Last September, I attended the Boston Festival of Indie Games, a regional gathering of developers of both tabletop games and video games. The highlight of the experience was being able to play games in various stages of development at the Showcase, and one of my favorites was Karmaka from Hemisphere Games. Evidently, the wisdom of the crowd agreed with me, and Karmaka took home the Best Artwork and Best in Show awards in the tabletop category. Karmaka is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to fund its first printing.
Our current article series, Mid-Game Structures, is all about the mechanics and other design elements associated with the transitions and turning points in games. Karmaka’s design centers around moving up the karmic ladder, where each rung represents both reincarnation as a higher life form and a new phase of the game, so we thought it was a perfect fit for our Mid-Game Structures series. Today, we’ll be speaking to Dave Burke, one of the developers of Karmaka, about his design.
Games Precipice: Welcome! Thanks for taking some time out of your busy Kickstarter schedule to talk to us. Before we dig deep into the mechanics, I wanted to talk about your theme–how did you decide on something as ambitious as reincarnation?
Dave: The idea of karma has long-appealed to us (co-designer Eddy Boxerman and I) as a thematic idea to build a game around, particularly a card game. “What goes around, comes around.” “You reap what you sow.” “An eye for an eye.” That kind of stuff. Conceptually it’s a really straightforward economy: what I do, comes back at me. So from a design perspective, it’s simple, everyone understands it and so you’ve got a theme that people can grok quickly — you have only to mention ‘karma’ and the light bulbs start switching on in people’s minds.
So how to take it further? What else does karma evoke that could inspire a mechanic in a game? We’re not very well versed in eastern religion, but the high-level idea of living multiple lives and reincarnation maps really well onto a card game, where each life is a round of cards, say.
Or even more interestingly, what if your life ended when *you* are out of cards — but other players could play on if they still have cards. And so everyone’s life ends at staggered times, depending on when they run out of cards, how quickly they play, etc.
And so on. But it started from that “what goes around, comes around” pop-culture notion of karma as a simple economic model, and went from there on towards reincarnation, the Karmic Ladder, etc.