Game design, terse phrases and ROFL!Recently, Terry Bell went to speak with noted games designer John Kovalic about how one goes about making a party game in general, and how Kovalic made his latest game, ROFL!, in specific.
By: Terry Bell, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Recently, Terry Bell went to speak with noted games designer John Kovalic about how one goes about making a party game in general, and how Kovalic made his latest game, ROFL!, in specific.
Terry Bell: We interrupt this news program to bring you ... GAME NIGHT ... with one of the world's best-known game designers ... right here in Wisconsin.
John Kovalic: "And here are the gaming snacks. We have three of the four major food groups for gaming: pizza, cheez curls, and potato chips. (What is the fourth? Mountain Dew. Duh, Mountain Dew.)"
TB: That's John Kovalic, and if you call yourself as a gamer, he needs no introduction. But even if you haven't heard of him, chances are you have "Apples to Apples" on a shelf in your family room. Kovalic, who lives in Waunakee, was one of the creative forces behind that popular party game — and now he's out with another — called ROFL!, R-O-F-L ... and if you didn't know, that's texting shorthand for Rolling on the Floor Laughing — and as you might've guessed, it's based on the language ... of text messaging.
JK: "The game works by shortening phrases, essentially. You can call it texting. Some people refer to it as "Name that Tune" with phrases. Some people refer, to it as "Pictionary" with words."
TB: Each player takes a turn as "The Guesser." There are cards with phrases on them, and the goal is to come up with a shorter version of the round's phrase that The Guesser will get. (The game comes with little white boards and dry-erase markers.) And the fewer characters you use — the better.
JK: "You can use all alphanumerics on a QWERTY keyboard. You can also use most common symbols — plus/minus, divided-by. Pretty much anything you can type on a keyboard, or tap into your phone, you can use in the game."
TB: But don't call it a "texting game"...
JK: "You notice we have not put that it's a texting game anywhere on the box. Because when we were play-testing this, 25 percent of the play testers immediately said 'I couldn't play this. I would hate a texting game. I don't text well.' But they still played it, and they still loved it. So, nowhere do we mention texting."
TB: What is the secret? What goes into a good game — a well-paced, fun game?"
JK: "A good party game needs a number of elements, I think. It needs to play relatively quickly, but still needs to have a mechanic that's interesting enough to keep people's attention during the game. And also, with any successful party game, you need points where people are laughing. Sort of the "reveal". With ROFL!, it's showing the phrases to the guesser, and having the guesser fumble his or her way through what the meaning may or may not be.
So there you have it. A good modern party game should be easy to learn, quick to play, social, and funny.
JK: "I don't look for stress (laughs) when I'm playing with friends."
Kovalic's game night friends — Windy Bowlsby, Brett Meyers, Corey Young, and Mike Carlson — agree that ROFL!, as well as Apples to Apples, represent the evolution of party games — they've become less structured, and more social...
Corey Young: "Monopoly was a game of its time, you know? Today, 'roll and move', where you roll the dice and you're at the whim of the dice — you won't find that in modern design. Simultaneous turns are becoming the norm."
Windy Bowlsby: "And the game mechanics have become so enjoyable in their own right — but they still allow for enough social time together, that you're not just so focused on the game and what's going on that you can't just enjoy time with each other."
TB: After three rounds of ROFL!, the player with the most points wins. But Kovalic says points — aren't the point. Rolling on the floor laughing is more like it.
JK: "I don't think people remember who won. But they'll remember the laughter which has occurred during the game. They will remember getting together with friends. They will remember having these magnificent times."
TB: I'm Terry Bell, and you're listening to "Morning Edition" on Wisconsin Public Radio.