The inspiration for Project Venture Capital, as hopefully made clear enough in Diary #0, comes from multiple elements of The Venture Bros. that struck a chord with me from its beginning. The constant duality of crushing failure and optimistic promise, stakes fluctuating back-and-forth from dire to laughable, the thinly veiled bloodlust of the super-powerful (occasionally) held at bay by unionized bureaucracy. That's a lot of melodramatic narrative material to draw from there alone. Throw in about the right mix of parody, cynicism, sarcasm, drug addiction, and nerd references; an exotica, jazz/electronic hybrid soundtrack by virtuoso J. G. Thirlwell; and a retroactive look at 1960s futurism; and you've got me hooked. And what really led me to admire The Venture Bros. as a production (and by extension, its creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer), was that it kept expanding its universe, adding characters, developing them, telling backstories, killing them off, and overall developing a rich fictional world, all with a consistency in tone since the first few episodes that you don't often see in comedy shows, or sci-fi, or animated late-night cable programming.
So a boardgame interpretation of The Venture Bros. needs to have at last a few minimum prerequisites. I'll list some of the basic elements I believe a design of this nature needs to get started, and briefly ruminate on each to inspire the relevant systems.
Live the Adventure!
This game should be strongly thematic, and encourage in-universe storytelling between players on top of the mechanics being played. Towards that end, the thematic elements of the design should embrace the extreme failures and successes of the show's universe, as well as its blend of super-science adventure with crippling interpersonal problems and questionable coping skills. The mechanics should allow for some dynamic, emergent stories that respond to the characters present. I want this game to also be a tool of sorts to encourage storytelling within a universe like that of the Venture Bros. This might mean a fairly open-ended design, with varying goals, geared more towards sandbox-style play.
A Spec Game? Or Not a Spec Game?
It's unusual to design a boardgame on spec, and while of course I'd love to create a great game that could function as an official Venture Bros. boardgame, the design should be completely re-theme-able when/if necessary. Most publishers will re-theme your work anyway. The possibility of a licensed product, however, not only has the built-in potential market of the property's fanbase, but also enables richer storytelling between players with less text needing to be included to bring a thematic "oomph." If players share relevant, common references like knowledge of the show while playing the game, they can use it as a short-hand to tell richer gameplay narratives with each other.
"We Should Split up, Gang!"
Character teams, or lack there-of, are a recurring part of these sorts of adventure shows, where a few partners are necessary for exploring. As such, instead of simply controlling a character, each player should control a small team or faction, possibly of four people. Such a system would necessitate something different than the standard one turn per character every round, or it would get bogged down in four moves per player per round. And effectively combining four characters into one "group character" for each player to control would do little to represent the dynamics that make focusing on a group over the individual interesting. Considering these guidelines, my first thoughts are to use character-specific action cards that enable players to use different team members at different times, or save up the cards to work together.
Globe-Trotting Exploration amongst Powder Keg Rivalries
While the majority of the interesting conflicts in shows of this nature manifest between various nemeses, these conflicts tend to come as interruptions to the broader investigations and adventures the main characters undertake. So there needs to be some form of exploration or questing mechanic to bring these adventures, that will inevitably be complicated by annoying foes, into the game's systems. There should be discovery-themed rewards to exploring, science-theme rewards to researching or inventing, and both monetary and social rewards to solving problems. All of these should also be ample opportunity for your enemies to try and thwart you, or hijack your progress. On that note, it should be just as incentivized to try and steal someone else's discovery, science, monetary, or social rewards out from under them.
"You'll Never Stop My Ingenious Plan!"
Villainous plots and clever schemes, and their eventual usurpation, are likewise essential elements of the genre, and should be accommodated by the design. More than simply the "take-that" aesthetic of interrupting opponents' workflows, there should be multiple paths towards victory, some on the up-and-up and others not, with tactics changeable on the fly to enable surprises and traps, and an all-around robust level of strategy to entice the boardgamer market as well as fans of the genre/show. Long-term objectives for each player should be thematic plots and plans, which also allow for last-minute twists or adaptation should things go awry. Similarly, any combat system should allow for retreat and taking hostages. Sneaking should be useful.
The Spoils of Inquiry and Investigation
The key to super-science is invention, and the show displays a rich financial, commodity, and social economy where colleagues give-and-take, cooperate, and compete for the various resources necessary for them to sustain innovation progress. This is largely covered by the "incentives for exploring" point above, but I think it merits specific mention on its own: the super-science and antagonist-protagonist relations elements of the game should be full features, with comparable in-game rewards to other major elements. They should be fun, engaging parts of the game, with funds, devices, and allies that wax and wane in their usefulness, and could also change hands frequently. Newly minted inventions should be coveted trophies lavished over by their inventors, only to be swiped by a rival who sees how much it means to them.
Being an action and one-upping focused genre, the core of this game will probably lie, unsurprisingly, in its basic action mechanics and victory conditions. This is where I should work next, but I will be trying to progress all the current game projects on A Typical Faux evenly. Slowly over the next weeks, in addition to Project Venture Capital, I'll be posting Design Diary entries and other info on at least the following designs, hopefully picking up the pace in 2015: