Channel A Returns!

Back in 2012 I designed my first ever card game, Channel A: The Anime Pitch Party Game. In 2013 Asmadi Games published it, bringing it to Kickstarter backers and then game stores. It’s been well-received, but once the original print run sold out, Asmadi was never quite able to get it back in print. While I’m still a fan of Asmadi Games and Chris Cieslik–and the other Asmadi Games offerings are well worth checking out!–I’m very pleased to be able to announce that Evil Hat Productions will be taking up Channel A as part of their line of board games. It’ll be their first real foray into both anime-inspired games and party games, but Channel A still has some heady company given that it’ll be alongside the likes of the Dresden Files Cooperative Board Game.

EHP is launching Channel A with a Kickstarter, and the game is getting an upgrade in the form of new art (by Dawn Davis, the same artist, who has improved her skills considerably over the past 6 years or so) and around 70 new cards (with Clay Gardner doing the logo designs for the new Title Cards). We’re calling this new version the “Alpha Genesis Edition,” and hopefully new and old fans of Channel A will find a lot to like in what we’ve changed and added. (Also: more normal cardstock!)

If you want to give the came a test drive first, Evil Hat has some cool stuff for that:

There are also stretch goals! The first is a set of stickers of chibi characters, and the second is an expansion called “Channel A: Second Season.” And we have more waiting in the wings! Kind of a lot more!

The Evil Hat folks have generally been great to work with, and their huge enthusiasm about the game has been pretty inspiring to me. Fred is a fan of the game and it really shows!

channel a ehp

Backstory

It wouldn’t be an Ewen Cluney blog post without a long, long explanation of what led up to this, so if you’re into that kind of thing, strap in!

For a long time, I didn’t like board games. To me they mostly felt like RPGs where someone had taken out most of the best parts. I think a lot of that has to do with the kinds of board games I’d been encountering when I was younger. We had games like Monopoly and Connect Four around the house, as well as a few different chess sets (though being the messy kid that I was, a lot of those wound up with missing pieces). I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was in elementary school, and my sisters were doing their own thing, so I only rarely played board games, and when I did they were too often boring ones like Monopoly. (Monopoly is apparently much less of a slog if you use the auction rules that many people omit, but my experiences with it were bad enough that I don’t want to go back regardless.) The only board game I really enjoyed was Scrabble, which my grandmother was very fond of, enough so that she even entered some tournaments back in the day. Although from my point of view in the 80s and 90s board games were mostly boring games you could buy at Toys R Us or K-Mart, that was when the medium was just starting to enter a period of transformation that led to the impressive diversity and sophistication that you see today. While I have kind of specific tastes, I now own and play a fair number of board games, and not just because I did a bunch of freelance work for Japanime Games. (Heart of Crown is great by the way.)

cah-preview

For me the big turning point was Cards Against Humanity. I’ve since outgrown CAH’s crude humor, but when I first encountered it–at a party at my youngest sister’s place–it was the first time I’d encountered a party game, and it was a revelation. It showed me the human element in board games that I’d been missing, and it started opening the medium up to me. I ordered a copy of CAH from Amazon on my phone while still at the party, and I was brainstorming new expansions on the way home. Before too long I created custom CAH expansions called Weeaboo Bullshit and Grognards Against Humanity, and for a while CAH became kind of an obsession among my friends. Thanks to the interest of a publisher in doing a CAH competitor (which fell through), I even went as far as to make my own attempt at improving on the CAH formula, with a tasteless party card game called i.hate.everyone. It has a place for flavor text, which hopefully mitigates how often players will have no idea what a card means, plus a different scoring system and a variant mechanics on several cards. I think it shored up some of the problems with the CAH formula, but it’s still a tasteless humor lego game, which is probably why after making two base sets and a My Little Pony expansion I stopped doing anything with it. (I did also make a “Custom Pack” so anyone can make and publish their own i.h.e cards though.) I also made a less crude game called This Is Not a Card Game, which is more like a deck to make you go through a series of surrealist creativity games. It’s not a big seller, but I’m really happy with the results regardless.

Channel A is what came out of wanting to try my hand at making a party game. I’ve been an anime fan since around the mid-90s, back when anime fandom in the US was just starting to pick up steam. Anime series had these wonderfully bonkers titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, and I hit on the idea of making a game where you combine words on cards to make your own word salad title and pitch it to your friends. The added constraint of having to pitch something that fit the two “Premise Cards” a Producer player picks put it over the top. I made prototypes as 2″x2″ printouts on cardstock like the PNP version of Cards Against Humanity, and generally found it was a blast to play. I made a POD version through The Game Crafter, which involved spending a pretty massive amount of time messing with different fonts, so that each Title Card had a different, thematically appropriate look and feel.

I later learned that I’d independently made an anime-themed approximation of another party game, namely Snake Oil (designed by Jeff Ochs, illustrated by John Kovalic, published by Out of the Box), and I’ve come to think of it as part of a subgenre of “pitching” party games. The creative element avoids the “humor legos” effect, since your pitch is at least as important as what’s on your cards. While it somewhat limits the size of the group (it’s hard to even remember a round of 10+ pitches) and perhaps takes a bit more mental energy to play, the end result tends to be better. I still remember a few Channel A pitches that I wish were real anime series, even from way back when I was playtesting with a cardstock prototype. (Notably, “Kaiser Bunny Legend” and “Penguin Boy D.”)

I realized that I didn’t really have any way to get Channel A the audience that I felt it deserved, so I started looking for a publisher. Game publishers are understandably hesitant to take on party games; particularly in the wake of Cards Against Humanity, there are a lot of bad ones, and they’re perhaps a little too easy to make. It’s also been my experience that the majority of the tabletop games industry doesn’t really know what they’re doing with anime. At the time, Asmadi Games seemed like not only a good choice, but the only choice. They did both Whack-a-Catgirl (a game very much situated in anime fandom) and We Didn’t Playtest This At All (itself a silly party game). Chris Cieslik wrote back to me pretty quickly, and after he tried the game out with his friends he was hooked. He made his own mark on the game by replacing the card-based voting I’d originally included (inspired by The Big Idea) with a simpler mechanic where the players just point on the count of three. Clay Gardner gave the game a major visual upgrade, taking the hundreds of little logos I’d made and making them gorgeous, then adding new ones as we expanded the game.

ChannelA-Box3D-Final

Asmadi did a Kickstarter to launch Channel A. It didn’t get very far above its initial funding goal, but it did fund and get the game out into the world. The 3,000 copies that Chris got printed went out to game stores and showed up on Amazon, and a lot of people generally had a good time with the game. People talked about it, played it, posted videos of it (including one from “Drunk Sexy Anime”), and so on. It eventually sold out, and I myself only have the one copy of it left. The game’s become very hard to come by–suggesting that the people who bought it haven’t been selling it off–but Asmadi was never quite able to get a reprint together. Printing a game with hundreds of cards is expensive, and those costs have only gone up since the Kickstarter in 2013. While Asmadi understands anime and party games better than most game publishers, they specialize in games with fewer components, like the excellent One Deck Dungeon.

I’m kind of a quiet person and don’t go to many cons, so it catches me off guard when I hear things like how Ryan Macklin played Channel A at his wedding. It turns out Fred Hicks is also a fan of Channel A, and had been playing it at every Origins for a while now. He’d been corresponding with Chris trying to get a copy, and that eventually led to me finding myself exchanging emails with Fred Hicks about Evil Hat publishing Channel A. A few months later, there’s now a Kickstarter happening!

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Although it feels like it’s been a while since I started emailing Fred, the turnaround time from initial inquiries to Kickstarter has been lightning-fast in the scheme of things. The new content for the base game is completely done, which means Dawn drew a total of 12 chibi characters (improved versions of the original six, plus six totally new ones) and Clay designed a bunch of new Title Cards. We’re also implementing the “Character Cards” idea I’ve been working on, which are a new type of Premise Card that has art of a chibi character that you work into pitches much like a written premise. They’ve been fun to use in playtesting, and now we have some great new art for them. With the new Title Cards, I took the opportunity to add a bunch of cards derived from the newer popular anime that came out since 2013, including words like Aggressive, Melancholy, Lustrous, Titan, and Academia. Like Chris did before him, Fred has also left his mark on the game, by doing some of the graphic design for the new version himself, and adding a green producer card you can use to mark who’s the current producer.

There’s still more coming though, since we’ve already planned out a series of expansions that’ll go into production right away if we hit those stretch goals. This is Evil Hat’s show though, so I’ll leave it to them to reveal those…

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