Pantone: The Game began life as a party game called Who’s Hue. (Fun fact: The name was created by the same person who named League of Legends.)
Origin story: When I was a kid reading comic books, they used to have a section in the back that was full of superhero-related puzzles. One of my favorites was one in which just a detail of a superhero was shown—like Hawkman’s boot or Robin’s belt—and you had to determine who the character was.
When I was older and working in video games, I created 16-bit art. Creating art back in those days was like laying bathroom tile—very methodical and numbingly boring. As my perception of how I viewed characters shifted again, I learned to “think in pixels.” If you stared into those pixels for too long, you became mesmerized . . . like that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the kids are zoning out to the Seurat painting. But I digress.
The last inspiration came from playing lots of Pictionary. Not to toot my own horn, but I am very good at playing that game. I always felt bad for those players who struggled with the drawing part. I saw them wanting to express themselves but not having the skills to do so.
All of these ideas and images must have been swirling around in my head and they finally manifested into a game design. Who’s Hue came together pretty quickly. I think I had a playable prototype ready to go about a day after the idea came to me. To be honest, I was genuinely surprised no one had designed a game quite like it before.
Who’s Hue became Pantone: The Game during my pitch to Cryptozoic at Gen Con in 2017. I was angling the game as something very expandable, given that Cryptozoic has access to so many great licenses. Cory Jones (one of the founders of Cryptozoic) looked at me and said, “I know exactly which license would work with this game… Pantone!” Because I came from an art background, I knew what Pantone was and I realized that it would be a great fit.
When choosing the characters players would have to design using color swatches, I first chose ones with strong color associations: Superheroes and animated characters. After I had a list of about 150 characters from comics, movies, cartoons, books, video games, and even the real world, I showed the list to players of all ages, from 7 to 75. Any character that those players didn’t know didn’t make the cut. It’s fair to say that most people know about 75% of the characters in the final game, and you can always discard a character card if you don’t know one.
Happily, the response to the game has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s very intuitive—you use color swatches to recreate popular characters and the other players try to guess who they are—so players really appreciate how quickly you can learn and play the game. What always surprises me is how differently each person interprets the characters. One time, I was playing the game and I laid out three cards: Grey, yellow, and blue. I gave a teammate the clue “superhero” but all I received was a blank stare back. After a moment, I changed the cards to black, yellow, and black. He answered correctly: “Batman.” Each player holds their own representation of a character in their head. I find that fascinating.
I think players are going to be intrigued by the game’s association with the Pantone color system. Pantone is something many people have heard of, but I’ll bet they’ve never associated it with a tabletop game before. Plus, the Pantone graphic design makes for a striking box. I hope it intrigues players enough to learn that there’s a fun game inside that box too!
After learning that game designers have more fun, Scott Rogers began a 22-year (and counting) career in video games. He helped designed such games as God of War, Pac-Man World, Darksiders, and the Maximo series. Scott has taught video game design at the University of Southern California and New York Film Academy and has written two books on the subject: Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design and Swipe This! The Guide to Touchscreen Game Design. Scott has worked as a Disneyland Imagineer, a designer of VR experiences, and professional caricature artist. In his spare time (he has spare time?), Scott designs tabletop games. His first published design—Rayguns and Rocketships—was published by IDW Games. His “Biography of a Board Game” segment have been featured on both The Dice Tower and Ludology podcasts.