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Politics is just a game

ZANews has just launched its new board game, House of Cronies, and we spoke to creator, Pierre Cassuto about what goes into publishing a board game and what sets this one apart from the rest.
Pierre Cassuto speaking about House of Cronies at the launch last week.
BizcommunityTell us a bit more about yourself.

I was born in France but moved to South Africa as a teenager in 1998. I moved back to France for a few years after my studies but had to come back here. I love South Africa too much. It's a country full of complexities but also opportunities to do good things.

ZANews and Puppet Nation were created by my father, Thierry Cassuto, who got Zapiro involved early on. They had tried to get it onto television since 1998 but it only eventually came to life in 2009, thanks to a brave sponsorship from Kulula.

I got a call in Paris that he needed to get 20kg of a special kind of latex (for puppets) and needed me to board a flight that same night to bring it to SA. I just never left!

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I have always been passionate about games and tried creating one a few times as a kid. To now do it successfully as an adult is a dream come true.

BizcommunityWhere did you get the idea for the game? How long did it take to get this project off the ground?

Puppet Nation, South Africa's most awarded comedy show of all time, has been off-air for about a year. With the upcoming election, we wanted to find a way to continue our mission, getting all South Africans laughing and talking about politics, even without the budget to shoot new episodes of our show.

It was through conversations within our teams at Both Worlds (the production company behind ZANews) and our creative agency HoneyKome that the idea was born. There are quite a few passionate games in both teams and a game became an obvious answer to the question "how do we get Puppet Nation into people's hands again".

The project took 18 months in total between the moment we first had the idea to the game hitting stores. We went through six major iterations of the game rules. The game you are playing today is completely different from the first version we made. I still have a copy of each iteration though, as there were interesting ideas in each.

BizcommunityWho was responsible for the design of the board game? Take us through the process of getting a board game published.

There are quite a few people that contributed to the project. Our cards feature the puppets created for the show, many of them themselves inspired by Zapiro's drawings. The gorgeous art and graphic design were done by HoneyKome and Albino Creations. The game mechanics and rules received input from dozens of volunteer play-testers from the SA game-making community, colleagues, friends and MBA classmates.

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The game would not have been this good had I tried doing it on my own. My role was listening to everyone's input and deciding what to integrate (and how) to ensure that the game was accessible to both adults and teens/kids, and fun for both casual and more competitive players, and that it stayed true to the ethos of the show: being "equal opportunity offenders" and trying to spark conversations that have a positive impact for democracy in SA.

We were lucky to meet with our co-publisher, Big Box, a few months ago. They fell in love with the game which was pretty close to final at that stage, helped us find the right manufacturing and distribution partners and negotiate conditions with them. Their experience and professionalism were invaluable in getting us to stores before Christmas. I can't imagine a better publishing partner.

BizcommunityWhat makes House of Cronies different?

The game uses politics as its background tapestry. You won't find many (any?) others when looking at store shelves or doing a quick online search. "Polotics" have become part of our daily discourse and popular culture in SA. Stories of political manoeuvring and corruption dominate headlines and even social media, but most people still have a fairly distant relationship with local politics. We thought, what if we could close that gap somehow, through a game that can be played at the dinner table?

The game asks players to build their own coalition, forgetting party and faction lines, and to make decisions on how far they are willing to go to win. Players are the ones who choose whether to play dirty tricks, use corruption or play clean. Every player starts with a random hand, so temptation may be higher when you start off a worse-off position. None of the characters in the box starts off as good, bad or corrupt - the players are the ones who decide whether they will play nice or crooked, and the other players can decide to punish them or not.

Our show always asked viewers to engage with some of the new stories and view their protagonists as humans, with all their flaws, while having fun. The game stays true to these things but now asks players to put themselves in the protagonist role and make decisions.

BizcommunityAny other exciting plans in the pipeline?

We're not sure yet. We're hoping the game does well and that, at some point in the future, we will find a box in every South African home. The game is a 3-4 players game and we've been asked already if we could create expansions so that 5-6 players can play together. We've also been approached by a few people wanting to create an online/mobile version, but I think we would have to change the rules quite substantially.

Ultimately, we want to get the show back on TV, especially on a major SA broadcaster where it truly belongs. Our puppets and teams are ready, we're just waiting for the call to come through. In the meantime, people can play the game.

House of Cronies is available from most major South African retailers. Bizcommunity readers can also get R50 off by ordering on the website and using the code "bizcrony" at checkout.
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About Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is an editorial assistant for the Marketing & Media news portal at Bizcommunity.com and is also a contributing writer.