Nearly ten years ago I got fed up with working on Spirit of the Century, asked Lenny and Rob to fix it, and took a side-step through insomnia to invent Don’t Rest Your Head, which turned out to be the first game Evil Hat ever published commercially, coming just a few months ahead of SOTC.
Don’t Rest Your Head, ironically, really refreshed me at the time, creatively and professionally — the sort of side-project you kinda have to do in order to be able to get back to the bigger project that should be getting all your attention. And against all my expectations, it turned out to do pretty well for us as a tiny, nobody-done-heard-of-us RPG publisher. To date, it has sold nearly 7000 copies (physical and digital combined).
This month, round about September 14th, Evil Hat is releasing Don’t Turn Your Back, a board game inspired by and set in the same world as Don’t Rest Your Head. (Backers of the Kickstarter have started getting their copies already. Maybe you know one of them and can check it out early!)
I love this game to tiny, bloody, quivering pieces. And, sure; I’m biased terribly. But I didn’t design this game (unless you count its graphic design) — that immense task fell to Eric B. Vogel, who did an incredible job. So I’m gonna tell you why, as if I weren’t biased. Because I just don’t think it matters here. 🙂
Here’s the thing about Don’t Turn Your Back. It’s a genuinely new game experience for me in gaming. Set aside all that stuff about how I created much of its setting, and focus with me on how the game plays. It’s something new, but it’s made of familiar parts (whenever someone pulls something like that off it always seems to be catnip to my drawn-to-innovative-systems brain).
It’s a deckbuilder, sure, but the deck you build isn’t, by itself, the point; it’s how you curry favor with the Nightmares of the Mad City. It’s a worker placement game, but the workers are the cards you play, with far more personality and distinction than you typically see in the genre. And it’s an area control game, where you can duke it out with other players to make use of dark, strange services in the Bizarre Bazaar; or exert influence over the cliques of Mother When’s Finishing School; or harvest dreams from the slumbering, navigate the ever-changing laws of District Thirteen, or encase the “workers” you no longer need in wax as tribute to the Wax King.
And it’s all dressed up in the psychedelic, horror-inflected, photo-manipulated art of George Cotronis, giving the game a look you don’t typically see in board games. (I’ve heard a couple folks compare it favorably to the art used in Lunch Money which is a high compliment indeed.)
Evil Hat has been pushing hard to establish a foothold in board & card games. It’s slow going because, in essence, we’re starting from zero again, same as when we were publishing Don’t Rest Your Head (but a little bit worse really, because back then we’d at least gotten a small following for our RPG work before we founded the company). But bit by bit, we’re making it. Just this past week, our first board game Race to Adventure! finally got out of the red and into the black (we’re celebrating with a li’l promotion, too). Our first card game Zeppelin Attack! (also by Don’t Turn Your Back‘s Eric Vogel) has been a solid success for our scale as well, cresting over $20k in the black.
Don’t Turn Your Back isn’t in the black yet (having relied only on Kickstarter revenue and our own bank account prior to its release), but I’m hopeful for this one. We’ve combined the lessons learned with our first two games to make this the best possible product we could, to deliver the best damn design I’ve seen in a long time. I hope you try it. It’ll do all sorts of wonderful, horrible things in your brain, and leave you coming back for more.