5 to 9+ players, with optional 2-4 player rules. Ages 13 and up. Five minutes a round, easy drop-in-drop-out play, quick to learn.
Dear Leader is a card-driven party game of banter, bootlicking, and making North Korea's problems as hard to solve as possible. Take turns playing Kim Jong-un and his sycophantic advisors; light rules and drop-in-drop-out play make it easy to out-praise your political rivals or to humiliate your underlings in the race to make North Korea more dysfunctional. Satirize the real horrors of the Hermit Kingdom in a game that still manages to be “hilarious” (if you take the word of Max Temkin, Jason Morningstar, Deb Amlen, Roll for Crit and a host of others).
How does Dear Leader work?
Dear Leader is an easy, banter-driven game about making things as hard as possible for Kim Jong-un. Advisors use up the easy, sensible solutions and force the Kim Jong-un player into ridiculous extremes of problem solving. The advisor players make the game as difficult (and fun) as possible for Kim Jong-un while at the same time currying his favor with praise, bootlicking, and finger pointing.
Each round begins with the draw of a Policy Card that one player reads aloud. The Policy Card describes a threat to North Korea upon which Kim Jong-un must render a decision. After each advisor has suggested their own unique solution to the issue at hand, Kim must come up with his own novel answer to prove he's smarter than everyone in the room and always knows best. And this, of course, is the correct answer.
The advisors clap with delight over this display of wisdom, whether they like it or not, and take turns praising and extrapolating Kim’s solution to make it grander and grander. Kim Jong-un insults each offering in turn for suggesting that it improves on his wisest of decisions.
Throughout the round Kim continually issues demerits to punish advisors for infractions real and imagined. Demerits have no hard mechanical function in the game but enable Kim Jong-un to harass the other players and create more fun.
At the end of a round, Kim Jong-un awards the Policy Card to whomever pleased him the most for whatever reason. That player becomes the new Kim Jong-un and another round begins. Simple!
While Dear Leader isn't a game of winners and losers, we do have a couple of metrics that drive us towards certain types of play: If you have received the most Policy Cards at the end of the game, boast about it! If you don't have the most Policy Cards, declare it a non-issue. And, of course, the rules state that whichever player holds the most demerits at the end of the game is taken out and shot.
When we are done playing Dear Leader and through bickering over who had the most fun, we turn over the Policy Cards we've collected and read aloud facts about the real North Korea. We are reminded that the dictatorial regime we've been laughing about has a real world impact on real human beings. Which sucks.
This easy, natural set of play tools creates a North Korea simulator that produces the kind of absurd and horrifying nonsense for which the real country has become famous.
- Hilarious: The game plays funny, yet you don't have to be funny to make it funny. Just sit back and do what comes naturally, letting the system do its work.
- Easy rules: There are only a couple of rules and if you mess them up Kim Jong-un will correct you, which is part of the fun.
- Fast turns: Less than five minutes a round gives all players a chance to punish their friends.
- Drop-in-Drop-out play: Someone can sit and play for a single round and the game runs fine — super casual!
- Groveling: One of my formative gaming moments was the realization that the bootlicking in the Paranoia RPG was more important than the actual dice rolling. Come learn what I learned: please the dictator, praise Kim Jong-un, insult your fellows to make yourself appear larger in his eyes!
- Demerits: Punish your friends! Reinvigorate your enemies. Glory in the power of handing these little sad-making tokens to people for any reason you like.
- Replayability: Even if you play the same card twice with the same people, it will never be the same. Ever. No player ever steps in the same river of ridiculous twice.
- Clapping: It's good exercise and teaches hand-hand coordination. Clap more!
- Regret: Will you feel bad afterwards? You should!
To be Kim Jong-un is to know the length and the breadth of the universe to the centimeter, and rest assured you are floating at the very center. To be Kim Jong-un is to not know error except as it manifests in the fools around you. To be Kim Jong-un is to know the delight of issuing demerits, endless demerits, and to have the lackwits adore you all the more for it.
To be Kim Jong-un is also to be the de facto moderator of the game round — it's up to Kim Jong-un to keep play snappy and not-boring. If an advisor lags just issue a demerit and call for the next.
To be Kim Jong-un is to be an unpredictable force of nature — did an advisor use a word that was too long? Punish them with a demerit. Did the advisor talk to you as if you were a simpleton? Punish them with a demerit. Everyone fears you; use this mighty power to keep the game as you like it. Indeed, change a rule or two if it pleases you — you are the dictator.
Players who aren't Kim Jong-un enjoy the paradoxical role of advisor. In one sense, the advisors are bootlickers currying favor with the terrifying dictator; in another, their job is to make life as hard as possible for Kim Jong-un. Each round every advisor will propose a unique solution to the policy problem at hand. It's their objective to cover the most obvious solutions and thereby force Kim Jong-un to the most ludicrous extremes. Frustrate the Kim Jong-un player while pleasing the Kim Jong-un character! Good luck figuring that one out.
( Go to 39:00 in the piece above for the Dear Leader play through)
We are keeping the Backer Rewards and Stretch Goals simple. Dear Leader is going to be delivered fully playable in its best form at the lowest backer level; there won’t be a hundred different configurations offered to fill you with frustration and doubt. The Perfect People’s Edition will be the actual, completed game and all the Stretch Goals. Back at that level and you’ll be happy.
We will be using Stretch Goals to add additional packets of themed Policy Cards and other upgrades. You want to speculate about Kim Jong-un’s actions after a coup? Do you wonder what will happen if crafty bears run wild in his palace? I do too, so let’s Stretch Goal the hell out this Kickstarter. It’s only going to get more fun.
Choose the Patriotic People's Edition to get PRESIDENTIAPOCALYPSE 2017. It’s a Dear Leader hack set in the near future of the U.S.A. Find out what our future President will do when their golf courses are threatened by a cannibal incursion, the milk delivery is hijacked on the way to the Bullet Farm, and oh man oh man, your daughter is so, so hot. The hottest. Because what's more fun than a dismayingly dark future in which everything we love is threatened by uncertainty? It’s a Dear Leader hack set in the near future of the U.S.A.
Rest assured that the PRESIDENTIAPOCALYPSE 2017 rules are not necessary to play Dear Leader. We aren’t offering some jack-ass expansion pack you absolutely need to enjoy the base game. PRESIDENTIAPOCALYPSE 2017 is it’s own mini-game that operates outside of Dear Leader. To be doubly clear: Your Dear Leader experience will not suffer if you don’t get the mini-game. It’s, like, totally cool to skip it. We promise.
The More Perfect People’s Edition is a handmade version of Dear Leader crafted from recycled and repurposed materials in the samizdat tradition of populations suffering under the privations of a dictatorial government. Samizdat literature was a form of knowledge-sharing put into practice in the mid- to late-era Soviet Union. At its most basic, samizdat entailed the manual copying of forbidden texts by those looking to avoid government censors. People would receive a copy of a book, type another copy, then share them back into the samizdat network. If they were lucky they had carbon paper to multiply their efforts.
Copies made from copies made from copies — errors and omissions would creep in alongside corrections, commentary, and meddling. It's an amazing tactic used by a population under the thumb of an oppressive regime. While we don't know if similar methods are used in North Korea, we can speculate that some similar process is happening there.
Those of you who like beautiful, precious objects I encourage to go elsewhere — the More Perfect People’s Edition is not for you. I'm going to make most of these myself, and I'm an artist who works in cardboard boxes. Really. I've shown my cardboard sculptures in museums like PS1/MOMA in New York City and elsewhere. These things will show my hand, and that hand isn't interested in perfection. Included are a homemade box crafted from reclaimed cardboard, samizdat style rules (each set typed from the previous rules set, errors and all) on reclaimed paper, hand-cut demerit tokens, and Policy Cards which have glued-on text strips reminiscent of actual telegrams. The game will be rough and imperfect, and is meant to be played. The More Perfect People’s Edition will reproduce all the basic game cards. And don’t worry, at this backer level you will get a separate copy of the standard Dear Leader game as well.
And yes, the Secret Police backers will be given a list of cards and are allowed to pick one to remove from production. For real. No one will have that card in their game. Dictatorships are awful, and I want to fold that back into the game as many different ways as possible.
Why make this game in this way about this subject matter? This game isn't going to end human rights abuses in North Korea, it isn't going to smash a dictator and free the people living in a web of misery and lies. I know that, and you know that. But it's my conceit that a game can be like a poem, or a novel, or a race car — you can climb inside it and be moved in an interesting, enlightening, and entertaining way.
At the end of each game the players are instructed to turn over any cards they won and to read aloud the factoids on the back. They'll learn about the real horrors perpetrated by the government of North Korea — torture, children in labor camps, millions dead through disastrous resource-management by the Kim Dynasty. Players get an impression of the truth behind the game.
Just as vital was delineating the subject of the fun: we are mocking the statecraft of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, not ordinary North Koreans. We are attacking nationalism and unaccountable, dynastic power, not the people forced to live under it. The purpose of the game is not to engage in mere stereotypes; do not fake an “Asian” accent when you read your card aloud. Policy Cards are phrased to mimic the florid style of the Korean Worker’s Party, not to encourage ethnic stereotyping. Providing samples of appropriate text for the players to read and interact with helps to define the way we speak as we play the game (something I always admired in the Dying Earth RPG by Robin Laws, John Snead, and Peter Freeman).
I've sought feedback from people smarter than myself and who are better in touch with issues about privilege, racism, and respect. I owe a special thanks to The Game Garden design group in Portland, Oregon; their focus on socially responsible games helped inspire Dear Leader.
I'm not going to claim that this game is art or social criticism — but I will say that the game comes out of my background in those areas. The game is my attempt to use all the formal tricks and critical tools in my thinkin'-bag to craft a unique and fruitful experience about a hard piece of subject matter and to make that engagement a desirable thing. Come for the laughs and stay for the dawning of helplessness and horror.
The game is undeniably fun, and the structure of the fun itself allows for the absurd nightmare of North Korea to emerge naturally through play. I didn't want to make a bunch of goofy drawings of Kim Jong-un and slap them on a generic 'satirical' card game; I wanted the form of the game to meaningfully related to the subject matter. By putting players into the role of a Kim Jong-un who is forced to come up with an idea after all the good ideas are gone, we create an improvisational machine that can generate solutions that sound alarmingly like real news coming out of North Korea. And the dictator is always right, even when he's the most wrong.
It's an act of responsibility to identify Kim Jong-un as the subject of the game and to not obscure him behind a fake name. Fuck that guy. Fuck every evil act he and his father and grandfather perpetrated on the people of North Korea. Fuck them for poisoning the minds of generations of innocent people and keeping a population as slaves.
And fuck every lying, power-mad politician who would create ignorance and misery to empower themselves. We live in a world where the horror of the Kim Jong-uns and the Donald Trumps are fodder for jokes and memes. We laugh at them until we forget that they are evil. Maybe we can use a game about laughing to access ways to reconsider these assholes.
And while this game isn't going to change everything, it's my attempt to use the tools of the game world to make a meaningful, damning, entertaining machine that you can play in for a little while. I'm curious to see what this new machine can make. And I'm sure that whether or not this particular game is successful, games and play can be tools for spurring creative and critical thought.
Thank you for supporting this effort.
Risks and challenges
I've delivered big projects in the past: I've built giant sculptures for museum exhibitions, I've managed teams of people on complicated video post projects, and I've delivered on three different role-playing game Kickstarters (The Complete The Oracle, The Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord, Everything is Dolphins).
But none of those projects were as complicated or as ambitious as Dear Leader, so I sought help.
This project is being mentored into existence by Max Temkin, creator of Cards Against Humanity, an incredible, hilarious genius. Max has introduced me to tools and people and given feedback that I used to create a production structure that is clear and sturdy.
My friend and colleague, Ben Kaser, is acting as project manager, keeping the budget and schedule on track. When not playing RPGs with me, he's working in Portland as a lawyer or managing projects in Boston for the Harvard Kennedy School.
Shari Spiro of Breaking Games/AdMagic will be crafting exciting printing options for the project. Shari has overseen the production of innumerable games, and I am confident that she is going to make this project shine like a diamond.
Blackbox will be handling fulfillment and general distribution of Dear Leader. They are a top flight organization and handle Cards Against Humanity, Exploding Kittens, and a host of other games. They do better work (and cheaper) than I would on my own, so hurrah!
The game system is done, and I could print it right now if I had the money. There won't be a lengthy development period after the Kickstarter, though I certainly will take into account the feedback which come from backers during the process. This sucker is ready to go!
Thanks again for your support!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (29 days)