Dan Hundycz didn’t set out to found a board game company when he tailor made a geocaching simulation for his friend’s daughter’s birthday party. But that’s exactly what happened when the game that would became Cache Me if You Can! caught on and was published widely in 2013.
Two more releases later, DPH Games’ most intricate installment now comes in the form of a worker placement game set during the infamous American colonial witch trials. Players of the painstakingly researched AFFLICTION: SALEM 1692, currently on Kickstarter, will accuse other colonists of witchcraft and try to arrest them, while simultaneously strengthening their own circle of allies and abilities. AiPT! spoke to Hundycz to find out why historical accuracy matters to him and how the mechanics of “AFFLICTION” capture the panic of the past.
AiPT!: What made you want to set a game in this time period, during this incident, in particular?
Hundycz: There was a description in a game that’s out there that says, “You play the good guys hanging witches.” And I’m like, “Oh my God, that is so not what happened!” That was a trigger. There was a Netflix series called Salem — they used the names of actual people, but they go kind of crazy with it. There are witches trying to take over the town and casting spells. All of the names are right, but obviously there were no real witches. They make Cotton Mather look like a good guy, and he’s really a huge proponent of the witch hunts, so the misrepresentation of history was a bit of a trigger.
AiPT!: You chose to attach this theme to a worker placement game. Tell us a little bit about what that means and how AFFLICTION sets itself apart from other games in the genre.
Hundycz: The key thing that sets it apart is I haven’t found one — I don’t believe there’s another one — there are no actual witches [in AFFLICTION]. This is about family rivalries and seizing property, or being righteous … so it’s a more historically authentic representation.
I had one developer … who was fighting for a long time, calling it a worker placement game. It’s “worker placement-ish.” Essentially [with] the worker placement piece, each player is going to choose 2 out of 10 possible actions. We’re calling them “messengers” because they’re basically whispering in the ear of the governor, the judge, the magistrate or Cotton Mather to get them to do their bidding. Essentially it’s an action selection, so you’re using that to select what things you’re doing. And then, after everyone selects their actions, you follow a particular order to resolve those, which is really key.
Then it kind of opens up. For example, [on] one of these spaces I can place two Accusations, and I gain two Influence. Influence is the main currency in the game. There are eight Colonists out in the center of play, but I can Accuse anyone. I can take these two Accusation tokens and accuse somebody you have in what’s called your “Circle.” You’re given a Faction card in the beginning which tells you what families you’re trying to protect and what families you’d prefer to arrest. You also have a Grievance card, with some other Colonists you have grievances against. Those Accusation tokens can be put essentially anywhere. What they do is reduce [Colonists’] reputation for the purpose of making them easier to arrest.
It really becomes a battle of action and counteraction, so [for] every possible action, there is some counter to it, but there’s also a cost. So if I get two actions a turn, if I choose to try to stop you in something you’re doing, then I’m also not doing something to my own benefit. There’s also a bit of an engine-building component, so as I bring people into my Circle, I can generate more Influence, I have more Colonist abilities I can use. But that’s where Fear comes in the game, because I can also use Fear to shut down other people’s engines. There’s a lot going on in a game that’s not super-complicated to play. I’d call it a medium-level difficulty, as far as games go.
AiPT!: Do you have any kind of stretch goals once you’re completely funded? Anything new or interesting on the horizon?
Hundycz: The plastic insert tray is at $12,500. $20,000 is those workers will not be wooden meeples, but they would become miniatures, so we’d have a bit of a sculpted couple of pilgrims — there’s a male and a female pilgrim. And then at $30,000, the tokens would all become wooden, silkscreen printed tokens.
AiPT!: So how has the reception to AFFLICTION been so far? No Puritans or witch-burners banging down your door yet?
Hundycz: No, and … I’ve done way too much research — [contrary to] one of the common misconceptions, no witches were burned in Salem. They were all hanged. I was in a game store and somebody saw the prototype box, and she asked me briefly what it was about. I gave her the 30-second speech, being there’s no actual witches in the game, and she said, “Can I give you a hug?” She was a direct descendant of [witch trial victim] Martha Carrier, who is in the game.
AFFLICTION: Salem 1692 is almost fully funded on Kickstarter, where you can still reserve your copy and help reach those stretch goals until Saturday, February 18!