I had a good friend of mine raise my awareness about Obsession when it was running its Kickstarter campaign. It caught my eye because the theme was unique and, with my background in English/Literature (including taking an entire course focused around Victorian Literature!), it was really interesting to me. So when I was thinking about worker placement games releasing soon, I really wanted to highlight this one. Thankfully, Dan was willing to answer some interview questions for me about the game, and has graciously offered to provide a copy to give away (see the bottom of the post and/or the Giveaways link at the top of the page to enter the contest). So here’s a little summary of info about the game, followed by his excellent interview.
Obsession, designed by Dan Hallagan. Published by Kayenta Games. 1-4 Players, 30-90 Minutes. 3.60 Weight Rating on BGG.
Description from the publisher:
You are the head of a respected but troubled family estate in mid-19th century Victorian England. After several lean decades, family fortunes are looking up! Your goal is to improve your estate so as to be in better standing with the truly influential families in Derbyshire.
Obsession is a game of 16 to 20 turns where players build a deck of Victorian gentry (British social upper class), renovate their estate by acquiring building tiles from a centralized builders’ market, and manipulate an extensive service staff of butlers, housekeepers, underbutlers, maids, valets, and footmen utilizing a novel worker placement mechanic. Successfully hosting prestigious social activities such as Fox Hunts, Music Recitals, Billiards, Political Debates, and Grand Balls increases a player’s wealth, reputation, and connections among the elite.
Each turn, players choose a building tile representing a room or outdoor space in and around their 19th century British country house. The tile chosen dictates the event that can be hosted and the guests to be invited. Players must carefully plan, however, to have the proper staff available to service the event and support guests as needed. The reward for success is new investment opportunities, permitting further renovation of the estate (acquisition of more valuable/powerful building tiles), an increase in reputation in the county, an expanding circle of influential acquaintances, and a larger and highly-trained domestic staff.
Throughout the game, a competitive courtship for the hand of the most eligible young gentleman and lady in the county presents specific renovation and reputation objectives. The player who best meets these objectives while accumulating victory points will win the hand of the wealthy love interest and the game.
- Let’s talk about the first thing I noticed when I saw Obsession’s box: it has the style of a Victorian novel that I might find in paperback form at my local bookstore. I absolutely love it! What inspired the 19th Century setting for your game? Are there any Victorian-era books, movies, or shows that helped to inspire the theme of this game?
- As for the box, I did indeed pattern it after the “classics” version of a Jane Austen book cover in my library.
- I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s and 80s and stopped gaming as I moved on in life. About 5 years ago, a friend persuaded me there was a new breed of board game that was a cut above Monopoly. He recommended Dominion and 7 Wonders, which simply blew me away. I had no idea such games existed. My family also became addicted, with my sons dragging me in the direction of fantasy and space. My wife and daughter did not share an interest in such fantasy/creature/battle-driven memes, and so I conceived an idea to pursue a theme my wife and daughter did love: Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey. I split the difference between Regency and Edwardian England, settling at last in the Victorian 1860s.
- Obsession is your first published game listed on BGG. Was this game your first design, or have there been others that haven’t seen the light of day yet?
- I first attempted a fantasy game (it is still a project), but when my brother (an avid gamer) heard of the Obsession concept, he insisted I pursue it. He believed (and I agree) that it filled a neglected niche in gaming: a heavier Euro with a romantic theme. All other such games we researched were lighter, and my family likes deeply strategic games.
- Let’s talk about the design process for a moment. What were some of the most challenging things that you ran into while designing the game? Did you hit any major snags during playtesting that made you have to overhaul any aspects of the game?
- Oh my. I hit more major snags than I can count. The game as originally conceived in few ways resembles the production version of Obsession. Here’s a comparison between the earliest player board and the final one!
- The most challenging “mechanics” issue I faced was when I had to eliminate EVENTS from the game, which I felt were intensely thematic; events like illness, inheritance, war, favorable laws, fire, death, etc. The problem was they introduced too much randomness into the game; for example, the most skillful play could be devastated by a fire in the player’s manor house. The game really started to take off and reach its final form when I stopped taking major changes personally and focused on the “elegance” of the gameplay.
- But the largest issue of all was that my prototype reviewed by Rahdo was judged during the crowdfunding campaign to be ugly. This was a hard blow for my ego. I had been so obsessed (pun intended!) by making the mechanics as elegant as possible, that I never thought to give my utilitarian design a facelift before the Kickstarter. After about 48 hours of denial, I reached out to the backers in the campaign and asked them to help me redesign the game completely. It was a difficult but powerful experience, and I owe a debt of gratitude for the support and advice from backers and for the refreshing optimism and sense of community one finds everywhere in the world of board games. Now Obsession is gorgeous; the box art just got recognized for its design, and the game got premium upgrade after premium upgrade, so much so that it now weights 6.5 pounds! Here are the custom meeples (the workers) that came about as part of that project:
- The theme has been heralded so far for its integration with the game’s mechanics. For a reader unfamiliar with the game, could you expand a little on how those tie together?
- When I play other games, I do not like game mechanics that have no thematic basis. I played Panamax yesterday, and even though the theme is strong and unique in that game, most of the actions are completely arbitrary. It’s still a good game, but I think arbitrary mechanics jolt a player out of the theme. One purpose of playing a game is to be transported to a different time and place; clunky, non-thematic mechanics are jarring and hurt that experience. For Obsession, I created a 28-page Glossary which, in part, is designed to show the coherent connection between mechanics and theme. That Glossary includes a history of the love interests in the game and gives thematic reasons for all pieces, icons, and actions. Here is an example (excerpt) from the Glossary:
- Were there mechanics that you originally wanted in the game that had to be scrapped because they didn’t work well thematically?
- The above referenced EVENTS had to be scrapped because they didn’t work well…but they were intensely thematic. I had another mechanic where dice were used to enable a player to host activities (you can see that in the “old” player board above); there was no reason for using dice (other than I love dice manipulation mechanics), and that mechanic had to go because the inherent randomness made no thematic sense. Here’s a prototype tile from that early design phase side by side with the final version:
- You’ve married two of our favorite mechanics into the game: deckbuilding and worker placement. Were those always planned to be a part of the game, or did they come about over the course of testing and design? Were there any other games out there that you looked toward for inspiration while designing Obsession?
- They are favorites of mine, as well, and those mechanics have always been part of the game. However, I changed the deckbuilding from a blind draw (a la Dominion) to active hand management, and that turned out to be a revolutionary improvement. Also, I am proud that I think I’ve invented a worker placement mechanic: players must manage their workers (bulter, housekeeper, underbutler, valets, lady’s maids, footmen) so that they are available to provide service (placement) for both activities hosted and guests invited, and such workers are mandatory. Stated differently, you have a service staff that is busily about the maintaining the country estate and performing the usual domestic chores. These workers cycle in and out of availability. When an elaborate soirée is hosted, the player must manipulate the availability of their domestic servants so that the demands of something like a Music Recital or Grand Ball can be hosted with the style and elegance demanded by the Victorian social elite. So not only does a player place six different types of workers to obtain benefits, they must maintain the right mix of those workers and have them available at the right time…or social events cannot be hosted and reputation will suffer! Here is an example of the workers supporting an Afternoon Ride:
- Dominion inspired the deckbuilding and Stone Age inspired the worker placement on cards. Obsession has moved very, very far away from any Dominion-like mechanic, but the Stone Age mechanic is similar.
- Let’s talk solitaire play for a moment: was that always intended to be part of the game, or was it something added over the course of the Kickstarter campaign? I see there are varying levels of difficulty – is this a beat-your-own-score style of experience or is there a win-loss condition to overcome?
- Honestly, it was added just before the Kickstarter campaign. I had no idea there was such a robust Solitaire community out there, but I learned quickly. However, when I made a move to add it, it was a natural. The central gameplay mechanic of Obsession is the hosting of events, which is an action that takes place independent of one’s competitors. As a result, Obsession naturally lends itself to solitary play. And once I perfected that, I had a wonderful tool for playtesting; whereas I usually had to round up playtesters, now I could bang out a half dozen Solitaire games to test a variation.
- It is definitely a win-loss Solitaire game. You choose a Solitaire opponent, and that base score is augmented by events during the game. The player’s actions can lead to the Solitaire opponent being harder and harder to beat. It works very well.
- Thank you for your time! How can people learn more about you, Kayenta Games, and Obsession: Pride, Intrigue, & Prejudice in Victorian England?
- My pleasure! Great questions, very insightful. Five tons (!) of games just made it onto two ships headed for the US and UK (EU), and they will reach port in about 5 weeks (ETA, ~ 9/24). Until that time, I am offering discounted pre-orders with fixed shipping. When fulfillment begins, the game will be available online. Details are at https://www.kayentapublishing.com/ and I am happy to answer any questions directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!