Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Five or So Questions on FlipTales

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Ryan Mather on the game FlipTales, which is currently on Kickstarter! It sounds like a fun experience, so check out what Ryan had to say below!

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A group of people laughing while playing FlipTales with tokens and cards
Tell me a little about FlipTales. What excites you about it?

So the basics are that FlipTales is a super-accessible roleplaying game for all ages. you play as magical creatures going on adventures that feel like a mix between Disney and Miyazaki. It's for 4-6 players, takes 30-60 minutes, and ages 10+. What most excites me about it is how easy it is for new players to dig into. I loved roleplaying so much because it gave me a chance to try out different identities and personalities. How's it feel to play a femme character? How's it feel to be a bully? Or to be introverted? It's hard to find experiences that facilitate this kind of identity exploration through play. I always felt like TTRPGS were really powerful experiences, but so hard to get started. The community is focusing on accessibility more and more, and this is my attempt to contribute to that conversation.

I've seen some results in playtesting that I'm really excited about. Kids and grownups are able to play on equal footing because the mechanics are simple and story-focused. I've obsessively redesigned the rules so that people who have never played an RPG before can learn the basics in as little as 5 minutes (depending on how fast they read). I've watched players play their first game in one session, then write their own adventure in the next. I love the idea that we can enable all players to be not just consumers but also creators of games and settings.

Lastly, I'm excited about the beautiful art that Caroline Brewer has made for the game. It's gender-neutral and age-agnostic, so all players can find something they connect to.

One more thing! Thanks to some generous backers, I'm able to use funds from the campaign to pay creators from underrepresented backgrounds to make stories for FlipTales. These stories already look like they are going to be a ton of fun to play. It makes me really excited to see what other stories people will come up with

A box labeled FlipTales with a variety of characters on the cover, two cards laid out in front of it with the "arboroid" creature and the "fungus lord" and three tokens of different colors with x's and o's on them.
How is the game "super-accessible," and what did you do during design to make it that way?

I come from an industrial design background, so I was initially introduced to accessibility through the lens of usability. One of my first assignments was to design a toy for blind children, which led to me visiting a blind school and learning more about their students. When you design something to be usable for people who have some mismatch with their environment, it ends up being better for everyone. I'm borrowing the word "mismatch" from Kat Holmes, who does a lot of work in tech accessibility. I think it’s helpful to reframe “accessibility” from something that people with disabilities experience, to something that all people experience when they bump into a mismatch with their environment. For example, a person with vision loss will have a hard time reading text, but so will someone who has to glance quickly at their phone, or someone who just walked into a restaurant on a winter day and their glasses have fogged up.

So from that background, there are a number of things I've baked into the game so that all players can have a good time. Zero industry jargon. Straightforward instructions, with lots of visuals. Simple coins, simple character cards. Abilities and characters that are designed to appeal to players of all backgrounds. A format that requires zero preparation so that you don't need experience or bountiful free time to have a game—and adventures that are as easy to write as they are to play!

My hope is that all these features combine to make an experience that feels straightforward to everyone. Of course, no game is ever finished, so I'm constantly playtesting and gathering feedback. Players' feedback has driven design changes in every element of the game from the creatures and abilities, to how many stats the characters have, the colors of the coins, and how characters level up. I’ve deleted 75% of the game’s content over the course of development in order to hit a level of simplicity that worked consistently. I'm particularly interested in working with sensitivity readers to uncover mismatches that I can't see on my own.
Two cards, the "crustaceanoid" and the "necromancer" with three tokens with x's and o's on them next to the rule book.
What is play like in FlipTales? What do you do and how does it function structurally?

Play in FlipTales consists of two main phases. The prompt, and freestyle. The wiz reads out a prompt and then players "freestyle" by taking turns suggesting ideas for what they would like to do. When players have an idea for what they would like to do, they flip their strength, magic, or smarts coins, depending on what's most relevant. If they use a special ability they get extra coins. It's a lot of storytelling and decision-making interspersed with coin flips. Since the rules are very light, players often will come up with their own mechanics to suit something they want to do in the game, like assist each other or give a friend an upgrade.

Who are you bringing on to design additional stories, and what are some of the ideas on the table for play from the stories?

So far, Sharang Biswas and Clio Yun-su Davis have been confirmed as guest writers. Sharang's story is set in a kingdom where only boys are allowed to learn magic—your goal is to help a small girls’ school survive a visit from the superintendent. In Clio's story, players try to stop a floral arrangement from reaching the empress of a neighboring nation, because an incompetent florist accidentally arranged the flowers to convey a very insulting message that could start a war. I'm really excited about both and am looking forward to finding more :) I'm in the process of confirming a third writer.

A group of people at a table with cards and tokens, all playing animatedly.

What kind of characters are players able to play in the game, and how do the stories and accessibility make their narrative richer?

The creatures you can play as are Humanoid (magic shapeshifting human), Wingoid (bird), Arboroid (tree), Geoid (rock), Sauroid (snake in a wheelchair with cute little arms), Insectoid (any bug), Nucleoid (a single cellular organism), and Crustaceanoid (any crustacean!). There are sixteen abilities ranging from Scout to Fungus Lord to Elementalist to Assassin. They're all on the kickstarter page if you want to check em out.

The stories all invite players to world-build and flesh out their character according to what they care about. Since FlipTales stories are all one-shots, the depth of the characters isn't going to be anywhere near an episodic game. The richness in the storytelling happens as players try different combinations of creatures and abilities and hopefully get their feet wet writing their own adventures.

As a side note, if anyone reading this is interested in writing a FlipTales adventure, or would like to nominate a creator to write a story, feel free to reach out! As a part of the kickstarter, I'm providing funds for creators from under-represented backgrounds to make stories. You can also always submit a story through the website, which I'll playtest for free and help refine if you need.
A cartoon of four people at a table with tokens and cards, animatedly talking.

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Thanks so much to Ryan for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it and that you'll check out FlipTales on Kickstarter!


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