Interview with Jasn Painter, Co-Creator of DrunkQuest

For a few years, Munchkin was the game of choice when my friends and I would hang out and drink. The novelty was new and the cards were entertaining, but we soon found the game lacked the depth we wanted. Then I found out about a little game on Kickstarter last year that seemed like a project that was almost too perfect for Castles & Cooks not to back: DrunkQuest.

DrunkQuest is a party game that feels a lot like Munchkin in terms of fantasy-inspired card combat, but with one big twist: you don’t just kill monsters by having power – you also have to drink them.

Finally, a drinking game that’s an actual game! DrunkQuest combines competitive mechanics with quick and fast gameplay to create a party game like no other!

Before PAX East, I got the chance to talk to Jasn Painter, the co-creator of DrunkQuest about gaming, drinking and Kickstarting.

What got you into gaming originally?

I’ve been gaming since I was a kid. Even when I was 12 or 13, my parents and grandparents have stories of me making board games out of pieces around the house and trying to get everyone to play them. My mom still has a couple of them, but can’t explain the rules to me and I don’t even remember the rules! I’ve always been into making games. I actually went to college for game design specializing in mechanics, gameplay and game theory. I’ve always had a passion for it.

When we first played DrunkQuest, our immediate thought was, “this reminds us of Munchkin.” Then we hit the first boss card and said, “Now we’re playing Kings.” Did you try making a more social version of Munchkin?

Yeah, actually! For 18 months, we’ve had friends over once a month and we usually drink. We would either be playing Dominion or Ascension or other games. After a good six months of that, I said to myself “I wish there was a game – a real game that had drinking as a core mechanic.” We had played Munchkin a bunch and the thought had been to try making it into a drinking game but there were some hurdles there since it just wasn’t designed for that.

That when we started working on DrunkQuest. The first few iterations were terrible, people were drinking way too much, monsters were worth different amounts of XP and there was a leveling system. I was trying to incorporate way too much RPG and not enough drinking.

How did you even survive playtesting this game without horrible liver damage?

[Laughter] I think the main benefit we had going into it was that we weren’t heavy drinkers before this game, so we had relatively new and healthy livers. They’ve been broken in now.

I understand that. Our second game ended with my friend topping out at 56 drinks after a boss battle got out of hand since he got doubled Squire’d. That’s when we stopped playing for the night because he had to get home somehow.

That’s why we have a house rule where if you have to do 14 to 20 drinks, you can just do a shot. That rule actually came about because squires were being used so much and it got out of hand.

Was DrunkQuest designed top-down mechanically, like was the focus always on drinking and monster puns or was it figuring out the core mechanics of the game and then skinning it with drunkenness?

I knew in the beginning I wanted to make it a drinking game first and foremost. The quickest way was to make drinking the primary resource to defeating monsters. I wrote it out on the white board in my room in big letters, “DRINKING IS A RESOURCE.” With drinking as the primary mechanic, adding in RPG mechanics was to make it more fun and interesting. Then we tried to find the balance between them.

Kickstarter is huge in the tabletop gaming community with new games being launched every single day. If you were to do this again, would you still go the Kickstarter route?

Absolutely.  There are a few people out there who know about DrunkQuest or my name, but not enough for me to be considered as a legitimate game designer in the eyes of a big company like Rio Grande or Fantasy Flight. With that, your chances of even being noticed are maybe 7% or 3%, but even lower since it is based on drinking.

On Kickstarter, your success rate is sitting at 42%. It’s still low, but it is a lot higher than being published by one of the big publishers. So absolutely I would go back to Kickstarter.

You still see a lot of projects though out there where the backers don’t know and the creators are just hoping to get a few thousand dollars without knowing what they need – it just doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to have a product at the end of the day.

Where is DrunkQuest being sold now?

We’re currently on Amazon and over two dozen local comic shops carry the game. The plan is to get into more distribution outlets. I’ve talked to a few companies that are hesitant to buy Kickstarter games because there is a fear that those games are inferior. Either they didn’t get tested and tried or the simple fact that because one of the big publishers didn’t pick them up means the quality just isn’t there. But after showing people the game and letting them see the art and the cards, most of the time they realize they were wrong.

When we got our set, one of the first things we noticed was just how big the cards were. Even with it being explicitly stated in the Kickstarter, it never occurred to us just how big the cards ended up being. I just assume all cards are the same size as Magic: the Gathering unless told otherwise. At first we were like, “These are huge!” then three drinks in, we can’t help but be happy at how easy they all are to read and see.

The first set we played with actually used standard sized cards. You would be two or three beers in before you would need to hold them up to your face and squint just to read the mechanics.

The double-sized cards is really the perfect way to turn it into a great party game. It’s been a hit thanks to being just nerdy enough. Unlike Munchkin, we were able to explain the rules quickly: there are cards, you are going to be drinking and now we’re going to play.

That was one of the things I was most worried about. The game is like Munchkin and there are rules and a bit of a learning curve. It’s not steep, but it is definitely there so we were worried about what would happen when you introduced it to non-gamers. The great part is people can see it, watch it and pick it up without much work.

It’s big, it’s color and it feels like it belongs with a group of friends hanging out without all the animosity that the final round or two of Munchkin generate when everyone uses all their potions against you. The single action just makes the game work.

We’ve gotten lucky with how well people have picked it up. The bar where we held our launch party now holds a tournament once a month and we’re not even there usually! They bought copies of the game, they place them on the table and that is it.

Part of the Kickstarter was for an upcoming expansion. How is that coming along?

We’re actually a lot further along than I had planned to be. We’re done with all the treasures for new art, the characters are about halfway done and the realms are all done. Monsters are about halfway done and we’re looking at having it ready to go by the end of April at the earliest.

Are you worried about running out of monster drink puns to use as names?

[Laughs] A little bit, we’ve been doing a lot more research and I’ve been buying new bartender guides and different books like that to flush it out. It’s getting there though with new mechanics and new cards, but we don’t want the game to bloat up too much.

I also wanted to avoid the pitfalls of games like Dominion where there are just some expansions I didn’t like as much like Alchemy and Hinterlands. You want new stuff, but you don’t want to be overwhelmed by too much new stuff.

Our goal is to have enough expansions to make them worth getting and to add a few new mechanics. We want to keep it fun and add more strategy, but not so much that people just want to go back to the original game and forget the expansions.

Besides DrunkQuest, what are you currently playing?

As far as board games go, I’ve been playing a lot of Lords of Waterdeep and Conquest of Nerath. And since my friends and I enjoy arguing with each other so much, we’ve been enjoying the second edition of Game of Thrones.

That’s currently sitting on my shelf waiting to be played, but it looks imposing to say the least.

It certainly is imposing. My friends and I spent the game just yelling at each other for the first two hours. At the end of it, the other two players just looked at us when the game ended and we said, this was fun – we should do it again. Then the other players were like, you just fought for two hours! I don’t even think we got the rules right!

In my experience with Fantasy Flight, that’s how it works. The rule book makes almost no sense and it’s just easier to go on BBG and download some better ones – like Arkham Horror.

Oh yeah, Arkham Horror was a hard one to learn.

What is your favorite gaming food or drink? I’m letting you pick drink in this case since it seemed more appropriate. 

Blue Moon is usually my gaming drink of choice, whether tabletop gaming or video gaming.

Do you have a food of choice? Or are you one of those people who won’t let food anywhere near the table when gaming?

Not greasy food – I’ll do Skittles or Gummy Bears.

If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?

I’ve actually got an answer for this one! I’ve thought  about this one a lot actually!

We get that as an answer a lot too!

I would definitely like to have the power of conjuration, like the Genie from Aladdin. To be able to make anything out of thin air would be my ultimate power. Need a limo? Conjure that! Need $20 for a meal? I could make that. If I needed to fly, I could make a jetpack! If someone was bugging me, I could conjure an iron room.

I’d like to thank Jasn Painter once again for taking the time to talk to us about DrunkQuest, if you’re interested in picking up a copy it is still available on Amazon.