Design Blog 3-01

This week I thought I’d look at one of the more thematic elements of Ghostel; the Phobias.

Update: Since the writing of this blog, the Phobias have been renamed as scare tactics.

The Phobias started as an evolution of the ghost theme, and were a clear candidate for thematic shoe-horning: I knew I wanted Phobias in the game but I didn’t know where. It was during a long drive that the idea percolated through my hind brain, and I thought ‘What if the ghosts could ’transform’ into what a person fears the most? How could I represent this in Ghostel? And what would it do to the person who feared them?’

All of the Phobias (clockwise from the top, Spiders, Clowns, The Dark, Snakes and Dolls)
All of the Phobias (clockwise from the top, Spiders, Clowns, The Dark, Snakes and Dolls) art by Tyler Johnson

The best answer turned out to be the simplest. Since the terror dice are used to represent how scary a ghost has been, it seemed clear the Phobias should affect how the dice work. At first I wanted them to increase the pips on the dice, but what if you’d rolled ones and twos? An extra pip wouldn’t make much difference. So how about if the score was doubled? Suddenly the Phobias become useful, even key to scoring big. This moved the Phobias from ‘why bother’ to ‘what would I do without them?!’

The 2nd version of the phobia icons
The 2nd version of the phobia icons by Kat Orford

The cards played to determine which Phobias a player can use were pretty straightforward from here. The list came first (Clowns, Dolls, Snakes, Spiders and the Dark all seemed obvious choices!) then the use of a pentagram to add that spooky extra touch was a natural progression of the ghost theme.

In the first version of Ghostel, only one Phobia was on each card, but the lack of flexibility meant Phobias could be difficult to use, especially if none of the people in the house are scared of what Phobia cards you’re holding. Again the solution was simple; chuck two Phobias on each card! Now each time we played, players weren’t holding on to fistfuls of Phobia cards until the end of the game, waiting in vain for the right person to turn up in the house.

Little side note: the prototype versions of the Phobia icons were custom made by a talented lady called Kat Orford. The first versions of these icons were my own scrawling, and looked pretty naff. Kat’s icons added some much needed polish to the current prototype.

Do the Phobias work for you? Good thematic choices or just confusing? Does doubling the score make sense? As always, I’d love to hear from you!