How Stranger & Stranger Designed the Strangest Board Game

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The Game of Stranger arrived at The Dieline’s doorstep shortly before the holiday break, and we all instantly dropped whatever we should have been working on to open it up. This was one holiday gift we couldn’t wait to see. This year’s Stranger & Stranger holiday gift certainly didn’t disappoint—it did, however, confuse, excite, and amaze us, all at once.

Every detail for Game of Stranger has been meticulously crafted. There’s the serpent tongue-shaped ribbon to open the box, subtle snakeskin patterns, weathered gameplay books, unbelievably ornate illustrations on the board, and a pair of metal die. Even when the board was laid out in front of us, it became an interesting adventure to discover the ins and outs of Game of Stranger.

Eventually we did get back to work—instructions advise you to play by candlelight anyway, which our office’s skylight wouldn’t allow at the time—but we were thrilled to speak with the team at Stranger & Stranger to learn more about how they designed this game, from start to finish.

How you did you get the idea to do a board game for your holiday gift? When did you start planning it out?

Stranger & Stranger: The annual holiday gift is at once incredible fun and absolute torture. We’ve been doing them a long time so we did the ubiquitous bottle of wine, etc a while ago and each year since has become a greater struggle to be more creative. The past few years have been the ‘of stranger’ series—Eau de Stranger, Book of Stranger—and so I think it was only a matter of time, given we’re all huge Game of Thrones fan, that Game of Stranger came about. A couple of directors and I were out one night in October, we always leave it too late, and we were giving Game of Thrones pseudonyms to everyone in the company and coming up with ideas for the gift at the same time and after a few drinks it all meshed into one.

There are so many amazing details that all work together to create The Game of Stranger—the books of both realms, the unique die, the stellar illustrations...walk us through the process of designing this board game.

Stranger & Stranger: We started off thinking it should just be the most surreal snakes and ladders of all time, simple but intense with very unusual pieces. Then we thought about having no rules at all so everyone could make up their own game. At the end of the day we’re storytellers so the creative directors just made up all the details. The realms are Lust and Death, the true constants in life, hence the snakes.

What other games would you say inspired The Game of Stranger? What kind of details reflect this, and which elements do you feel are unique to the game you made?

Stranger & Stranger: We all know Monopoly and the generic stuff but we didn’t look at any other games. I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or bad thing but I can say we definitely weren’t influenced. Except the die. There’s an episode of Luther where twin psychopaths play out a terrible gambit game using crazy looking metal die. I always wanted some.

One of the memorable things about opening this for the first time was reading in the directions to play by candlelight. This small instruction made it a specific experience and not just a game. What do you think the role of specificity like this in design is, and how can it benefit designers or other creatives?

Stranger & Stranger: Our day job, liquor, revolves around created products for occasions. You have champagne for celebration, scotch for savoring, cabernet for steak, so why shouldn't games have occasions or moods too? Designers should always think about their consumers and occasions.

How did you develop the gameplay? Did you work with someone experienced in designing board games or learn through trial-and-error?

Stranger & Stranger: No, it was just a matter of thinking about what might be fun. Storytelling is what we do so it really wasn’t that hard and we don't know why more people don’t invent their own games. We might do some more if we get more time to put some thought into it.

What was the production process like? How did you decide on who you would work with and how did you make sure everything was executed as you envisioned?

Stranger & Stranger: That was the easy bit. We used the same people who make all of the secondary packing for our liquor brands. They’ve got the hang of luxury packaging cues and they know the standard we’re looking for.

What advice would you give to others who would be interested in creating and designing their own game?

Stranger & Stranger: Do it. Just forget about what you’ve already seen out there.