The Creation of the Court of Owls
Choosing to design an IP (Intellectual Property) game isn’t normally the smartest decision for a new designer. There can be issues getting access to the property. It can be costly or a company can already own it and not want to produce the product you put your heart into making. So why did I decide to create a game based off of Batman’s Court of Owls comic book line?
Well, I have always wanted to create a game for DC or Marvel comics. Or just work for those two comic book companies in general. As a kid I used to draw my own comic book heroes in the hopes of working for one of my favorite companies. As I got older I continued to watch DC comic movies, tv shows and read their comics. My favorite hero has always been Batgirl. The Bat Family contained most of my favorite heroes because I was obsessed with the sidekicks that made up Young Justice, Teen Titans and the Outsiders.
The inspiration for the Court of Owls game came from listening to a DC Comics podcast. They were discussing the different Batman Animated films that have come out over the past few years. Including one that focused on the Court of Owls. For anyone who doesn’t know the story. The Court of Owls is an underground group of “elite” citizens that run Gotham City in the shadows. People are recruited to the court because of the resources they can provide the city like wealth, connections, realestate, etc. This concept basically screamed social deduction to me! I had been playing Coup, Hail Hydra, Secret Hitler and other social deduction games so I was excited when I finally had an idea for that mechanic.
I quickly wrote the concept in my notebook when I got to work and started working on the Court’s 10 character symbols and the rules on my lunch break. In my game players each take a secret role card that has a symbol that represents characters like the Detective, Deputy Mayor, Socialite or one of seven other characters. Players are also given a mask similar to the owl mask in the comics. (This has been replaced by cards thanks to COVID19.) Depending on the player count one mask will have the bat symbol under the mask. Secretly this player will work as Batman to thwart the Court from re-electing a new Grandmaster.
In my game Batman has captured the Grandmaster so the court has called an emergency meeting to re-elect the next Grandmaster. Unknown to them Batman and possibly Robin with a higher player count has secretly taken the place of one of the other court members. Each player is given a starting hand of 3 ordinance cards. Each card has symbols on the top and the bottom left that resemble the character card’s symbols. In order to win the game and become the new Grandmaster you need the Court to approve 3 ordinances with your symbol on top. Problem is, other players want to be the new Grandmaster and Batman is trying to stall the court into rejecting 3 ordinances in a row to win. Players are also at times forced to reject ordinances because they wouldn’t help their character’s role in Gotham. The Court does have a chance to unmask Batman by approving 3 ordinances in a row with a group vote. But be warned, Batman is the greatest detective and may have deduced your character roles which will win Batman the game.
With this game I tried to put every bit of Batman into it. From the flavor text and borrowed comic images to the character card’s roles. I even include a Two-face coin for tied votes. The playtesting has gone well with 4 to 10 players and it’s finally gotten more balanced for smaller groups thanks to many playtests. I wanted to make this a game that a Batman fan could pick up and understand even if they’re not a gamer. Some new players have a hard time with social deduction games so I tried to make it easier on the players and have the deduction come mostly from who is Batman and what role is everyone so I can avoid three of their symbols showing up. There is no penalty to not figuring out this information except the chance that you could lose the game on accident. Or if you’re Batman, guessing the other player’s role cards is your last chance of winning once you have been unmasked.
This is a game I have had a blast making and really hope does well once I start to pitch it to companies that have the rights to the DC comics IP. Of course pitching a game in general is a shot in the dark but with this being an IP related game the chances are even slimmer. I just have to hope that companies find this game as fun as my playtesters do. It would be a dream come true to have my name associated with DC Comics. But if it doesn’t work out, this game could easily be reskinned as a secret society game with new images and flavor text. I’ve just enjoyed working on it and hope to start pitching it during our next convention (hopefully GenCon) once COVID19 clears up. As long a s the game is ready. For now I will continue to playtest it online and get ideas from other designers. Tonight I am excited to test one idea a playtester gave me last night so we shall see how that looks!