Why Signature Series makes a difference for Detective line

‘I hate you.’ said Rob Daviau when he approached me at Gen con 2018. ‘I played Detective. You know I was thinking about designing a story-driven game like that for a long time, and you did it. It is everything I wanted my game to be. I hate you.’
I look at him, confused, and he burst into a laugh. ‘Congratulations. You designed a great game Ignacy.’
‘You played it? Finished the whole campaign?’ I asked
‘Oh, yeah. I invited friends for a game retreat weekend; we played the whole thing. That was the game of the weekend. The only game of the weekend to be precise. Brilliant. I hate you.’ he patted my back, winked, and left. I smiled.

The idea behind the Signature Series was very simple. Invite the best storytellers in the industry and ask them to play with the Detective system. Ask them to write their own unique cases for the game. The fact that the game spoke to the storytellers was a good starting point. Few months after the release of the game, I reached Rob Daviau and Mike Selinker and asked them if they are interested. They both were.

The script
When you work with legendary designer, the icon of the industry, like Rob Daviau, designer of Betrayal on the Haunted Hill, or Pandemic Legacy, you might be in an awkward position. What will you do, if the material you get won’t meet your expectations? Will you pat Rob on his back and tell him to try harder? Really?

I was waiting impatiently for a script for his case. Finally, I received the email. At that very same moment, I got a Twitter notification. I checked it. It was Rob’s tweet.

I sent @trzewik something. I hope he likes it.

I took a deep breath and opened the attachment. Read the thing. Read it and loved it. Rob took real-life locations and places, real-life events, and build around them a fascinating crime story. It felt so real and so convincing. He moved the action to 70′, changed the setting of the base game, but kept the spirit and the heart of Detective – solving crimes that feel so real because they are hooked in the actual places and events. It was a load off my mind. No patting Rob on his back and asking him to try harder. His reputation is no joke. He is one of the best storytellers in the industry. That’s a fact.

The twist
‘I want to change how the questioning works in Detective.’ he said to me when we met at Grandcon. ‘Can your team change the way the Antares website works for my case?’
‘What do you have in mind?’ I asked.
‘I want players to actually ask questions. Type them into the website and then get appropriate answers.’
‘OK’ I said and greenlighted the idea. We started play-testing – players were able to bring in suspects or witnesses and ask them questions about these particular topics. The questioning changed from reading a pre-constructed transcript into a real discussion with the suspect. Play-testers loved the idea. Portal Games Digital team who was supposed to code it and upgrade the website, not so much.

New rules
In Dig Deeper, Rob introduced a few new rules and, by a few, I mean, the exact perfect amount. Not too much, so players won’t be confused and, at the same time, enough to make everybody excited about playing this new expansion.
It’s 70′, it’s Starsky and Hutch, it’s police chases. Here is the Gun It rule – players can spend Authority token and ignore the time cost of moving in the city. It’s a one-sentence rule, and at the same time, so much theme enchanted in it and added to the game (you turn on your sirens and slam on the gas pedal!). Rob added few more small tweaks to add flavor to the game, searching libraries or turning in witnesses. With just a few well-designed rules, he changed Detective: Modern Crime Boardgame into Detective: Starsky and Hutch edition!

The conclusion
Having icons like Rob Daviau joining the Detective line is a game-changer for the whole series. It not only gives the game a new audience and exposure but also adds new ideas and approaches to the game system. We called this small boxes line ‘Signature series’ because it is what they – great designers – do, they put their signature on the game, their very own stamp.

Dig Deeper is a fascinating new take on Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame and a great promise of what can be done with this line in the future! I tell you this. I have on my desk script from Mike Selinker, and yes, he puts his stamp on the game too!

The Library feature in Dig Deeper or why somebody can hate Rob

There are two teams at Portal Games HQ. There is team #RobIsAwesome, and there is team #IHateRob. I must admit that #RobIsAwesome team is much bigger. Frankly speaking, it consists of most of my employees. The opposition, the #IHateRob team consists of only Portal Games Digital, and after all those delays they procured in the past months, I can openly say that I am, and I always was in the #RobIsAwesome team.

I need to give you some context, huh? OK, let’s get back to the beginning. I think it was Gen con 2019…

***

‘The case takes place in Boston in 70′ and…’ Rob does the pause, looks at me and continues ‘…and there is no Antares database. It’s the seventies. People used libraries back then.’

Libraries. Books. Mystery. Lovecraft. I love Cthulhu. Man, I miss Call of Cthulhu games. Maybe when I get back from Gen con, I could… Rob notices he lost me on ‘library’.

‘Ignacy, focus!’

I am back. ‘Yeah, library. I get it.’

‘If players need files, need dig deeper, need to find something in the archives, they’ll go to the library.’ he smiles ‘And then they wait!’

‘You mean?’

‘You fill in forms, and that’s it. You wait. You get an answer the next day. If you are lucky…’

***

Rob introduced to the Detective the delay mechanism – you fill in the form, you put a library token on the time track, and you will be able to get the result a few hours later when the time token meets it.

It’s smart, it’s thematic, it changes the game and the way you approach the case, as players need to think ahead and follow different leads without some important data that they’ll get a few hours later from the library. With Antares and modern crime it was so different. The change in pace here was significant.

I loved the idea, I green-lighted it. And then Portal Games Digital entered the scene. You’d think if the mechanism is called ‘delay’, they’d love it.

Nope.

***

I don’t want to spoil too much. I don’t want to ruin the surprise and the experience, so let me be very subtle here and just tell you this.

Rob is crazy. Instead of giving us files that players find in the library, he wrote the whole damn dialog lines with the library employe. Each time you visit the library, you have different dialog scene, different things happen additionally to the basic file you were looking for. Just a small spoiler, look at this:

Gary, the librarian, is a hippy. Ponytail. Beard. Glasses. He’s reading a book called the Master Dungeon Guide or something. You mentally note to keep an eye on this guy. Gary looks at you with a twinkle in his eye. “Hello adventurers! Here to pick up your loot? That’s my word for ‘research’.” Gary is a hippy and a nerd. Great.

So Portal Games Digital was ‘very happy’ to code all these dialogs, write the whole code to recognize which dialog you already saw, which one to show next and all that jazz. You can imagine.

***

And that’s why, dear detectives, Portal Games Digital is in #IHateRob camp. That’s why the rest of the company is in #RobIsAwesome camp. And that’s why I have no doubts – I can already produce tees with the logo. Because as I said, I have no doubts – you’ll be in the #IloveRob team.

The Platform

That day we stayed longer in the office. I decided to give Marek ride home.

‘I missed Detective.’ he said when we were in the car. A few hours earlier, they were play-testing a new case for the game. It’s been more than two months since the previous one. ‘I really missed it.’ he repeated silently, staring through the window.

Marek’s honest and surprising words struck me deeply. That evening, when I was driving home, I was thinking about the future of the game. Detective is a very unique design. It’s a board game; you invite your friends, you have your goal, there are rules, and you win or lose in the end. And at the same time, Detective is not a game; it is a system, it is a portal to tell different stories. To some extent, it’s closer to Netflix, Disney+, or HBOGo than to a board game.

Detective is a platform that my development team uses to invite you to experience amazing stories. And that being said, what’s a long-run future for the game? We are not tired of watching new movies, aren’t we? We are not tired of watching new TV Shows, and, I guess, we won’t be tired of experiencing new stories presented through the Detective platform. The ideas I have for new campaigns, the scripts I have on my deck with new plots and stories are wonderful, and I can not wait for you to discover them.

If there is more gamers like Marek, people who love stories, the future of the game is safe. Detective will be your platform for years. That day I was late at home, but I was in a great mood.

The next day I came to Marek’s desk and told him how he inspired me with his words the day before, and I told him how I see the future of the game and how motivated I am and with excitement, I asked him what he thinks about it.

‘I don’t know, man.’ – he shrugged his arms. ‘I just said I missed Detective.’