What is Pettyland?
Pettyland is a board game for eight players that I originally made over a few years starting in
1989. I was 17 and had just left my home in Sacramento to attend San Jose
State as an art major. I had a close group of friends in High School who lived
in Sacramento and I would often drive back on the weekends to hang out and play
classic games like Illuminati, Nuclear War, and Talisman. I don’t remember
exactly why I decided to make Pettyland,
I only recall that I wanted to make a game that satirically incorporated
elements from my art and life.
|An original Pettyland board|
What exactly is it about?
The original rulebook, which I wrote at the time, describes the game as:
“ … The artist Lee Petty has lost his mind due to abnormal scrutiny of the world around him, resulting in uncontrollable paranoid delusions. Several elements of his conscious and subconscious mind are struggling with each other to be the victor of Petty’s brain. As a player, you control one of the individual elements fighting for control. Each character has a distinctive personality, special abilities, and personal goals. Your battlefield is PETTYLAND, a strange world littered with places, creatures, companions, and events from Petty’s real and imagined memories. With the right combination of luck, strategy, weighted dice, and bodily fluids, your character may be the one to conquer PETTYLAND”.
My old art
|A few images of my old art from 1989-1991|
A lot of the characters and locales in the game are based on my art from the time, which mostly involved a recurring set of characters amidst a melting radioactive landscape and often struggling with blocky, edifice-like creatures. I’ve always loved creating worlds, and the idea that I could make a world populated with strange and somewhat disturbing characters and events that were all part of a hypothetical mythology really compelled me.
Growing up in 80's at the tail-end of the cold war had a noticeable impact on my frame of mind. The threat of nuclear holocaust felt very real and I rarely slept through the night for many years. This is probably why I found myself drawn to the work of the Dada and Surrealist artists at a young age. While much of their work was fueled by the very real horror of WW1-- something a white suburban kid would have no actual connection to, the work still resonated with me.
Just let it go, man!
But why go back to this old thing now? Why spend so much time on something I made so long ago?
Here’s what happened.
I hadn’t thought about, looked at, or played Pettyland for years. And then a good high school friend of mine (he’s a companion in the game!) wanted to play it for his birthday. And in playing it the first thing I saw was how flawed the mechanics were! Things that I thought were interesting departures from other games often created an unbalanced play session. And there were too many cards (and even an Art School expansion board), resulting in a very long game, weighing in at about 4 hours.
But aside from the mechanics, I also saw the ideas behind the game with fresh eyes, noticing things about it that I hadn't really thought about before Beyond the satirical veneer and strange art, the experience felt nostalgic, personal and somehow meaningful.
Many of the cards reflect my 17 year old obsessions: Orwell, Huxley, Burgess, Reganomics, comics, Punk Rock, Heavy metal, sexuality-- just to name a few. But beyond the surface level themes the game was clearly driven by an identity crisis that possessed me at the time.
What was I going to do with my life? Who exactly was I going to be? More than anything else, I wanted to be an artist, but I didn't think it was really possible. The entire goal of the game is for you to take control of Petty and "guide the unfortunate sod to the good life”. The best possible result on the Final Goal chart is to “Become a successful artist. You instantly win the game”, but there is only a 10% chance of that!
So here’s my goal
I want to finish up a new version of the game, with more balanced game play, updated rules, and completely new art by the end of 2014, making it a 25th anniversary edition. I’m creating the art using a pen ‘n’ ink style and with imagery that I would've used back then.
I’m making a lot of changes to the game so that it’s less randomly punishing, is an overall quicker experience, and contains more meaningful choices for the player. But I’m also doing my best to preserve the humor and content that my 17 year old self would've wanted, even when it’s somewhat embarrassing.
Ultimately Pettyland is a very personal thing, but I hope that others can have fun playing it and maybe a few other people out there will connect to some of the themes of identity, obsession, and friendship. And maybe even giggle at some of the dick jokes.