Welcome to Looting The Trove, a look at the behind-the-scenes development of the games in the CTG library. This month, with Too Many Bones: Splice & Dice now on gaming tables around the world, we’re taking a look at that expansion’s new game-within-a-game, NAP Mode! CTG co-founder and game designer Josh Carlson recalled the origins and strange journey of the Nobulous Apprenticeship Program.
NAP mode, and in many ways Splice & Dice as a whole, evolved into a game out of a long-running joke among CTG employees imagining series arch-villain Nobulous as a petty boss in an office environment. Eventually, Josh considered the idea of turning the concept into a game itself.
“As I began to give it more mind share, it became apparent that there were two humorously compelling perspectives: that of the interns trying to appease Nob’s every whim, and that of Nobulous and his impatience for working with … well … anyone other than himself,” Josh recalled. He and CTG co-founder Adam Carlson were also inspired by good-natured boss jokes about the two of them and the travails of the Michael Scott character from “The Office” TV show – a man who, like Nobulous, simultaneously needs all the help he can get and can’t bear to give up the spotlight to anyone else.
The initial idea of Nobulous as a tyrannical employer looked very different from the final product.
“After realizing I wanted to develop something in this direction, my mind instantly went to the TMB Battle Mat,” Josh said. “My first iteration of NAP was an extended laboratory where interns needed to combat baddies in order to put them in the tanks. It was supposed to be a huge lab brawl, and we had a new giant battle mat made (and leaked in a few early videos).” This version had the potential to be a standalone game.
Eventually, however, this plan was scrapped, thanks largely to feedback from game designer Josh Wielgus and Too Many Bones rules expert Shannon Wedge. There was too much space between the units, causing the games to drag and reducing meaningful decisions on players’ turns.
“We were reminded of why the condensed mat in TMB works so much better,” Josh said.
Disappointed, he started over on the project. This time, he refocused on the theme.
“Instead of forcing a larger battle mat, I started with the hilarity of Nob and his demands on innocent interns with the premise of ending up with something new that could be used in the original game,” he said. This version of the game became the final product, and Josh reflected that it only came about thanks to that strange design process.
“Theme came first, then mechanics, then theme again, then new mechanics,” he said. “It’s different for every title, however.”
In NAP mode, players must accomplish various tasks required of them by Nobulous, typically involving splicing TMB baddies (and their skills) together into a new tyrant. Josh was happy with the way NAP allowed players to reuse baddies from other TMB titles in a new context, effectively giving people more bang for their previously-spent bucks.
“The series is already fairly mature, and while we are far from market saturation (due to not being in distribution), I didn’t want to introduce another boatload of new content,” he explained. “For this expansion, I wanted to lean into what we’ve already developed, just from a different perspective. It felt new and exciting to actually be trying to build the worst or best tyrant possible and then USE it! The fact that we were able to do it with and incorporate baddies people already owned was exactly what I had hoped for.”
From a design standpoint, NAP and Splice & Dice shifted Josh’s perspective on Too Many Bones, and he hopes the expansion does the same for players.
“Splice & Dice (a name which Shannon came up with and I will forever claim is our best board game name ever) and NAP specifically brought that very odd and ‘you could never pull this off in any other title’ feel back to TMB,” he said. “I mean, we are literally hacking creatures apart, swapping and mixing them, sewing them together, and reanimating them. I’d say that would be a pretty dark title in any other game, but in TMB? It’s just strange, like Picket’s hair, or Boomer’s Gearloc mat expression, or like Nom misprinting as Deb and now having a troll family.”
For those struggling to beat NAP, Josh has a couple of words of advice. First, don’t give up before you begin.
“At the start of a new day, you may look at things and feel like it’s impossible to do what you need to do to win,” he said. “Looks can be deceiving! How many times have people said a TMB battle looked unwinnable at the start but they pulled it off? That is music to my ears. We designed it that way! It produces feelings of tension, of challenge, and of ultimate accomplishment when you succeed.”
His second tip: Know why you’re playing NAP before you start.
“NAP was designed to allow the player to have different goals when playing,” he explained. “Are you trying to make the hardest tyrant possible to fight in an actual TMB adventure? Maybe the easiest tyrant possible while still good enough to defeat the Prototyrant? Or are you playing to enjoy the theme to its fullest with Nob shouting out unreasonable demands at hapless interns, each with their own idiosyncrasies? All are great options, but not all are possible in one game.”
Even Josh has had lapses where the options have distracted him from victory.
“I’ve had games where I started with one goal, and then got so distracted by the fact that I could actually pull off a tyrant with 3 tyrant dice and Range that I forgot its health was only 4, and I died to the Prototyrant in round 1,” he said.
While you may not see more NAP in future TMB titles, Josh said the exercise will continue to pay dividends for CTG in the future.
“It was a lot of fun designing something a bit more card driven. Burncycle [our new game, coming to Kickstarter Nov. 10] already has some interesting card and chip interactions that don’t exist in any of our other games,” he said. “It’s quite likely that you will see bits of NAP mechanics worked into future titles – if not directly, then certainly variations of them.”
Splice & Dice was the cornerstone of the Too Many Bones: Splice & Dice Kickstarter project. You can order it here, and you can visit the Chip Theory Games store to see all available Too Many Bones products.