Project 1: ~Sketchy Circumstances~

Project Group: Jake Restaino, Jamie Song, Janet Liu, Jonathan Kula

Sketchy Circumstances

Artist’s Statement

Sketchy Circumstances is a straight-up party game with social deduction elements mixed into its fabric. Participants draw to communicate hilarious and wacky murder stories with each other, but watch out! One of those stories might just be real… 

We wanted Sketchy Circumstances to strongly evoke the aesthetics of fellowship and expression; the game leverages the creativity and expressivity of its players to create the foundations of its fun, but that fun really emerges as players interact with each other and watch as their expression and creativity bounce off of each other. We want our game to be the social equivalent of a bouncing football– always unclear what direction it’ll bounce next, but always fun to try and chase down (and see where and how it went!). In this way, Sketchy Circumstances  is playable by people with various levels of familiarity, and designed to ease people into getting to know each other if they don’t already; and, if its players are close, to leverage that closeness in the risks people are willing to take in their self-expression to create even wilder and more imaginative (or risqué, as the players choose) fun!

Concept Map

Initial Decisions about Formal Elements & Values of the game

Initial Ideas:

  • Idea: We wanted to make our game replayable and focused on the social deduction part. We thought about setting up drawing card mechanics to force the player to do something.
  • Feedbacks from CA:
    • Character Design: Both pre-fixed and free character designs exist, but we need to research on both types to decide which one fits our final mechanics more.
    • Decide feasible winning conditions so that the game does not go infinitely.
    • Putting restraints on how players can play.
    • Difficult to design the ‘draw event card’ mechanics.
    • Try many different combinations of ideas to remove or edit the previous ideas.

Playtesting & Iteration

First Round: Diverge and Converge.

Each four of us came up with a game prototype, and playtested each others’ games.

  • Game Jonathan:
    • Basic Idea:
      • Draw cards to decide who’s the murderer at random.
      • The victim is not among the players.
      • The game has a pre-fixed map.
      • Players can choose actions per round.
      • The murderer orders the clue pack at the very beginning.
      • Pre-fixed character designs but many different combinations.
      • Targeted narrative and discovery as key-elements, as well as self-expression (through roleplay)
    • What worked: The game is replayable; the card design is thoughtful.
    • Didn’t work:
      • Once the players get to know the game and learn the strategies, it’s not balanced any more.
      • The design of the timer doesn’t work out.
      • The emergent narratives as cards were found and played could sometimes be … problematic.
    • Suggestions from the others: Seek and place the clues back; better design of timer; need to polish the emergent cards.
  • Game Janet:
    • Basic Idea:
      • Draw cards to decide who’s the murderer at random.
      • Pre-fixed character designs.
      • Players use dice to decide on whom to give out clues.
      • Pre-defined plots and clues.
      • The victim is not among the players.
      • Targeted submission and narrative as the key elements.
    • What worked: Creative usage of sticky notes; cute designs of characters.
    • Didn’t work:
      • Not replayable, and hard to modify it to be replayable.
      • Not thorough enough, that is, one character is constrained not to be the murderer.
      • Same set of clues does not lead to reasonable murderer deduction.
    • Suggestions from the others: Modify several character designs; let the murderer pick clues.
  • Game Jake:
    • Basic Idea:
      • Each player designs different elements of characters and everyone draws from the pool.
      • Draw cards to decide who’s the murderer and who’s the ghost at random.
      • Everyone takes turns to ask each other yes/no questions to figure out the elements.
      • Targeted submission and challenge as the key elements.
    • What worked: The interesting mechanics of yes/no questions and word guessing.
    • Didn’t work:
      • Too difficult to guess because there are no restrictions.
      • Players need something to take notes down.
    • Suggestions from the others: Set some constraints on character designs; change the goal a little bit; provide players with notebooks.
  • Game Jamie:
    • Basic Idea:
      • Draw cards to decide who’s the murderer at random.
      • The victim is not among the players.
      • Separate party and identity.
      • The murderer is responsible for the clue stack.
      • Use event cards to make sure the game progresses and to add craziness.
      • Pre-fixed character designs.
      • Targeted at challenge and narrative as the key elements.
    • What worked: All components work as expected.
    • Didn’t work:
      • Not many interesting event cards.
      • Too difficult to deduct the murderer.
    • Suggestions from the others: Polish the clue sets to make it easier for the social deduction part; polish the event cards to make sure the game is progressing; more clear rounds.


  • To avoid all issues but still corporate the fun of social games, we switched to a draw and guess game, and added several social deduction parts. This switch also eliminated the need to design the event cards, because draw and guess itself is a fun event. Players could continue this event until someone reaches the winning condition. This angle also heavily emphasizes fellowship as a type of fun (and vector through which fun is able to happen!), which we all agree is important for a party game to depend on!

Second Round: First Draft of our game, named Illustrafia back then. (Playtesting #1, Apr 18th)

  • Basic Idea:
    • Pre-fixed character design: One murderer, one prime ghost, the rest villagers.
    • Draw cards to get the identity in the game at random, only the prime ghost is a public info.
    • The ghost(s) comes up with a word and passes it down to the player on the left to draw, then this player passes it down to the left to guess…
    • The next murder is stopped if the last person (detective) correctly guesses the original word; otherwise the targeted player becomes another ghost.
    • All alive players discuss and convict a murderer, and the selected player becomes another ghost.
  • What worked: The game is playable…
  • Didn’t work:
    • Too slow. Players are looking and doing other things while waiting for other players.
    • Players do not know whether it’s the guessing round or drawing round.
    • Too difficult to guess the original word. 
    • The ghosts are not incentivized to continue participating in the game.
    • Once the players start to know the game, the murderer can just select the player on the left hand side to kill, so that they would become the detective to guess the original word, easier to hide.
  • Suggestions:
    • Add the concept of ‘witness’, so that at each round, there are two drawings going at once, to reduce the waiting time.
    • Predefined categories for what the ghost can say.
    • Make the detective pre-chosen, so that they cannot be the murderer.
  • Improvements:
    • Set up a timer to be 30 seconds per player. Hopefully it also reduces the long wait problem.
    • Setup the detective to be pre-chosen, so that they cannot be the murderer.
    • Add “guessing” or “drawing” in the prototype to make it more clear what the players should do.
    • Constrain the original word to be related to the ghosts’ death (of course they can come up with anything, eg. location, murder tool, etc.,  about their own death).

A little slow, people looking and doing other things while waiting for players.

“How do I know?” / “Is it location?” / “How specific?”

Witness -> two drawings going on at once, less waiting.

Pre-give out stages so it doesn’t need to be caught up on / chips -> who are they?

Categories for what the ghost can say? For guessing– bound what the ghost can choose. (Prompts?)

Location? Item? 

Also coming up with things on the stop was hard.

Third Round: Playtesting #2, Apr 20th

  • What worked:
    • Players had a lot of fun looking at each other’s drawings and trying to determine the murderer.
  • What did not work:
    • The game again felt too slow, even with the drawing time limit. Non-drawing players felt as though they had little to do.
    • Not all ghosts felt included (only one really got to write).
    • Players felt that it was near impossible for the detective to guess the original message correctly.
  • Suggestions:
    • Need to further constrain the ghost vocab set.
    • Maybe we need to remove the detective because it’s confusing.
    • The murderer should know the word came up by the ghost.
  • Improvements:
    • We decided to create fill-in-the-blank prompts that the ghosts could fill out, making constraining the sentences such that they might be more easily guessable. If guessed correctly, the murder described will be prevented.
    • Murders will now be “prevented” rather than “solved,” so the murderer chooses a victim at the beginning of each round. This victim may or may not be saved depending on whether the players can solve the story card.
    • At the beginning of each round, everybody but the murderer will close their eyes. The murderer will then spin a dial, which will point towards the player they want to murder. This dial will be secret from all but the ghosts.
    • Ghosts now take turns filling in a blank on the original card, hopefully making each ghost feel included.
    • At the beginning of each round, each ghost will draw a story card, fill in one of the blank words, and let the murder(s) know it. The next ghost will then fill in the next word, and so on until all blanks are filled in. The ghosts will not be able to see the full sentence, only the blanks (as in Mad Libs). Some cards will require the ghosts to fill in the name of the murderer’s chosen player (which would eventually require players to attempt to draw another player).
    • We removed the detective entirely, and decided that a card would be considered “guessed” if the words that were written in on the original card reappear a certain amount of times.
    • Each story card features a symbol reading either “x1,” “x2,” or “x3.” The murder in question will be prevented if the total amount of filled-in words that appear throughout each player’s word guesses is at least equal to the amount of total written guesses multiplied by the number appearing on the story card. If this seems extremely confusing, do not worry, our players felt the same way.
    • At night, let the ghost show the murderer the mad-lib answers, allowing them to sabotage more easily.
    • If a murder is successful, the murderer’s chosen victim is revealed and they become a ghost.

Detective needs to guess from a picture – last player needs to guess instead of drawing

Question: should we let murderers know how they killed the ghost?

Fourth Round: Playtesting #3, Apr 25th

  • What worked:
    • Players particularly enjoyed the phase of the game in which the drawings and guesses were revealed and then discussed.
    • The drawings were amusing and it was fun for players to speculate as to the identity of the murderer. 
  • Didn’t work:
    • Players still struggled to clearly understand some of the rules (examples below).
      • 3:18-3:25: One player asks about the winning condition of villagers and murderer
      • 5:00-5:05: One player asks if they draw based on the filled-out mad lib
      • 6:10-6:15: One player asks about swiping across story card pages on Ipad
      • 12:30-12:40: One player asks about a question on players’ order
  • Standards on whether a story is successfully passed are too complex.
  • Too hard for the murderer to win because it is “too easy to see where the drawing goes wrong”.
  • Because there were 7 players playtesting our game, right on the edge of adding one more murderer, there was still only one prime ghost, and only one story going on. The players thought the waiting time was too long.
  • Players did not all know each other’s names, making it difficult for them to fill in the names of other players.
  • The learning curve is too high, especially the story rule.
  • Suggestions:
    • The target audience is unclear. Maybe try to focus on a smaller range of players.
    • Need to make sure that ghosts are contributing equally to the game.
    • The game should be self-contained without outside help of electronic tech.
    • Playtesting without a member in the team to be the moderator, to test how other people understand our rules and mechanics.
    • Remove player names as a blank to be filled in.
  • Improvements:
    • To address the third piece of suggestion, we’re spending more time and effort on Figma for the game piece designs for the very last playtesting. We’ve also printed out, cut, and prepared for everything this time, without the need of an Ipad.
    • To address the fourth piece of suggestion, we’re inviting friends to come to the playtesting, recording videos without us introducing the mechanics to them.
    • Constrain the total number of players to be 4-7 instead of 4+. This way we only allow one murderer.
    • Instead of only the ghost starting a mad-lib, now let everyone start a mad-lib, this is to make the ghosts also feel included and participate in drawing (ghosts will still not be able to vote for a suspect).
    • With each player starting a mad-lib, each player will now be drawing or guessing at all times, eliminating the boring periods that some players experienced.
    • We got rid of the complicated rules for determining whether the story is successfully spreaded or not; rather, we come back to the original idea, only to look at the last guess, and compare it to the original mad-lib. This change ideally smooths the learning curve.
    • We removed playernames as a fill-in-the-blank space on story cards, allowing players that do not know each other’s names to play together.
Notes (Amy)

I think that with such a large range (4-15) of the number of players to play your game, the target audience is a little unclear. I feel like you might even be more successful trying to hone in and make the game really good for a smaller range of players, rather than trying to cater towards everyone. With larger groups, you’re going to have more attrition in terms of who can play your game.

It seems like the unique social dynamics may be present, but need a lil more proof of people voting in rounds / making sure that the ghosts are contributing equally as active players.

Learning curve seems higher for this game – there are a lot of moving parts.

I want to see a playtest but with the actual gamebits! Your game should be self-contained in the box without additional resources and tech.

Playtesting without a member of the team as a moderator.

Final Iteration: Playtesting #4 (no one in the team moderating), Apr 28th

  • What worked
    • Players laughed a lot, with each other and at the drawings. A clear sign of fun from fellowship– as people started to form opinions and suspicions about who the murderer could be, and enjoyed seeing how their ideas were mangled in passing them around.
      • This happened even though there were strangers playing with each other! They learned each others’ names.
    • Rules were mostly understood via the TL;DR reference sheet, although reference to the full rulebook still had to be made once in a while for clarifying.
    • Players didn’t feel bored! The entire gameplay took around 50 minutes, but all players felt like 20 minutes. In fact, 30 seconds made everyone rush, and was used to justify some bad drawings and help people avoid suspicion.
    • There was a lot of explaining of people’s own drawings and guessing happening to justify that they weren’t the murderer.
    • Two players successfully had their prompt go around and were “safe!”
    • Despite some confusion about the exact procedures, the objective of the game was always clear to the players, and they naturally intuited elements of discussion!
  • What didn’t work
    • As mentioned above^, the TL;DR rules didn’t quite cover all the cases and players were left a bit confused on the setup.
    • Players had to reference the rules to remember the end-of-round sequence (reveal drawings, discuss, convict, then reveal the victim)– where “reveal the victim” lied in that sequence was a point of confusion.
    • Players could pretty easily see past “the red reveal” without requiring a lens. This was mostly a printing (color) issue, and needs to be refined. There was also some confusion about how to use the lens.
  • Suggestions
    • Adjust the TL;DR rules to clarify confusions voiced during the playtest.
    • Make the lens a slot that you insert the story card into, rather than pass over it– this would prevent the problem of people holding their lens to their eye (which doesn’t work).
  • Improvements
    • Adjusted the TLDR setup rules to clarify that the role cards should be shuffled and passed out
    • Split up the step about filling out the story card, and only then after starting to draw it. Also specify a 30 second timer for filling it out, and make it clear that the players shouldn’t attempt to read the blue text.
    • Clarify that the sketchbooks are passed, not the story cards.
    • Make it clear why it’s important for a story to spread out right on the TL;DR card.
    • Make the sequence of draw-guess-draw-guess a bit more clear on the TL;DR card

Iterations of Visual Design

For our box cover, we want to highlight several keywords that capture the essence of our game: mystery, excitement, creativity, and “sketchiness”. The mysterious and exciting vibe is conveyed by our illustration of a person hiding under a hood but looking directly at the audience, as shown in the upper part of our design. We took inspiration from Carmen Sandiego and we added a knife to showcase the murder aspect of our game. Below our title, we drew a funny-looking dead figure and some random objects that could indicate how this person died, including a microwave and a stick. These match with our mad-lib-like game mechanics and the sketchy styles of them add humor to the overall design. 

Above is our further iteration of our box design. The changes were made based on the feedback we received, which highlights the need to:

  1. Have designs for the sides of the boxes. 
  2. Highlight age range and number of players. 
  3. Put the slogan on the cover. 
  4. Make the drawing element, the key part of the game,  more obvious.
  5. Show some example cards.

To address these feedbacks, we redesigned our box, which is shown in the right part of the picture above. Specifically, to address need #2, we changed the color of the texts for age and player number, and we also reiterated this information on the side of the box. To address need #3, we moved our slogan from the back of the box to the front of the box. To address need #4, we drew a marker-knife on the side of the box and wrote “kill with your marker” to further highlight the drawing component of our game. Finally, to address need#5, we added example role cards and victim cards on the back of the box. 

Final design:

Final Prototype

The Print & Play is available at [this link]!

You can also make your own story cards [here]!

Final Playtest Video


  1. Shana and Mark read the rules. Mark raised the question how the murderer will be selected. He discussed with Shana and they concluded that the murderers are randomly selected based on the cards they get. Shana said she basically grasped the game while Mark was still reading. Mark: “I’m gonna get increasingly excited:)”. Mark pointed out that the “it” in “pass it to the left” needs to be clarified. Mark explained the rules in his own words. It seems like he needs to pair the TLDR rules with the resources we provide such as the lens and the drawing board.

[Notes to self: Need to add pass out randomly. Need to clarify the “it” in  “pass it to the left. Note on we should alternate drawing and guessing.]


  1. The game began! Players drew the role cards and the murderer chose the target. They filled out the mad-libs and began drawing. Players passed their drawing boards to their left. 

[Notes to self: Don’t forget to start the timer!]


  1. Players share their drawing boards and discuss. Lots of laughters 😀


  1. Convict. Jonathan the innocent became a ghost. Shana reminds Mark that they needed to move to the next round since he was too focused on finding out who’s the murderer. 


  1. Round two!! Murderer picked a target. Everyone filled out mad-libs and started drawing and rotating. Again, lots of laughter. 

[Notes to self: Players can take 1 minute instead of 30 seconds for their first drawing after they finish filling out mad-libs. Missing a card?]


  1. Sharing


  1. Convict. Voted out the murderer. 

Feedback: “It was a very fun game.” “pretty playable” “mechanics work very well”

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