How it started
Cat, once upon a time, would concept out a game a week based on a prompt from a Facebook group. The prompts were vague enough to inspire a multiplicity of options but specific enough to allow for some similarity between the ideas people proposed.
One of those weeks, I decided to take a crack at the theme; in this case “Life”.
That is not this game. Well, not exactly.
That game was a solo puzzler (let’s call it “Generations”) that pressed the player to lay out the life stories (via square tiles) of an increasing number of Meeples, progressing them through an initially very fluid, but increasingly more fixed, map of life events. Meeples would exit at the end of their stories, and reappear as new stories began, largely retreading the paths of their predecessors but attempting to improve them, for both themselves and the next generation of Meeples.
The game design had one quirk: there was no win condition. The goal was not to succeed, but rather to persist as long as possible; forestalling loss was the core of its “appeal”. I personally love this concept (in all honestly I feel it fit the initial “Life” theme fairly perfectly), and one day I will pull it together into a (likely very small run) publishable game, but it was pointed out early on how this might not be what a wider audience might enjoy, and so it sits shelved.
My second attempt has the incredibly creative moniker of “Untitled Nightmare Game”, or “UNG” for short. Here, the square cards persist from Generations, as does the solo play, but the goal is now to find your way through a maze of doors to escape a lucid nightmare. Picture one of the many cinematic scenes where a protagonist is chased in and out of doors in a hall, within the prison of their own mind, and you have the core of it.
To accomplish this end you are still laying tiles, as with Generations, but the pattern is determined by a set of of fixed layouts on the backs of each card, one of which is randomly selected for each game. The meeple count is now down to two; yourself and a “haunt”, a being of horror that chases you, removing the occasional tile as it attempts to catch you and kill you within your own mind. As I type it out now it seems like a missed Nightmare on Elm Street merch opportunity…
This game was closer to the mark; it had a way to win (yay), a bit of direction for the player around what to do, and a bit of tension to feed engagement. The tile removal mechanic was a nightmare to balance though (I haven’t given up on it, but I think it needs to shine in its own game) and the theme was difficult to sell on a game that operates so close to the abstract line.
At one point, after stripping out the tile removal and tweaking the tile laying mechanism, I put the game in front of Cat. She had a fair bit to say, but one piece stuck in my head:
this game feels like having a panic attack
Ok then… well that’s something. Perhaps I’d been going about this all wrong. I’d run through several ham-fisted attempts to introduce tension and anxiety via the theme; why not be entirely abstract and do it purely via mechanics? And so, we come to our (for now) final form…
How it’s going
The Way Out is Through (TWOiT) retains the solo play, tile laying, map selection, map traversal, and chase element of its earlier incarnations but the core of the game is now purely the tiles themselves. The tiles comprise how you build the map, the tiles pay for your transit through the map, the deck of tiles reflect the time you have available to complete the map, and the tiles can occasionally be used to adjust the rules of the game, at the cost of that tile and possibly more. Every tile can be potentially used, and be useful, at every point in the game, but as it is a game of incomplete information you cannot be entirely sure of any decision you make.
TL;DR: It is a game built around analysis paralysis.
To be clear, I don’t know if this is a good idea. -I- find it quite enjoyable, and I think its a safe place for players who often get stuck with decision making in games to work through that struggle (you’re the only player, take as long as you please). The next step is getting it in front of a few people who aren’t exactly like me (which is to say, people who are not very specifically me).
Stay tuned as I… well, tune, and attempt to fight the visual interest vs. clarity conflict as someone with no graphic design talent, on these very pages.
The TWOiT prototype is now available on Tabletop Playground.
If you would like to help us test The Way Out is Through on TTP, pop over to our play-testing page to sign up!
And check out our unboxing video of the prototype here!