CS Interview: Magic: The Gathering’s Richard Garfield on new game Half Truth
ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to talk with iconic game designer Richard Garfield (Magic: The Gathering) to discuss his latest project, Half Truth, which he co-created and developed with 74-time Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings and is available on shelves now!
The inspiration for the game, which has been in the works for nearly 13 years, came to Garfield after reading Jennings’ 2006 book, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs, chronicling his experience on the ABC game show, as well as the history of trivia in America.
“In Brainiac, he really conveyed his love of trivia and I realized I had never thought seriously about trivia games and I really like to explore all kinds of different games and figure out what makes them tick and why people who like them like them,” Garfield explained. “He really explained why he liked trivia and so I thought I would make a game which brought that out and brought the aspects he loved out.”
The game features a unique setup for its play structure in which players are given the answers to questions, but they are mixed in with three other answers that are lies and it’s up to the player to determine which is which and they must bid on one answer or more in hopes of moving along the board and gaining bonus points. Garfield, who created this setup specifically for this game, felt that it was a good way to keep every player involved as the game goes on.
“What that does is it makes it so that everyone plays all of the questions so you don’t have to watch somebody else answer or fail to answer a question that you may know the answer to,” Garfield noted. “You can go ahead and participate, it makes it so that there’s no issue of knowing the answer but not being able to remember it because it’s right there in front of you, so if you know it, it’s there. It also adds for game players a real element of pressing your luck in the right circumstances so if you’re behind, you can go all in and try and guess all three answers, but if you’re ahead, you can be very conservative and just go for one.”
Garfield and Jennings took the project to Kickstarter in early 2019 for funding from fans and saw a largely successful response from prospective players, earning its $10,000 goal within three hours and continuing to amass $327,621 to date, with various levels offering special rewards for backers, including a $1,000 pledge that gave them a standard signed version of the game as well as a custom card with the backers’ name featured in all future versions of the game, as well as framed and hand-signed by the duo.
“Kickstarter is something I’ve been interested in for a long time, because it allows you to develop a relationship with the early adopter community and see what is driving them,” Garfield said. “It’s been exciting to be able to interact with them and take their guidance on the final stages of the development of the product. It was gratifying and exciting, but it was also a little nerve-wracking, because we’re doing it on something which I want to make sure people who backed the game are enjoying the game. So when they’re buying it months ahead of time and they don’t know anybody’s who played it, it gives us a little bit of pressure to deliver, but it was something we were certainly up to. I don’t know if the final version has been done, they need to be edited probably, but Ken and I did put together the questions and we were pretty pleased to note that all three of the backers had six-letter last names, which meant we could encode their name within the answers. If you read down the answers, the first letter spells their name.”
In reflecting on his favorite bits of trivia featured in the game, Garfield feels that any question that hits the table and leaves people “so surprised” at the “random” subject nature is always a fun thing to try and come up with, naming one example as “cereals that have been discontinued.”
“The technique for making a good question also evolved over time, we found that it was very fun to include clues in the negative answers, the answers that are wrong,” Garfield recalled. “They all had a theme that often made it so that the whole question was more entertaining and also gave people more hooks to deduce things. For example, I was looking at a question the other day, it was rugby terms, and so if you know rugby, you’re going to know the terms, or at least you’ll recognize one or two of them. But the negative terms, the wrong answers, were words from ‘Waltzing Matilda.’ So they sound familiar because you’ve probably heard that song, but then if you recognize them, you might say, ‘Oh, oh, that comes from ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and that’s not real’ and then you cross that off and get a better chance.”
The release of the game does come at a time in which many players and families find themselves at home and looking for a variety of possible entertainment, including board and card games, and though Garfield doesn’t want to relish the challenging time for the world, he does find it to be a great time for the game to be introduced to fans.
“I think it’s a great time for playing games and so I think that’s good, because it’ll provide some way of people to interact in whatever level of sequestered state they’re in and it plays reasonably well over Zoom, so you can connect with people that you’re not even sequestered with,” Garfield opined. “I think it’s not quite correct to say I’m happy it’s coming out at a time like this, because who wants a time like this, but games are more important than ever.”
Garfield himself has found a variety of ways to keep his gaming life alive during the global quarantine, including turning to platforms such as Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia, as well as playing with his wife, who “is with me all the time.” Even prior to the shutdown helping create an increase in players, Garfield has definitely noticed a growing popularity trend in the tabletop community, especially from when he started gaming himself in the late ’70s.
“In some ways it’s a callback to maybe my grandparents’ generation, when they actually did play games for entertainment, they would have mahjong parties and poker parties and games were more something you did for entertainment back then,” Garfield warmly recalled. “When I was growing up, it was sort of more niche, but I think that part of the reason for its renaissance is that games provide this really wonderful way to interact with people. In the world today, so much of our interaction is mediated by screens and so board games with their paper components and so forth feel, at some level, antiquated, but at another level, it’s getting back to direct interaction, which is nice.”
Magic: The Gathering has been one of Garfield’s most iconic properties in his 35-year career and one of which film and TV studios have been anxious to try and bring to life on screen for years, with 20th Century Fox initially acquiring the rights in 2014 from Universal Pictures with Simon Kinberg (Dark Phoenix) attached to produce and Bryan Cogman (Game of Thrones) tapped to pen the script, but following the Disney merger, the project was cancelled and the rights returned in 2019. That same year, it was revealed that Avengers directors Joe and Anthony Russo were partnering up with Wizards of the Coast, Hasbro’s Allspark Animation and Netflix for an animated series adaptation, as well as talks of a live-action spin-off.
Garfield attributes this long delay in any kind of adaptation getting off the ground to being very protective over the the property and finding that other attempts to adapt games during its original era not inspiring hope in him for a quality iteration.
“It’s been fun to watch that progression, back in the day we talked about avoiding making shows based on our games because they were so relentlessly bad,” Garfield explained. “But that was the ‘90s, these days there are so many good things where people have got the technique of making shows based on various properties down and there’s a lot of really exciting stuff out there, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with. TV is probably better than film, I have great respect for a good film, of course, but game properties and game worlds, in particular something like Magic, build over a long period of time and develops this relationship with various elements of the game and the players and that feels like something that would be an ongoing TV show rather than a one-shot movie where you sort of bring everyone up to speed and tell a story and that’s it.”
Half Truth is a party game for all ages and people, created by legendary game designer Garfield and Jennings, with art by well-known artist Ian O’Toole. The game comes with 500 trivia question cards and each card has a category on it, like “Animals with blue tongues.” There are six possible answers, three right and three wrong, and players have to place bets on answers they believe are correct. Players are usually surprised by how well they do. We’re all smarter than we think.