Walk the Plank Designer Journal
Part One: Ancient History
by Evan Sass
In the mid-1990s some friends and I created a game company called Rubicon Games. We all shared a passion for gaming, and the enthusiasm one only has when entering the hobby gaming industry for the first time. We were under-funded, ill informed, and unfocused—and it sure was a lot of fun! Plus, we had a great company logo.
What we didn't have to start with was a product. Yep—we became a corporation and were selling shares and having board meetings, and we didn't even have anything to sell. Good thing we didn't quit our day jobs…
Creating games was definitely on all of our minds, of course, and we were full of ideas. We all played roleplaying games, along with card games, board games, computer games—you name it. We didn't have the capital to start with board games or computer games, and—at least to start with—we had nothing promising on the roleplaying game front.
One of the things left in our Big Bag o' Ideas was a fun, quick trick-taking card game that my friend Brian's brother used to play in the army with a deck of poker cards. Brian got the gist of the card game from his brother, and we set about reworking it, Now With Extra Fun!
The game Brian's brother played in the army had a name that was not quite ready for family game night. We changed one rather colorful yet often useful word into a much more boring word, and the game was now called Up the Creek.
Our vague marketing goals were for the game to have broad appeal and, like, to sell a lot and stuff. Given the game's new name, we needed appropriate suit icons for the suits. We settled on animals found in our near a creek, and the suits became fish, frogs, ducks, and beavers. We envisioned the game selling in gamestores, bookstores, education stores, and big department stores. Hey—we were a corporation, and needed to think big, even if our corporate wallet was tiny.
We didn't want it to use the four regular poker deck suits, since if anyone could just play it with a regular poker deck, well, why would they need us? That's right—they wouldn't. We added in a fifth suit, turtles, thus ensuring our usefulness to our future game buying public. As a big bonus, it turned out that the game became even more fun to play with the fifth suit.
One of our fellow Rubiconers suggested we add some extra cards with special game effects, so as to make game play more interesting. We came up with some fun but simple ones, and our game was complete!
We enlisted our friends, Brian's kids' friends, and the kids at the childcare where Brian's wife worked, to playtest the game for us. It was an instant hit. In fact, over a decade later, the kids at that childcare (I reckon they're not the same kids) still have a whole lot of fun playing the game.
Having an otherwise languishing degree in English Literature, it fell to me to write up the rules. I did so happily, but one thing led to another, and the game was never to be published by Rubicon Games, which is now long gone.
Astute readers have noticed that I have been talking about a game called Up the Creek, whereas this is a design journal for a game called Walk the Plank. Tune in next time to find out how the game transformed into a pirate game, and how it finally came to see the light of day after so long.
Mini Green Ronin by Ramsey Hong. Have a nice day!