Interview with Diane Sauer of Shoot Again Games, on her co-designed, Born to Serve. For 2-5 players, who play as jobless superheroes trying to get hires for the “last job in town….at the local restaurant….waiting tables.”
Diane, thanks for joining us today to talk about Born to Serve. Currently on Kickstarter, could you share with us the goal and some of the gameplay details of Born to Serve?
Diane: In Born to Serve players take on the role of second-rate superheroes who are down on their luck and out of a job. Given a chance to apply for a job in an unassuming American restaurant, they soon find themselves in the middle of a heated competition for the only job left in town with their former superhero buddies…who aren’t above using their unique powers to claim the job for themselves! Players compete for tips by serving tables, which is accomplished by placing their service markers on them. Ultimately, the hero who spends the most time on a table wins the table’s tip. Players can also spend their service markers on the restaurant staff who allow them to use additional abilities to gain greater tips or shift the odds in their favor on a table. Of course, being superheroes, each player also has two (nominally useful) powers that allow them to bend certain strategies in their favor. The player who earns the most money in tips wins the job, the game, and the admiration of their peers?
Anyone that follows your Twitter account knows you are a huge fan of comic books and love to collect the classic stuff. First, how is it to make your own superhero universe? Second, I can understand then wanting to make a superhero game, but how did the theme of superhero servers in a diner come about?
Diane: My husband Nick and I co-designed Born to Serve. He came up with a bunch when the game was first made, but they have changed several times and we have added new ones so we both got in on it. It was very cool to create all of the character’s origins, though the coolest thing was getting the chance to script a comic book page and see it come to life. The comic page is at the back of the rules book and tells the backstory from the heroes perspective as to why they are seeking real jobs.
As for the original idea, that was Nick. He says it was during 2007-09 recession when he wondered what would happen if superheroes were unemployed.
The designs of the character is a mix between golden and silver age of comics as opposed to more modern style. While I actually love the spoofing and look of the heroes, I still have to ask what is it about that era you thought was right for the game?
Diane: Both Nick and I grew up reading silver and then bronze age comics. That is the time we fell in love with comics so, naturally, when we started to decide what the game would look like that was our inclination. Additionally, we felt that since there is a trend toward hyper-realistic art in the modern age it would just not fit with our goofy cast of heroes.
Of course, I am obligated as an interviewer who is interviewing you with a game of different comic characters to ask, who is your favorite superhero in the game?
Diane: Nick’s favorite is Ms. Twister who is, by the way, the Tremendous Ten’s (the supergroup all the characters used to be part of) leader. He says she’s the one he would be most likely to read an actual comic book about.
My favorite is the Firecracker Kid who is based off of a hero I created for my most popular storyline in the City of Heroes MMORPG. He was a world war two sidekick who never gave up being a hero or the moniker “Kid” even though he is very old. He is really annoyed by all of the self-promotion and, feels that today’s heroes are into always “posting on their Facey Space page and Twittery Tweeting” about their exploits. In his day heroes put on the cape to help people and never worried about “making their brand.” You know the type.
Did Nick and you design the superheroes around the abilities in the game or was it a vice versa thing? And was it tough trying to make sure these abilities were all balanced?
Diane: I would say a little of both on the design. We had some character concepts and basic origins for some of them like for example we knew we wanted a hero named the Human Pinball who was involved in a tragic pinball related accident before we came up with his powers. Others like Ms. Twister we had the ability to rotate all of the service markers clockwise or counterclockwise first.
As for balance, unbalanced powers became obvious quickly. Some were tougher to nail down than others. Some of the powers we liked so much even though they were unbalanced that it led to the idea of adding in the restaurant staff who could have those powers since they would be accessible to all players. Sometimes after a first play, people may think a certain character is unbalanced, but the truth is we have heard that about every character and after four years of playtesting we have found that it is just a matter of how well the character is played.
The game also features two things I like to know about the Phantom Realm and the Restaurant Staff. What do they do and what do they bring to the gameplay?
Diane: You have a limited supply of service markers for the game and anytime you win a table (get the lion’s share of the tip) you must score at least one of them by sending it to the Phantom Realm and may score a second if available which would also go into the Phantom Realm. Service markers in the Phantom Realm are effectively out of the game. If the Washroom Attendant is in the game (and he normally always is) he would allow a player to get service marker back from the Phantom Realm by placing a service marker on him. There is a hardcore variant of the game called the “Diner of Doom!” where you play without the Washroom Attendant. Not for beginners or the faint of heart!
There is a set number of Staff in each game depending on the number of players in addition to the Washroom Attendant who is in every normal game automatically. Each Staff has a unique ability that can help you. For example, the Hostess allows a player to place a +$3 token on any table thereby increasing the tip there (She seats the customers at a table with a great view) or the Owner who would obviously have a lot of sway allows a player to swap one of their Service Markers from one table with any opponents on another table. For your first learning game we recommend players play with certain staff, but after that, you can draft the Staff you use each time adding an additional twist to the game.
This is the second time Born to Serve has hit Kickstarter. What did you learn with the failed Kickstarter and what are you doing different this time around?
Diane: We are doing a great many things differently including reworking the game so we could get the price down, but to me, the most important change was how we promoted the game. This includes everything for the main Kickstarter image to the box cover art. One of the most common things we heard in feedback was that many thought it was “just another superhero” game. We had went heavy on the comic book angle because we are both such huge fans and forgot many people were really attracted to the out of work heroes competing for a wait staff job in a restaurant angle. We reworked everything to make the restaurant theme come through including renaming the pledge levels, adding more animations showing the heroes duties at the restaurant and even commissioning new cover art for the game.
Another two-part question for you. First could you tell us about your next game, after Born to Serve, which is called Cry Monster!? And second Several of your hobbies and passions have made its way into board games – be it pinball (Pinball Showdown) or board games, what is next or Cry Monster! with classic horror monsters count?
Diane: I would say it counts, but before we get to Cry Monster! we are planning a Pinball Showdown expansion call Wizard Mode that adds more playfield devices, combos, a fifth player and different types of wizard modes beyond the standard.
In Cry Monster! you and your monster friends are worried as the villagers have finally had enough of all of your shenanigans and are hunting you all down one by one. It’s every monster for themselves! It will be a very different style of game for us because the game is about deduction, deception, and survival.
If you had to choose 3 comic book sound effects to describe Born to Serve‘s gameplay, what would they be?
Diane: CRASH!!!, DING!!! WHOOSH!!!
As we wrap up, I really have to ask – do you think we will see more games coming from this comic universe of yours in the future?
If Born to Serve is well received we already have plans for follow-ups including one where each hero’s arch nemesis comes into the restaurant and takes a seat at a table to try to prevent them from getting the job.
Thanks again Diane, for taking time out to do this interview.
If you like to talk with Diane, you can reach her on her Twitter handle @shootagaingames. For those of you that would like to learn more about Born to Serve, you can find the Kickstarter by clicking here.