Friday, January 16, 2009

BoRT: Jan '09 - Uzumaki the Board Game

I figure that the new year would be a good time for me to join in on the fantastic Blogs of the Round Table series over at Man Bytes Blog.

This month, we're Putting the Game Before the book.  The question is asked, "What would your favorite piece of literature look like if it had been created as a game first?"  

Initially I considered Raptor Red, as it's one of my favorite books.  That, however, would essentially be a Sim along the lines of Lion or Wolf.  Passing over The Giver, I began thinking of Poe.  For a time I was desigining something for The Black Cat - a maddening, Noir-esque piece where you control a hulking madman with an axe as he destroys his house hunting down his taunting pet.

I at long last settled on Uzumaki.  It's a manga by Junji Ito, set very firmly in the horror genre.  In english, the title translates to "spiral."  This may not seem very scary at first, but Uzumaki is a fiction powered by monomania.  Spirals are taken to the extreme and become instruments of insanity.  Snail shells, fingerprints, suspension springs, hurricanes - anything is fair game.  Once the insanity strikes, death is generally not far behind.  

Ultimately, like a maelstrom, there is a point of no return, where you can no longer escape from your doom.  The curse is just too strong to flee.  I don't know about you, but Inescapible Doom is a powerfully disturbing theme to me.

(Read it top right to bottom left!)

I felt that the best way to continue the spiral-madness was to make the town, and its events, into a board game.  The track of play would become a spiral, ultimately turning into the swirling longhouse that appears later in the story.  In the center of town would be the pond, which the players are attempting to get their characters to, first.  

Why would players actively be trying to get themselves to their destiny first?  No, it isn't the Cthulhu Cult mentality of 'getting it over with first.'  Instead, the player is actually the Spiral-Cave itself.  The board, on the other hand, represents the characters' desire to escape their destruction.  In other words, spaces on the gameboard will push characters away from the middle, while the player's actions will drive them towards it.

I imagine a derivative of Chutes and Ladders for automatic gameboard mechanics.  Switching places with another gamepiece, or otherwise moving your opponants around would also be present. 

Now, time for the monomania.  In the center of the board, inside the pond, is a dial-and-arrow players can flick to select directional effects.  Instead of dice, dradles will suffice.  Circular event-cards, with a spiral backing, would be an obvious choice for events.   My co-worker suggested a Tornado Rex-style top, that can threaten to knock pieces down at certain spots as it parades around a spiral-track; it's a delightful idea due to the twister-causing troublemakers that show up later on in the story.  I'm just not sure if I can have that 'track' built onto the board, and have the board roll-up when you're done playing - to get spirals on either end.

I think the point has been drilled home, though.  This board game of troubling events attempts to affect the players the same way the story does: make you obsess over spirals.  Personally, I will always remember the horrors of Uzumaki - especially when I have a visual cue that's so subtley prevelant in our lives.


  1. I like this idea so much! And I'll have to check out the book. I really hope you will send me a picture of Charon when you get a chance- I think everybody would love to see it.


  2. Raptor Red fan, eh? Now I know why you've been following Dinosauria :)

  3. You say that so accusingly, Andy! You should be thankful! I'm helpful and stuff.

  4. I haven't read the manga but I loved the move. I certainly understand what you mean by monomania. Great choice!

    But in the game you described, I'm missing the subtle psychological terror of Uzumaki.

    What would the player actually do? Would they just roll dices or would there be some more? And what is the goal of the game - who wins?

  5. Hi Krystian, thanks for stopping by!

    Personally, I don't think Uzumaki has subtle terror beyond the inherent monomania. Though I haven't seen the movie in some time, so maybe the manga has me thinking differently.

    In it, the terror is always very obvious. Very 'that's not physically possible what the hell we're going to die' terror.

    Beyond the user interface - dradles, the spinner, and event cards - they would also be dealing with effects from the game board's spaces. It's not perfectly laid out yet, I realize, but I think with some playtesting I can figure out some additional mechanics.

    One of which, on my mind, would be to allow the players that fall behind to collect elements of The Truth, in order to win. Normally, they would have to get their character to the center of the board. With this, they could perhaps dive into a side-economy of story cards, trying to piece together what is happening before it's too late.

    (Not that they can actually DO anything about it. How's that for subtle?)

  6. I understand. I think you might be onto something with that card thing!

    As for subtle: yeah it becomes straight-forward by the end but especially at the beginning, it's quite calm and creepy. Everybody seems to have this obsession with spirals. Like in the scene you've shown: there is just this guy filming a snail. This is not about radioactive demon zombies from space. It's just a guy filimg a snail. And yet, there is something very disturbing and insane about it. That's what I meant with "subtle".

  7. I'm not quite sure how I can do the subtle you're looking for, without just focusing on minute details. For instance, using a little spiral instead of periods. The surrounding grass and trees on the board itself I wanted to have curl in increasingly obvious ways. What do you think about that?

    Beyond just trying to translate the subtlety to event/story cards, I mean.