Dabe Alan

Drunk Dungeon turns your drink coaster into a game piece, and your party into an adventure

Drunk Dungeon turns your drink coaster into a game piece, and your party into an adventure

Margaret Robertson is the development director for Hide&Seek, a group that creates “social games and playful experiences.”. She was given an interesting commission from the NYU Game Center for its annual No Quarter event: Design a game for the party. That was all the instruction given. “I’m used to working with design partners like artists, film-makers, or institutions and you come to a jumping off point for games. That’s really rewarding and creatively challenging, but it’s also much easier,” she told the Penny Arcade Report. In contrast, there was no jumping off point for this game, no grand idea or theme. So how do you make something everyone at the party will get to play, based around an activity everyone already enjoys? Focus on the drinking.

The coasters are the game pieces

Robertson has made games that help people network in situations where making connections may not be easy, but designing a game for a party presented unique challenges. Parties are chaotic and unstructured. Some people want to hang out and socialize with a great many people, while others would rather stay by their friends. The game had to be fulfilling for both types. It was also important for there to be a physical, persistent aspect of the game, something that was built as the party went on. “I thought it would be nice if there was something there at the end of the evening that wasn’t there at the beginning,” Robertson explained. “I thought it would be interesting to have something that’s a testament to the fact 300 people had been there for hours. What changed? What did they make? What did they do?” Her answer to these questions was genius in its simplicity. When you go to a bar during an event and order a drink, alcoholic or otherwise, you’re given a coaster. Why not turn those coasters into game pieces, with the rules printed on the back of each one? If you ordered a drink, you were a player in the game, and could place your coaster and help create the game board itself. Order another drink, and you were able to play again. A deck of 11 possible tiles was designed after much play testing, and 850 coasters were created by hand using custom rubber stamps. Drunk Dungeon was born. The game allows different styles of play. You could drink your beverage, place your one piece, and be done with it. At that point you have played a turn, you’ve added a portion to a game board that will be fully constructed by the end of the night, and you don't have to think about the game again. On the other hand, you can hover around the table, talking strategy with the other players and helping others with their moves. You can be as social or as isolated as you’d like. If you want to meet someone, talking about the game or the moves being made is a great way to strike up a conversation. The party itself became the framing mechanism for the game. Robertson laid out four of her design goals in a recent blog post:

  1. Get a pretty coaster to take home with you
  2. Add it to the map without really knowing what you were doing, but getting to share in co-creating this big, colorful, shining thing
  3. Make a couple of meaningful moves in the game and move your team toward victory
  4. Get involved enough to start spotting tactics and become a team mini-captain, advising and marshalling other players to draw them deeper into the game.

Anyone who ordered a drink took part in one or two of these goals, while those interested in deeper strategy were welcome to move onto three and four. There was one teenaged girl who bothered her parents for their coasters and drank multiple sodas simply because she enjoyed playing the game and talking about the strategy. “The game was designed to encourage and reward these moments of ad-hoc cooperation and tactical play, but not require them,” Robertson explained. In essence, it was able to enhance the party for some, while not getting in the way of people who just wanted to socialize. If you want to to dig deeper into the strategy, you could do so, or you could just play your one piece in order to participate.

Could this work in other environments?

The No Quarter event brought a crowd that was already interested in games, so wasn't hard to get people playing. Does Robertson think Drunk Dungeon would work at a regular pub or party? “I really do,” she said. “Part of the design thinking that went into this was to make sure there was an easy on-ramp. It’s just placing one 'domino' on a visual map. You can see if a piece belongs or doesn’t belong. The instructions are on the back. I think you absolutely could run it, and indeed I’m making plans to at other events, or pubs, or parties. It’s easy to get your head around when you’re there.” Drunk Dungeon is simple to understand, and doesn't require any specialist vocabulary to discuss the game's rules or strategies. It draws from past tile-based games without requiring prior knowledge from the player. The coaster is a tactile object, and there's something satisfying about playing a piece and helping to built the board. For better or worse, everyone else who is playing must react to what you've done in some way or another. You make your mark on the entire game, and indeed the party itself, by laying down your coaster. Robertson is still working on Drunk Dungeon, but the game was a success for her and the team at Hide&Seek. People played the game, discussed strategy, and took the coasters home. This is not a serious game; the most important thing to Robertson was that people have fun at the party. “I just wanted this to be a bit of opt-in fun, that was rewarding at any level of involvement, including none,” she wrote. “And I wanted it to be a game that drew heavily on its social context without strong-arming anyone into being social. I wanted it to be meaningful and fun to play without requiring you to talk or interact unless you wanted to.” As a wallflower myself, I raise my glass.