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Spreading the Heebie Jeebies

Posted on June 21, 2012 by Flames

Our game design essay series continues here at Flames Rising with Dave Cook telling us about his new game Heebie Jeebies, which is in the middle of a Kickstarter run now.

Designing Heebie Jeebies

    Heebie Jeebies Sample CardI’ve been making games for Zipwhaa since 2000. People have asked me how I come up with ideas for games. Usually my reply confounds them because it hardly makes much sense to them, let alone me. The short answer is that they just sort of come to me and fall into place like putting the last piece of a puzzle down. The mental picture of the overall game clarifies in how it will play, what the rules should be and how the flow of the game should go. This is exactly what happened when I created Heebie Jeebies.

    Heebie Jeebies was born from finding out that a friend of ours did a full body shiver and then threw a tantrum when we said the word “Moist”. Needless to say, that wasn’t something that I could just leave alone. I thought, “Well, if a simple word can give her such a crazy reaction, I wonder what other things could do that too?” That following thought drew up all kinds of new ideas like “Having an Ant Crawling in Your Ear” and “The Sound of a Dentist Drill”. Those ideas brought about even more shivers and protests, which of course was the whole idea. It was at that point that the little voice in my head said “you know, you could make a game out of that I bet” and the wheels started spinning.

    From there the game evolved in sporadic leaps that took on a life of its own. In a month my co designer and I had a prototype with a hundred cards or so and a simple rule set to make it fun and play easily. We still didn’t know its potential until we took it over to our friend’s house for its first play test.

    The rules of the game are very simple and haven’t changed since we played it the first time. One person starts as “The Subject” and draws four cards from the Heebie Jeebie card deck and places then face up on the board. Those cards will be any number of things such as “Fingernails on a Chalkboard”, “Clowns”, “Dirty Sheets” or “A Stranger Hiding Your Back Seat”. The Subject reads these cards to the other players. The other players then vote on which one of those four things gives The Subject the Heebie Jeebies the most. The vote goes face down so that The Subject isn’t swayed with table talk. Once The Subject reveals which one is the worst Heebie Jeebie, players who guess correctly gets a point. Then the play continues as it gets passed to the next person, who becomes The Subject.

    The first time that we played the game was with our friends Chris and Erika, who had been dating each other for years. We expected them to find some of the cards disturbing and get that body quiver. What happened instead though was entirely unexpected and wonderful. There were the expected “Eww, and Ugg” responses to cards, but there was also something else. At one point Chris laid his four cards out and Erika said “Oh, I know what this is” and voted. It turned out that she was wrong and a different card was chosen. Erika looked at Chris for a moment and said, “Really? I know you can’t stand this other thing.” Chris then looked at her and said, “Oh, yeah I don’t like that but I can’t stand this other thing. Haven’t I ever told you about the time this happened to me?”, and he launched into a story that none of us had ever heard before.

    When that happened I just stared across the table a little slack-jawed. I had just seen something amazing and rare. My friends had broken out of the game, shared a story and then gotten involved in the game again. At that point we knew we had something special and it was exciting.

    Next we added more cards and flavor text to each, explaining it a little better. In many cases what seemed like a mundane card became something more disturbing just due to that flavor text. Shortly after that we had the honor of getting Aaron Williams to draw us the artwork for the cards.

    From there we continued to play test it with exceptionally positive feedback. As we played, we found two things that happened in each game. First, when the cards were drawn by The Subject, all the other players would internalize and make mental pictures of the situations on those cards. That brought about the other players making all kinds of funny faces of discomfort and not just The Subject so everyone was always involved. Then they would try to take that mental image and try to determine if it bothered The Subject as much as it did them. It was amusing to watch those wheels spin in their heads. Secondly, stories about any number of things would jump out of people on why one or more of the cards were truly terrible for them.

    We were really excited. Unfortunately we didn’t have the finances to take the game to print and Kickstarter was just an idea at that time. We instead looked to have it produced by another company. But as time passed and it didn’t make it into print, we decided to take it back under our own Zipwhaa wing. Heebie Jeebies will be Zipwhaa’s fourth game and we can’t wait to see it in print. We truly think that this is one of the best games we have ever made and look forward to bringing it to the public.

    We are currently trying to buffer the production costs with a Kickstarter project and have until July 3rd to make our goal. We have a long ways to go and a short time to get there and can use any and all support we can get. If all goes as planned we’ll be able to get the game out by Q4 of 2012.

    Dave Cook – 2012

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