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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Designer Diary: StatYou

by Hurby Donkers

Lisa, you should try to express more motion in your sculpture,” the teacher said in sculpting class. “I want to feel as if your sculpture comes to life.”

Expressing motion in something that can’t move? That’s hard. Take cycling, for example. You’ve all played Charades, right? You move your arms in a circling pedaling motion and voilà: cycling. But you can’t do that with a statue. You must go about it in a completely different way. This intrigued her, and while she drove home after class, Lisa kept thinking about what her teacher had said. When she arrived, she had already cooked up an idea. “Hurby”, she beamed, “I have an idea for a board game! Let’s make a party game about creating statues!”

Now hold your horses. A party game? I don’t like party games very much. I’m sorry, but I think they’re mostly either embarrassing or simply not that fun. I wasn’t keen on the idea, to say the least. “I have a better idea”, I said to Lisa. “Let’s not.”

But my wife wasn’t about to give up so easily. She knew I just needed a push, so she said, “I accept your challenge! Let’s make a party game that is both hilarious and not awkward. I know just the thing, let me show you.” Well, all right then. What’s the harm in seeing what she’s got? She proceeded to show me her idea and immediately, against all odds, I was hooked.

And so StatYou began.

So What’s the Idea Behind StatYou?

You see, as a sculptor, you will be trying to portray…something: tasks, actions, professions, those kind of things. But instead of using yourself as a statue and putting yourself in a motionless pose, you use someone else. This means you’re not making a complete fool of yourself because the spotlight is on them, not you — but you’re actually not making a fool out of them either because whatever pose they are in is not their doing, it’s yours.

It’s not all that easy either. If you would be doing the pose yourself, you’d at least know what you’re supposed to resemble. So you’re a sneaky thief? All right, so you take on a crooked pose, a shady look on your face and hands above your shoulder as if you have a bag full of stolen goods on your back.

But try to put a friend in that pose. They’ll stand there like a muppet, probably laughing, with no idea what is happening to them and what they are supposed to be doing. Their expression does not at all match the idea behind the pose. What are they supposed to be? A sneaky thief with a bag full of loot? Yeah, could be — but it could also be a wounded grandpa who has been shot in the shoulder by an arrow. Definitely not as easy as it may seem, I tell you.

Tweaking the Idea

Since the initial concept, we’ve tweaked and tweaked and tweaked the idea. We implemented voting tokens and limited the number of possible answers as we discovered that random guessing is way too hard, not just for the players on the couch but also for the one who is playing the statue. You try to hold the pose of a disco-dancing figure skater for more than a few seconds and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

We also decided that portraying a combination of an adjective and a noun is the best way to go. It poses just the right amount of challenge, allows for lots of replayability, and makes for interesting statues. Imagine using your friend to portray a rope-jumping ghost or a kickboxing caveman. It’s always a sight to see.

Not all words were suitable candidates, though. Take barber, for instance. It’s much too easy. Literally everyone we’ve tested the game with used one hand to form the shape of scissors and called it a day. Boring.

On the other hand, take psychologist. It’s much too hard! How are you supposed to portray a psychologist? How is that portrayal different from, say, a writer? And you know, that’s just the thing. StatYou encourages you to think about what is unique about things and does so in a different way than what we’re used to because you can’t use motion.

So we began a search for the best words. I remember coming home from work one day and finding the entire floor covered in tiny pieces of paper. Lisa wrote down every profession and every applicable adjective she could find and was organizing them, trying to find the most suitable words while filtering out unwanted combinations. We tried as best we could to leave no word unturned and playtested lots and lots to get a great final result.

Yeah, You, Strategic Board Gamer!

Yeah, we made a party game and again, I don’t even like party games. The same is true for a lot of you, I imagine. I hear you, truly. A party game? Skip. At conventions we’ve had it happen countless times where you, proud strategic board gamer, would prefer to keep your distance from our booth and pretend we don’t exist.

But you made one mistake: You brought your significant other who, unfortunately for you, does like party games. They would beam “Come on, let’s try this!” and you, against your will, would be dragged into it. And then something unexpected would happen. You laughed. It wasn’t so bad. It was fun!

All right, I know I’m being silly, but I’m being serious, too. We’ve had lots of people enjoying StatYou, even people who expected to dislike it. Often times, a crowd would form because people wanted to see what all the laughter was about and they’d all end up having a go — or sometimes they didn’t have a choice but to stop at our booth. Yeah…we may or may not have blocked the admittedly narrow pathway of a smaller convention once with someone flat on the floor portraying a roller-skating dead body. Sorry.

Fun fact: We actually began developing StatYou in 2019, and we scheduled to release it the year after, unaware of the spoilsport that would soon come knocking on our door: Covid. Think about it, a game that includes physical contact and allows for a large group of people in the same room, in 2020 of all years. It was never gonna happen, was it? For a long while we thought we buried this game for good, but a lot can change and four years later, here we are.

And Also…

There’s a lot of things you can do with StatYou, including things that may not be suitable for everybody. We didn’t come about this conclusion in the most convenient of ways, however. “Dad, what’s a dictator?” “Mom, what’s a junkie?” Ehh. “Well, they’re, ah, definitely not a part of this game anymore from now on.”

We took out the controversial words. The result is definitely family-friendly and even includes a designated junior variant that can be enjoyed by parents and their young kids.

Still, we could see groups of friends having a laugh putting each other in ridiculous poses, so we wanted them to have the option to spice things up a bit. Thus, we made the Rude Deck, which is a small 18+ expansion that includes words that may be a tad offensive…or more than a tad. You have been warned.

•••

So, mission accomplished? We think so. We’ve even had multiple reviewers say that the game is a good social icebreaker. Have people over you don’t yet know very well? Want to do a team-building exercise with your colleagues from work? Want to get to know your parents-in-law a little bit better? Play some StatYou!

Maybe playing the game with your parents-in-law sounds like a little bit of a stretch, but I’ll leave that up to you. You might be surprised.

Thanks for reading. Cheers!

Hurby Donkers

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