We got the unique chance to talk to Tim Hutchings, creator of the game “Dear Leader” on Kickstarter now. We asked him about the game, how it came to be, why the theme, and more:
What is “Dear Leader” about?
There’s a couple of answers to this, and the surface answer is that the game is about having fun being Kim Jong-un and his circle of advisors. Each round a policy problem is read off Policy Card and the advisors each come up with a unique solution. The early advisors take up all the easy answers, forcing the later players into increasingly difficult feats of creativity. After all the advisors have spoken their piece, Kim Jong-un roundly insults them gives a completely unique and absolutely correct answer. Kim Jong-un is very much a ‘smartest guy in the room’ and everyone must celebrate his ridiculous, ludicrous answer by clapping.
After that, each advisor gets a chance to extrapolate or compliment the answer in a couple of sentences. Kim Jong-un must personally insult the work of each advisor at this point. Afterwards Kim Jong-un awards the Policy Card to whomever pleased him the most, for whatever reason. That recipient becomes the new Kim Jong-un and a new round begins.
A round goes by pretty quickly. Answers should be quick, though any particular group’s table habits are going to affect how that happens. Some groups get pretty wordy and have been happy with that. The timer for the other players is the current Kim Jong-un; that’s the person who can tell you to hurry up or slow down, he’s the guy you want to please.
I’m a fan of games that have an informal, peer based control mechanism like that. The sand timer in Codenames is a good example — it doesn’t get flipped over until a player feels that it needs to be flipped over.
Another piece of feedback that the players get are demerits. Kim Jong-un has total power in the game, he can interrupt or correct or even change the rules as he like. But he also has demerits. A demerit is a wooden token that Kim Jong-un can give to any player at any time for any reason. If you are talking too long the leader can give you a demerit, if you say something he doesn’t like you get a demerit. Advisors should endeavor to avoid demerits, but mechanically they don’t do anything but give Kim Jong-un a tool to signal his opinions. The demerits are a fun, funny, ultimately meaningless part of the game.
Dear Leader plays fast and fun and I’m very proud of it.
Why did you decide to base this game loosely around the bombastic Kim Jong-Un?
This is also what Dear Leader is about: Horrific, dynastic dictatorial regimes. There is absolutely nothing funny about what is happening in North Korea, about the human rights abuses and the suffering that happens under three generations of the Kim family. For whatever reason, public opinion about the North Korea has gone from concern to amusement. What ridiculous claim will they make this week? Kim Jong-un has become the stuff of jokes and memes, and it’s a struggle to remember that millions suffer due to his decisions.
I don’t base this game loosely around Kim Jong-un, his name is in the fore. And while there is definitely satire involved, much of what is described on the cards is based on real life.
Dear Leader acts as a parodic North Korea simulator, with the sorts of declarations we see from Pyongyang emerging organically from play.
The art is silly and fun. How did you decide on it?
I worked with an amazing artist named Michael Jaecks. He had a great vision for the project, something that was overbearing but charming. The guy is smart as heck, and studied North Korea propaganda posters to get ready for the project. I’d originally wanted a sort of Soviet Bolshevik-revolution Lissitzky/Rodchenko poster feel, but Jaecks guided me back toward something that was a mix of all the best elements in play.
A good artist is an invaluable asset on a project like this. I mean, I’m trained as an artist but I couldn’t’ve gotten anywhere near to where the art is now without Jaecks spurring me on with great questions and sketches.
This game seems like it’s simple and easy to pick up. Is this what you wanted?
I’m a fan of letting simple games do complex things. Strip off all the chrome and gizmos and the car’ll go faster and look all Mad Max bad-ass. Lots of rules can be needed in some situations, and I like a six hour war-game as much as the next guy, but they aren’t necessary to have a game be a game.
I didn’t set out to make a party game, but the party aspect emerged naturally. Short rounds, simple rules, and no real scoring system make for something that fits a party space well.
I’ve long thought about party RPGs, it was something I’d talk about with OSR folks back in NYC. How do we take this RPG and make it so that we can run it in a big, loud room full of drunken people who might want to sit down and play at any moment? The Tower of Gygax and Jared Sorensen’s Parsley games do a good job of this, but in a way that’s totally unlike Dear Leader.
Not that Dear Leader is an RPG, but neither is it NOT an RPG. It’s what I’ve been calling a “role taking game” in which you are speaking from the interests of a person, a Kim Jong-un or an advisor. You represent their interests as your own and use them to power along your play, but you aren’t necessarily taking them through character development.
How did you come up with the idea of the game, and were drinking/drugs involved?
I’m earnestly ashamed to say that I can’t exactly remember where I came up with Dear Leader. It might have come out of a discussion at a Games to Gather design meet up. Games to Gather is a positive action oriented organization that organizes play events and design meetings. The Games to Gather group has a lean toward experimental and ‘freeform’ RPGs, and Dear Leader owes a lot to that sort of thinking.
I can’t even blame drink or drugs: I’m a teetotaler nerd and always have been.
What do you hope will happen when people get ahold of this psychotic game?
I studied art and critical theory in school, and a lot of that thinking is embodied in Dear Leader in a very sneaky way. Working on Dear Leader I asked myself a lot of questions about the form of the game and how the form supports the theme, and how to take a stance that’s critical of North Korea and fold it into a fun game. I ask what I want to have happen with the thing I’m making, and how I can make that happen in an interesting way.
And that’s step one: Dear Leader is fun. I want people to have fun. Fun is great, who doesn’t like fun? I’ve made games that aren’t fun and they are good too, but for Dear Leader fun is bait for my trap.
Games can be fruitful, enriching experiences, and I’m hoping that Dear Leader can penetrate the veil of fun with a little bit of introspection. I hope players think about the feelings of power and helplessness they experience throughout the game, I hope they compare the declarations of their Kim Jong-un to those of the REAL Kim Jong-un.
And, just to drop a hammer on the seriousness of the topic of North Korea, I hope they follow the game rules to the letter and read the true factoids off the Policy Cards at the end of the game. Millions of people have died from starvation there, children labor in political prisons, the Kim’s live in luxury and fly in American basketball stars while making declarations that unicorns were real and building nuclear weapons.
Dear Leader is on Kickstarter right now for only $30! It plays 5-9+ players with optional rules for 2-4 players. A quick and easy game to learn, play, and laugh with your friends!
Fund the Kickstarter here!:
Thanks to Tim Hutchings for interviewing with us and thank you for reading!