Kelsey Domeny here. I’d like to introduce you to my friend, fellow combatant in the Cards Against Humanity Tabletop Deathmatch 2013 and all-around awesome person, Jasmine Davis. She was the only solo female designer in the first season of the deathmatch. She’s adorable, funny, and crazy talented.

We were able to snag this gem of a piece from her about her experience as a repeat contestant in the Deathmatch, having made the finals for the 2014 season with a game she and Pete Butler designed together.


I like to say that I’m the spark, and my fiance is the wood. Without both of us, you wouldn’t get a fire.

So when I found out the Tabletop Deathmatch was indeed coming back for a second season, I coerced my fiance into entering his own game, Abomination. I also talked him into entering our Pittsburgh Indie Game Developers Association Game Jam winner, Rocket Cats in Space.

I did not, however, have to convince him to enter Knight Shift, our finalist game. Why? Because we entered it a few hours before the deadline. After drinking most of a bottle of wine.

Rocket Cats

Though Rocket Cats LOOKS like it was designed after most of a bottle of wine, it wasn’t.

The Game

Knight Shift was more than a day old, though – in fact, I’d been kicking around the idea of an adorable breakfast-themed deckbuilder since the previous Deathmatch. It was my “car ride home” idea – the one I get so excited about on the six-hour drive back from Indianapolis that by the time we get home, I’m convinced it’ll be a bestseller. (This year, that game was One of You Is a Bear and it is indeed perfectly playable.)

At some point, I shifted from deckbuilding to card drafting, and then I played a little game called Sushi Go.

Kawaii? Check.
Food-themed? Check.
And the coup de grace…
Card drafting? Check. Yikes.

I’d designed a great game…that was already on the market.

I started thinking about rethemes and tweaks to make to get it further away from Sushi Go, and tested a couple of variants. Nothing stuck, though some good ideas came out of the process. This was a situation where the theme genuinely would matter: Picking the right theme would make the similarities matter a lot less.

Knight Shift Banner

But Pete and I are nothing if not inspired drunks, and halfway through that bottle of wine, we started kicking around retheme ideas (at one point, we were thinking about doing a Cool Table game). We hit on Knight Shift as a punny name, and realized that knights made a great fairly universal theme, if we could stay away from the silliness of a certain line of D&D-themed knight games.

The Prototype

Pete made the first prototype in a few hours using some nifty programming tool he made (like I said, I’m the ideas gal – he’s the execution guy). I wrote up the first ruleset and answered all the Deathmatch response form questions. We tried it out the next day, after submitting. We thought we’d found the combination of variables that would make Knight Shift a winner.

Knight Shift

This prototype is literally held together with gum! Don’t worry, we didn’t chew it first.

We still didn’t really expect it to get picked. We thought, if anything, our cute little dexterity game, Rocket Cats in Space, was more of a sure thing (and in fact, we wound up playing it with this year’s finalists and everyone had a blast).


So it was a surprise to us to get the email saying we were in with Knight Shift. This would be my second year in the Tabletop Deathmatch.

The Contest

This year, everything was dialed up to 11. Cards Against Humanity was amazing, helping us move from the outskirts of town to a hotel closer to the con. They sent the world’s nicest camera crew to our house to rearrange our furniture and film interviews beforehand.

Knight Shift

We got to work with one of their graphic designers… Thank god.

CAH even put together a couple of parties to get everyone in the same room (Pete and I were late to the party, thanks to Publisher Speed Dating, but in the 30 minutes we were there, came up with a game idea…of course).

The Differences

Last year, as Kelsey mentioned, there was a 5 minute pitch and an interview, and that was it. This year, they came to our house for about 8 hours. We did interviews. They shot us teaching Knight Shift to a friend. They did some complex shots of a bunch of our board games. It was fun.

When we actually got to Gen Con, we had several rounds of playing the game – once with our “industry experts,” Chris and Aaron from NPC Cast, who were awesome, once with an open group of playtesters, who were extra awesome, and finally, hugely, with the judges. Yes, this year they actually played the game!

CAH table

We didn’t get any pictures of the set, but it was pretty insane. There was a real table this year, and lights, and logos and stands and microphones everywhere. They cut the judges back from an infinite number to just 6.

The Judging

Instead of doing a pitch, we didn’t get all that much time to actually talk about the game at all. This year, it was all about sitting down, explaining the game, and playing a round. And let me tell you, that table was the worst. A small card game becomes a lot less fun when you can’t reach or read the center cards. At least it gave us a critical graphic design direction.

The feedback we got was nothing surprising. It was all stuff we already knew, and in many cases, were actively working on. The piece that hurt the worst (because it’s the truest) was,

“It feels like we’re in the middle of your design process.”

Knight Shift

He was wrong, though, because this is the middle of our design process.

But when we were off-camera, we got tons of great feedback and thoughts from the judges. Luke Crane told me to innovate. Shari Spiro from AdMagic asked me why I never printed Cool Table. I told her honestly, “I don’t know.”

The Future

This year, we found out the winner at Gen Con, before we went home. I don’t want to reveal which game won, but I can tell you that Knight Shift will get printed and it will be a significantly better game when it does. The game always had great bones, and now we’re spending some time refining it. We know where the rough edges are, and we’re knocking them off one by one.

The Tabletop Deathmatch is theoretically airing sometime this year, but unlike last year, I’m not sitting on tenterhooks, waiting for it to be uploaded. The connections and community we got out of this year’s Tabletop Deathmatch are already enough.

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Jasmine Davis

Jasmine Davis is a writer and game designer in Pittsburgh, PA. You can find Jasmine’s own thoughts on her website, read her thoughts on other people’s games at Play Unplugged, or check out her latest designs at PlayPBJ.com. You can also follow her on Twitter – she’s @athingforjaz.

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  1. Norv Brooks on October 30, 2014

    Really informative inside look! I hope the wine was after the drive back from Indiana 🙂

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