Words by David C. Obenour
All things considered, you’re a fairly unassuming apparition. All that you ask is to be able to rest in peace. But these ghost hunters have other plans for your happily ever afterlife. Bumping around your house, measuring this, shooting radiowaves into that, if you want to some quiet you’ll need to scare them off. Though it turns out each uninvited guest has their own quirks and phobias – best to make a competition out of it with your fellow haunts! In Haunt the House, players of all ages are treated to a light game that mixes “boos!” and bluffs.
Off Shelf: I believe this is your second game together – what did you learn from working together on Foodfighters that you were excited to explore – or not – with Haunt the House?
Josh Cappel: Working on Foodfighters got us excited about the idea of introducing “complex” game mechanisms to younger players in a way that would be digestible and fun. In Foodfighters it was tactical maneuver, and in Haunt the House it is bluffing and creative cardplay. The trick is to make the game playable and interesting even when you haven’t yet figured out how to play “well”.
OS: I want to ask a couple of questions about this because Apolline really did a wonderful job of adding frights and fun into Haunt the House. How did you initially connect with them? What about their earlier works appealed to you for your Game?
JC: We discovered Apolline’s portfolio online and contacted her because she had done a series of ethereal glowing animals on black backgrounds that just seemed to capture the vibe we wanted for the Phantoms in the game.
OS: What direction did you give her with Haunt the House? Were there any other touching points – movies, books, etc – that you referenced? Was it there from the first draft or did you bat it back and forth?
JC: Oh, we always go back and forth on nearly everything. I usually have a pretty strong idea of what I want to see, and we look for an artist with the skills we need and the creativity to go places I didn’t think of. My art direction is pretty intense I think. I sometimes worry that artists might chafe at the amount of specific feedback that I give to their sketches, but so far everyone we’ve worked with has been very responsive and produced excellent work for us. I am an illustrator myself – though not nearly as skilled as the ones we hire – so I am able to give pretty coherent written advice and also provide digital “oversketches” on top of their work when I have a specific change in mind.
OS: Aside from the obvious considerations – like complexity and playtime – what do you think about when making a game that appeals to younger gamers?
JC: As I alluded to earlier, we want younger gamers to be able to enjoy what they are doing even if they aren’t making optimal choices strategy-wise. Competence will come in the second, third, fifth, tenth play. Our job is to make the game fun enough that even if you are “bad” at it, you’ll want to play again. There has to be something they want to do on their turn. Give them that something; they’ll eventually learn about when it’s smart to do that thing and when it’s not.
OS: It also makes me think about modern kids entertainment – from Spongebob to Pixar – that sprinkles in entertainment focused more for adults. Is there any similar thinking when it comes to your games?
JC: Absolutely! We always try to stress to folks that we don’t make children’s games; we make games that children can play. All KTBG games will fit perfectly into a gamer group, a family game night, a parent playing with their kids, or kids playing together.
OS: I love how you direct players to “call BOO” – adding an instruction for play into your game. How important was that for you? How did it come about?
JC: I’m glad you noticed that! In earlier iterations of the design, sound was a more important aspect. You’ll notice that all the “Scares” are things that could be communicated with sound effects. That is a holdover from when players were required to make the sound of their Scare when they played it, and you could “challenge” an opponent if you didn’t believe it. This was pretty early in development and a lot of things changed since then that made us decide to cut that aspect, even though the notion of making ghostly sounds was fun. As a consolation to ourselves, we played up the vocal BOO!
OS: For adults, oftentimes short games are talked about as “between games” or “starting out an evening” type. Is that the role you see them filing? What do you love about short and lighter games?
JC: I love short and lighter games because more people are willing to play them. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice medium-heavy. But there’s simply a bigger pool of players for the lighter stuff. Shorter games aren’t necessarily an appetizer or palate cleanser between courses… sometimes they’re tapas… you make a meal out of a bunch of them!
OS: Bluffing is a central mechanic of Haunt the House – what excites you about that mechanic in a game?
JC: Bluffing excites me when it is structured to permit interesting deductive hooks for the bluffee to try and figure out whether they are being bluffed or not. Purely mathematical deduction isn’t super fun; you either know something or you don’t. Add in some behavioral deduction to give players something to feel smart about figuring out! Instead of “I knew you were bluffing!”, you want players saying “I knew you were bluffing because you want me to do x so you can do y!”.
OS: Do you believe in ghosts? Enjoy any ghost hunter style tours or reality television?
JC: I don’t really believe in ghosts, no.