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Dogtag: An Interview with the Game Designer, Sean Han
In my January Kickstarter Hot Picks, I was intrigued by “The Attention Grabbing Card Game for Dogpeople” called Dogtag. Dogtag is the casual party game set in a world where dogs seek online fame by posting to their social media app, Dogtag. Players use cards to “post” pictures and comments in the right combinations to achieve status as the hottest dog in the game. The first person—or dog—to complete three achievements wins. Action cards such as Share, Flag!, Steal, and Trending may block you from your achievements and let other players reach their own ahead of you to win.
Dogtag combines two of my favorite things: dogs and tabletop gaming. It is described as “a splash of pop culture here, and a bucketload of dog puns there, and this is what we get: a fun satire packaged into a heckin’ cute card game.” I love the concept of the game, so I interviewed game designer Sean Han to learn more about the Kickstarter campaign.
Tell us a little bit about Dogtag.
Dogtag is a casual game for just about anyone. It takes less than 10 minutes to explain the game, and you never know who’s going to win. All mechanics are designed with the audience and theme in mind: where you’re a dog person who posts pictures on social media to gain fame as a specific type of online influencer.
The goal is to earn three achievements that are laid out in the beginning of the game, drawn from the Achievement deck. One at a time, players take their two-phased turn to populate their profile with pictures and comments in the hopes that these cards satisfy the Achievement requirements.
The first phase is called the open draw phase, where you must play the top card of the Main deck. If the card is a picture, you may place it on your profile. If it’s an action, you must play it to your own detriment. However bad this may sound for you, this is quite the opportunity to help out someone else in hopes that they return the favor, or to give a boost to a player down on their luck.
The second phase is called the posting phase, where you draw two cards, then play up to three. This is your chance to snag an achievement by posting and sharing pictures, screw your opponents, and go viral to draw more cards. Each achievement grabbed has special bonuses, so you can string together small combos to quickly change the tide of the game.
The mechanics encourage players to actively create opportunities by posting as many pictures as possible while random elements introduce both moments of serendipity and fury. At the end of it all, dynamic interaction, and relevant themes tie the game together as the light gaming experience that will keep the whole table laughing.
How did the idea for Dogtag come about? Was it influenced by your love of social media, love of dogs, or both?
My friends and I spend many weekends over board games and beer, and I felt that a connection to the background story with the mechanics makes the games so much more immersive. This feeling left me wondering how much of the creator’s premises I was missing out on, even as I played these games night after night. It then started an exercise for me to dissect design intent in such a way that I began to think “How did the creator use this mechanic to highlight the underlying theme?” I decided to make a card game in May 2017.
As for the subject, I knew it had to be about Los Angeles pop culture. LA is a hub for celebrities, and it’s crazy to think that now anyone with a sizeable online following can easily leverage that attention for all kinds of things. These include social awareness, memes, funny dog pics, or plain flexin’ for the ‘gram. It’s very powerful and interesting to me. And since I scroll through so much social media, might as well make it useful, right?
My sister Sharon and I tag each other in dog pictures on the daily, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to incorporate the highest form of humor: dog puns. I found where dog terms intersect with social media culture and from that came Dogtag.
Shoutout to the doggos and pupperinos.
Have you designed any other games? What are some of your favorite games to play?
This is my first time designing a game, so I took certain aspects that make games interesting for me, and used those into the mechanics of Dogtag. A few of my favorite games include Codenames, Coup, and Munchkin.
Are you a dog person? Do you have dogs, and if so, are they represented in the game?
YEP! I am a dog person. My household never allowed dogs, but growing up I’d always play with my friends’. My best friend Michael’s Pomeranian is Droopy, the Selfie Queen in Dogtag. His defining characteristics are his unfathomable fluffiness and his permanently hanging tongue.
Tell me about the art. Did you create these drawings yourself? What was your inspiration for the art and characters?
Emilie is my illustrator whose style matches what I had envisioned for Dogtag. Once we discussed the look and feel for each drawing beforehand, her drawings blew me away every time. I thought about the most common types of pictures on Instagram and crammed the visuals and the captions with as many pop culture references as I could. Male romper bros in front of the Coachella ferris wheel? Check. Misspelled name on a Starbarks unicorn Frappuccino? Check. Some of the drawings are ripped straight from my friend’s Instagram and repurposed for an updated vibe. Since people portray themselves online as caricatures anyway, it was easy to create personas for each of the characters. Whenever I need inspiration, I’ll go on Instagram to scroll through Overheard LA, Bros Being Basic, and Dogspotting.
How has Dogtag been received amongst those who have played it?
The groups who have played it responded with positive feedback, and notably it’s gotten many non-gamers excited to play card games. Off the bat there are many aspects that excited players. The thoughtful visuals, easy learning curve and satirical elements hit the right notes for the test groups. However I’ve noticed that older audiences unfamiliar with social media concepts do not pick it up quite as intuitively. Still, it only takes one game to get in the groove of things.
What was your motivation to use crowdfunding, and how has your experience been so far with Kickstarter?
After some research I found that Kickstarter offers many benefits for a project like Dogtag. It’s the perfect platform to launch because it gauges public interest, and offsets some financial risk. It puts me out there and establishes invaluable credibility as a first-time creator if I reach my goal. So far I only have good things to say because the time-sensitive campaign forces me to be realistic and attentive to the game plan months in advance. I’m really grateful that I can break into the industry with so little friction and it could only be possible with the help of their accessible resources and involved community.
One of the stretch goals is Dogtag: Seasonal Pack expansion. Can you elaborate on that?
I have an expansion in the works! It’s called the Seasonal Pack because it’ll include a lot of new pictures that everyone posts to social media at certain times of the year. I will pack it with fun stuff like pumpkin spice lattes, ice skating, summer photoshoots in flower fields. It’ll be a fun update that adds more pictures, comments, achievements, and possibly another action card. I am still tweaking the numbers and will finalize once I get some customer feedback. Stay tuned!
Dogtag is an all-or-nothing Kickstarter campaign running through January 15, 2018. A pledge of $20 receives one Dogtag Deck, meant to be enjoyed by up to 5 players. Add $20 for each extra deck you’d like. A pledge of $45 receives the Dogtag Deluxe Bundle, which includes the original deck, the Kickstarter exclusive deck, a weatherproof sticker pack, and a button pack.
Visit the Kickstarter campaign page for Dogtag today and pledge this heckin’ cute card game!