Designers of Kickstarter hit SALEM reveal the process of designing and crowd-funding their game.

INTERVIEW with Designers of Witch Trial Game: SALEM

Designers of Kickstarter hit SALEM reveal the process of designing and crowd-funding their game.
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Who’s the witch!? Is it the pastor? The child beggar? Is it me? Accusations run wild in Kickstarter project SALEM, a strategic card game of deceptive deduction. 

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I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with designers Travis and Holly Hancock about the process of creating the game.  

How long have you and Holly been working on SALEM? Was the game always planned with professional production in mind?

Salem has been a fun side project of ours for over 2 years. Basically as long as we’ve been married. We always knew that we wanted to get it on Kickstarter, but we had no idea that it would have gotten this big!

Can you talk a bit about your own backgrounds? How has the design, development, and funding of SALEM fit into your daily lives?

I do digital marketing for a living, and Holly is an elementary school teacher. I’ve always loved inventing things and being involved in entrepreneurship, and Holly has always loved designing, so Salem was a natural fit for us! 

I recognize some of the names (Proctor, Putnam, Tituba) from stories I’ve read of the Salem Witch Trials, such as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Can you talk about where you took inspiration for the game and how it affected abilities and other mechanics?

We’ve always loved the story of the Salem Witch Trials. It’s so extreme and spooky and interesting. While researching more into the people who were actually there, we found a lot of inspiration for the mechanics of the cards and characters. For example, Judge Danforth has an easier time accusing people. One of the pastors is harder to accuse. One of the little girls, Ann Putnam, gets off the hook whenever she accuses others. 

On your Kickstarter page, you mention being inspired by games like Mafia and Werewolf. One that stuck out, however, is Ticket to Ride. Can you talk a bit about the mechanics of these games that you’re bringing in?

Holly and I are big gamers, ourselves, so we tried to create something brand new, but something that still captured some great aspects of other games. The Ticket to Ride mechanic we used to help the game move along, was the idea that players could either pick up cards or play cards on one turn. We liked in Bang how each person was a character. We liked the possibility of witches spreading from Betrayal at House on the Hill. And we liked the overall feel and uneasiness of Mafia/Werewolves. 

Can you talk about any major design challenges you ran into? For instance, the Spy card is no longer in the standard game—what was its purpose and why was it ultimately removed?

The process of game-making involved a lot more work than we thought. There are just so many rules that you need to think about, and design tweaks you need to keep making! We also made lots of decisions when finding a balance between simplicity and complexity. Ultimately we got rid of the Spy, since we felt like his contributions to the game didn’t warrant the increased complexity. 

It seems unusual to have an hourglass in a game that naturally flows quickly, but I’ve definitely played games where turns run a little long—often my own. Is there a funny story behind the inclusion of the hourglass?

It’s just always been kind of a pet peeve of mine 🙂 It’s just nice to have a way to force players to move along. We’ve found that it really adds to all the games we’ve played. It can also be a way to make enemies, haha. Whenever someone flips the hour glass on you, it’s pretty tempting to lay down a handful of accusations on them!

From the illustrations to the book-like case and graphic design, the art for this game is hauntingly beautiful and perfectly captures the theme. How did you get connected with artist Sarah Keele? Can Holly explain the process of the game’s graphic design and how she worked with the illustrator to bring the physical game together?

Thanks! We found Sarah through an illustrator freelance site. She also attends the same school that we did, BYU. Holly here: I’m really an amateur graphic designer, so having Sarah’s incredible illustrations to work with made my job easy! While we were playtesting the game, we went through a few different design styles for the game and I had a hard time trying to capture the right “feel” for the game. Once we found Sarah, we knew her style was perfect for Salem, so I tried my best to match it!

There are only 3 days left on your Kickstarter. For the people who miss the campaign deadline, where and when can they expect to purchase SALEM?

The game will be available for pre-order on Backerkit for the first couple months after the Kickstarter ends. After that, they’ll be able to order the game, or learn more, at

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

We’re SO excited for more people to play this game!! It’s an amazing feeling bringing something to life, and having people also get excited about it. It’s like we get to share our own personalities and hobbies and joys with other people. Can’t wait to get this game into our backer’s hands!

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Amaad Delmar is a senior double majoring in Game Design and Creative Writing (May 2015 graduate). He's an avid gamer, and narrative creationist. Amaad's favorite game is the best game ever made (whether you like it or not): The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.