Thursday, March 2, 2023

Designer Diary: The one that got away.

 This week, Disney released this teaser poster from the upcoming Haunted Mansion movie.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-screening of the movie and without violating my NDA, let's just say that Mansion fans will be pleased. After watching the film, it reminded me of a board game that I had designed based on the classic theme park attraction. 

Back in 2018, I was invited by a publisher to pitch ideas based on licenses they had access to. One of them was Disney. Because I am a big Disney theme park fan and a bigger Haunted Mansion fan, I asked them "since they had the Disney license, did this mean that they had the rights to make games based on the theme park attractions?" They admitted that they hadn't thought about it and asked. When they came back finally came back with a "yes", I went to work on several pitches based on theme park attractions including the Haunted Mansion. 

This is the pitch deck I sent them:

As you can see from the pitch, I wanted to make a game that could be slightly scary, slightly fun just like the attraction. As you can tell, I took my inspiration (and more than a few components) from another of my favorite games: Betrayal at House on the Hill. 

I had always noticed that when gamers complained about BaHotH, they often mentioned how they love the exploration half of the game they disliked the traitor half of the game. 


Taking that complaint in mind, my design emphasized the exploration but rather than making one player become the bad guy, the villain would be the ghostly bride who - with the use of cards - chased you around the house. If she caught you, you would get a "death certificate" - you couldn't win if you had one. You had to visit Madame Leota in her seance chamber to remove it. 

Fun Note: I originally made The Hatbox Ghost the villain of the game, but I figured that not enough people knew who he was. That will change when the new movie comes out. ;)


You also couldn't leave the Mansion if you had ghosts following you - inspired by the quote "Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts, they may try to follow you home" - so you need to appease them by finding items in the house that they want.

The publisher was excited about my pitch and asked for a prototype to evaluate. I leapt at the opportunity although I always clarify to the publisher that this is just a "crude model" rather than the art and design of the final game. I even designed a box!

Both the publisher (and by their reports, the licensor) was excited about my pitch and the prototype... but in 2020 I was informed that the Haunted Mansion license went to another publisher who made a very different style of game.

Needless to say, I was disappointed that this didn't happen as I love the Haunted Mansion and would still love to have a game based on it published. Maybe I'll take my own advice and "Make my own damn Haunted Mansion" game someday.

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