This year at Dragon Con we met up with the team behind the highly anticipated game “Urban Insanity”. The game is burning through it’s Kickstarter and we were fortunate enough to sit down with one of the creators to get the inside scoop!
What is your game? (name, theme, general idea)
My name is Larry Grayson and the name of the game is Urban Insanity. When Mic Mell and I came up with the name over 8 years ago, we wanted something that would convey both the theme and the experience of the game. It’s about building a city where the game board is never the same. It’s about rules that are both insane and make perfect sense at the same time. The theme, if there is just one, might be Chicago in the 1930’s with mob warfare and urban sprawl and rapid growth and mom-and-pop shops. But with a few unexpected modern twists, like aliens and helicopters. We wanted the game to feel ALIVE, something that people can get lost in and enjoy playing just for the sake of playing a game.
What was the inspiration?
We were inspired by some other tile-based games, e.g. Carcasonne™, which both Mic and I enjoyed playing. The problem we had was that after a while, the game seemed to lose its allure – we had the experience of the game not being as much fun to play as it was the last time. And, if you put in all the extra stuff that made it fun, it took too long to play. I remember saying something about how the game would be better if it had this or that and then Mic suddenly popped up and said, “Hey! We could absolutely design a game that is really fun! We really could!”
So, I went to my computer and knowing we wanted something a bit more modernized began designing a basic tile structure for putting the landscape of an urban city together. We tried it out and it seemed to work. We added some vehicles, which was new. We added aliens, which most definitely was new. We tried 18 different tile designs and over the next few years I personally hand-cut over 15,000 tiles while still managing to retain all of my fingers.
I designed boxes, pieces, and rules. We contacted a company in China, and came up with an initial amount we needed to self-fund. But, after about a gazillion hours of play-testing, we discovered that a simple tile-playing game was too mechanical and predictable. And it took way too long to play. We had created something that was definitely new, but it gave us an uncomfortable and very familiar déjà vu experience. We had designed a great game, but it did not have that magic thing we wanted: replayability. We had repackaged boredom.
I was in the shower one day (where most of my ideas come from) and came up with the action card mechanic. The entire flavor of the game transformed. Everything we could not seem to make work suddenly worked. It was amazing. The action cards gave us the ability to make the game live and breathe. It added what we experience in life and what has become the overriding experience of Urban Insanity – ever-changing landscapes coupled with unpredictable outcomes. After that, everything began to fall into place perfectly.
The last missing piece was finding the right artist. My limited artistic skills were fine for testing game mechanics, but we wanted the game to have some pizzazz. We interviewed several artists on Upwork and stumbled upon William Black (Black Draws Stuff). This guy is amazing! He took our vision and turned it into a reality. I simply cannot say enough about William Black.
What are some unique features/mechanics your game features?
There are a number of factors. I believe these are the top six in no particular order.
The first is the action cards, which provide the life-like unpredictability for the game and the ability to introduce some pretty amazing “twists” to what would otherwise be a simple “draw-and-play” mechanic.
Second would be how the features of the tiles (roads, buildings, suburbs, highways, and stadiums) interlock together to create an intriguing puzzle-solving experience and a game board that changes every time you play the game.
The third is the exponentially cumulative effect of mixing and matching six uniquely different expansion sets to provide over 120 different gaming experiences. For example, if you play with just the Aliens, you get one game experience; if you play with just the Mobsters, you get another game experience; and if you play with both the Aliens and the Mobsters together, you get a third game experience that is uniquely different than either expansion set by itself. But, and this is big, each expansion set is designed to completely interface and mesh with each other expansion set. Nothing breaks.
The fourth is that the game fosters a LOT of human interaction; most people find themselves very quickly being swept up in the game and there seems to be a LOT of laughing and yelling going on.
The fifth is that the scalability of the game allows you to control both its length and complexity.
And the sixth is that we have put a lot of thought into giving people a great game experience. Urban Insanity was designed by people who love to play games for people who love to play games. Like the tile tower that lays down in the box to store your tiles and stands up for easy tile drawing. Like the base game box with a magnetic lid that is designed to hold all six expansion sets. Like the storage bags for the pieces to keep everything from getting all mixed up in the box. We have tried to think of everything we would want in a game.
What is your favorite part of the game?
I love the human interaction that the game fosters. Urban Insanity brings people out of their shells naturally and lets them express their own unique game playing style. If you are a careful and methodical player, you can have fun and play the game AND win. If you are a wild and crazy risk-taker, you can have fun and play the game AND win. There is no special skill required or some winning formula or perfect strategy. And, you cannot tell who is going to win until the last tile is played and all the points are tallied. After all, it’s Urban Insanity. When we introduced this at Dragon Con, we quite frequently had four full tables running with 5 or 6 players at each table. It was chaotic. People were laughing, reaching across the table, slapping tiles down, yelling at their opponents and cheering each other on at the same time. I had so much fun just walking around, offering some strategic tips to people and enjoying the craziness.
My favorite experience was when I had just finished playing a game with a group of three people for their first time and we were stacking up the tiles. I asked if they wanted to play again and there was a unanimous “Yes!” About that time, another couple walked over and wanted to play. I was about to sit down and explain the game to them and one of the people that had just finished playing said, “No, we got this. We’ll show them how.” I remember walking away and watching in awe as someone started explaining a game I had created to someone else. For a games designer, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Can you tell us a little about the various expansions?
Everyone’s favorite part of the game is the expansions. The base game is complete in and of itself, but the expansion sets really add the insanity to the game and make it come alive.
There are three “destructive” expansion sets designed for people who like mischief and mayhem: Aliens, Mobsters, and Fire Engines. And there are three “constructive” expansion sets designed for people who like planning and strategy: Franchises, Gas & Go, and Skyscrapers.
The Aliens expansion set introduces a non-player character factor into the game. You can beam them down onto your opponents’ territory, abduct your opponents’ pieces, beam pesky aliens on your own turf back up to the mother ship, or transport them to other sections of the landscape. Aliens are designed so that you can throw a monkey wrench into your neighbor’s well-laid plans. But just when you thought you had control, an alien abducts your urbanite and all of your careful planning is wrecked.
The Mobsters expansion set brings absolute mayhem to the game. A well-placed mob hit can move your mob car through enemy territory and wipe out their entire crew in one turn. You can also use your mob car defensively to protect what you’ve worked so hard to build. A mob boss can suddenly infiltrate and take over your turf. Or your opponent can bribe the cops and have members of your gang thrown in jail until you bail them out.
The Fire Engines expansion set introduces fire bugs and professional arsonists who sneak around setting your city blocks on fire and even burning them to the ground. But you can call the local fire department to send a hook-and-ladder truck and put the fires out, or do some planning and make your high-priced areas fire-proof.
The Franchises expansion set gives players the ability to build a portfolio of companies. You can diversify and cash in for points or save up for a monopoly and score big. This set introduces the “tycoon” playing piece, who becomes stronger as you build your empire of retail stores and can even become powerful enough compete with the mob bosses for domination of the city.
The Gas & Go expansion set provides two additional sets of playing pieces so that you can play with up to six players. It also introduces gas stations which increase the value of roads and refuel your vehicles. And, if that wasn’t fast-paced enough, there are helicopters that let you air-drop one of your pieces right into the middle of enemy territory and take over.
The Skyscrapers expansion set is all about building HUGE cities FAST. Bridge tiles and huge skyscrapers link city blocks together, causing escalating battles that have control of huge pieces of real estate changing hands again and again. Just when you thought you had things under control, your opponent draws a Demolition card and rips up part of your construction to finish their own building project. And, in keeping with the theme of Urban Insanity, we also introduce a WILD TILE in this set.
Where can we keep up with the game?
Right now, we have both of our URL’s www.xtilegames.com and www.urbaninsanity.games redirecting people to our Kickstarter page. We have quite a following on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/urbaninsanity/ and post updates there every day. We have advertising banners running on Board Game Geeks, Board Game Quest, and The Gaming Gang.
We launched at Dragon Con in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend and must have done something right because the guy that runs the board game room, Phil Collins, (not the singer) asked us to come back next year and set up in the game room again. We are traveling around Atlanta and demonstrating the game at local game stores like Meeple Madness, Giga-Bytes Gaming Café, Kapow Comics and Games, and Discover Games, to name a few. We plan to hit some more conventions once the Kickstarter campaign is over. We just opened up shipping to UK and Europe after finding the right fulfillment center and should be in Canada and Australia very soon.
We also have some sweet deals for game stores that want to support us and get a supply of the product for their shelves in March 2019 at 45% of MSRP with FREE shipping. That’s a much better deal than they will get from distributors.
We are setting up fulfillment and distribution centers in USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
What I want to leave people with is that Mic and I are completely dedicated to producing a game that people will love to play again and again. We have spent eight years working our butts off to make sure that this is the real deal. If people will support this game, they will not be sorry.
Oh, yeah. One more thing. We already have two more expansion sets in the design process: Dogasaurus Rex (a huge canine that romps around eating everything in sight) and Zombies. After all, what’s a game without zombies, right? We expect these two expansions to appear in late 2019.
Our Dragon Con video
Our How-to-play video
A review by D&E Miniature Games