Inspirations and Aspirations

As a creative professional, I'm very aware that creativity doesn't exist in a vacuum. To work on something, I want to soak in it - I want to dive into the genre, or format, or idea, and stay down as long as possible. In a lot of ways, Rift is a summary of how much fun I've been having playing board games over the last two years.

I wanted to spend this blog post retracing some of the inspirations that have led to Rift. Along the way, I'll be able to acknowledge the ideas that helped me develop my game, and also give a shout-out to the wonderful games that share the same flavor of fun that I hope Rift will - once it gets out into the world, of course.

As I said, I've been gaming a lot lately, and that gaming has come in two forms. First, my partner and I have been hosting a monthly dinner with some of our closest friends. It's mostly a chance for them to spend time with our daughter as she grows up (she just turned one, huzzah huzzah!), but after she goes to bed, we love to break something casual out of the gaming closet. A couple example of big hits in this group of four to six people have been Codenames (duh) and Scotland Yard. Neither of those games are like Rift, but that's not the point. To me, it's the group that's notable - the table conversation isn't about game mechanics, or who's winning or losing, but rather about the ups and downs that we all get to experience together.

When I started developing Rift, I was guided partly by the fact that I could not find another good game for our dinner party group. I wanted something that was complex enough that we wouldn't be bored of it after two play-throughs (sorry, Red November), and something that would have a competitive edge to it. Because of my friends, I've always tried to keep fun at the forefront of Rift.

This group also made me keen to have a game where the cards describe what they do as much as possible; I think that casual groups like a game that doesn't obscure gameplay mechanics behind too many symbols. For example, we like Race for the Galaxy, but it's hard to pick up once every two or three months; there's too much that doesn't explain itself if you don't remember what each symbol or roman numeral means. With Rift, I'm trying to find the balance of putting enough information on each card so that its exact mechanics can be sorted out with a little bit of thought.

(On that note, playing Race for the Galaxy may have opened my mind to the idea of a game where the turn order is more fluid. Who knows? That's how inspiration works.)

My other main inspiration for Rift is the elephant in the room - Magic: The Gathering. My wonderful, supportive partner tried to tell me that Rift doesn't feel at all like Magic, and I think she's right. Unless, of course, you play a lot of Magic. It doesn't take a leap of imagination to see Volcano cards as Red, or rename the "Countdown" mechanic to "Suspend". A Magic-playing friend of mine looked up from the first hand of Rift I ever dealt him and said "I think there's a magic card named this already", bless his heart. (I've changed the names since.)

I could try to pretend that Magic isn't woven into Rift's DNA, or that everything reminiscent of the game has been renamed, rebranded, or redrafted, but that's not honest. I've played Richard Garfield's epic since I was ten, and I listen to Magic podcasts when I run errands; of course there's a bit of MTG in there. Thankfully, I can - with total sincerity - say that Rift is a completely and utterly different game from Magic. To use an analogy, the fantasy genre of literature is based on the Lord of the Rings - but that doesn't mean every fantasy book is like Lord of the Rings, or has those characters, or even reads at all like it.

With Rift, though, I wanted to capture a very specific aspect of the way that Magic feels. It's something that happens the most in Limited (a format where you have a very limited pool of cards to build a deck out of, usually between 45 and 90); the feeling one gets where everything is going great and you have a plan, the feeling that lasts right up until your opponent plays a single card and ruins everything - and then you have to figure out a new plan. 

Is that sadistic? Well, so are board games, sometimes.

Plus, paying attention to Magic means I already know how powerful a card that says "Draw 3 cards" on it is. It's almost some kind of... ancestral sort of wisdom, or memory...

Seriously, though, my deepest hope and darkest dream is that Rift might have legs in the Magic community, and that it might be something that the really good, committed players might bring to a Grand Prix or Pro Tour to play with their team at night, just to break things up a little. Plenty different, but still hitting all those same buttons...

Well, it's possible, anyway.

There have been other inspirations along the way - like when I realized that the action of the game made the most sense if I thought of it like a series of Dragonball Z episodes. The idea of shuffling in the Rift cards (which, by the time you read this, might be called Collapse cards) is a reinterpreted mechanic from Pandemic. One of my favorite mechanics - the way that every card can be played as a "basic" move 1 or attack 1 - was suggested by a friend; he was inspired by a game I've never played and don't even remember the name of. And it plays great. That's the way of creativity, and my sincere belief is that being open about it is the best policy.

The biggest inspiration, though, has been there from the beginning. After dinner, over a drink, or down at the game store, I want to play a game with people I like and have fun doing it. That's why I made Rift. It pushes all my buttons the right way, and I hope it does for other people, too.