A Game of risk / by Karishma Kusurkar

& the history of how Espionage came to be. 

So I've come up with a card game called Espionage - which you can read about here.

Over the past few months, many people have asked me what I am working on and when I reply - "why, a brand new card game" the reactions have been one of the following:

  • confusion (but do you not design bags? why?)
  • excitement and confusion (yay! but why?)
  • incredulousness (card games like Rummy? why?)

As you can see the common theme above is why, and so here's the journey of why and how Espionage came to be. Sit down, grab yourself a mug of cocoa, it's going to be a long one.


Chapter One : Tiny Telegrams

Karla of Bill & Coo Paper Co. and myself met during Belfast Design Week 2015. We found our styles of working - mine patterned, textured, illustrative and hers clean, graphic, bold - worked really well together and came up with a special collection of stationery boxes called Tiny Telegrams (pictured below).  We created a limited release of these boxes which flew off the shelves. We were very pleased. 


Chapter Two : Beloved Wes Anderson

As a follow on from the Tiny Telegrams boxes, Karla and I worked on a few more projects together - 25 Pop Up, custom stationery for Design Week and souvenirs for our special event "The Grand Budapest Hotel with Annie Atkins" { I love all things Wes Anderson}. Design Thinking is something that people have more recently become quite interested in looking at in a more in-depth way and I wanted to create a series of stationery cards to do with Design Thinking (and I am in 2018, so watch this space).  


Chapter Three: The School of Life

No, this is nothing to do with the annoying folks that say "well I went to the school of life" as a way of mocking those that have been riddled with student debt to learn a specialised subject only for it to become irrelevant or for them to lose interest in it a few years later and then be mocked by someone unburdened by the crippling student debt and sadness.

The best way I can describe The School of Life is a mashup between design thinking, self-help and lovely illustration. I ordered two boxes from their collection - one about life called Know Yourself and one about lovely and unusual words called Untranslatable Words. "Hüzün" is one of these words. You'll have to read/ scroll to the end to see what it means. After sketching out an initial plan for my design thinking box, I felt I needed more time to think it through properly and create serious focus groups, so it's still happening but in the background for now.


Chapter Four : An Orange Man appears

I decided that I wanted to create a series of different boxes under the label "Ob.Jet" - design thinking, politics and tourism boxes that would each have luscious original artwork and created in a unique way.  Around that time, an orange man was gaining momentum. Referring to an orange man in Northern Ireland can mean a few things so I'll be more specific - Trump.  Trump was making headlines and getting people riled up.  He went from a joke candidate to - and currently and shockingly still is - POTUS. 


Chapter Five: A Visual Game for an Audio World

The rise of Donald, alongside some of the other "spy" goings on - WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, Alexander Litvinenko - in the news also led me to prioritise the politics box in the Ob.Jet collection.  I started looking at political satire, caricatures and other things. I'd been a big fan of The Bugle Podcast ever since I listened to about 100 archived episodes when I painted my mum's kitchen in 2012 and constantly borrowed my husband Andrew's collection of Private Eye magazines (but mainly to read the jokes).  I wanted to bring some of these influences to the box.


Chapter Six: King Ottokar's Sceptre

From ages 0-7, I grew up in Pune, India and for a while stayed with my grandparents in Koregaon Park. Their house was full of things the whole family had collected from over the years - Aerosmith cassettes, James Hadley chase novels and Tintin comics. I loved Tintin and have probably read through most of the comics. What I loved about Tintin was his adventuring to so many different parts of the world - I particularly loved Djakarta with the silent d, a really lovely word - the style of the drawing of the comics and the characters - especially opera singer Bianca Castafiore.  I wanted to bring the active and ligne claire style of drawing in Tintin to my political box. 


Chapter Seven: Congratulations, it's a baby game

I steered away from calling Espionage a game for a while as a/ I am not a game designer and b/ I wasn't really sure if it was going to be a game. I had always played classic games and remember obsessively spending summer camps playing "Spit." My stint in hospital in 2011 involved a serious amount of Scrabble playing as well - though this game is nothing like Scrabble. Over the past few years, more contemporary card and boardgames had started to take off in a bigger way outside of the core games community - I'm certainly no hardcore gamer by any means.  Party games like Monikers and Cards Against Humanity were firm favourites of our friends and provided the perfect middle ground between going dancing or just sitting still for the night in a pub.  And so, after playing games whilst thinking about my political box, I though the two fused nicely into a card game and Espionage: The Card Game was born.  


Chapter Eight: It's really good + it's really shit

I made the rookie mistake of designing my game the wrong way round. I started with the look, feel and concept of the game and then slowly got round to working through the game play. As many in the gaming community would say, "WRONG!" So yes, the next time I am making a game, it will indeed start with the game play - alright guys?! I have since figured out the game play and gone through several iterations of the game which I continue to work on. Espionage is a political game, it's a spy game but it's also meant to be super-straightforward to play. The elements I am currently working on are making it more deliciously "spy-like" and also adding some more strategy.  The game testers so far have been casual gamers and more intense gamers. They've been UX designers, coders, students, financial advisors, scientists, video game designers, photographers and beyond. People have loved certain parts and wanted less or more of certain elements of the game.  There have also been a couple of extremes of opinion on the game. But in conclusion to the tale of Espionage as of 22.06.17, if we have "It's really good" + "It's really shit," it equals "it's really good shit." Oh yeah! 


So there's the history of Espionage and how it came about.  See? It makes perfect sense.

If not, refer to the further FAQs below.

Why are you designing a card game?

Because I'm a multidisciplinary designer and I have the freedom to design whatever I want!

What if no one buys it?

Then I will apply for a grant of the exact amount I spent so far to commission a giant installation of card games in a House of Cards style and set fire to it. 

What if it is really successful?

I'll be very happy and have some very special expansion packs planned as well as some other goodies.

When will it be released?

It will be released in Summer 2017! 

& here's what "Hüzün" means!