The Making of Mangaka: The Fast & Furious Game of Drawing Comics

The Making of Mangaka: The Fast & Furious Game of Drawing Comics

I’m working on some new stuff that I’ll be announcing before the end of July, but I just wanted to give a heads up that my first tabletop game, MANGAKA: THE FAST & FURIOUS GAME OF DRAWING COMICS, is finally available to people who missed the Kickstarter!

You can preorder Mangaka from Global Games Distribution, aka Japanime Games. If you’re a regular customer (or owner) of a game store or comic store, it’s also available from Diamond Previews. Lastly, I’ll be adding the game to the online store very soon. But the first month or so of store orders are super important for an indy game, so if you’ve got a favorite game/hobby/comic store, please buy it from the store and tell ’em to preoder a copy! (Preorders also come with a special promotional pack of 12 cards not available anywhere else, “Decadent Heart.”)

Making Mangaka took five years of playtesting, during which the game went through several huge transformations. It’s hard to believe that the game, which is now a creative drawing/storytelling improvisational exercise, was once intended as an indy RPG in which players played the dramatic lives of the most non-dramatic (?) profession ever, that of Japanese manga artists.

Here’s just a few of the insane permutations the game went through on the way to its Final Form:

Ver. 1 (2010): a joke indy RPG where you play a manga artist who has Obsessions and suffers various debilitating Impairments caused by their workload. The biggest inspiration to the game system is the amazing “Maid RPG,” which made me think that if one could make a game about maid anime tropes, one could make a similar game about “meta-manga” stories such as Bakuman, Disappearance Diary, the works of Kazuhiko Shimamoto, etc. At this point the game has seven (!!) statistics: Story, Art, Passion, Body, Mind, Social, and Birth. The core idea introduced at this time and preserved for later versions was the idea that the players have five minutes IRL to draw a sketch-comic representing a month of work in “game time.”

Ver. 2 (2011): still an indy RPG, but now the drawing element becomes more important, and you have to allocate ‘time points’ between various activities. A storygame element is introduced: when one player fails at a task, the other players tell a story of how they failed, which then becomes reality. The game is about making little stories about the miserable & glorious lives of overworked manga artists. However, the essentially isolated nature of manga artists makes it difficult to create a RPG story in which the characters are supposed to have some connections & interactions with one another.

Ver. 3 (2011): still an indy RPG, but now you have a ‘studio’ with limited space that you must fill with assistants and stacks of books and stuff, like a little farming/factory-simulation game. By making money, you can afford a bigger studio, and hire the poorer artists/players as your assistants, if they have enough time points to give you. Having the artists share a studio also makes it easier to create gameplay/RP events involving multiple artists… though the humble and pathetic nature of manga artists’ problems (Real example of interparty conflict: “You’re clogging up the bathroom drain with all these tissues!”) remains both the game’s blessing and curse.

Ver. 4 (2012): RPG storytelling elements and office-management elements ditched, the game now becomes more of a pure cardgame & drawing game. The statistics are pared down to Story, Art and Passion. Players draw comics of varying lengths (depending on what magazine they’re drawing for; weekly magazines require more drawing than monthly ones, etc.) for varying amounts of time (depending on their Art score). A RPG element remains: players ‘create a character’ by drawing a Motivation (Fame, Wealth, Art, Revenge, Love, Ideologue, etc.) and a Background (Delinquent, Otaku, Elite, etc.). There’s a strong element of entropy, as the game system virtually ensures that players will crash and burn, gaining more and more Impairments until it’s impossible for them to function as artists. Moral: only the strong will survive in the art world!!

Ver. 5 (2013): character-creation elements are ditched. Instead of being an elimination game that ends when all the players but one die of exhaustion and Impairments, the game now becomes a straight-up 4-round challenge where the victor is determined by the artist who has the most Fame at the end of 4 rounds. The more adult and in-jokey manga and anime-related Theme Cards gradually get phased out (or, as I like to think of it, saved for later)

Ver. 6 (2014): the game is massively simplified. Eventually it is streamlined into two versions: one ‘advanced version’ with Themes, Trends, Impairments (bad stuff) and Fortunes (good stuff) and another ‘basic version’ with simply Themes and Trends.

Ver. 7 (2014): after many playtests and tough decisions, Impairments (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Alcoholism, Blindness, etc.) and Fortunes (Improved Art, Improved Story, Movie Deal, etc.) get shelved. The basic game’s age rating is set as 12 and up. Mangaka becomes a lean, mean machine of DRAWING AND GAMING.

All this is really true and all these versions were actually played, each one a step in the right direction for the final version. My wife Jumana was with me the whole time and helped me immeasurably in the game design process, as well as designing the box & cards. Derek Guder and Gregory Marques also provided invaluable advice, as did many other people not listed here, but hopefully listed in the thanks section in the game rulebook.

Mangaka is a personal project and was a blast to make. I’ve got lots of ideas for expansions waiting in the wings if the demand is there, including an entire “Cthulhu” expansion (yes, the inevitable Cthulhu expansion… -_- ) which I made for the HP Lovecraft Film Festival. Furthermore, the playtesting and game design practice that was so critical for Mangaka is also helping tremendously with the development of my indy RPG, “Dreamland.” I hope to be able to reveal more about Dreamland soon.

So that’s it: if you’ll forgive the self-promotion, the message is…. go get Mangaka!! Check out the sample comics at mangakagame.com! Go pick it up from Global Games Distribution, tell the family, and let all the pigs out of the barn! I really like making games and I want to make more. And to everybody who made this game possible, including all the Kickstarter backers, thank you from the bottom of my heart.


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