A Game of Silly Insults, Dummy

For 10 years after I graduated college, my life revolved around my career as a comedian and nothing else. It defined my schedule, my travel, my relationships, everything. Throughout my 20s, I was a workaholic. If it didn’t have to do with my comedy career, then I didn’t do it. For instance, if I met a woman at a bar and she gave me her phone number, I would delete it out of my phone that night so I wasn’t tempted to contact her. I thought the only way I could “make it” was if I allowed no distractions. That’s a tough way to live for long.

Then about 5 years ago, I discovered the world of modern board games, and I fell in love. Like many, I assumed that Monopoly was as good as it got. Then I played Codenames, and Telestrations, and Cash N’ Guns, and so many, many more. I completely understand when people joke that their love of board games is an addiction. There’s so many good games coming out all the time and I can’t get enough. Give me more, Give ME More, GIVE ME MORE!

That’s the headspace I was in when my buddy Adam Bain approached me about designing a party game with him. Several years earlier, Adam designed multiple games that hit shelves, including Yikerz and Army Versus Aliens. The thought of designing a game had never even landed on my radar, let alone popped up in my brain, before he asked me. I paused for a few seconds to contemplate – am I a game designer? Can I make a fun game? … Sure, why not?! That sounds fun!!!

Adam pitched me a few nascent ideas and I waffled and waffled, unconvinced that any of them would make a great game. Then he pitched me his last idea, Curmudgeon, and my eyelids raised as high as possible. “That’s a great idea”, I yelled! Everyone at the Cheesecake Factory glared at me for disrupting their bland meal.

We met every week for the next 5 months to design and scheme, and wow, we made a perfect pair for a party game – he understood game design and theory, and I understood comedy and fun. He thought about mechanics and I thought about laughter.

After 5 months of work, we hosted our first play test session. All of the play testers were my friends and other professional comedians. Comedians are a perfect bunch for a first play test because they have no problem telling you what’s wrong and what sucks. And much to my dismay, our game sucked. Like big time. It sucked so bad I wanted to cry and quit. But thankfully, my co-designer Adam had been through the process before and he calmly reassured me, “This is how first play tests always go. We figured out a lot of what doesn’t work. Now we just need to figure out what does work.”

Our main problem from that first session was overcomplicating the game. There were fun moments, but so much superfluous junk around those fun moments that it took too long to find those moments of joy. From that moment forward, through every play test, design meeting, feedback session, etc. my modus operandi was simplify, simplify, simplify. What are the most fun aspects of the game, and how do we highlight those aspects and make those moments the core of the experience?

Over the next 1.5 years, we continued to develop and play test Curmudgeon, and we succeeded at finding the best parts of the experience and centering the game on those parts. The experience of playing it kept getting more and more fun. We took the game to Gen Con and play tested it with gamers. I took it home and play tested it with my family. We took it to local game stores and play tested it there.

analog games

Curmudgeon is sort of like MadLibs for silly insults. You are using and combining key words from Insult cards to make up ridiculous insults and throw them down on various Life Cards in play. Then players can get into retort battles by one-upping each other with more and more ridiculous comebacks.

Like most party games, Curmudgeon is more about the journey than the destination –it’s more about the laughs and memorable moments along the way than it is about who wins the game. Sure, there are points and a winner, but you walk away remembering the best jokes, not who won. The best feedback we ever received at a play test session was, “I like this game because I don’t think I’m funny, but this game made me feel funny.”

In November 2020, our years of work culminated in Curmudgeon being published and released by 25th Century Games. It is an amazing feeling seeing your own name on a product on a shelf. It’s something to point to, something to be proud of, some sort of legacy.

I will always be a comedian, but now I’m a game designer too! And that feels pretty amazing because games are my addiction.

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