In which Dave gives you a preview of the card game Dystopio, and a strange approach to the creative process.

Let me start, as is befitting a member of the group named “Tangent Artists,” with a little background. I have a friend who’s writes fiction as a hobby. While she publishes a small portion of it, she is less than enthusiastic about the rest… so she DELETES IT. Removes it from her hard-drive and the world, never to return. The very idea of this keeps me up at night. That is an act of heresy on par with wrapping myself in a burning flag while clubbing an orphaned baby seal with a crucifix and cursing at my grandmother. It’s simply not done.  I never throw away anything I write: my hard drive contains old ClarisWorks and .txt documents from the dawn of the internet. I have three composition notebooks containing a novel I wrote by hand during NaNoWriMo, which I have yet to transcribe into digital form (I’m holding out for a cheap voice recognition software). I have tiny pocket notepads with the home-made Magic the Gathering card ideas I dreamed of during middle school history classes (Wizards? Call me!). I throw nothing away.

Sadly, “nothing” includes non-literary items too. I’m a terrible packrat, with no sense of organizational skills. I have an orange Home Depot apron that I keep in my closet just in case I need it for a costume someday. I have stacks of Styrofoam packing lying around, in case I want to make scenery for a game I never play anymore with friends who want to play it even less. It may have some advantages (my car always seems to have a silly hat in it, and not by design), but it also makes finding stuff an ordeal.

photograph by Николай Аввакумов,  distributed under an Attribution 3.0 Unported

photograph by Николай Аввакумов, distributed under an Attribution 3.0 Unported

Flashback a little less than a year ago: Around the same time this blog started up, I started working on a new card game. I was inspired by Stalin’s 5-Year plans; his first five year plan took four years, his second took seven. It reminded me of the Eddie Izzard line about Microsoft:”lt’ll be done by Saturday… Tuesday… next week…  We’ll bring it out when we’re *%$#ing ready, right?” To me, there’s something darkly comedic about the whole thing, resulting in a game about players trying to create the most brutal and oppressive regime they could. The working name of it is Dystopio, and we’ve made sure to pepper with allusions to serious works like 1984, A Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, as well as pop culture settings like Tank Girl, Judge Dredd, and Death Race 2000. I made spent a weekend making mock-ups on index cards, played it with the Tangent Artists, and took notes on the feedback.


Earlier this month, our group was planning to go to Brunswick Games Day, where I had hoped to run a pick-up game of Masters of Umdaar. However, I had also planned to test Dystopio out, but was unable to find the mock-ups.

“Hey, no worries, I’ll just write them down again.”

To my horror, the only notes on my computer were nearly a year old. They had my rough brainstormed ideas, but nothing concrete.

I remembered the basic mechanics: every player has a Plan. It counts down from 5 to 0, going down by one each turn. If it reaches the end and the player possesses the necessary Projekts (one specific one, and one general one), then the player wins. If the player doesn’t possess them, then the Plan fails, and the player has to start at year 5 with a new plan.

Example Plan: Human Hatcheries. Requirements: Projekt – Genetic Engineering + 1 Ministry of Education Projekt.

Of course, my notes didn’t have the A + B = C information… all I had was my rough list of dystopian themes and several different names for ministries (in honor of George Orwell, the British term “ministry” sounds more imposing than the American “department.”) So, I rewrote them from scratch, brought them to the show, and ran a few games, and got more feedback.

And then I found the old cards.


You hear all of the time about editors and English teachers saying, “write it again.” For a packrat like me, that’s harder than it sounds. Our work is our children, and even when trying to write from scratch, I’d intentionally try to make it close to the original as possible. Even in our brains, we are packrats, refusing to throw anything anyway.

Now, I would never advice you intentionally lose your notes. Likewise, I understand that certain projects have a deadline that doesn’t allow you months to forget your previous phrasing; but the end result is fantastic.

Essentially, I now have two complete versions of the game to compare with each other, picking the best of both. It’s like having a co-writer that happens to be you. Unintentionally, I was renaming weaker cards and coming up with odd rules that I wouldn’t have come up with before.  Here are some more examples:

Old combo: Gov-recreation drug + Ministry of Facts Projekt = Touchies Movies 

New Version: Recreatio-Drugs + Ministry of Safety Projekt = Super Soldier Steroid.

Old: Mandated tv + Ministry of Freedom Projekt = Murderball 

New: Mass Diversion + Ministry of Safety Projekt = Murder Sports

When in doubt, it also means that losing a work is not the end of the world. Even if it’s not quite the same, that may be a blessing in disguise. One way or another, that idea is like Minerva, buzzing around in your skull until you let it out.

Happy crafting!

* I lose a lot of stuff. I sadly missed posting last week because I wrote an entire blog post on my laptop and, you guessed it, lost the laptop. It turned up in coworker’s car.