Brand Manager Jaime Lawrence chats with Australian Game Designer Shannon Kelly about his new smash hit game, Lucidity
1. So, give us the pitch for the game - what do players of Lucidity get?
Lots of fun gameplay, great banter, and enough luck to keep things interesting in a tight 30 minute package.
Lucidity is the kind of game where terrible things happen to you and it's almost always your fault. It is horror in its purest sense: weak players making good with a bad situation against overwhelming odds that they don't understand, and trying to get out with their skins intact. But the mechanic that turns eliminated players into the villains of the game leads to some great social gameplay as Nightmare players literally try to tempt others into rolling their colour of dice in order to score points.
The game looks beautiful, plays quickly, and only takes one round to grasp everything you need to know about how to play.
2. What makes the game different from others that readers may have played?
Readers might be familiar with small push-your-luck games like Zombie Dice. When I set out to design Lucidity, it was to create a short push-your-luck-style game like that, but with an added layer of strategy to the traditional "keep rolling or stop?" format.
The theme looks quite dark, and that is a conscious choice. Lucidity is a blend of light gameplay and serious strategy: something beginners can quickly get their teeth into, but long-time players can explore more deeply. It is unabashedly a filler game for gamers. You will mostly want to play this while you're waiting for friends to arrive, but it is a filler game that you can keep coming back to, and get something different from it every time.
3. Tell us about the experience of developing the game?
Lucidity actually started life as a push-your-luck deckbuilding game called Darkly Dreaming back in January 2016. Players drew as many cards as they wanted, but then would add to their deck a Monster card for every 2 Shadows played, and a Terror card for every 2 Monsters played. Playing 2 Terrors turned a player into a Nightmare. In theory, it worked. But players spent more time shuffling their decks than playing the game, and in May 2016 I put that idea in a box and stopped thinking about it.
On the plane ride back from Melbourne's Penny Arcade Expo in November 2016, I started thinking about what would happen if cards were replaced by dice, but those dice would act like "cards" in a deck. From this, the dice manipulation mechanisms that allow players to move and spin dice they collected were born, as well as the randomisation provided by those custom-faced d6s.
I bought a sticker pack and Sharpie from OfficeWorks, two sets of Chessex dice from Good Games, and set to drawing little symbols meant to represent the different "shadows". Monsters were scrapped and collecting 4 Shadows turned players straight into one of the Nightmares. I did a ton of testing, slowly refining the dice abilities and increasing the number of choices that players could make in their turns. I knew exactly what I wanted from the game and so, while I did pitch to a couple of publishers, I also set to hiring an artist and graphic designer and, in June 2017, launched on Kickstarter. It was a massive success, but you can read about that on the campaign page!
4. Was it a challenge being an Australian game designer, as opposed to being in the US or Europe?
Not so much of a challenge being a designer. The Australian game design field is super friendly and everybody chips in to help everybody else. There are Facebook groups, the Tabletop Game Designers Australia organisation, and plenty of experienced designers willing to listen and give advice. The challenge came when I wanted to pitch or publish.
A lot of pitching to publishers happens at the US and German conventions at publisher "speed dating" events. In Australia on the other hand, we have maybe two or three publishers willing to hear a pitch, and they have release schedules planned three to four years in advance. As a result, you get a lot of small publishers like myself who launch on Kickstarter and then think about distribution after. The benefit of that, though, is that Kickstarter acts as a nice gatekeeper for distributors to gauge the success of a game post-campaign. I had to learn an awful lot more than if I'd just pitched to a publisher, but I think the game feels more cohesive for it.
5. What are some other games that influenced you?
I'm a big fan of deckbuilding games like Dominion or Ascension, where you are crafting the complexity of the game you are playing, while you play it. I've been trying to design a deckbuilder for years, but other mechanics always end up being far more elegant.
The soft elimination "Nightmare" idea was inspired by another Australian Kickstarted game called Dreary Hamlet, which handled the idea almost perfectly. That game ends when all players are eliminated; but the first player to be killed gets to play 2 evil cards each turn to kill off the others. Second player killed gets to play 1 card. Third player gets to twiddle their thumbs, but the game is usually over very quickly at that point. I wanted my Nightmares to act in the same way – able to influence the game and stop other players gathering points, but speeding up the game as more players were "eliminated". It was only later that I added the ability for Nightmares to accrue points to let them catch up.
The artwork in Lucidity: Six-sided Nightmares was inspired by artwork styles such as Escape from the Aliens from Outer Space. I needed a way to convey that this was a serious horror game, despite the bright, vivid dice and the light playtime. The stark, monochromatic-with-a-splash-of-colour in Escape was perfect, and I sought out a tattoo artist to add to the raw emotion of the game.
6. How did the theme of Lucidity come about?
In Lucidity, you are a "dreamer", a human with the power to enter the dream world in search of power. But the creatures of that world are jealous and petty, and seek to turn you into one of them, or consume you entirely. Gather the power you need to escape, or give in, become a Nightmare, and hunt down your friends. So that's what I ended up with, but how did I get to that?
Lucidity is heavily influenced by the 2006 RPG Don't Rest Your Head. The original version of my game, Darkly Dreaming, saw insomniac children using their own nightmares as superpowers, until they succumbed to them and became the bad guys. The kids could use the power they gained on their turn to get helpful items like chocolate bars or teddy bears in order to last another night, but it always ended one way. Once I swapped to dice, I lost the extra items and began to move away from insomniac children. Nobody likes a kid getting hurt (unless you're playing Changeling: The Lost I suppose, but then overcoming child trauma is kind of the point of those stories). As I playtested and demoed the game to new people, I began by explaining the theme. I changed it every so often, watching the player
s' expressions to see what they loved and didn't love until I ended up with the theme I have today.
I was also heavily influenced by a stock photograph of a crying girl holding a flower, her mascara smudged by tears. It was the kind of picture that stuck in my head and, interestingly enough, made it onto the eventual Shadow symbols, which are of crying eyes and running mascara.
7. If Australian gamers want to get their copy signed, which Good Games store are they most likely to find you at?
I am Sydney-based, and my local stores are either Good Games Town Hall or Bella Vista. I'll see if I can organise a launch at both, so you should check out their Facebook groups to see when that will be. I will also be at Supanova Sydney, and wandering the halls at PAX Aus!
Lucidity should be available in Good Games stores mid-April. Keep watching this space for information on a special in-store event where you can meet Shannon!