Designer's Notes: Chez Geek

Designer's Notes: Chez Geek

by Jon Darbro

Art by John Kovalic

Designer's Notes: Chez Geek


You know, there should be a card game about our apartment. . .

Chez Geek makes me proud. It makes me proud that I've designed a game where a bunch of players (who, probably now or at one time, spent or had roommates who spent a good bit of their time sleeping, eating, watching TV, and assimilating various substances that would inhibit future success in political elections) take on the roles of roommates who spend a good bit of their time sleeping, eating, watching TV, and assimilating various substances that would inhibit future success in political elections. It also makes me proud that this game actually got produced. Finally, it makes me proudest to know that people who buy this game are going to love taking on the roles of roommates who spend a good bit of their time sleeping, eating -- you know the rest.

The idea germ began early in 1999. Three people sat around drinking wine at 3 AM when they should have been sleeping. I spoke aloud the above quote. We chuckled and discussed cards based on our friends. We decided that Slack should definitely be the goal of the game. . . somehow.

I don't know what work I was procrastinating at the time (probably applying to graduate school) but I became alarmingly motivated to purchase index cards and two Osco markers. Voila! The first prototype of "The Game," as we called it back then.

My friends (most of the playtesters) loved it. What could be better than calling up a bunch of your friends (and interrupting their sleep or TV-watching) to come over and play a game where we invited over the same friends and then slept or watched TV? It was a riot! Maybe it's the absurdity of going to the trouble of creating an alternate reality for the purpose of a card game, just to do the same activities you'd do in this reality. Maybe it's because all of the TV shows involved Hitler in that first prototype. I don't know why, but it works.

Designer's Notes: Chez Geek

Game Balance. . . Who Needs It?

Tech Support Assistant
Slack Goal: 20
Income: 4
Free Time: 1

The above card was in the prototype deck of Chez Geek, but it was taken out when the cardlist had to be shortened. It has the exact same Slack Goal as "Tech Support," but a lower Income and less Free Time. Conclusion: it is empirically worse than "Tech Support." Why did I put it in there? Well, it was funny, and it represented a friend of mine who had such a job ("Will J." will remain nameless).

Game balance in Chez Geek didn't matter to me. Particular cards were not omitted, or inserted in ludicrous multiples to make decks. It's all random. For instance, in playtesting the prototype deck, we discovered that the original version of "No Job" (Job Card) was much more likely to win games because of the tremendously low Slack Goal and the ease of gaining Slack through free means. Was it a big problem? Not really. It's not like the same person drew the "No Job" in the beginning of each game. It's not like we didn't all figure out that "No Job" was more likely to win. It's not like we didn't pummel the hell out of the poor guy playing No Job at the beginning of each game (some Rent here, a Phone Bill there, some cat pee on your bed here. . . ).

I'm an advocate of natural selection through negative feedback in card gaming (fancy talk for ganging up on the person who's winning). When the SJ Games people went about cleaning up rules, I didn't mind one bit. I have infinite trust in human nature to be petty and vindictive, and that's what makes Chez Geek work!

Designer's Notes: Chez Geek

Inside Jokes -- A Proposal to Make the World a Better Place

Joe: If I transcended morality, I could kill you.
Marcus: Sure, Joe, if you were. . . insane!

Our entire concept of poor Joe is partially defined by that snippet of conversation. It inspired me to design a Chez Geek card that will destroy a Person card, and I named it "Transcend Morality." Since SJ Games rightly assumed that not everyone on Earth is in on the private jokes of the inhabitants of Chez Geek, they amended the card to "Justifiable Homicide." That's fine with me, but Chez Geek was a lot funnier to us when it used proper names, brand names, and actually-spoken quotes.

There are quite a few examples of this. At the time I made the game, I worked in a lab where I was trying to perfect a protocol for the partial fractionation of non-axonemic proteins in male fly reproductive tissue. One of the original Job Cards, then, was "Dissector of Fly Testes." Didn't make the cut. Also not making the cut were the 5 other TV Card Titles with Hitler in the name. "History's Hitlery Mysteries" was my favorite. We watched a lot of the History Channel, which as we all know is a channel exclusively devoted to Hitler and trains.

I do understand the value for mass marketing and making a product approachable to all groups, but there is one thing I'd like to see in future versions of Chez Geek. If you're with me on this one, listen up. There is an email account ( devoted exclusively to submitting players' ideas for cards (either Jobs, Things, Activities, or People) based on actual jobs, things, activities, or people. I've learned that little is funnier than the specificity of real life (possible exception of many "p" words, like pirate, panda, pants, and poop). After you've played Chez Geek for a bit, go ahead and email card suggestions. I'll personally make sure that SJ Games gets them. I can't make any promises, though, for my signature has bound my soul to a contract like a monogram on underwear.

Designer's Notes: Chez Geek

Of course, no vulgarity or libel in card ideas is allowed. I can also tell you from experience that overuse of Hitler will almost certainly not make it into the final product.

Well, that's pretty much all that I wanted to say about Chez Geek. I know you all have one burning question left on your minds: From which species of fly did you dissect testes, Jon?

Drosophila simulans, baby, Drosophila simulans!

Article publication date: April 28, 2000

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