With so many tabletop games capturing the hearts and minds of players these last few years, it’s becoming more and more common to hear directly from the designers looking to make the next big thing. Steven Stwalley, designer of the Squirmish card game, wrote an extensive developer diary detailing the long-term hobbies that inspired him to make a card game all about ugly monsters. What he hated about Pokemon played a big role.
The idea for Squirmish came from a mixture of Steve’s childhood and that of his oldest daughter. Back in 2013, Steve was surprised to see her collecting Pokemon cards not to play with, but simply to look at. This isn’t inherently anything new when it comes to the Pokemon Trading Card Game, underneath the ‘stage characters’ adorning each card, Steve found a complex card game once he helped his child learn how to play with them.
Stripping away some of the rules which he thought were “clunky” and “did not add to our fun”, Steve ultimately found inspiration through what he saw as flaws in the popular card game. Loving each of its hundreds of characters (especially Magikarp) he channeled his existing interests in drawing comic books, doodling strange characters and some light game design work to create Squirmish, a card game featuring plenty of ugly monsters inspired by the Ugly Stickers designed by Basil Wolverton and published by Topps in the mid 60s.
A fast-paced battle designed to last for 30 minutes across 2-4 players, Steve originally planned to keep the game private; something to play with his daughters. Eventually, it was published by GameWright. Between stemming from ugly creatures from the likes of Dr. Suess to fixing the problems Steve had with the Pokemon Trading Card Game, the rules of Squirmish were also inspired by the Adventure Time Card Wars smartphone app and Steve Jackson’s Illuminati.
The full read (which you can find on BoardGameGeek) might just be the eye-opener that any budding game designer needs. Steve drew inspiration from across both his childhood and adult years to eventually make something that could be enjoyed by not just his own kids, but game fans all over the world.