Panic Mode text

This entry is about the game Panic Mode!
a game of office politics during Disaster Recovery

Please download the Print and Play at or find us on Facebook or Instagram @panicmodegame

the idea

Panic Mode was created as part of a meetup (called Panic Mode) with the East Troy Computer Club on the topic of Disaster Recovery. In our Slack channel someone proposed a game as an interactive activity. We originally planned to do a D&D type unfolding scenario. But the ideas kept changing direction and percolating. We talked about just re-skinning common games with the theme. But it just didn’t feel right to me. None of them are how DR works.

I found myself thinking about a Disaster Recovery game almost constantly for a week or so, pulling in inspiration from games I’ve played and taking parts of them, rejecting the rest because they didn’t make sense in the theme. All this for a meetup.

I needed a representation of the state that the company was in throughout the incident. From the prototype I had settled on Mainframe, Morale and Customer Satisfaction – the three things in flux during an incident. It was critical to have typical IT office roles. I wanted to use humor to not only acknowledge the difficulties some roles have with other specific roles, but also to point out to them how they can be perceived. All overly simplified, of course.

My original prototype included a specific power for each role, and no way to track when it had been used – a typical mistake that I removed in later versions. I spent a lot of time thinking about what powers would make sense and how to track them before I opted for the simplicity of letting them go altogether.

The rest of what I needed was a mechanism that would reflect the ups and downs of an actual incident. The early pitfalls, the office politics, the going-through-the-motions mistakes that can lead to so many incidents that we read about every day. That was the fun part! I created cards to increment or decrement the tracking cards, and some cards have a role effect as well that can change or amplify the main card effect if you are that role.

Once I settled on how I wanted to approach the game, it all just clicked. I made the tracking and role cards out of poster board and used index cards for the deck. 47 cards just poured out of me, including some of the cards that are still my favorites in the game today.

Tracking cards Customer Satisfaction, Mainframe, Morale

This thin deck caused quite an interesting 20-minute game. In play testing I have learned that some players will play a card because it resonates with them, even if it’s not the best play. This happened even in our first prototype game play at the meetup. One person set the tracking cards back to start because it was funny. One person got distracted blasting Eye of the Tiger over the speakers. One person drew the only card that can instantly win the game by stealing it from another player – the only way it can be played. It was a roller coaster ride, but one of my all-time favorites.

I was quite happy with the prototype I created for that night, but its reception was beyond my expectations. At the time I had only six roles, so we had the full six players and at least that many standing around the conference room watching play, commenting, laughing.

When the meetup was over, a few people hung out and said that we should make this game for real. It was a nice feeling, and I thought it would be a cool thing to do. (I was blissfully unaware of the amount of work it would be at the time.)

I personally have always worked best within constraints. My creativity dies in a vacuum. If you are like me, inspiration is everywhere and your next big project may just land in your lap. But if it doesn’t, take a walk, go for a ridealong, talk to an old friend, play a random thrifted game and reinvent it, try to think of the most sedate topic you can and make it fun, anything. Show everyone what they aren’t seeing yet.

How do you find inspiration?