(The audio of this interview is available at the bottom of this post!)
JR: I am talking to Jenn from the Jennisodes. Hello!
JR: So I see that you are in the midst of a Kickstarter.
J: I am. The grueling part of a Kickstarter – right in the middle.
JR: And this is for a game called Project Ninja Panda Taco.
JR: Tell us a little bit about it.
J: Well, this is a storytelling role playing game where you get to play a Mastermind trying to take over the world and you also get to play a Minion character who loves to help the Mastermind. It is lots of fun, it’s zany, it’s great for kids and families alike. And adults. (laughs)
JR: Or those of us who are both adults and kids at the same time.
J: Yes. The target audience is the adults who want to act like children.
J: It’s your inner mastermind trying to come out and like, take over.
JR: Excellent. Mine tends to try to come out way too often I think (chuckles) but it’s always good to encourage it from time to time.
J: Well with this game you can hone it all down into this and then you’ll feel much better.
JR: Ah, a channel! A channel for it!
J: Channel your mastermind into this game.
JR: (laughs) Cool, awesome. Maybe that means that I can get rid of this nuclear reactor I’ve been building in my basement.
J: Yes, you don’t have to build a real one. You can build it in the game.
JR: Awesome, okay. (chuckles) Oh, I’ve got to figure out what to do with the carbon rods… Er, I’ll do that after the interview.
JR: Anyway, tell us a little bit about how this game works. What do you do in it?
J: Okay. Well, during character creation you create a Mastermind character. There’s some special traits and Qualities. There’s also a collaborative part that I wanted to add in where other people at the table are going to help build your character too. So they’re going to give some insight and make a Quality for your Mastermind.
JR: What kind of input do the other players have?
J: Well, what you’re actually going to do is you’re going to pass your character sheet around the table and they’re going to write something down on it.
JR: Nice, so they write down like qualities that your character has?
J: Yeah, they’re going to write down one Quality. So like either an item or something about them like, you know, if you have one of those Whipley mustaches or a crazy hat or a secret power, I don’t know. It’s very creative – whatever you want, whatever you can come up with. You put it down.
JR: Very nice.
J: And then you also get to make a Minion character. Minions all belong to a union – Union 1521.
J: And you also get a tool belt, so it’s kind of like Despicable Me, where they’re always pulling something out and they’re like, “I can help you!” (chuckles) So, you get a tool belt item. Then during the game, it’s turn-based, so the first player will start by playing that Mastermind character. And every Mastermind always has a Nemesis, because you wouldn’t be a Mastermind if there weren’t anybody to stop you.
JR: Well, of course.
J: Right? You’d just be like the ruler or whatever. That’s not very much fun. Masterminds have plans, and to take over the world there’s always a three-step plan. Because that’s how Pinky and the Brain did it. It’s just the rulebook of Masterminds. So you have to come up with your three-step plan and try to complete it while your Nemesis tries to stop you. And then the other players at the table will play their Minions. You and the Nemesis are trying to get the Minions to help you and offer them shiny things. You’re like, “Come help me, Minions! I will give you… a gigantic RAY GUN if you help me!” And then the Minions are going to get to vote, because you know they’re part of a union – they can make their own choices. And there’s a quick mechanic and then you see who succeeds – the Mastermind or the Nemesis. And then if the Mastermind succeeds, you get to complete the first step of your plan! And if not… aww, sorry. You can try again on your next turn. It’s quick play. It’s fun. You’re making up crazy ideas on the spot, so you’re trying to pull in all that cartoon watching, all those video games, all those movies that you’ve seen. (chuckles)
JR: I don’t tend to see that level of collaboration – especially with creation of characters – in a lot of games.
JR: Was any of that inspired by any other RPGs that you’ve been playing?
J: I think so. It came from somewhere. I play a lot of like quick, fun RPGs at conventions and stuff…
J: And there’s something that… I wanted it to be collaborative. I wanted people to have input. It’s kind of like Fiasco, where you’re picking the different things off the lists and you’re putting it on someone else’s Relationships.
J: So like you’re impacting what’s happening at the table. It’s a lot easier, when you’re trying to come up with ideas, if you get to put it on someone else’s, or there’s always a constant, new group of ideas to look on. Because you get to read what the other people wrote and be like, “Oh, this character! This would be so cool if he had THIS!” Instead of trying to come up with six things for yourself. That’s a lot harder, I think.
JR: Yeah, brainstorming is always easier if you’ve got other folks to sort of bounce ideas off of.
J: Yeah, so you’re all talking and doing silly things and being like, “Aw man, this guy would be so cool if such-and-such…” (chuckles)
JR: Yeah. As a side note, I have made it one of my missions in life to play as much Fiasco as possible…
J: (chuckles) That was definitely an influence on the game.
JR: Yeah, I think that’s very cool. I like the direction that these short-form RPGs are going these days and I think it’s very cool that you’re contributing to that. What is it that sparked your interest, do you think, in evil masterminds, mad scientists, things of that nature?
J: Well, I’ve always loved those movies like Despicable Me, Megamind – they’re probably like my go-to movies – the Incredibles. Anything cartoony, if it’s on TV, like I’ll watch it. So I’m sitting there one day and I’m like, “I wish I had a minion to like do my work, or like do this other stuff. I mean like I REALLY need a minion.” So it’s always just been like a joke, I’ve always been like, “Where’s my minion?! Where is it?!!” And someone’s like, “You should make a game about that.” And I’m like, “I CAN!” You think I’m fun and silly, but really I have this evil, underlying theme to take over the world somehow.
J: And I will start with the gaming community and move on from there. Muahahahahaaa!
JR: (laughing) It’s always the ones you don’t suspect.
J: Exactly. Who would expect me? I like pandas and tacos.
JR: Of course. And actually that very neatly folds into another thing that I wanted to ask about. And that is that the title of the game is Project Ninja Panda Taco. I take it you have a deep interest in these three things in particular?
J: Well it turns out that I needed a code name. I didn’t know what I wanted to name the game. And I was like, “Project X! Okay, I like ninjas. Let’s look up Project Ninja on the Internet.” And I was like, “Aaah, there’s already one of those.” I was like, “I like Pandas! Project Panda.” And of course the Internet already has that. And then I was like, “Project Taco! No one has to have this!” And apparently there’s like ten sites that have it.
J: I’m like, “Damn it! Damn you, SEO!!” So I was like, “Yeah, well if I put them ALL together what does the Internet say?” And there’s nothing on the Internet that has all three of them together. (chuckles) So that was the name. And then actually it turns out the more I played around with the development of the game- If you do complete your three-step plan, it’s going to be called Project Blank Blank Blank. So you’re filling in the blanks during your turn. So you might only complete one step of your plan – so you might only have Project Ninja. But these are going to be different words during YOUR game. So it kind of makes sense. And it also evokes a funny, zany feel like when you say it you’re like, “What’s that? That sounds like a lot of fun!” And that’s the feeling that I want to bring out when you play the game, when you think about it.
JR: I actually like the aspect where you can combine these three disparate things…
JR: …to go forth with your evil plan. So something else that’s very interesting about this project – or something that I find interesting at any rate – is that you are Kickstarting it. How did you first get into Kickstarter?
J: I’ve backed a lot of projects that other people have done. I knew that if I wanted to publish this I wanted it to look a certain way. I wanted it to be full-color, hardcover, gorgeous. And art isn’t cheap. Editing isn’t cheap. Layout isn’t cheap. I mean, you CAN do it, but this was what I wanted to do. So this is my personal goal. And the more I looked into it – and like what would be the best way to publish it, to print it, who to get – I needed the capital somewhere and I don’t have that. (chuckles) My dogs eat everything. (chuckles)
J: I need to raise the funds somehow and so Kickstarter seemed like the best way. It’s not just the game design of it, it’s the business aspect of everything. You have to plan everything out – what pledge items are you going to get? What about taxes? Creating your own business? There’s a whole bunch of stuff. I’ve learned a whole myriad of things going through this whole process, but Kickstarter was the way I wanted to go. I kind of knew that from the beginning, as I was like, “Oh what if I did this and this? And then I could do THIS!!” Which is really BAD.
J: And I love to shop, so the whole shopping thing comes into it. I’m like, “Oh! Oh! And I can have… oh!!” (laughs)
JR: I know, Kickstarter is kind of addictive, actually. I’ve thrown… usually it’s like a dollar or two to quite a few projects. It’s a very cool phenomenon. The thing that I really like about it is you do get a kind of almost a community feeling when you’re contributing to these things.
J: Yeah, because you want to see things succeed. I would like mine to succeed. Hint hint.
J: But seriously, I like seeing other people’s projects out there and finding out about them through Twitter. I’ll see somebody retweet something, I’ll be like, “Oh! What is that?” and I’ll go check it out. And it might not be part of the indie gaming community. It might be something completely different. And seeing what else is going on in Kickstarter, I like clicking around now and it’s dangerous but… there’s a lot of awesome projects out there.
JR: It is dangerous, but the rewards are good as well.
JR: Good lord.
J: (laughs)Like my own little set. I’m like, “I need these!”
JR: I don’t know if one person should have that much power. (laughs)
J: And you get a mat and like, the box… Oh, yeah. When you give me accessories, game over!
JR: I think that, yeah, accessories might be part of the means by which you take over this planet. And speaking of accessories, what kinds of stuff will people be able to get if they go in and pledge?
J: Yeah, well we added a couple new pledge levels so that people can get all the cool stuff. Of course there’s going to be the PDF and the full-color hardcover book – it’ll look GORGEOUS. All this art with Brian Patterson from d20monkey. He’s done a lot of stuff so far within the video and the pictures on the Kickstarter, so it’s gorgeous.
JR: I really liked the art up there. It was really good.
J: Yeah. I saw his artwork and I’m like, “That. That’s what I want. I want THAT. In my book. Now.”
JR: Very cool, very cool. (chuckles)
J: So you’ll also be getting… We just put up a thing for a custom bumper sticker, so he’s already done some art for that. So you can stick it anywhere – on your car… on your butt… on a book… y’know, things that start with B…
JR: Ah yeah, so that’s where you start and you work your way through the alphabet, presumably.
J: Yeah! And then you also… they’re also going to have like T-shirts and then a custom dice bag with custom FUDGE dice and tokens.
J: So you get the voting tokens and some Mastermind pins and Minion name tags. And you can name a Mastermind and Minion in the text. And then if people pledge for the highest level, I’m going to host a party for you at GenCon and run the game for you.
JR: Very cool.
J: There’s like a special edition T-shirt, and… Yeah, and then there’s a League of Masterminds where you get a custom Mastermind portrait done by Brian Patterson.
JR: Nice. I know there’s got to be someone out there who would see that and go, “I must have it!” (laughs)
J: Some people have, which is amazing. So I can’t wait to talk to them and see what Brian comes up with.
JR: Well now, this is not the only thing that you have on your plate at the moment…
J: (chuckles) I know! Why would I do one thing when I can do three?
JR: (chuckles) Exactly. So, tell us a little bit about this Lamentations of the Flame Princess project you’re working on.
J: Yeah, right now there’s a big crowdfunding campaign going on on Indiegogo with 19 adventures. So each one is a separate Indiegogo campaign, which is crazy. The creator of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Jim Raggi, came up with this idea. He wanted to get more adventures out for this game, so he got in a WHOLE bunch of writers like Monte Cook, Vincent Baker, myself, the lead person from Gwar…
J: …a whole bunch of guys from Finland and overseas. It’s crazy awesome and everybody has these amazing ideas – a lot of people that you might have never heard of, too. So it’s a great way to find out more about the gaming community around the world. And not only am I writing one of them if it gets funded, but I’m doing interviews with each of the writers. That’s going to come out during the month of July on the Jennisodes podcast.
JR: Very cool, excellent.
J: Good people – that’s 16 special episodes, just for you!!
JR: And I am looking forward to seeing where things go. Now, for the Lamentations project, if people wanted to go online and look for that, where would they go?
J: They would go to the Indiegogo web site.
JR: Okay, so they just go to Indiegogo and they just do a search for Lamentations of the Flame Princess?
J: Yep, or my name. And you can also find it on the Lamentations of the Flame Princess blog, which I’ll give you the link to.
JR: Okay, excellent. That link will appear embedded in this interview, for anyone who’s looking at this on the blog rather than just listening to it. If you’re listening to it, then you must go to the blog – jimyesthatjim.com – and go and seek out the link. It’s like a treasure hunt!
JR: And then if folks want to find your Kickstarter project, what’s the best place to go for that?
J: You can search for it through kickstarter.com or you can check out the web site projectnpt.com and that’ll give you the link and direct you right there. And then later on when the game gets published – fingers crossed! – all the downloadable stuff, like the character sheets and any more information will be based at that web site.
JR: Awesome! And of course you have your podcast, the Jennisodes.
JR: And if folks want to check that out, where do they go?
JR: Excellent. I urge everybody to check that out. Jenn, thank you very much for talking to us. It’s been a pleasure.
J: Thank you so much for having me on.
Music by Kevin MacLeod
What with Christmahannukwanzaayuladanivus coming up, people have begun scrambling about like ants in a recently-stomped sandbox searching for original-looking gifts to buy. As it happens, I have a suggestion on that front.
Not too long ago I got the opportunity to try out a very interesting game called Mad Scientist University. It’s been available from Atlas Games for a couple of years now, but with the influx of independent card games we’ve been seeing lately, many folks might have lost it in the shuffle.
I think one of the most interesting things about it is that even though cards are used, it’s NOT actually a card game. This is more of what we’d call a storytelling game. As the name implies, players each take the role of a student at a university full of mad scientists. Three to seven people sit and take turns as the Teacher’s Assistant (or TA), handing out a card to each other player. Each of those cards has a single Unstable Element listed on it such as Mud, Kitty Litter or a Rubber Chicken. The TA then reveals the randomly selected Insane Assignment, which can be anything from winning an election to mapping a black hole. Each player must then come up with an explanation of how they can use their Unstable Element to complete the Assignment. Whoever the TA decides has the best plan gets awarded an Insane Assignment card. Then another player becomes the TA and another turn is begun. Play continues for at least three rounds, at the end of which whoever has collected the most Insane Assignment cards is declared the winner – and has thus beaten their fellow mad scientists to the top of the class!
This game was a lot of fun to play. Of course, being an incorrigible ham probably helped me out a great deal with that. Taking on the role of a megalomaniacal college student is not for the easily stumped or embarrassed! Thankfully, I myself have very little in the way of shame.
I very much like the way in which the game promotes the idea of the players throwing themselves into their roles, the TA in particular, who’s encouraged in the text of the rules to behave as an insane demagogue! You certainly don’t see THAT in every rules document. The rules are also presented quickly and simply, on the underside of the game box – which is pretty small and easily portable; after all, the only things you need to carry are the cards. This means you can pretty much just read the rules and get going without having to deal with much of a learning curve.
I can see this game working pretty well as a gateway to get friends and family members interested in new and different kinds of games, though it helps if they’re inclined toward the Weird to begin with. There’s also an expansion planned called Spring Break that looks like it’ll bring in some new and interesting twists.
When my friends and I played this game, we had a very good time with it, though you should keep in mind that the more players you have, the longer the game will take. In our second game we were at the upper limit of seven players and I found that quite a few folks were about ready to move on to something else by the time we got into the second round. I should point out, however, that we were all veterans of RPGs and were rather specific and grandiose in our descriptions. There was also beer involved – though, granted, a few of the players said the beer enhanced the experience for them rather than detracting from it.
All in all, the only problem I really have with this game is that the suggested retail price of $24.95 is a little bit steep. However, that said, I still recommend it as something you may want to look into picking up this holiday season. With the massive number of games out on the market, finding one that stands out AND that encourages the use of the imagination can be a real challenge, and Mad Scientist University does both in spades.