Let’s be honest: most sex board games are pants to play. Strategy and theme don’t play much of a role when the goal is getting your rocks off. In fact, many of the best board games don’t touch the topic of sex at all. But there’s one designer who thinks this should – and can – change. Meet Exotic Cancer, the artist and designer behind Nightshift – a strip club board game that aims to promote awareness about the industry.
In Nightshift, one to five players play the role of dancers competing to earn the most money during their shift. Each of the game’s five dancers – Ruby, Topaz, Emerald, Sapphire, and Amethyst – has their own plastic miniature with a unique color, outfit, and body type. A 90-minute game features card play, minigames, and plenty of competition as the dancers work to impress the club’s customers.
Exotic Cancer will launch a Kickstarter campaign in late 2023 to crowdfund the game. Ahead of its launch, we caught up with Exotic Cancer to discuss the themes, mechanics, and message of Nightshift.
View this post on Instagram
WG: You mention Nightshift is based on some of your lived experiences – can you tell me more about what inspired you to create the game?
EC: I worked as a stripper for six years. It was a defining part of my life and undoubtedly had a strong influence on my perspectives and the work that I create.
I’m primarily known for my art, and through that I’ve been able to express myself and my insights, but it’s mostly consumed from behind a screen. I’ve increasingly looked for ways to branch out into more interactive formats that people can have shared physical experiences with (e.g. coffee table book, tarot cards) and felt that an immersive board game would be a really exciting project.
Why do you think a board game is the right medium to teach people more about strip clubs?
Tabletop games are a fascinating medium because (similar to a novel) so much of the atmosphere and world creation actually happens in the minds of the players. I think that embracing a character role requires you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, which is key to unlocking empathy and understanding. Destigmatizing the industry is very important to me, and I think this game can help do that through not only inspiring conversation, but by immersing players into the role of a stripper.
Part of Nightshift’s mission is to give an “authentic and empowering take” on representing strip clubs – could you tell me more about how Nightshift aims to empower women and strippers?
With Nightshift we’ve tried to encourage people to adopt the dancer’s perspective as much as possible. The game focuses on building connections with customers, managing your time wisely and navigating the politics of the club.
The game doesn’t include any nudity because stripping is so much more than just taking your clothes off, and I don’t want that to be the focus. This approach is empowering because it allows uninformed audiences to see stripping in the same light as other jobs.
Outside of gimmicks and party games, sex and sexuality don’t have much of a presence in tabletop games. What are the challenges and opportunities of creating a game like Nightshift?
While sex and sexuality are obviously very well-explored in mediums such as books and film, I think many people are still anchored to the family-friendly origins of tabletop games and have a visceral reaction to Nightshift. Getting those people to take a second look and consider the intent of the game is challenging, but equally exciting to deliver something that hasn’t been experienced before and expand my art universe into a playable format. I think the greatest opportunity is to spread a message and perspective that I deeply care about to people well beyond my core community.
How has the tabletop community responded to Nightshift so far?
It’s been very mixed! When people approach the game without context, many initially assume that it offers a sleazy and degrading take but are often much more receptive after taking a closer look.
I completely understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Sex work is a polarizing subject. I think many of the negative reactions I’ve received come from a place of misunderstanding, which is ultimately the thing that I’m trying to challenge.
Can you tell me more about your relationship with board games? How long have you been playing and designing them?
I‘ve been playing board games since I was a child, but didn’t feel a strong connection until discovering more complex and adventurous games as an adult. As a player, I’ve come to really enjoy games that create chaos and have a soft spot for elements of roleplay and social deduction. Nightshift is my first effort at creating a game and has become a far bigger project than I ever imagined – the initial concept for the game was formed a little over two years ago.
You describe Nightshift as “not your typical board game”, but were there any games that influenced Nightshift’s design?
Nightshift incorporates a few types of game mechanics that each draw inspiration from very different types of games.
We wanted to encourage role play and incorporated autonomous player movement via action points to give players agency as they discover the club’s customers. Hilariously some playtesters have characterised Nightshift as a dungeon crawler for this reason – I guess that’s not too dissimilar from a strip club!
For the intimate customer experiences, we developed two minigames with a push-your-luck focus, to capture the real-life gambling nature of investing time in a customer without any guaranteed payoff. We love the thrill and group enthusiasm that comes out in games like Pass the Pigs and wanted to capture a similar feel.
Finally, we included ‘Power’ cards that are hidden from other players. These are earned through the game and can be harnessed to either create alliances or sabotage other players. These cards have immediate effects and then are disposed of. Some have a vaguely similar feel to Exploding Kittens.
Is Nightshift a one-person project, or have you worked with a team to create this game?
It’s a two-person project (my partner and I), although we’ve received a tremendous amount of community support with playtesting and feedback, which we are very grateful for. We share design of gameplay/mechanics, and then I focus on the creative side (visual design, customer cards and artwork) while my partner focuses on game balance (probability theory, monte carlo simulations). The only thing we have engaged an external party for (besides manufacturing) is 3D sculpting to ensure that the miniatures are suitable for mass production.
Can you tell me more about the design process for Nightshift’s visual look and miniatures?
The visual look is something that came very naturally to me as it’s an extension of my existing art style. I use colour palettes you’ll find in a strip club; dark shades combined with bright neon lights. It’s not my first time capturing the exaggerated essence of a strip club customer’s personality.
The miniatures have been a process though. We’ve had to undergo multiple alterations to get them suitable for mass production – undercuts and injection moulding, don’t get me started. I’m still working on getting them just right, but they’re really close and I’m very excited!
Few board games for adults actually come with an 18+ rating. In a world filled with space board games and fantasy board games, Nightshift offers a rarely-touched-upon theme. With its Kickstarter debut fast approaching, only time will tell if the gameplay below the surface is worth its salt.