Talking to Anthony Conta (Funemployed!) about party game scoring

by Gil Hova

I’m continuing to work on Bad Medicine (formerly Side Effects – thanks to Rishi for the new name!), and it’s still really interesting to survey the difference between the mindset (lusory attitude) of a party game player versus that of a strategy game player, from a designer’s point of view.

I recently had an email exchange with Anthony Conta, designer of the recent party game Funemployed! Anthony’s game is a fun and silly Apples-style party game where players are trying to interview for a job. They must use all their cards, but before they pitch, they’re allowed to swap cards in real-time with face-up cards on the table.

Anthony’s email was fantastic, so I’m posting excerpts here with his permission, slightly edited to make sense as a blog post. I asked him about a design decision in Funemployed that I wrote about last week for Bad Medicine. He chose to handle it differently; he kept pitching and scoring open, but forced the player who won the last round to go first. Why? And does it result in favoritism or throwing votes?

That was a balance issue – it makes it so they have a worse interview next time. Going first is difficult because you get less time to perfect your pitch, you can’t play off other pitches, and people can play off your pitch. You get to set the pace for the round, but generally, breaking the ice is detrimental (think how stand up comedians have a warm up act, or bands have openers, or movies have trailers, etc – it’s very pervasive in the entertainment industry to have warm ups that set the stage).

I’d say no one’s ever complained about favoritism except for the hardest of hard core gamers–usually, the winner “deserves it”. There’s a lot of social pressures in the game (don’t give it to your girlfriend JUST because she’s your girlfriend, give it to her because she had the best round). I’ve found that people don’t play Funemployed just to “win”, though they certainly try their best to win individual rounds. Funemployed’s atomic length is basically a round, and I’ve found people keep playing until they’re ready to do something else.

For Funemployed, you “win” by playing with a good group of people that think like you do and by maximizing your fun through acting crazy and saying silly things. It’s a party game, and the audience for those is drastically different. I don’t play Funemployed with my friends that want to play Dust because they want the experience of Dust; likewise, my fiancee doesn’t play Twilight Imperium because she wants something light. Introducing complex scoring systems in party games just isn’t required; the experience of play, not the explicit reward for playing well, is how these games are enjoyed. I’ve struggled with the scoring system for Funemployed, but honestly, people just play the game until they’re sick of it – I’ve rarely seen it played to its end game state (which is you flip over a specific job, which is seeded at the beginning of play).

Party games like Apples, Cards, Funemployed, etc. are excellent because the emergent situations are excellent. Winning isn’t the main point, the journey/play is. They’re spectator board games that emphasize the jokes/community rather than the actions within. They’re excuses to have a good time.

Thanks to Anthony for a great discussion!