Every year since since 2004, I have been part of the group organising Life-sized Kill Doctor Lucky at CanGames . Kill Doctor Lucky is a Cheapass game by James Ernest where you are invited by the eccentric Doctor Lucky to his mansion for a party, and fortunately for you, Doctor Lucky is unaware of your secret desire to kill him off. Your reasons can vary, for instance he could have betrayed you in a game of Diplomacy (really, you should have known better than sitting down to play), maybe he stole your candy when you were just a baby, or perhaps he might have stopped your secret plan to take over Wal-Mart, etc… During the party you wander the rooms of his wonderful mansion, which is filled with secret passageways and potential weapons, and once you are alone with Doctor Lucky, it’s time to strike. Unfortunately, Doctor Lucky didn’t acquire that name for no reason, he’s a slippery bugger and your multiple attempts can fail. You might find your weapon was actually a delicious banana the whole time, he might entrance you with one of his many polar expedition stories (all imaginary based on your research), or a wizened Kung Fu master might leap to protect Doctor Lucky (who will not notice it anyways), heck you might even slip on the banana peel you abandoned earlier (a good would be murderer always picks up after themselves to avoid such embarrassing mishaps), etc…. However at one point, one of the guests will eventually kill Doctor Lucky..
The transformation of Kill Doctor Lucky into a life-sized game evolved over the years. At the Origins game convention in 2001 or 2003, I played a game of Life-sized Kill Doctor Lucky and did some rough measurements with the oh so precise steps method. The steps method consists of using your feet as measurement and walking along the sides. It’s handy since usually you would have your feet on you but it isn’t as precise as a tape measure. A friend put me in touch with our local Cheapass games volunteer Craig (who has unfortunately passed away since then), who provided me with some files and helped to determine the exact measurements. I also acquired the assistance of my common law wife, Brenda, and my best friend, Christine. Initially, we used a measuring tape and masking tape to create the board. It was a long process that took about two hours to set up, which we placed down at the start of the convention even though the game was one of the last events being run.. We found removing the masking tape to be a pain so an acquaintance who is in theatre suggested gaffer tape, which we then used for a few years. The gaffer tape took as long to put down but was much easier and faster to remove.
Due to the length of time for setup, I tried to think of a means to speed it up so I discussed various ideas with my parents and Brenda. Initially, we thought of making the walls in small lengths of wood. It had the advantage of durability and just placing the pieces like a puzzle, however my dad mentioned that it would take lots of space to store and be heavy to transport. My mom suggested using fabric which was a great idea. It had the advantage of durability, is easy to transport since it would be light and easy to store. We went to the local Fabricland, bought some white fabric and my mom helped sew it all together so we’d have a 21 foot by 16 foot sheet. In my one bedroom apartment I spent many hours over several days drawing out the map in pencil onto the sheet, of which I could only see about a five foot area at a time. I was worried that I would make a massive mistake given my inability to really see the design, which is why I used pencil to draw it out at first. Once the initial drawing was completed, we brought it to my parent’s yard and I was able to see it all spread out. I was impressed that there was only one minor mistake, which was that the western hall between the sitting room and trophy room was smaller and not quite flush with the drawing room. However this error was cosmetic only and since it had no mechanical effect fixing it would have required lots of redrawing so I decided to keep this artefact. Brenda inked my lines in a few afternoons and she did a great job at it. Now we were ready to try the sheet at CanGames.
From the start we wanted to use the optional rule of Shamrock the dog since the extra moving sight line gives some extra challenge to the players. Unfortunately, we knew that we couldn’t teach a dog the rules of the game so we transformed the role into that of a bodyguard. Christine took on the role which proved to be a great choice as we have a lot of fun interacting. I play Doctor Lucky as the rich oblivious eccentric who figures he can either grow a new bodyguard or just buy a new one. Christine plays the bodyguard as the exasperated employee who constantly has to remind Doctor Lucky to be careful and to let her know where he is. I also play Doctor Lucky with having complete trust in his guests who are his friends and obviously mean him no harm. As the bodyguard, Christine has no trust in the guests since she’s looked into their files and knows how much of a threat they are to Doctor Lucky.
During the game Brenda takes care of the cards and the turn order. It’s an important position since she reminds Christine and I when a player’s turn is done and hands out cards to players, and takes any used cards. She also summons me when a player decides to move Doctor Lucky around the board. For play order, we use playing cards from ace to eight, though after a few rounds of play, we start remembering who people are and who is next in line. To let everyone have at least one turn, we don’t skip turns when Doctor Lucky enters the room where a player is until all the players have had their first turn. Additionally, Brenda randomly takes out four cards before handing out the hands.Those four cards are a move, a room, a weapon and a failure. We use those cards as examples in order to teach the game. The room card is also the room where Doctor Lucky and the bodyguard start the game. After the hands are given out and the rules explained, those four cards are shuffled back into the deck. This gives everyone an equal footing since they can’t begin the game with the room card where Doctor Lucky is.
During the first couple of years, we let players stay and snoop (draw a card) in the room they started their turn in if they wanted to. We noticed this resulted in a less dynamic game as certain players just stayed in one room waiting for Doctor Lucky to show up. We even had some players grab a chair and sit in the room they were camping in. We instituted the simple house rule that you can’t snoop in the same room you started your turn in. We noticed that this resulted in an increase of dynamic activity as players prefered to go into a different room and snoop to get a card rather they stay where they are and get nothing. I noticed some players tend to camp out in a room when they have a weapon which is more powerful in that specific room. Usually when it happens, the other players also notice and then try to establish sight lines to the camping player.
When running the game, we like to help out the players. We point out openings. When I enter a room which already has a player or a player enters my room, I look around and wave to my friends and bodyguard if they have sight lines to me. If a player is unsure what to do, we’ll offer options and are willing to give strategies to eliminate the bodyguard or kill Doctor Lucky. From time to time, I’ll look around the board and notice the area where there’s no sight lines established and point it out to everyone since that is usually a good spot to organize the murder. When a player is about to declare that they will end their turn in a hallway or staircase, we confirm that they do want to do that rather than spend potential move cards to get into a named room. In Kill Doctor Lucky, the halls and staircases are amongst the worst places to end your turn in as Doctor Lucky never stops in there and you cannot snoop to get more cards. They are there to consume movement from the cards played.
In our game at CanGames 2014, some of players decided to play in costume. We were happy and enjoyed the experience it added to the game.
One year the daughter of two of the players really wanted to help us run the game. At first, she helped Brenda pick up the cards, then once the deck ran out and had to be shuffled, Brenda let her give the cards to players while she picked up the cards and managed the turns. She did a great job helping us out and if she wishes to do so next year I’ll be happy to get her help again. If this game continues and she proves to still be interested, we’ll need some new GMs to pass this game onto. Hopefully, this won’t be for several decades yet since I enjoy being Doctor Lucky.
We received a great suggestion to include the room number on the room cards for those rooms that have them. Since we have to create new cards anyways because our current set is over ten years old, it’s easy enough to make such a change. There are three rooms with no numbers and I can easily indicate their approximate location on their respective room cards. I can use E for east, W for west and C for center.
Cheepass games released a 19.5th anniversary edition of the game recently where they’ve changed rules and the map. I’ve played it several times and each time I play it, I try to think how to adapt it for life-sized. Up to date, I find that the new rules and board layout doesn’t encourage a lot of player movement. Additionally, Shamrock the dog and Patience the cat don’t move independently. We have discussed what to if we wanted to bring Patience into the game. We would transform them into a garrulous guest who entertains you while you’re in the same room. At this moment however, I have no plans to adapt the new version of the game for life-sized play.