Talking To Death, Kinda – A Conversation With…Michael Murphey of Grim Games

This episode I have Grim Games Head Honcho Michael Murphey with me. He has a game on Kickstarter right now called Grim. It’s a push-your-luck dice game that looks and sounds very cool. Let’s find out more.

Tom: Welcome to Go Forth And Game Michael. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Michael: My name is Michael Murphey, I’m the designer of Grim. I’m a father of two and am currently obsessed with micro-games.  

grim 7Tom: Now talk about Grim.

Michael: Grim is a game that was developed by myself and a small group of friends. In the game you have awoken very nearly dead, as have all of the people around you.  Grim has come to take all but one of you to the AfterRealm, where you will suffer a horrid GrimFATE.  To survive this ordeal you must be the first player to discard 10 tokens, either by giving them to Grim, or by pawning them off on the other players. This will earn you the right to face Grim in a one-on-one duel for your fate.  

Tom: Talk about how the game plays.

Michael: The game is very simple to learn.  You roll three custom d6s.  Each one has 2 sides with green Grims, 2 with red and 2 with blue.  You may roll as many times per turn as you like — each time you roll a green Grim you earn the right to turn in a token to Grim, or place it on your scorecard to save up to access Grim’s Hand — which is a deck of circular cards that will help you pawn off your tokens on the other players…unless you get burned by it.  If you roll blue then that die is frozen for your turn and cannot be used again.  If you roll red, that’s a strike.  Three strikes and your turn is over, and you are penalized by Grim with 3 additional tokens. grim 2

The game’s first expansion – Grim Decisions will actually give you access to a second deck of cards that you can alternately choose to draw from instead of taking 3 tokens.  These cards are custom penalties that Grim will force you to suffer through if you choose to draw.  Sometimes they are better than taking 3 tokens, other times they are far worse.

When players access Grim’s Hand they may end up paying the opponent of their choice anywhere from 3 to 5 tokens — or they may end up in a duel.  Duels are handled by rolling a 12d.

After one player has given away all of their tokens, they must then face Grim in one-on-one combat.  Grim will allow each additional player to roll on his behalf and take the highest score — you must beat this highest score within 3 rolls.  If you do not then Grim will hand you 10 tokens and you’ll start all over.  The game continues until someone defeats Grim.

Tom: So it’s a two phase game.  Neat idea. How did you build it like this? Was it two games that you smashed together or something else?

Michael: Nope, the phases actually come from a video game influence.  I really wanted a “boss battle” at the end of the game. It was fun just playing until one player ran out of tokens (which you can do if you read the “quick play” rules) but Grim was such a part of the box and the rules, it really seemed like a missed opportunity to not have him involved in the end game.  Dueling, which was Victor Brown’s idea, was a part of the game everyone really enjoyed — so it seemed like a logical way to fight Grim…and each player that isn’t facing Grim gets to roll on Grim’s behalf, so everyone gets to be involved in the end game in some way.

Tom: I like that you keep everyone involved in the game. TC Petty III would appreciate that.

Michael: The GrimFATE cards are actually a video game influence too. I was playing Mortal Kombat, actually.  One of the things that I have always loved about those games is that each character has their own ending if they win the grim 3tournament.  As a kid that made me replay the game with each character — and I loved getting a new ending every time.  So I wanted to do something like that with Grim.  I also enjoy being able to flesh-out the world of Grim and better set the tone for what exactly the “AfterRealm” is in the context of this game’s world.

Tom: Oh, ok. I didn’t get that from before. That’s a really cool idea. I really like the mechanics and the gameplay is very interesting. The Grim Decisions deck of penalties is a cool idea. I’m glad it is included now. The game has funded on KS by almost 5x the goal amount. I bet that feels great! Why do you think the campaign has been so successful?

Michael: It does feel great – that’s for sure!  We did a lot of research and prepared for the campaign for months, doing everything we could to learn the ins-and-outs of Kickstarter. I hope that research helped lead to the success we’ve had.  I think starting on Instagram and Twitter early was helpful too.  Building a small base of supporters that liked what we have been working on definitely helped kick things into gear on launch day.

Tom: I think that a strong Twitter presence is essential for any game, KS or otherwise, to be successful. You’ve done a good job of getting the word out. The Grim avatar caught my eye and lead to this interview. How important do you think BGG is to you?

Tom: What are some of your stretch goals?

Michael: We have done several basic stretch goals — upgrading the cards, our tokens, and so forth – but our biggest stretch goal is the “Grim Decisions” expansion pack that adds a new deck to the game that varies up penalty gameplay.

Tom: The KS page looks fantastic. It is very clear and clean. I really appreciate that. Death. How did you arrive at that as your theme?

Michael: What’s more fun than death?  Heh – I kid.  Actually, the way we came to the theme was based on the only mechanic from this game that existed from the first game we worked on when we initially started out.  That game was based around the idea of getting rid of tokens instead of collecting them.  So I was sitting around thinking of different themes that would fit that concept.  

The idea of Charon, the Ferryman for the River Styx in Greek mythology, popped into my head, and I loved the idea of “roll for your life!”  — those two things eventually lead to thinking about the Grim Reaper, and I started playing around in Adobe Illustrator to come up with some art concepts — the result is the little guy on the box, and he was too cutesy to call him “The Grim Reaper” to it was shortened to “Grim”. I liked the minimalist look, and the fact that he could be themed for other things. He works well as a mascot, I think. Time will tell. grim8

Tom: You have a social media campaign where people can download a copy of Grim and then take photos with him in the photo. They then post that photo and you will add it to a social media goal. Neat idea. Talk about how it came about.

Michael: I don’t really know why that popped into my head.  I just thought the idea of a “grim selfie” was funny — and I wanted to do some social engagement that was entertaining.  It’s really hard to get people to help promote your product — and rightfully so — no one wants to just see a stream of ads in their social media feeds — so I wanted it to be something that would at least be amusing to people, and we were all happy that some of the backers participated – and are still participating. It’s fun.

Tom: I like the art of the game. Who’s the artist?

Michael: That’s me. 🙂

Tom: Oh wow! That’s cool. And cost-effective. What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?

Michael:  Back Kickstarter projects. When you do that, you get to be part of the process. All of that is an opportunity to learn from the challenges others face.  You not only get to see their successes, but also their struggles and it will really help you with your journey to a finished product. I think what other creators offer is invaluable when they share the real details of how their games are created — and to get the for only the price of their games is something you shouldn’t pass up.

If you’re not using Kickstarter and don’t think that will help you – the other major thing I would say is don’t get hung up on minutia.  When you’re working on your game there are going to be times you second guess what you’re doing or you can’t quite figure out what’s missing — finish your prototype, and play it with others.  If the game is broken or boring, you’ll see it when fresh eyes get on the game through playtesting.  The more you play what you have with others the more the concept will evolve — but you have to have the confidence to get it out there, even unfinished, and get advice from others.  Don’t be afraid to finish — the worst thing that can happen is that your idea needs to be reworked. It’s totally worth it.

Tom: I totally agree with this and am the worst for getting to the prototype stage and not finishing it or not playtesting it. I need to push through that. This board game community is so supportive and helpful. As a designer, not availing yourself to that is a poor decision.  How have you tapped into that community?grim 9

Michael: I agree completely.  We have been asking questions of our community since the very beginning, and I think you really have to do that.  It’s as simple as posting your design work or prototype images on social media and asking “what do you think?”  Encouragement for strangers is actually an excellent motivator.

Tom: Why did you decide to start a game company?

Michael:  Because making games makes me happy. That may sound cornball or facetious, but that’s 100% the truth.  

Tom: What is your current favorite game mechanic?

Michael: That’s incredibly tough to answer because right now I’m playing just about everything I can get my hands on and I’m loving the vast majority of it.  I will say, as you can probably tell with Grim, I really enjoy “press your luck” mechanics.  

Primarily, I just love simple mechanics and easy-to-learn rules.  In a perfect world I can play a game with my 5 year old son, and my adult friends and we can all have a good time with it. That’s what I love.

Tom: That is a lofty goal that is not often obtained. Is there a game designer that you admire?

Michael: Jun Sasaki and Kouji Kimura are two designers who’s work I am currently fascinated by — I very much admire what they have been able to do with their Oink Games.  Seiji Kanai has also been very inspirational. Love Letter is truly remarkable to me.  Steffen Bogen…I could go on and on…there are so many amazing designers right now. grim 5

Tom: Favorite cartoon?

Michael: The Simpsons. And Robotech. And Thundercats. And Silverhawks. And Voltron. Also Tiny Toons. But mostly The Simpsons. 😉

Tom: I’m actually wearing my Voltron t-shirt as I write this. The Simpsons is a benchmark show. A generation touchstone I think. Like Jonny Quest or The Flintstones for me. Actually The Simpsons is the heir to The Flintstones.

What’s next for Grim Games?

Michael: Right now our main focus is on delivering Grim as quickly as possible — but we do have several games in the pipeline, and retail will be around the corner as soon as our backers have their games in hand.  We’re hoping that 2016 will be a very Grim year. 😉

Tom: HA! That’s great.  So, how can people contact you?

Michael: The best way to get in touch with us is at — you can also find us on social media — primarily Twitter and Instagram.  I manage both of those accounts myself – so if you send us a message on there, I’ll see it.

Tom: Any final words?

Michael: I can’t tell you how excited we are to be doing this – and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about Grim.

Tom: Last question: In a bake off who would win: Aunt Bea or Mrs. Cleaver?

Michael: Aunt Bea, without question.  She could win both a bake off and a fist fight and still set Andy right before the end of the episode.

Tom: 🙂 Awesome! Well Grim looks like a very fun game for all types of people – gamers and non-gamers alike. I’m happy that it is doing so well and look forward to seeing it in the wild.

Michael: Thanks Tom!

Tom: Thank you very much Michael.

Readers, Grim has 3 days left on its campaign. You can support it here. It looks like a blast. I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment here or post on on Twitter. I’m @tomgurg or @goforthandgame. Thanks for reading, Tom G.

The more you play what you have with others the more the concept will evolve — but you have to have the confidence to get it out there, even unfinished, and get advice from others.  Don’t be afraid to finish — the worst thing that can happen is that your idea needs to be reworked. It’s totally worth it. —Michael Murphey of Grim Games