There’s not much I enjoy more than a round of Dungeons & Dragons (or, no doubt, Of Dice and Droids) with a bottle of cider at my side, but there’s probably not much my DM and co-players hate more than a tipsy Saf making critical decisions. When I first heard about Jason Anarchy’s Drinking Quest, I near leapt from my seat with excitement. A role-playing game that is also a drinking game is right up my friends’ and my collective alley.
With an emphasis on responsible drinking and an easy system that can be picked up in the first couple minutes, Anarchy has built both a humorous and smart card-based tabletop RPG perfect for a Friday evening with the gang.
Though Anarchy is Canadian, PAX Aus gave me the opportunity to interview him and talk to him about both Drinking Quest and other tabletop games.
I’m from New Zealand and I’m involved in the indie dev scene there, and a few people down there do [tabletop] games as well. Are you involved in the indie dev scene at all in Canada?
I am really out of touch with the scene, and when I came out with my first game I was really, really out of touch.
What were your influences?
My most played game ever is from the late 80s, early 90s: Milton Bradley’s HeroQuest. It was like a simpler Dungeons & Dragons, but it was a board game dungeon crawl kind of thing.
I think my friends actually have that!
I loved that game. I think I was 10 or 11 and I played it like crazy, and the last page was just a blank map, you could make your own quest. I made hundreds of quests, and I just went crazy with it.
I always play D&D and things like that, but I always dumb it down so people can actually play and not have to spend 3 hours making a character. I always liked the idea of it, it just in practice never worked as well as I wanted it.
So that is probably my biggest influence, but this is a game I basically made from scratch, because over the years I just made a bunch of simpler systems just on my own for my friends. Eventually I was in my 20s and I had all this work and school experience, and I’m like, “I think I can design a game and then reasonably get it out there.” So I just saved up $6000 and I put it out there and it just took off right away.
What was your biggest challenge with designing everything and getting [Drinking Quest] out there?
The philosophy was always [that] I wanted to do a half-RPG half-drinking game, because I think that’ll be funny. The moment I knew I had something was when I came up with a pacing mechanic for the drinking.
It’s still half-RPG, it’s about a 2 hour game so you want to make sure everybody gets to the end. Most drinking games are, “Drink as much as you can as fast as you can,” and one person’s always passed out after ten minutes.
That’s definitely me, I’m not going to lie.
Yeah, that’s me too, and tequila usually ruins me more than anything. Each game is divided into 4 quests. If you have to chug more than once in the same quest you just do 3 swigs and that paces it out and stops double chugs and it stops people from going to hospital. Once I had that, I was like, “Okay, yeah, this will work, I know I can do this.”
How long did it take you to refine the balance and the pacing?
Took about a year from when I had the idea to when I had the printed copies in my hands. And again, I was out of touch with the scene, I didn’t know what other games were out there. All of my influences were old games.
I eventually quit my job to do this and self-publishing means 95% business and 5% design. I’ve been doing a game a year since then, but starting next year I’m doing 2 games a year so we’ll see how that plays out. I might even get an employee.
So I’ve played Red Dragon Inn—have you played that?
I have not played it. I did enough research to know it’s not a Drinking Game drinking game, but I know that people make it into a drinking game. I did a panel with one of the designers once and he was a super nice guy.
I play with my friends, but I’m not very good at, uh, listening to rules and that game has quite a lot. I get knocked out real fast.
[Drinking Quest] has two mechanics with the dice and everyone knows them in the first five minutes. It’s designed to basically run itself, and the cards act as the Dungeon Master so nobody has to really keep an eye on what’s happening with the game. It goes around and on each round all you do is pick up a card. It’s kind of automatic and the story is told one card at a time.
Nobody has to put too much thought into it at any given time. As far as drinking games go, it is pretty complex. As far as RPGs go, it’s dirt simple. It’s kind of a funny mix there.
What kind of background did you come from for this, have you studied writing?
No, I went to school for business, and I’ve got almost 17 years in the newspaper industry, and eventually I quit that to keep doing this. So no, I’m not a writer by trade, I just designed a lot of games for my friends every weekend for a really, really long time and I always just made everything funny, cause I like funny. Funny makes me laugh, so that was my comfort zone and I’m like, “I’m going to try my hand at being a professional comedy writer.”
It worked out. People seem to react really well to everything. I find that humour is the hidden ingredient, it’s a lot more complex than people assume it is at first. It could be big and dumb and simple, and it would be fine, but it’s more like Arrested Development or Community than it is Two and a Half Men or Big Bang Theory. There are layers of humour at work at any given time, there’s more than anyone expects when they pick up a copy.
That sounds like a good thing. You’ve played D&D and RPGs like that, do you have a good D&D story?
Aside from being the [Dungeon Master] usually my entire life, I was a player for the first time a couple years ago with a friend’s Pathfinder group. I kind of came in late, so I’m like, “Okay, what classes are left? I wanna be something somebody hasn’t been yet.” So I was a bard, and I’m a useless level 1 bard with all these high level killing machines.
I finally got some gold and I was super happy that there was something I could do, and I’m like, “What can I buy with this gold?” You can buy squirrels in the game, in Pathfinder, so I bought a whole bunch of squirrels. I was a bard that played songs for squirrels and made them do my bidding.
What ended up happening was all these squirrels just kept dying in hilarious ways. It was kind of like a squirrel’s version of Exploding Kittens before Exploding Kittens happened. So squirrels are my solution to every problem in the game.
I used squirrels to solve so many problems, that eventually I pissed off another player so much he murdered my character in cold blood, so that was the end of Skinny Mike the bard. It was great, and that was my most memorable character.
I love hearing about people’s stories.
I love the losery comic relief characters, those are always my favourites.
What is your daily routine like when working on your game?
I work at home and my wife’s on maternity leave right now, I’ve got a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old. It’s just absolute chaos trying to work while my family’s in the background.
It’s a good thing, I want to be there. It’s an 80-hour week job—I’m a workaholic—but it’s also good because I’m not spending time commuting. The offtime is there with my family at my home office in my pajama pants. It’s comfortable as long as you have the work ethic for it.
What advice would you have for people who want to do games in a similar vein to this?
Study business. That worked for me. Make sure the idea sells itself before you start, that’s the best thing you can do. If you can’t sum up what your game is in one sentence, do not sink any money into it whatsoever. Don’t even start a Kickstarter. Get a better idea.
Ideas are the easy part so execute it well, execution Is everything. Always simplify it. People come up to me with overly complicated ideas all the time, and if I have to tell someone to stop talking that means their game is too complicated.
Keep it simple. “What is it in one sentence?” is what you want to know.