Not Sick of the Debates Yet?

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Faun Chapin is a founder and creative director with Meg Paradise of Guts & Glory, a “creative collective” that recently published a card game, The Contender—an electoral debate game that offers hundreds of one-liners based on real presidential quotes that players combine to beat opponents in the debate of the century. The idea began in February 2015 with Justin Robert Young and John Teasdale: game designers, friends and fans of political theater. Young approached Teasdale with the idea to make a game that was easy to learn and fast to play. Teasdale had been pondering a game that sounded like a debate when played. Twenty minutes and two burritos later, they had a theme: Presidential Debate.

The original rules were based on a traditional deck of cards: Spades beat Hearts beat Diamonds beat Spades. High numbers beat low numbers of the same suit. They exchanged traditional suits with the three pillars of debate: stating Facts, Distracting the audience from your opponent’s facts, and Attacking your opponent. Young approached Guts & Glory to design the game. “We all sat down and played the game together, and after a few beers started tinkering with the game mechanics,” Chapin told me. “Seeing the game with fresh eyes, we noticed that they researched a ton of actual quotes as support to the Attack, Distract and Fact cards. These quotes were amazing and wildly entertaining. A few beers more and we helped hone the flow of the game, ditching the suits and numbers in lieu of a more free-form debate structure to make it fun for gamers and nongamers alike. We thought the content, the things presidential candidates actually say, was way more interesting than a traditional numbers game.” I asked her to talk more about the founding, development, marketing and success of the project.


How did you get involved with The Contender?Guts & Glory is very interested in developing our own projects and products as well as traditional client services, so we ended up partnering with Justin and John rather than working for them in a traditional client capacity, and we all own a third of the company. We ended up handling the creative end of the business while also helping to research and edit the content. (We spent hundreds of combined hours combing through transcripts, reading letters and watching debates. It was very important that we be able to source every single quote we used. You can see that research tool here.) It’s been a truly collaborative process.

We started by building out an identity system for The Contender, drawing inspiration from the vast visual language of mid-20th century political campaigns, particularly the incredible work of Lester Beall during the WPA. We wanted to create a visual language that nodded a bit more towards history than the current visual language of politics. The game spans the full history of American politics so we were also looking for something that felt more historical but still relevant today. After all, American politicians have been saying ridiculous things for a very long time. There is more behind the scenes information on our case study and at our Kickstarter campaign.

There are so many visual opportunities in politics: buttons, lawn signs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., and we’ve delighted finding every possible opportunity to parody and poke fun at the absurd political theater all around us. We’ve designed and produced everything from various videos to satirical political buttons. We even designed a gigantic novelty check for $318.9 million American hearts and minds that we presented to the Sanders campaign during the Iowa caucus for winning our game series, First In The Nation Card Caucus, that we hosted. It’s been a lot of fun!


Obviously, it’s perfect for the electoral season. What would you say is the most controversial aspect of the game?The most controversial part of the game is probably the Politically Incorrect expansion pack. The general game is family friendly, so this first expansion pack is the place where we drop the F bomb among other politically provocative rantings from candidates over the last few centuries. We are currently finishing up another expansion pack that is based just on the 2016 election, and are considering adding more expansion packs on topics such as: Trump Cards, Binders Full of Women, Men Who Wore Wigs, Bush Boosters, The Gaffer Pack, Meet The Clintons, Sharpton Your Knives, Oh No, Perot! You get the idea.

What was your process for devising the questions?The questions, or Topic Cards, are designed to be the setup for the joke. It’s our version of “Two guys walk into a bar …” As for the specific topics, they’re the issues Americans have been arguing about since 1776: crime, immigration, unemployment, civil rights, etc.


Is there a partisan leaning?When developing the game, we decided early on that it was important that the game be as bipartisan as possible. Rather than take aim at one party in particular, we wanted to parody the entire circus that surrounds a presidential election. While it would have been very tempting to pick on one candidate or another, particularly in light of the current state of politics, we find it more fun and inclusive to pick on all of them. Remaining bipartisan also ensures that everyone can play this game and feels equally represented. But we’d be lying if we didn’t become giddy every time The Donald or Sarah Palin says something ridiculous. That said, even the most serious of candidates has their public moments we’ve capitalized on.

At the end of the day, the game is a way for people from all parties to come together and be passionate about politics without necessarily wanting to kill each other. We’ve played this game with thousands of people now, with tremendously different political beliefs, and we’ve had fun every time.


How do you determine who wins?The moderator for each round determines the winner, so it’s completely arbitrary and entirely subjective, similar to Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity. Depending on the moderator’s political leanings or penchant for political antics, individuals can play to that. Usually what we find is that whoever gets the best zing or laugh in wins the hand. The game really come
s to life when players begin riffing off of the cards and each other. Whoever wins the most hands wins the overall game.

Where can we get it?It’s currently available at and also on Amazon.

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About Steven HellerSteven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →