Let's begin with the obvious: Cones of Dunshire is not for the faint of heart. Not even if you're the Architect himself.
Adam Scott, star of this weekend's "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" and, of course, lovable nerd Ben Wyatt on TV's "Parks and Recreation," stopped by to school all of us at MTV News in the game that his character created in the show's classic sixth season episode of the same name. So what happens when you get Scott and a bunch of MTV News staffers together for a cutthroat game of Cones of Dunshire? Mayhem and hurt feelings, that's what.
Check out what happens in the video below:
So, not the most productive. But MTV News had the chance to chat with Morgan Dontanville, the art director at Mayfair Games and one of the team who designed Cones of Dunshire (which, yes, you can back on Kickstarter so you can own it for yourself), about how the game came to be, and to (attempt to) play a full game ourselves, sans Scott.
The producers of "Parks and Recreation" approached Mayfair, which is the U.S. publisher of Settlers of Catan, another "Parks and Rec" favorite (Ben is a nationally ranked player, and plays it at his bachelor party on the show), to build Cones of Dunshire. As fans will remember, Ben created Cones during a low point, unemployed, struggling to make a stop-motion animated film and strung out on calzones.
"The call from 'Parks and Rec' came, and they wanted to do a board game that was over the top and overly designed," Dontanville said. "They wanted something that would be made by someone who is really intensely into the concept of games but they had no sense of propriety -- like, they couldn't finish it."
As if making a believable model of a game with very few parameters -- make it geeky, make it complicated and call it Cones of Dunshire -- in a week and a half wasn't enough, Dontanville and the team then had to design around Scott's ad libs for future Cones appearances on the show. His additions? For one, the Ledgerman. (Yes, the dude with the hat, who Dontanville equates with Monopoly's banker. "It should just be whoever's read the rules.") And that's not all:
"The kingdoms in there, the building of the civilizations, the trivia cards," are all among Scott's improvised rules. "Talking about the shadowlands and talking about all these characters. He would add things like, 'then my guy pushes the lone farmer into the Cone of Decision so then he wins the game.' So it's like, what does that mean? At that point you have to have multiple characters and you have to have characters that push other characters."
"At that point it became this really extremely complicated thing. I was like how on Earth can I possibly take all of this stuff that he said and make a game out of it?"
But, as you already know, he did. Dontanville sent us off with an on-loan prototype copy of Cones of Dunshire, freshly printed that day, and an offer to Skype him to make any rules clarifications.
"The gameplay itself is pretty straightforward, all things considered," he assured us. "You run around the board, you collect gems, you turn those gems into cones, you roll dice to optimize your dice. You have cards with superpowers that you take advantage of, and then you're playing against the personalities of the other players that are playing against you. So you can expect that this person's going to be nasty and you can expect that this person is going to try and be efficient. Those are the things that you really have to master. The vehicle itself is pretty straightforward. To master play, you really should have no problems completely understanding the rules to this game."
And with that, and a five-page, two-column typewritten packet of instructions, off we went.
When it came time to play, we made a gametime call: we are adults. We can figure out a game! Besides, he said it was simple! How hard could this be?
An hour and a half later, when we were puzzling out exactly how one takes their complete turn after setting up the board, placing the gems in the swamps, figuring out what a Doom Point was and distributing the characters -- i.e. we hadn't even started playing -- we realized: it can be pretty hard. We began with five players, losing one two hours in to the lure of dinner. The Ledgerman hat was passed around as players grasped, then lost, the spark of understanding. We yelled "Fight the cone!" a lot. Like, a lot a lot.
Ultimately, before things could spiral into a "Lord of the Flies"-like chaos, we improvised, settling on certain house rules. For one: money didn't really count in our version. Cones is cleverly designed so that it's really hard to win. As far as I understand, you have to capture one color of each Cone, before traveling to the Cone of Decision. There's a lot of dice-rolling and powers involved, and to capture a cone, you not only have to pass a challenge, you have to literally pay your dues. First you have to get to the Doom Point, then confront the Cone and win (as determined by a card drawn at the Cone detailing the challenge), then pay a certain number of gems to obtain the Cone. We're writers, and also a few people forgot to pay for their Cones, so the money thing was quickly dropped.
Also, there appears to be a series of ziplines, lighthouses and magical oceans that can be used to move more quickly to points on the board. We ride the subway every day, and couldn't quite grasp this nonlinear travel. Out they went. Plus, we couldn't stop laughing after catching ourselves very seriously questioning the conditions for getting past the Front of Traganaro. Is it an obstacle, or is it a geographical feature? Hard to say, but fun to say.
As the hours passed, our hopes went from finishing an entire game to just making it one time around the board. When we did that, two hours in and long after working hours had ended, we shot for one more round. This is surely the fault of our own ignorance and modified rules, but through a series of savvy calculations, one player managed to capture all four different Cones and confront the Cone of Decision, therefore winning the game, all in one turn.
It just goes to show: sometimes, when you fight the Cone, the Cone wins.
You can't currently buy Cones of Dunshire, but if the Kickstarter is successful it may hit stores soon.