PAX AUS 2022 Indie Showcase - The Score
The PAX AUS Indie Showcase is a chance to see some of the best new and upcoming titles from the ANZ development scene with past winners including celebrated games such as Unpacking, Hollow Knight, The Gardens Between, Hacknet, Wayward Strand and many more. The 2022 Indie Showcase is bursting at the seams, with 2021 winners invited back for the in-person experience they missed out on. Furthermore, the inclusion of Tabletop gaming means there is an even larger variety of experiences on offer on the show floor. Player2 encourages anyone visiting PAX AUS to make their way to the PAX Rising area and check out the following title as well as the many other excellent indies on display.
The Score is an 18 card game from veteran designer Steve Dee, founder of Tin Star games. Building on his love of combining game mechanics and story, The Score works to condense a Heist-focused RPG into a fast playing experience that can be wrapped up in under 20 minutes.
Player2 spoke to Steve about the development of The Score, his background and what PAX AUS attendees can look forward to on the show floor.
Player2: Hi Steve, thanks so much for agreeing to the interview! Being a tabletop fan, I was extremely excited to see the category added to the Indie Showcase. What was your reaction to findin out The Score had successfully won a spot in this years Indie Showcase?
Steve Dee: I’ve always struggled with being extremely poor. That has been a huge shadow over everything I’ve done. I had to borrow and beg for cash to get to PAX every year and usually having a booth was simply impossible. This is huge. Everyone in the industry and the hobby benefits from opportunities like this but for us, it is incredible. I cried when I heard the news. It’s also nice to be noticed. We’ve been working so hard for so long and you’re never sure if anyone is seeing you.
P2: You give off very strong ‘Renaissance Man’ vibes in the most positive sense of the word, but your love of storytelling is clear in both your oeuvre and what you are trying to achieve with The Score – when did you first combine your love of gaming and storytelling, and what are some of your favourite examples in the medium?
SD: I suppose it goes back to being an RPG fan from a young age. I had Talisman as a kid and from there stumbled onto what they call “Redbox” Dungeons and Dragons and that just opened my eyes to the potential of what we could do. I had played those Fighting Fantasy books and similar and was frustrated by how much railroading they had, and false choice. They drove me to want more. My first RPG work was building adventures and expansions for the games I loved and making my own RPGs, which I did throughout high school and university, and then I was able to get freelance work. I think RPGs are incredible things and I think there’s so much potential in the medium, and I think most people intuitively see the fun in them – that’s why people pay thousands of dollars to stay in the Star Wars hotels and pretend to be a Jedi.
I’m also interested in the hybrid space between board game and RPG. Right now RPGs tend to be these big things walled off by their need for GMs (which now need to be paid for!) and lengthy investment. Part of the popularity of Gloomhaven and games like it (Destinies, Descent, Imperial Assault and more) is people want story they can get to easily. Once Upon A Time was a huge inspiration to me in this space, when it first came out.
P2: What inspired The Score? It seems to take influence from a lot of media in the Heist genre, alongside some great puns on the cards themselves.
SD: Sometimes I know exactly where my ideas come from, but The Score kind of leapt out fully formed. I was trying to make an 18-card RPG for a design challenge, and I came back to my ongoing frustration with the heist genre in RPGs, how it has NEVER been properly served. I made my ultimate murder mystery game with Partners, and my other favourite film and TV genre is the heist, so it made sense to turn there.
P2: Personally, I’m fascinated by what many designers are able to do with a small deck of cards – from publishers like Button Shy and designers like Carl Chudyk, I’m a sucker for small footprint card games that punch well above their weight. The Score very much seems to occupy this space – was it a conscious effort on your part to keep it limited to a single print sheet of 18 cards or was it larger at one point and pared back through development?
SD: It was always designed to be 18 cards, because that was the original concept. This was from a Button Shy competition originally. We got into the first shortlist, but not the final five, but I already knew when I submitted it I would publish it if they didn’t. It worked so well out of the gate, and it took me by surprise. We’ve now added more cards to make it run more smoothly, but the key idea is tiny footprint. 18 cards, 18 minutes or less – or your money back. The fastest RPG ever made – a bit of a silly motto, but it catches people’s attention! And as I say, it’s to do with those barriers above. I want to reach people who have never played an RPG before, so not only is it small, it’s also designed to not look or feel anything like what people think RPGs are. That’s something we also did with Partners.
P2: I’d like to also give a shoutout to Tin Star Games for providing a well formatted A4 Print and Play option for The Score. Is it sometimes a difficult decision with these smaller titles to ostensibly “give them away”, or do you find that a PnP often converts players into purchasers?
SD: Nothing is easy about RPG pricing. A lot of our games are free or Pay What You Want, not so much out of a general good will but because it’s just not worth trying to recoup any of our costs. Sometimes it even costs us more to sell something than it does to make it free. Our general approach is to think like most internet products – provide much of our stuff for free or nearly so to get people on board and then our regular fans will see investing in our bigger products something that feels “fair” because of all the free/cheap stuff we provide. I publish free twitter games every few weeks on my twitter feed, for example.
P2: Your previous game Partners was built around the murder mystery genre, and The Score draws on the heist genre – what are your favourite heist films?
SD: My favourite heist/spy film is called Hopscotch, which my mother showed me at a formative age. Walter Matthau plays a spy who gets fired and decides to rat out everyone in the agency in his new book. Combines both tricky heisty stuff AND spies!
P2: It’s amazing to think you can trace back inspiration for The Score to such a formative moment – are there any other genres or themes you’d love to work with?
SD: I’ve been pondering this. Mystery and heists are my two favourite film and TV genres and I’ve never felt happy with how RPGs have done them and I’m very happy with these two games staking new ground in those areas. We are working on a game somewhat like The Score but in the horror genre which is very exciting too. After that, I don’t know. I may take some time off and do just board game or write some fiction until I find something else I really need to get down. RPGs on a large scale, and publishing them in physical form – it’s a lot of work for often little return so smaller, shorter, free or cheap version are a better return. I can get my ideas out faster to more people with less risk. So if I do a bigger, physical game it has to be very important to me indeed.
P2: Rising costs in the tabletop hobby have been an ongoing concern lately, with both production and shipping increases hitting hip pockets, alongside a rising upper end of the hobby via crowdfunding. How important do you think affordability is in lowering barriers of entry for new and existing hobbyists?
SD: I think nobody wants to pay more for games. I think games should be accessible to everyone and as they become fancier that’s less and less true. This is, sadly, a very middle class and even upper middle-class hobby. But at the same time, almost nobody is making money in the industry of making games. Especially in RPGs – it’s far far worse than board games – and especially now shipping costs have roughly quadrupled. Most Kickstarters give low targets that don’t reflect the actual costs because funding on the first day is so important, or because promotional costs are ignored. But while collectors dominate sales, I don’t see any of that changing soon. We may see an increasing divide like in movies: big epic “Hollywood” productions that can afford to crowdfund, and more and more indie games that are online, print and play, or low-cost productions. And maybe some people will really start to value the indie feel that doesn’t have a hundred plastic minis, and seek out a low-budget feel. This has been at the back of our mind when making The Score: not only is it designed for people who don’t have time for a long session or several weeks of play, we also want it to be cheap – but we also want it to look and feel great, because those things do matter – gaming is a kinaesthetic experience. Touch is arguably the most important sense of all in gaming. Doing as much as you can with a limited budget is key, but it does mean I think a lot of games won’t or can’t make money.
P2: If you could collaborate on any franchise or with any designer/artist, which would it be and why?
SD: I have a great fondness for comic artist Tom Gauld and I would LOVE to see his simple line drawings communicate meaning in a board game or RPG. I also tried to send my card game There’s Been A Murder to Rian Johnson because I enjoyed Knives Out so much and would love to somehow make games with him. I know there are games at the heart of the sequel, Glass Onion and working with Rian or his game designers would be amazing. He seems to understand that murder mystery is a kind of game, a puzzle to play with, and to pick his brain on this would be amazing.
P2: Thanks again for talking to Player2 Steve. One last question – what can visitors to The Score booth at PAX AUS look forward to?
SD: Our goal at PAX is to get absolutely as many people as possible to play the game. We’re running games at the booth, plus all weekend long in the RPG area and also pick-up games all over the place. Unfortunately, we can’t give copies away but we’ll have prize copies of Partners and other games for folks and – IF THEY ARRIVE IN TIME – badges with art for players. We’ve also put a little game to play on our new business cards. We love to give away free games!
But most of all, we can guarantee you the heist of a lifetime, where you get to be the mastermind! And this goes especially for people who have never played an RPG before or bounced off them in the past. This isn’t DnD. This is different.