I feel like now would be a good time to provide a more detailed overview of what The Stifling Dark is all about, since we’ll be hosting our first public playtests at Gen Con Online in less than 48 hours. As mentioned in our first blog post, The Stifling Dark is Ethan’s baby. The goal? You guessed it: create a horror board game that would bring true tension to the table. Hopefully you’re getting used to hearing that phrase, because it’s not going away any time soon.
The horror board game market isn’t quite as saturated as many of the other game genres, although chances are you’ve played at least one type of horror board game (haunts, anyone?). While hidden movement is by no means a new mechanic, a lot of games that utilize it turn into min-max games. You’re either constantly trying to calculate where the opponent is because you know exactly how far they can move, or you know where they were X number of turns ago.
So, what did we do to get around that? In short, we (1) gave our adversary a very large area in which they could start, (2) gave them variable movement with bonuses based on certain actions they take, and (3) do not have them reveal their position unless they attack or their opponents find them. The variability in movement alone is enough to solve the min-max problem, but we also threw in two additional nuggets to help decrease the chances of the adversary’s opponents being able to track our adversaries.
We’ve been through a number of different iterations of our first adversary, affectionately known as The Stalker. As the name implies, he builds power by watching his opponents from a distance, before eventually deciding to reveal himself to attack the Victims. The more he stalks, the more powerful he becomes. The clock is always ticking though, since the longer he waits to attack the closer his opponents will be to escaping!
The primary goal for the Victims is to escape the map through completing one of three different objectives. They can try to take the “easy” way out by fixing up a car and driving out or repairing and opening the gate, or they can face The Stalker head-on. Each objective requires them to find certain items and take a number of actions with those items before finally being able to escape.
One of our favorite mechanics comes into play when the Victims try to find The Stalker. Each Victim is equipped with a flashlight they can use during their turn, which will be represented with a transparent piece of plastic in the game. The flashlight has lines on it that indicate line of sight, so the Victim must maneuver the flashlight to its optimal position in order to see the largest number of spaces (or sometimes a much smaller number of spaces to cover a blind spot).
Flashlight usage is not always a guarantee, however! Certain actions that you take, like using an item or interacting with an objective, will prevent you from using your flashlight. This forces the Victims to choose between getting one step closer to escaping or attempting to reveal The Stalker, which stops him from stalking you and getting more powerful.
As you’ve probably inferred, line of sight also plays a big role in how The Stalker is played. If he has line of sight to a Victim on his turn, he may place a spine chill token on that Victim (and any other Victims he has line of sight to). This is the Victim’s warning that they are being watched. They then have one turn to break line of sight before becoming stalked and therefore increasing The Stalker’s power.
The Victims’ main two options once they get a spine chill are to try and work together to flashlight The Stalker or run away and try to break line of sight. They can break line of sight by simply sprinting away and hoping they get far enough, or they can run into a building and lock the door behind them. You always have to be mindful of windows though, since you can’t block those and The Stalker can regain line of sight through them on their turn.
Hopefully this provided a nice overview of how the game is played, although don’t hold us to this exact description since the game is still actively being developed. We’ll dive into specifics aspects of the game (such as flashlights) in more detail in future blog posts, so don’t forget to check back every once in a while! I’d love to keep writing about the game, but it’s time to go put in another playtest before Gen Con.
See you around!
Gen Con, Part One
Gen Con was something that we had hoped to go to some day, but when we saw the news that it was cancelled due to COVID-19 we filed that idea away for next year. To be honest, we hadn’t even talked much about going to Gen Con this year since we had just started working on The Stifling Dark so it wasn’t too much of a disappointment.
What we didn’t realize was that only the in-person portion of the event was cancelled and that Gen Con Online was taking its place. That was a bit of a miss on our part. And by that, I specifically mean Ethan. It was all Ethan’s fault.
Thankfully, I received an email from a coworker that Gen Con Online was happening. Unfortunately, that email came on July 10th. For those who aren’t familiar with Gen Con timelines, that was 3 days before event registration opened. Cue emergency company meeting.
After much discussion, we decided to submit for eight events throughout the weekend and see what happened. The Gen Con team was kind enough to let us list the events for free instead of the regular $2 charge because we are still in the playtesting phase, so off we went!
Little did we know that over half of our events would “sell out” within the first few hours of registration, and that all of them would be full before registration even closed. Based on the level of interest we saw from these registrations we also signed up for the First Exposure Playtest Online (FEPO) option.
For those who are keeping track, we went from having zero knowledge of Gen Con Online to having 12 four-player sessions and being booked virtually all day every day, all in the matter of a week. Needless to say, our workload had just gotten a bit bigger.
The next few days were spent discussing schedules – who was going to be available to lead each session, how many of us should be in each session, etc. Oh, and then there’s this thing called our day jobs. Spoiler alert: this is not our full-time job (as much as we wish it could be). We decided to take off work the Thursday and Friday of Gen Con to make sure we could all be present throughout the convention.
As mentioned in our previous post, we had already been playtesting the game, but we had to step it up a bit. We had been playtesting about once a week up until this point, but we have since upped it to 3-4 times a week in preparation for Gen Con.
We typically have two different “tunings” prepared for each session so that we can feed two birds with one scone. There are still some mechanics we’re working through, particularly for the Adversary, so it’s very helpful to be able to test out two different options in one night and then talk about them during our next meeting. Side note – if you want to blame someone for that scone quote, blame my coworker, not me.
Speaking of playtesting, we also had to revisit our note-taking process. We had been doing a good job of keeping detailed feedback from our playtesters, but we weren’t collecting a ton of stats about the actual game. We collected the basics like game length, winners, etc., but we didn’t get super detailed.
Since we were about to have 48 strangers play our game over the course of three and a half days, we decided we needed to beef up our notes a bit. We migrated to only using a document to also using a spreadsheet, which tracked a number of lower-level details, such as how many times the Adversary took certain actions (and in what round they were taken). This new data will allow us to perform even more analysis on how things are panning out and will help us further balance the game.
All that said, we are super excited to participate in our first Gen Con and look forward to many more in the future. If you are one of the people that signed up to play, thank you for being willing to try a board game you’ve heard absolutely nothing about! If not, we’ll forgive you. Just this time though.
See you in (less than) two weeks!
Well folks, here we are! Our first of what will hopefully be many blog posts to come. I (Jeremy) am going to start off by apologizing because I am a recovering double-space addict. I’ve already had to correct myself on every sentence so far, so don’t get mad if I miss one at some point in this post. We’ll make it through this together, I promise.
Now that that’s out of the way, welcome to Sophisticated Cerberus’ official blog! The plan is to post weekly updates that cover what we’ve been up to during the previous week, along with occasional one-offs for things such as conventions, Kickstarter info, events, and more.
Speaking of conventions, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that our first public playtests will be happening at Gen Con Online at the end of the month! We’ll cover more about Gen Con in our next post, but I had to throw that out there.
Getting back on track, the journey of The Stifling Dark began before our company was even founded. Ethan had an idea to make a board game for his game group back in late 2019, but little did he know what would happen next.
While Ethan was talking to Matt about his horror board game, I approached Matt with the idea for a different game and asked if he wanted to start a board game company. Matt mentioned that Ethan was also thinking of creating a game, so we joined forces and started Sophisticated Cerberus.
The first game we officially started developing was actually a space exploration game, not The Stifling Dark. Development on the space game started in November of 2019, but after a couple months of working on that game we hit a roadblock and decided to shift our focus to what would become The Stifling Dark.
Our core concept was simple: create a horror board game that would bring true tension to the table. Sure, there are lots of horror board games out there, but we wanted to make something truly unique. Something that actually got you engaged and on the edge of your seat. But first, we had to figure out the basics.
We knew we wanted the Adversary to have hidden movement, but we also wanted an innovative way in which the Victims could spot them. Enter flashlights. We went through quite a few iterations of how the flashlights would look and work, some of which were quite interesting. Come to think of it, the evolution of the flashlight would be a great topic for a blog post someday…
While we were in the process of developing the flashlights, we were simultaneously hard at work on determining how exactly our map was going to function. We initially started out with a grid but quickly realized that wouldn’t be the best fit for our game. Hexes were brought into the equation (aren’t they always) but were thrown out shortly thereafter.
I know the suspense is killing you, so I’ll cut to the chase. We combined multiple approaches and ended up using circles arranged in a hex pattern. A circle hex grid of sorts. This allowed us to have a consistent pattern that worked with our flashlights while also providing some spacing so the movement area wasn’t so cramped.
Now that we finalized the map layout we were also able to finalize the flashlight functionality and start getting into the meat of the game. This meant developing the backstory, characters, and overall feel of the game. Additionally, we had to start thinking through the gameplay itself. What does a turn look like? How many actions should each player have? Who goes first? Whose microphone keeps echoing?
These and many other questions were answered over the following months. We have put in many late nights, weekends, and playtests since then and I’m sure there are many more to come. I hope you enjoyed this insight into how The Stifling Dark came to be! If so, you’re in luck because we’ll be posting here regularly to keep you updated on how things are going.
Stay safe out there!