Behind the Scenes #1: ACHTUNG!

This Behind the Scenes article is going to focus on Proud Mammal’s first published card game, ACHTUNG! The game was developed quickly over the course of about 2 months for entry into a contested hosted by The Game Crafter website. We didn’t get past the first round of voting, but we were pretty happy with our score considering we don’t have any clout in their community. But about 2 weeks before that vote, the game went through a massive revamp. The original version of ACHTUNG! was a very different game from the one that was submitted to the contest.

In the beginning, ACHTUNG! wasn’t the silly, slow build that it became. It was an ultra competitive rules memorization game. The player who could remember the most rules from the rulebook would always come out the victor. We had this wild image of high-level competitive play where people, who would basically have to be Mentats, would know every rule and be able to follow them perfectly. An ideal game would go on and on and subtly change as time went by and different cards were played. It was a Chess match with a deck of cards where everything you did HAD to be deeply layered strategy and perfect moves… and it wasn’t a whole lot of fun.

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This is a Mentat. Don’t you want to be just like him?

You certainly couldn’t teach it to somebody in one sitting, and players who didn’t study the rulebook, just really didn’t have a clue how to play. In my own shortsighted defense, the rules were designed to be referenced during game (via a wildcard mechanic), but if you needed to look at those rules then it’s certain that someone else at the table is already beating you down. Again, it ended up being completely void of fun thanks to the rules we set up.

In ACHTUNG! we actually call the rules of the game, Laws, and the original version was no different in this. Each different list of rules also had a title. The set of cards came with a Declaration of Authority from the Authoritative System States (yes, acronyms are funny, don’t doubt it). I’m going to quote the entirety of the Declaration’s Preamble because it’s something I enjoyed writing and it’ll help give you an idea of my headspace while we were designing the original version of ACHTUNG!.


We the people of the Authoritative System States declare that, now and forever more, all people everywhere will be free from being free from tyranny. Everyone will police everyone, and everyone will be lawful in our nation under the watchful eye of The ACHTUNG! Special Police and their deputized civilians.

We hold that the ACHTUNG! Lawbook will be our sole guide in matters of domestic control and internal guardianship of the land we shall hold eternally. And as such, the ACHTUNG! Lawbook shall never be abolished or dismantled, and never will a citizen ignore or break its definitions without reprimand.

With this Authority granted to us by a higher power and enforced by our agents on Earth, the Authoritative System States proclaims each of you to be deputies of the System, for the System and forevermore implementing the System in every writ the ACHTUNG! Lawbook holds. Go forth and ACHTUNG!


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“I see the Apprentice has become the Master.”

The whole silly point of that was world building, and giving the game an excuse to be brutally mean to its players. The declaration held the primary group of rules and how to play the game at the most basic stage, but the game was incredibly easy if you played only with the declaration, and only got difficult after players went to our website and started printing out Amendments. See, the Amendments had themes ranging from dress codes to curfews and they added most of the complexity to the game. (Can you believe that? We added a dress code to the game! Players would have to know they’re going to play this game well in advance to be able to play it successfully. Sheesh!)

The actual deck of cards was very different as well. Since the laws came from the Law Books the cards were basically just your average number and color matching game. The difference being that all of the crazy rules make the convoluted matching the central aspect of the game. As often as you had to fake a sneeze at the player on your right, you also had to be prepared to know exactly which card in your hand can be played on top of an ”Orange 86.379”. yeah… not the “Purple 1.2388” do you know why? Of course not, but if you had read the instructions you might understand.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that we always wanted the game to silly, maybe even a little frustrating, but we designed it back-asswards. We started at the rules rather than starting at the cards. Which was a mistake. We didn’t care about the fun because it was supposed to be competitive, which is totally the wrong approach to game making (especially when you actually want people to play your games). Which is why we almost totally scrapped the first version of ACHTUNG!. Which is why the current version of ACHTUNG! (Available for purchase now at ) is so much better than the version we started with.

Laibach Everybody!

My baby. My ACHTUNG! baby.

Designers don’t be afraid to change an idea that isn’t working. It’s better to erase your mistakes and give yourselves more work than to cover them up. And really… make sure your game is fun to somebody out there. If your audience isn’t going to like the game, then it’s not a good idea to make it. The current version of ACHTUNG! is supposed to be for the silliest of people and that’s really the audience we wanted all along (Believe me, don’t play it with a party pooper).

Anyway, I’ll leave you now with one final comment. A small piece of advice for the design minded out there. Ideas are a dime a dozen, and not all of them can be perfect, but never throw out the idea with the game. If a concept feels good but it’s not working, it can survive a remake and come out even better in the end… and if a concept feels bad and it isn’t working, then it probably wasn’t good in the first place. (*cough*TheKarateKid*cough*)

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