The Awful Orphanage is a mildly evil tabletop game that sees you and your friends navigating winding corridors and rooms, searching for items, dodging orderlies and running from the nefarious Gaunt & Sinister Man all whilst searching for one of the hidden Magical Talismans to free yourself from this macabre prison!
There can only be one winner in each game, so use items against your friends to ruin their turns, force them to fight the Orderlies or even steal items from them in the hope that you’ll be the one holding a talisman and stopping the evil Ms. Prendergast and her other-worldly cohorts.
The Awful Orphanage is the first game in the Hollow Earth series being produced by Workhouse Games, with such a interesting theme and concept, I just had to take a look.
I got to speak to Creative Director, Paul about the theme, characters and all things Awful Orphanage.
I want to know about the theme first, where did the concept of that come from? It’s a bit different from the usual game.
The idea originally came from Tim who came up with this character called The Gaunt & Sinister Man who haunted a Victorian Orphanage terrifying the residents. From there the idea snowballed until it was obvious it needed to be a board game.
Originally the concept was going to be a cooperative thing where everyone worked together to escape until I got my mitts on it!
Ahh, I see. So you came up with a theme. Then what happened?
Well then 18 months of writing, testing, scrapping everything, rewriting and playtesting until we arrived at The Awful Orphanage as it stands now. Eventually the game has morphed itself into a game where everyone is out for themselves.
All of the Orphans are trying to find a flintlock pistol in order to ‘off’ the governess who controls the Gaunt & Sinister Man, so whilst you’re running around the corridors and rooms searching for items, hoping that one will be the gun, you’re also dodging the Orphanage employees and the Gaunt & Sinister Man who are out to stop you. Not to mention that some of the stuff you can do to your friends is just downright nasty, you can play cards to move them about, make them drop items, careen them into orderlies with roller skates … the “fun” is endless!
I love the idea of it, So a bit about you and your team. Is this the first game you’ve designed or is this something you’ve been doing for a long time?
This is the first proper game we’ve designed, however we’ve all been playing since our early teens and we’re all close to our 40’s (or higher) now so we’ve been playing for a long time. Previous to this, we worked on other games for other companies and created events for tournaments and shows etc, this idea made us make the big scary step into doing it for ourselves.
That’s cool. Is this game similar to the sort of stuff you play? What kind of games do you play?
We play all sorts, Ticket to Ride is up there, Small World, Warhammer 40k, Malifaux, Batman, Dark Souls, Magic the Gathering, Zombicide – the list is endless but unfortunately our shelves aren’t!
Haha amazing, that’s cool to know you like a bit of everything. How did you all find each other to end up making a game together?
Well Tim and I have been friends for the past 20 years now. We worked together at a bank and I think in the early days, I went to ask him a question and noticed he had a Genestealer Patriach on his desk. From that point on we’ve always played games together. I met Neil two years ago (he’s our retail guru) and he runs Leodis Games. His help has been invaluable in figuring out the logisitics of everything and working out how we do this all properly. Finally, Simon, I’ve been a fan of his artwork for a good while and plucked up the courage to ask him if he’d like to work with us. I was over the moon when he said yes. Seriously that guy knows everything there is to know about Lovecraft which is a passion we all share too.
Amazing, so you got this cool idea and just ran with it until it manifested into the game it is today?
Pretty much yeah, obviously we’ve tweaked almost constantly. The main focus of the game has been a healthy level of competitive play so we ended up with a game that people wanted to play again and again, and one that would give you those moments you’d moan about for years to come!
I love that you had this idea and ran with it. How did you find inspiration for the other characters?
Well the Gaunt & Sinister Man was a character that Tim dreamt up in his slightly warped mind. The Orphans themselves came almost last and entirely driven from their special abilities. The special abilities are unique to each Orphan and offer a little competitive edge over your friends. For example, we wanted an Orphan who would run faster than the others so they could dash out of trouble. That Orphan became Lickety Split, a young girl who can outrun everyone else. Another special ability we wanted was for an Orphan to be able to escape from a Room when they are trapped or when it seemed like all hope is lost. He became The Prof who is based on Dr Livingstone, complete with a pith helmet too! Then we have Duffer (a bruiser), Pockets (a thief), Verity (an entertainer) and The Twins but we’re not allowed to talk about them. They stare at us and make us uncomfortable!
It’s worth noting that the special abilities can only be used once per game (unless you find some food to recharge it) so you need to save it until you really need it!
I love the characters. Did you find inspiration from anywhere else? What about the actual artwork itself? It’s incredible by the way!
Thankyou! The inspiration came entirely from the situation we found our Orphans in. Their struggle for freedom really captured the type of game it needed to be. From there the artwork came. We knew we wanted to create a modular tile system that meant you could have a new board each time you played and it was games like the classic HeroQuest etc that really spoke to us. So we set about making sure that every single piece of artwork in the game was unique, there’s nothing worse than constantly recycled assets … much to our artists hatred! Obviously Victorian London was a huge inspiration, it truly was an awful time for those without the means to make a good go of it. Victorian Orphanages were horrendous places! Then you have a whole backstory to the world that we’re creating that we’re only just beginning to explore with The Awful Orphanage. There’s so much more to come!
I can’t wait to hear about the whole backstory.
Let’s just say the next five years will be interesting.
So you have big plans then. Anything you can talk about?
Well the game begins during a really important incident during Victorian London. Its that that propels the story forward. Essentially during the deep level excavations of the London Underground the workers break through and discover The Hollow Earth.
The stories are true, and the world they discover is filled with a menagerie of creatures, hordes of terrifying beings and eldritch magics. The Gaunt & Sinister Man is one of those beings Obviously the world loses the plot. New trade routes are established and it becomes easier to infiltrate other countries. New religions are created worshipping the gods underneath their feet and the world turns upside down.