Cartooner, a new board game from comic artists Jason B. Thompson and Jumana Al Hashal, is a comic book fan’s dream. The game is similar to Once Upon a Time or Pictionary, only instead of creating fables or trying to get friends to guess your doodles, players use prompt cards to create their own comic books. You combine three random themes, like “Superhuman Speed,” “Service Industry Jobs,” and “Desire to Grow Up,” and use them to build a comic book over the course of four rounds. As the game progresses, challenges arise in the form of industry trends, like needing to add a Mystery element or throw in a Natural Disaster.
When I first played the game, I’ll admit I was a little trepidatious. Anyone who knows me is well aware that I can’t draw worth a damn—hence why I became a journalist, so I would never need to draw or paint anything in my entire life. But luckily, I was pleased to find out that your score has nothing to do with writing or artistic talent. Rather, the scoring system is through “Fame Points,” which you get earn based on how many times you incorporate your themes and challenges into your panels. It provides for a lot of creativity, and makes for some pretty hilarious moments, like when my slime monster Eddie was turned into a talking bear because he was caught having an affair with a warlock’s wife.
“Some of the humor comes out of the absurdity of what people will do to win. We didn’t want to make a game that rewarded pure drawing ability or pure story ability,” Thompson told me. “We didn’t want to make a game that only art people would play.”
Cartooner, which is currently nearing the end of its fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, is a follow-up to Thompson and Al Hashal’s previous game, Mangaka, which follows nearly identical rules but is about manga instead of comic books. Al Hashal said the two games are actually playable together, so you can combine the themes and challenges to create really interesting stories. The creators said they really wanted to take the idea of Mangaka and apply it to one of their favorite mediums, comic books. Not only because comic books are really “in” right now, but also because they’re kind of a perfect art form for a board game—they bring people together, but they’re also incredibly personal.
“There’s certain things you can only explore in comics, difficult subjects are better explored in comics,” Al Hashal said. “It’s intimate, it’s you and your book, and I feel it lets people explore the personal, the hard stuff, but also the absurd or even the perverse.” Or, in my case, a slime monster-turned-talking bear who’s also a psychiatrist.