We were very excited to discover ‘The Wilson Wolfe Affair’ so here is George Fox from Simulacra Games to tell you all about it. Find our more and back on the Kickstarter here.
A few years ago I bought a copy of the cult 1981 boardgame ‘Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective’. If you haven’t played it – it’s an absolutely brilliant game. Basically you get some sheets of paper that look like newspapers, a map, an ‘address book’, and a booklet outlining a mysterious criminal case. You pass everything around your gaming group, comb the material for clues, and try to solve the crime.
I think part of the reason the game has such a cult status is because it breaks so many of the rules of traditional boardgaming: there are no dice, no counters, no cards, no luck involved – but at the same time nothing seems rigid or ‘on-rails’. Player number is irrelevant; you can play with two people, a whole boardgaming group, or just solo, and the game works exactly the same. It really stands out as fantastic from a game-design perspective, which is why it’s still being played nearly 40 years after first release.
It’s not perfect, however. On the downside, some of the solutions are real groaners. When my group played it, on at least two occasions we spent an entire evening stuck on a case, eventually giving up and checking the solutions, only to find it involves a ridiculous far-fetched leap of logic that we never would have got, causing a small riot to break out around the gaming table. The other slight negative that my friends and I talked about as we played was that the ‘newspapers’ included were, at the end of the day, simply single sheets of A3 paper, with no photos or major illustrations, just text. We began to talk about how cool it would be if the game came with proper printed newspapers that looked worn and authentic.
But if you were going to make proper newspapers, you could also include a proper address book, with doodles and drawings, and old bus tickets and receipts slipped in, like Indiana Jones’ grail diary. And then why not include some physical objects to help with the case, evidence from the crimes: coins and keys and trinkets… this was the seed that grew into the game we’ve made today.
Today, my friends and I are called Simulacra Games, and we are just about to launch our first game, ‘The Wilson Wolfe Affair’. At its heart is the same little idea outlined above, but it’s spiralled out into a lot more too. You receive a huge package in the post, full of letters and photos and newspapers and magazines and games and toys and all-sorts.
Using the same type of deduction as you would with ‘Consulting Detective’ you unravel a story, but on a whole other level. There is a focus on puzzles (one of our big influences was the annual MIT Mystery Hunt), and the fact that the game includes so many real world physical objects means we could design puzzles with solutions you’ve never seen before. We wanted the ‘ah-ha’ moments to be like the reveals of magic tricks.
The game involves physical objects in your hands that you can fold and turn and hold up to the light and overlay on other things, and we took full advantage of that. We wanted to utilise everything you can’t do with a puzzle game on a computer screen or on a normal sheet of paper.
As a result, you have to think WAY outside the box to solve some of these puzzles. In play-testing it was great to see people stuck for a while examining some object, then for someone to suggest a crazy idea only half-seriously, like ‘It says something about ‘daylight’, maybe it means we have to take it outside in the sun?’, and then for everyone to erupt screaming and shouting when the half-baked idea actually works.
I have worked as a graphic designer for years, mainly working in print advertising: magazine and newspaper ads, flyers, leaflets – that kind of thing. When you are in that field, you get sent promo material from printer companies and manufacturers boasting all sorts of weird properties – printing on transparent card, colour changing ink, holographic stickers, invisible printing that can only be seen in certain conditions – all manner of weird things.
They are great to incorporate into your designs; you can come up with crazy wonderful ideas, but when you make the pitch to a client, they invariably say “It’s really interesting… but we will go with the cheaper, safer bet”. The result is that you end up with a notepad full of awesome ideas for colour changing flyers and letters you can only read with body heat, but never an reason to use them.
So when we started this project, at some point I realised I had many years’ worth of ideas on how to hide things in plain sight and conceal secrets in weird ways no one would have seen in a game before. All those ideas burst out of that old notebook and found their way into ‘The Wilson Wolfe Affair’, which results in a game that is unlike anything else out there.
At the heart of it all there is still a mystery and a story. When we first started batting around the idea for this game, we began in the world of Sherlock Holmes style creepy Victoriana, but quickly came to realise that we wanted another theme and setting. It seemed to us that every single time anyone designed a mystery game, they defaulted to that same world.
We wanted something different, and eventually settled on a story set in the early days of cartoon animation. The 1930s movie industry, with its art-deco style, is super-cool yet not often explored in gaming, and there is something about those early cartoons which is often bordering on downright sinister. We came up with a plot revolving around a shadowy cult-like organisation embedded deep within the movie industry (coincidentally we had been watching a lot of Tom Cruise films at the time), and once we started to play with the old trope of subliminal messages being hidden in cartoons, the story wrote itself.
We knew, if we were going to the trouble of making really in-depth worlds and themed props, that we didn’t want a game that you could solve in just an hour or two. Our hope is that we can become part of the puzzling calendar – that every year people will sign up for The Simulacra Games, receive this massive package of themed stuff, and then spend the next few months of their life getting absorbed in it, mulling old notes over on the subway, meeting up with friends to look over the weird objects to get a different perspective, solving little parts of it here and there, searching online in their lunch breaks, getting further toward the full story every time.
And that when you finally get to the end and crack the mystery, the objects look so cool that you’d want to keep them on the shelf in your office as a memento, or frame the posters up on your wall.
If any of this sounds up your street, then please join our mailing list and consider supporting us on Kickstarter. There will be some early-bird specials, so signing up is your best chance at nabbing them.
We are hoping that there are enough people out there who are fans of games like Sherlock Holmes or the MIT mystery hunt, and would jump at the chance to try an immersive super-deluxe version, to make our work worthwhile.