Today’s guest – Erika Svanoe – bridges the gap between Austen lovers and strategy gamers with her new game Marrying Mr. Darcy – presently on Kickstarter. Read on for more on this unique game.
GDC: Give us an overview of your game and how it’s played.
Erika: Marrying Mr. Darcy is a light strategy card game for 2-6 players based on the novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Players take on the role of one of the heroines from the book. During the first stage of the game, players earn points by building their character while trying to attract the attention of the available Suitors. During the second stage, the heroines roll the dice to see if a Suitor proposes, and then decide who to accept or decline. The lady who has earned the most points by building her character and marrying well wins the game.
GDC: What innovative mechanic or creative idea distinguishes your game from others?
Erika: The game is designed to be a kind of fan-fiction experience that places you in the story of Pride and Prejudice. It combines role-playing, resource management, and press your luck in a way that I think reflects the situation of the characters in the story. So not only do you have to strategize the way Regency society women really needed to strategize in order to secure their own comfort through marriage, but you do it while experiencing the plot points of the book itself. Major events in the book are worked into the Event Card deck. For example, when Mr. Bingley leaves for London, this can have dire consequences in the game, just as it does in the story. So, not only are you experiencing the story’s events, you forced to think and act strategically, in a way that will best secure your own comfort and happiness as an unmarried Regency Era woman.
GDC: Tell us about the spark or inspiration for this game.
Erika: I was inspired by my love of Pride and Prejudice. I would call myself a super-fan of the story and have enjoyed multiple adaptations of the book in various mediums including films, TV series, web-series, mash-up novels, and book adaptations by other authors. The story’s plot twists and Austen’s satire of Regency Era social machinations seemed perfect to be adapted into a game experience.
GDC: Let’s talk about the design process. Tell us a bit about the iterations the game has gone through and the refinements you’ve made along the way.
Erika: I have been working on this project off and on for over a year. I had the initial idea in June 2012. After sketching out some thoughts in a notebook, I bought some index cards and made my first prototype by just writing ideas on cards. I did a lot of research both into the book and into the social conventions of Regency era England. Some things from the original prototype that ended up being discarded were a coin system that included receiving and spending an allowance, a trading system of earning points through accomplishments such as sewing, painting, and learning a language, and a point system that included a lot of multiplication and addition at the end. The ideas that have stayed the same from that first prototype included playing as a female character from the book and the ultimate goal of the game is to get married. These two ideas stuck because I think they fit the book so well. The book is told from the perspective of the lead female character, Elizabeth Bennet, so it makes sense to play as one of the ladies. Also, the entire drama of the story is centered around the fact that these women basically had to get married, or else face having to be a financial burden on their family. It was really their only option in that time period and status in society.
GDC: What has been your biggest challenge in designing this game?
Erika: I think finding the right balance of strategy and experience. I intended this to be fairly light strategy, kind of a gateway game for people who love Pride and Prejudice. I thought a large part of my audience would be Austen fans, and not necessarily gamers, so I wanted to keep the strategy interesting enough, but not complicated. But I also wanted to include story elements from the book and a little bit of the experience of what these ladies had to deal with to make their way in the social circles of Regency society. For example, a dice roll at the end of the game determines if a suitor proposes to you. This is not the most strategic ending, but it provides a mechanic that best represents the actual experience of one of the ladies in the book.
GDC: Let’s shift gears and talk about you. How did you get into game design?
Erika: In my professional life, I am a classically trained musician and conductor. Up until very recently, I was a college band director at a small university in northern Minnesota. During my doctoral studies, my husband was completing his graduate thesis on game design process. I saw him go through the lengthy process of creating a game, and like any supportive spouse, read and edited his masters thesis. A few years later, I became obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and once I had the idea for a game, I just decided to jump in. My background in graduate level research basically taught me how to research and learn about anything I’m interested in, so I did a lot of reading on Jane Austen, Regency society, and game design while working on this project.
GDC: What is your greatest moment as a game designer?
Erika: Well, I have to say I would consider myself a person who has designed a game, and not really a game designer. But, I would say my greatest moment will actually be finishing making something and putting it out into the world. That is a scary but awesome thing.
GDC: Tell us a little bit about your life outside of game design and gaming: family? work? other interests?
Erika: I have a doctorate in conducting from Ohio State University and have been a band director for many years. I just recently left my own university position so my husband could accept a job at a college in my home state of Wisconsin. I play clarinet, saxophone, and a kind of wind-synthesizer called an electronic wind instrument, or EWI for short. I love consuming science fiction and fantasy shows, movies, and books. I’m fairly crafty as well and just enjoy making things. I also write a record an annual Christmas album of original and awful Christmas songs. Titles include “Cherry Coke Zero, My Holiday Hero”, “Oh Yah, You Betcha, Its Christmas Time”, and “Not Merry Free, Just Dairy Free.” It is all horrible.
GDC: Do you have any works-in-progress or game ideas you would like to share?
Erika: I just recently announced on my Kickstarter that we have a couple stretch goals I will likely need to get cracking on. I’m developing an “undead” expansion pack for the game, partly drawing some inspiration from some mash-up novel adaptations of Pride and Prejudice that involve things like zombies and vampires. I’m also rolling around the idea of other Austen novels adapted as games, especially “Emma” since I think the mechanics of Marrying Mr. Darcy might partially transfer to an Emma-based game.
GDC: What games have you been playing lately? What have you liked, what have you disliked, and why?
Erika: Settlers of Catan was my gateway game that got me much more interested in gaming and I still love playing it. I’ve been meaning to check out the new Star Trek Catan, as I am also a big trekkie. Munchkin is a big favorite of mine and Marrying Mr. Darcy definitely drew inspiration from that. For a while I was really into Talisman but eventually the long play time wore me down after so many plays so I haven’t had much desire to revisit it.
GDC: Share your favorite game you haven’t designed and why?
Erika: I really enjoy Set. I like the quick playtime, the pressure of looking and thinking fast, and I’m also biased by the fact that I usually do pretty well at it. I also like the simplicity of it. It is quite elegant.
GDC: A word of advice to your fellow game designers?
Erika: Just make it. Move forward. Don’t just think about making it, actually make it. Do your research! Then test, revise, test, revise, etc… Test as much as you can. But remember that eventually you should also finish, because finishing something you make is really great.
GDC: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to? (playtesters, design mentors, your friendly local game store, etc.)
Erika: I could never have done this without my husband. He has been my sounding board, design consultant, and is completely responsible for the game’s artwork and graphic design. You can check him out at erik-evensen.com. Also, the game shop in Bemidji, MN was a huge help in testing. They are called Accidentally Cool Games and are a great little shop. Very nice folks there. Also, my good friend Matt Talbot has been leading several play-tests for me and he is also an awesome illustrator and designer. You can check him out at mattrobot.com.
GDC: Tell us how (and where) we can find you (social networks, BGG username, website, cons you plan to attend).
Erika: My main website is marryingmrdarcy.com and most of my social media links to that site. My BGG user name is ErikaSvanoe. I will be sitting at my husband’s table at the Minneapolis Fall Con October 5, and hopefully will be attending other Minneapolis cons with some regularity. If we raise enough money on kickstarter, I am hoping to attend Gen Con 2014.
GDC: Thanks Erika! Be sure to check out Marrying Mr. Darcy on Kickstarter – there’s only about six hours left as of the time of this post.