GTM #194 - Simon's Cat Card Game
by Randy Scheunemann

The design and development of the Simon’s Cat Card Game was true to its namesake: a loveable, sleek creature that makes constant messes and sometimes shows its claws. Samuel Mitschke and I argued more on this design than usual; it brought out our passion for design and development, and it can be fun arguing (knowing the end game will be better for the debate). From the start, Sam and I wanted something light and fun, easy to pick up without a bunch of components or quirky rules. A game a family could sit down and play together, regardless of the age range. There were a lot of great ideas tossed around, but eventually abandoned for something more viable. The ideas weren’t wrong; they just didn’t fit Simon’s Cat.

While working on the initial design, time for game play was in short supply. Our office experienced a wet mess (caused by a broken water pipe, not cats), which unfortunately divided our time and energy and shifted our focus to survival rather than the joy of design. I was hard at work getting the building back in shape while Sam, along with most of the staff, was keeping the necessary game production pieces moving at an off-site location.

Despite all of the chaos, we spent afternoons and weekends repeatedly watching Simon’s Cat videos, laughing, designing, and well, arguing, until the perfect concept found us: A trick avoidance game. We wondered, “How could these creatures do so much damage without Simon losing his mind?” One of two things had to be true: Simon was either forgiving beyond the level of sainthood, or he just couldn’t figure out who was really at fault. Would a trick-taking game work? Yes!

The game boils down to one thing: you don’t want to get caught, which means that you don’t want to take tricks because tricks represent blame for the messes that you and the other players, as cats, are making in the house. If you take the most tricks in the round, you are blamed for that particular mess. Get blamed too many times, and Simon will be angry with you. The play is fast, simple, and thematically perfect.

At this point, the reception amongst Steve Jackson Games staff was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone was eager to try the newest iteration of the game, and we were able to tweak the play experience frequently to increase the positive responses and eliminate the negative feedback. There’s always a fear that even though we love a new game design, the outside world might not be as enthusiastic. During the grand reopening of our offices, we showed an early version of the Simon’s Cat Card Game to our guests: dozens of game store owners and employees. I like to show things to new audiences, but it makes me both eager and nervous at the same time. Teaching a game to someone new offers a chance to find that kernel of feedback that might make the game even better. It is also the time when your best ideas can find their biggest critics. Thankfully, the retailers were engaged and excited about the game. Two folks from a store in Houston even stayed late with us, enjoying one play-through after another. We love to get that kind of response! If the wonderful folks selling the game enjoy a title and are invested in it, then that goes a long way toward pulling in the fans.

Once we had the gameplay nailed down, it was time to design the packaging. We settled on a bright pink box that both grabs your attention and highlights the art of Simon Tofield. The packaging prototype we displayed at PAX South worked wonderfully! There are a good number of people who pick up the box and comment on the Simon’s Cat books or videos, and then immediately jump into a demo. Others recognize the Steve Jackson Games logo and pick up the box looking to try our new game . . . then they want to play again and again!

The Simon’s Cat Card Game was fun to work on. And I’m, not so patiently, anticipating the chance to teach, show, and demo the game for everyone at conventions starting in June. Find me at the Steve Jackson Games booth, and I’ll show you how to play like a cat and make a mess (or two)!