Bully Pulpit Games’ Jason Morningstar sat down with game designer Alex Roberts to hear about what makes her new tabletop roleplaying game Star Crossed interesting and fun, as well as her opinion on alien brain parasite romance.
JASON: Hi, Alex!
JASON: Tell us about Star Crossed. What’s the elevator pitch?
ALEX: It’s the two-player game of forbidden love! You play two characters who are really into each other but have some compelling reason not to act on their feelings. It’s all based around an increasingly shaky tower of wooden bricks— you pull bricks from it when the characters get closer, but if the tower falls, they act on their feelings!
JASON: That sounds great. What is it like to play?
ALEX: Everything about the game’s story is decided between the players when they sit down to play. While you build your tower, you answer questions about the world your characters are in and what’s keeping them apart. Then, you role-play a series of scenes about their developing relationship. When you do something that draws them closer, you pull a brick from the tower and put it on top. Sometimes the game ends before the tower falls… but not very often!
JASON: The precarious tower is such a nice metaphor for romantic tension.
ALEX: Oh, it really is. Playtesting was so much fun, because I could see the mixed emotions people had about the tower. They didn’t want it to fall, but at the same time they wanted so badly to find out what happened if it did!
JASON: It feels like Star Crossed could be pretty intense, but it could also be a little more light and silly.
ALEX: Some people go totally over-the-top comedic with it. Other players decide on a serious reason why their characters shouldn’t be together and explore the painful territory that comes with your heart wanting something your ethics won’t allow.
JASON: What’s the most delightful character pairing you’ve ever seen?
ALEX: Not everyone loves this as much as I do, but I have to say the terminally ill man and the spacefaring brain parasite. She asked to live in his brain for a while, giving him an extended and healthier life, and offering her the chance to learn about humans from, well, a first-hand perspective.
JASON: That’s really weird and sweet. I bet people surprise you all the time with interesting characters and situations.
ALEX: Oh gosh, literally every game has been a surprise. Two lawyers at the same firm? How understated. The Thief and the White Mage? I guess that would be complicated. Two-man bobsled team? Oh my!
JASON: Do you think Star Crossed has broad appeal? Is it a “couples” game or could you play it with a friend? What sort of gamer is going to absolutely love it?
ALEX: The vast majority of playtests were at gaming conventions, with players who were generally strangers. At least when they first sat down! I admit I have a certain warm feeling when couples tell me they’ve played, especially when one of them doesn’t usually get into roleplaying. But couples don’t have a better time with the game, necessarily.
JASON: Nerding out for a moment, Star Crossed does some really interesting things design-wise. What feature of the game’s design are you most excited about and proud of?
ALEX: I am so glad you asked, because the tower gets all the attention but it’s the scene cards I’m most proud of! Star Crossed is played as a series of up to eight scenes, each of which has a corresponding title card. They’re always played in the same order. The cards themselves keep the story on a certain arc, while providing a little creative prompt in a game where players generate a lot of content on their own. But perhaps more importantly, the act of ending one scene and beginning another allows players to take a moment - I like for players to carefully calibrate and plan throughout the story.
JASON: The art is really delightful.
ALEX: Okay, now I get to nerd out! It was such a pleasure to work with Jess Fink. If you’re familiar with her work— like the erotic robotic Victorian romance Chester 5000 XYV— it will not surprise you that I could tell Jess “cosmonaut and faun” and immediately get back enthusiasm and a spot-on sketch.
JASON: What’s next for Star Crossed? When can I get my hands on a copy?
ALEX: We’ll be sending copies out to our retail partners by the end of November. That means people can have it in time for the holidays!
JASON: Thanks for your time, Alex!
ALEX: My pleasure.
Alex Roberts is a game designer best known for her interview podcast Backstory on the ONE SHOT Network. Star Crossed is her first solo project, and she has contributed to games such as Dialect, Threadbare, and the #Feminism nanogame collection. In addition to doing her own design work, she is currently the Production Coordinator with Bully Pulpit Games.