Dear Editor is a party game that mixes hilarious storytelling with drawing challenges. We wanted to design a game that could use storytelling and drawing to bring laughter to friends, family, and strangers in a social setting. In Dear Editor, players take on the role of columnists of a newspaper and compete against each other to get published by gaining approval of a designated editor each round. We aimed to create a game that would be easy to pick up in a casual environment, so we took inspiration from concepts/games such as Mad Libs, drawing games, and judging games.
Beyond social interaction, we also wanted to encourage expression and the sensation of laughter to create fun, so we included mechanics that incorporate freedom and unexpected surprises. We designed the prompts with the aim of making them both drawable and sensational, incorporating action and invention to inspire players to come up with numerous feasible solutions. To further the fun of challenge and chaos, editors can use “breaking news cards” as wild cards to add unexpected constraints during a round.
Overall, we created Dear Editor to encourage fellowship, expression, laughter, and the drive to become the most-published columnist, which hopefully all contribute to some type of fun for our players.
Initial ideation exploration
Initially, we wanted to combine social deception with getting-to-know-you mechanics in order to explore a type that have not been explored as much before; however, we realized that getting-to-know-you games work because it requires vulnerability and authenticity of the players, while social deception games clash with this by making players doubt each other. After a second round of brainstorming and free listing, we came up with storytelling through drawing. This gives a lot of creative freedom to players, and we decided to go forth by setting a couple constraints, such as providing initial prompts, to create a good balance between constraints and expression.
Formal Elements and Values
Our initial formal elements were pretty bare, and we had very few constraints. The original game looked like this:
Players, Objectives, and Outcomes: The initial game was essentially multiplayer co-op, as we had no form of scoring, and the main objective was to simply make your friends laugh. The lack of a distinct winning/losing outcome also meant that players often were incentivized to come up with the silliest prompts/fill-in-the-blanks at all costs, as those were typically the ones that led to the most laughter. While laughter and fun were important values to us, we realized through our playtesting that it was worth introducing additional constraints, such as topic-specific prompts (e.g. “a verb related to school” instead of just “verb”) and adding a winner/losing mechanic – this made it so players were more likely to pick words that led to unique scenarios that weren’t simply gross/lent themselves to cheap slapstick comedy.
Procedures and Rules: These were also simpler than in our final game. In the initial version, we simply had all players draw from a single deck of prompts, fill them out, and pass them to the next person. There were no “Breaking News” cards, and there were not multiple categories of prompts for each round. Players then drew their solution, and (this differs from the final game) then passed their drawing again to the next player. Players then took presenting other players’ solutions, even though they didn’t know what the problem was. We thought this mechanic would create a funny sense of cluelessness/”fake it till you make it” type humor – while it somewhat did, it led to a bit too much confusion, especially with the overly outlandish prompts our first iteration had. It also created a bit of confusion over objectives, as players weren’t sure if they were meant to guess the original problem or just enjoy the comedy of the presentation.
Resources: These were somewhat similar to our final game, though we fleshed them out with themes and a few additional types of cards. In the initial version, we simply had prompt cards and pieces of paper to draw on. For our final version, we added multiple categories of cards, “breaking news” cards that the editor could play to shake up the action, drawing sheets with a newspaper theme and a blank for a headline caption, and small laminated newspaper tokens that represented the number of wins a player had.
Boundaries: Our original iteration of the game had very weak boundaries due to the lack of a distinct theme. Players were simply expected to suspend their disbelief at the absurdity of some of the problem prompts they were given. While this worked fine for gameplay purposes, it made the game feel overly engineered/manufactured, without any motivation for why players were solving these problems, describing them, and presenting them. The introduction of a newspaper theme, with players acting as columnists competing for their story to be published by the editor (the judge), helped alleviate these concerns, as it provides a cohesive story for why each mechanic is in the game.
Testing and iteration history
We playtested with various groups, including our project group as initial checks, CS247G classmates, and friends. We had around six official playtests, with other less formal tests along the way. Each external playtest included players who were almost all new to the game.
Broad Prompts, Pass and Sketch
Playtest #1 4/17 – Initial Game Concept
Our initial concept had players come up with their own prompts, pass to the next player to fill in the prompts, and pass to the next player to draw. There was no theme or scoring mechanism, but we still had fun presenting the interesting problems/solutions to the group.
Playtest #2 4/18 and Playtest #3 4/20 → Second Iteration
We completed our first round of in-class playtesting with our team and another group from class. While we heard laughter and people enjoyed seeing what other people came up with, players voiced a number of confusions about game mechanics:
- How to fill in the problem prompts
- What to draw for the drawing phase
- Purpose of the end presentations
During our second round of in-class playtesting with other groups, some participants noted that the story presentation process was nerve-wracking, as they felt they were competing to be the best storyteller. They noted that the game may favor players who are skilled at fabricating stories on the spot. Another issue was the game’s win condition — how should players vote? How many rounds should there be?
Since our prompts were initially very broad, players were confused by the motivations for answering and solving the questions, leading to some unintelligible prompts. We decided that a more comprehensive theme for the game, in the form of newspaper columns, and overall categories for types of questions would confuse players less and create a more cohesive dynamic. These categories would shape answers to the problem prompts. For the drawing phase, we clarified the rules to clearly indicate that the drawing was meant to be a solution to the problem rather than the problem itself. Moreover, the changes to the problem prompts allowed for more clear drawn solutions. Lastly, we added clearer descriptions of the end presentations to try to give the best description of their solution. We added additional time for players to craft solutions to reduce stress on players who cannot speak on the spot.
Article Cards, Guessing Problems
Playtest #4 4/25 → Third Iteration
To address the concerns with broad prompts from the first playtests and feedback from the teaching team, we created “article cards” for the second playtest that had suggestions for what to put in the blanks of prompts as a concrete resource/action players could have. We also added a “guessing” round where players guessed what problem the player before had been solving as a way to integrate the drawing aspect more heavily. However, our playtesters did not see the need for the article cards and enjoyed filling in prompts on their own, so they did not make it into our final product. Additionally, the players did not see the need for guessing, so we also excluded this in our final game. We did try to incorporate the theme of a newspaper into this playtest, but this was more in concept/as we explained the game, and it seemed like there were still some aspects missing to make this theme stronger.
In this playtest, players liked the concept and were immersed in the drawing/presenting tasks, and some felt especially encouraged to make their fill-ins creative.
In this third round of in-class playtesting, some playtesters noted that the time allocated to the drawing phase seemed too long. They also noted that the parts of speech (verb, adj, etc.) in the prompts were too broad, leading to incoherent problems. Finally, we noticed that we seemed to be missing an element of disruption that could make the game more humorous and challenging while making the rounds less repetitive.
Editors and Columnists, Headlines
Playtest #5 4/26 → Final Iteration
To address the first issue of presentation from the second in-class playtests, we revised our prompts so that they accommodate topics that are more fun to draw and easier to craft a story around. For example, we replaced the more open-ended dilemma prompts with more specific ones such as “The Yellowstone super volcano is about to erupt in [positive number’] days and I need to make use of whatever you can find in the [name of a store]. How will I survive?” that provide players with a given setting and plot. We then separated revised prompts into four different categories: relationships, career, self-help, and newsflash. These categories represent the types of columns in a newspaper, reinforcing the theme of our game. To address the second issue, we introduced a new role, titled the Editor into the game that shifted the interaction patterns of the players. The drawers, titled Columnists, may argue to convince the editor to pick their story after everyone presents. It is ultimately solely up to the editor to decide which editor’s story to publish, and the chosen editor wins a physical token. The editor with the most tokens wins in the end, which is dependent on how long the players choose to play for.
In response to the timing issue from the third round, we decided to set a drawing time limit of 2 minutes. We acknowledged that different players have different drawing speeds, but realized that a set time can lead to humorous situations since players can’t draw perfectly within time constraints; we chose 2 minutes because it had the right balance of having enough time to get something down, while not giving too much time to perfect the drawings. To address the second issue, we revised the generic parts of speech blanks to be more specific (ex. noun → body part) and related to the prompts, while not completely restricting players with article cards. For the last issue, we introduced the concept of Breaking News cards. The editor draws a Breaking News card each round and selects a columnist(s) to apply the effect to. These cards add an element of conflict/disruption and humor to each round, with effects such as “Pick one player to close their eyes while drawing for the rest of the time”. The cards also encourage players to engage with each other during the drawing phase.
In the final playtests, players enjoyed the surprise and variety “breaking news cards” could bring, and they enjoyed engaging with the prompts that were themed with better guidance for the blanks. While we had tokens that players “compete” for, it would be interesting to consider how to provide more motivation for “winning” a round and how to better signify players’ columns being published. At the same time, our focus with this game was fellowship, expression, and laughter, so competition beyond playful competition among columnists was less of a priority.
Final Playtest Video
Design Mockups & Final Prototype
Print to Play
- Prompt cards and breaking news cards (print double sided)
- Rule sheet and winning tokens (print one sided)
- Sketchpad (print as many as needed)
Box Design (Front & Back)
We wanted to play more into the newspaper theme, and thus redesigned our box design to mirror a newspaper and emphasize important elements of our game that became apparent through playtesting.
Original Box Design
We designed all of our game components with colorblindness in mind, using https://davidmathlogic.com/colorblind/#%23ECDBE2-%23DBE9F3-%23F5ECCF-%23F3DAB8 to experiment with our palette. We also added initials for each of the prompt categories on the side with fill-ins, so color is not the only differentiating factor.
“R” for Relationship, “C” for Career, etc.
(To see our full iteration history on prompt cards, navigate here.)
Breaking News Cards & Tokens