesome artwork to a publisher.

Despite it being unorthodox to curate art for a game you intend to have someone else publish, I decided to hedge my bets with the hope that it would showcase my concept. A mutual friend introduced me to the insanely talented Sean Chen, who despite being a very busy guy signed on to the project out of an equal love for all things cyberpunk. Igor Sobolevsky, who did all of the sector art, was the last piece of the puzzle.

Slowly but surely the colony of ARES-6 became a world full of nefarious people and dangerous missions, an alien terrain that was rife with familiarities, yet somehow its own.

The Last 20%

Just before Thanksgiving of 2012, my wife and I moved from NYC to Indianapolis, where two friends of mine, Nick Little and Evan Davis, helped me test, balance, and refine the game into what most publishers would call “the development stage”. I had resigned from the soul-crushing job, having saved up as much money as possible with the intention of putting every moment possible into working on the game. I had shown Infamy at conventions, started blind testing, and was on the prowl for a publisher. This was by every measure the most arduous time throughout the process, as the “throw a dart and hope it sticks” days were behind me. (Somewhere, a landfill overflows with prototype Scheme cards that were made, sleeved, tested, desleeved, then discarded.)

Almost a year later, a good friend of mine here in Indy put me in touch with Mercury Games. I packed up my game, paid a billionty dollars to ship it to Canada, and hoped for the best. Within a month, Mercury expressed interest. I signed on the dotted line, and, to commemorate the occasion, sat down and watched Total Recall one more time.

So much of what inspires, intrigues, and compels me is woven into the game mechanisms and the world of Infamy. I did my absolute best to pay homage to the sources of this inspiration. (For example, one of the three factions in the game is the Phobos Kepler Dig Militia – that is, the PKD Militia.) It was amazing to create this virtual space where I could display all the things that I thought were so cool and that, in the nerdiest of ways, had helped to define the person I was. I look forward to seeing whether other like-minded fans of this genre can suss out all of the references and nods.

Thanks for reading. I hope you all enjoy the world of Infamy as much as I did creating it!

Travis R. Chance

The first player marker, put into use below on the author…

“If You Don’t Buy This Game, We’ll Kill This Designer




Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: