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Posthumous Z: A One Man Operation

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There Will Be Games

I am Nathan Little. 2 years ago I decided to try and make a board game, Posthumous. This is its tale.

This audacious idea first sprang forth back in December 0f 2008. My friends and I gather together every weekend and do some gaming, switching in between RPGs and board games. We played a lot of 'stab your neighbor'  games, and that kind of stress gets under your skin over time. It was on one such fateful game of Talisman that my bud Delbert, perhaps a bit perturbed at losing his fifth turn in a row, felt the best way to express his discomfort was to flick his little plastic knight to the far end of the basement. At this point I made a conclusion:

If we keep playing these games we're going to kill each other.

Something had to be done. So I figured, what if I made a game? You know, something that was still competitive and thematic, but wouldn't inspire pressure gauge busting levels of nerd rage. Surely, it could be done.

So, as the Christian Calendar rolled over to '09, I got cracking. I made a list of things I needed the game to do:

  • Intuitive to learn.
  • Fun, even when losing. Meaning that even when a player felt he was losing, there needed to be both feeling thathe was still doing something and have the potential to recover. No sitting emasculated watching another person grind you out.
  • Low Downtime even with many players. The worst culprit I felt for making a game boring was long stretches of doing nothing. The players need to stay engaged and shouldn't have to wait half an hour for their turn. Our gaming group typically has 6 players... and sometimes we have more.
  • Replayable with lots of variety. Each game needed to be different, even from the start. This was a must because one, the same thing gets stale, and two, the more math inclined or obsessive could calculate optimal moves outside of the actual game.
  • Balanced but unquantifiable. The mechanics needed to be balanced, but the 'best' move shouldn't be something that could be mathematically derived. The player would have decisions, but their choices should be dictated by style and strategy than a simple mathematical formula.

Now that I had my list, what could I make that could fulfill this demanding criteria? Well, why not make a team based game? That way I could keep the competitive aspects, but alleviate the frustration of doing well and having five of your (former) friends drag you down, just so the random jerk in forth place can nab victory. Not only is it tedious, it feels an awful lot like betrayal. It doesn't matter that its the nature of the game. So what has an obvious team based nature with plenty of excitement, but with a tone that didn't put people into bad spirits.

Well, what about zombies? A group of survivors trying to escape a town with another team  controlling hordes of the undead trying to eat them? Plus, I satisfied a personal compulsion: I love a challenge . . .

And I hate zombies. I think they're pretty lame. While there are some excellent zombie related games/movies/books, the zombie is most often shoved half-arsed into something mediocre as a cheap marketing gimmick.  Who needs plot or balance when you can just stick in some shambling dead folk and it'll sell? What a test of craft it would be to make something with zombies and be legitimately good enough that you didn't have to be infatuated with zombies to enjoy it.

Which, for those of you that are wondering, is why the game name doesn't have the word zombie in it anywhere.

Over a few months, there were a lot of alpha tests which my friends were graciously subjugated to. After multiple prototypes, a genuinely good core came together and eventually turned into this!

Posthumous 1.0

A picture of Posthumous 2009. Complete with a box and hand made pieces. I made over 20 of these things... doing everything from rounding the darn cards.

The Premise: there's been an outbreak of zombies. A couple cliche characters hide out in the center of town, waiting for rescue. It never comes. Zombie hordes collect on the town, and the characters come to a terrifying conclusion: If they are to survive, they must escape to the outskirts before the undead overwhelm them.

The game has a completely random setup. The town is made up of randomly placed tiles, with locations ranging from a graveyard to a mall. Random events (cards) are placed on each tile at the beginning of the game, which are triggered when the humans move over them. Even the characters and zombies themselves are randomly generated, each by combining three cards, a You With and But for the humans and a They That and Hunger for the zombies. In One game a human could be a 'A Hot Waitress' 'With a Sweet Ass' 'But you have a Stupid Kid', and one zombie player could direct 'Zombie Midgets' 'That Scream' 'and Hunger for Control.' So each game the town's layout and the strengths and weaknesses of each team varies, and its up to the players to exploit their own powers and the limitations of their enemies.

The base rules are simple. The variety comes from 300 cards, which are used to create characters, zombie themes, represent items, random events, and with the H and Z cards deal with everything good or bad that can happen in a zombie movie, from revealing power boosting backstories to conjuring horrible zombie bosses, such as a zombie T rex. Additionally, each card is unique. Even if two or more cards do the same thing, they have different names (no pistol cards, but a glock, a magnum, a beretta, etc). A minor thing, but adds to the flavor.

It can support up to 10 players, 5 human and 5 zombie players. A clever 'stage' mechanic keeps downtime to a minimum, and actions nearly simultaneous. Generally, the playtime is 90 to 120 minutes, only getting marginally longer the more players involved.

 

playing Posthumous 2009

After several months of work, it really started turning into something. The thought started to pass around that maybe I could turn this into something lucrative. In February, my friends took me to my first convention. That's right, I'd never even been to a con. I took the game and tried to get some fresh blood playtesting it to see what they thought.

The game had bugs, yes, but the feedback was mostly positive. So I started going to more conventions, running the game as often as I could, taking feedback and suggestions, and generally trying to learn as much about the gaming industry and community as possible.

Finally, after almost a year of work I ran out of game mechanics to fix. The game had rudimentary graphics, enough to make it function. The cards had no art, and the tiles were pictures around my home town that I'd taken and just threw some filters over.  But in my dream version, everything had a unified art style, and each unique card would have a picture. I saw games from Fantasy Flight and I didn't think of it as high end; I thought of it as the standard, a qualitative minimum that had to be met and if possible, exceeded.

But I didn't have the money to hire an army of artists. I didn't have the skills myself so I did the logical thing.

I taught myself. Okay, maybe that wasn't so logical.

So November 2009, after spending a year crafting and playtesting mechanics, I embarked on the second half of the project: to make it pretty. I titled this full art version 'Posthumous Z' and got to work with little more than a pencil, a scanner, and a copy of Corel X3.

I made a big checklist of all the artwork I had to do, but I stopped using it because of how much it depressed me to see it getting marked off so slowly. Designing 10 different types of cards, doing 295 original pieces for card art (I knocked out 5 cards), plus boxart, player aids, new tokens and pieces ... took a lot of time and energy. Not to mention all the stuff that I threw out because it 'wasn't good enough.' For months my facebook statuses were just  percentages, with pitiful cries of 'ding' punctuating every 5 percent. I celebrate when I can.

PHZ cards

But after another blasted year I got it done. Fully drawn, colored, and assembled by myself and a magical hippopotamus that only I can see, in Scalable Vectors because... I am a nerd. Then in November 2010 I went back to the same convention that I decided to do the art myself, with my new full art prototype, anxious to see what the difference would be.

And oh my it was worth it. The new art made everything easier to keep track of and way more engaging to look at. While feedback over the years had gotten on average better and better, this was exceptional. I ran the game nearly non stop for 3 days, and didn't have a single person who disliked the game.

But the task is not quite over yet. Part of the renovations of Posthumous Z was to turn it into a manufacturable game. I've been corresponding for a couple months now, working out the production details for an initial short run of 500 games. Sometime soon, possibly as early as January 2011, Posthumous Z will be released. If you'd like to check out the rulebook you can download here:

Survival Guide

Posthumous Z Survival Guide

If you'd like to support this project by preordering, you can at my website, the ever so amusingly titled This is a Cow

This is a cow<-- This is a Cow .com

Thank you for your time.

for the love of the game,

Nathan Little

There Will Be Games
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