This Board Game Pits You Against the Ad Industry's Wrath
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
WNW Members Adam Samara and Michael Camarra have served their sentences in advertising's soul-crushing industry, yet they keep coming back for more soul-crushing. It's made them plenty qualified to understand all of the absurdities of advertising and to take it all in stride. And now, they've bottled the highs and lows that come with being a creative and created "AdQuest", a board game that zeroes in on the arduous, frustrating, and occasionally rewarding journey that goes into making an ad.
This is one of those board games that's also educational. If you're just getting started in the industry, it'll prepare you for the hellish landscape of obstacles going from "Briefing" to "Book Piece." If you're an advertising veteran, it'll remind you that you're not alone. And if you know nothing about how ads work but your advertising friend invited you over to play this game, know that it's a cry for help to finally understand their plight.
AdQuest will be launching on Kickstarter on September 4th. Make sure you back this board game to build awareness around advertising's beautiful wrath. Below, we interview Adam and Michael to learn about the inspiration behind the game, how it works, and what advice they have for fellow creatives.
How long have each of you worked in advertising?
Adam: We started in 2007, but we linked up in 2015. So around 11 years. Which is like 1,298 ad years.
What are your biggest frustrations with the advertising industry? What keeps you from calling it quits and finding a new line of work?
Adam: We’ve all had those lulls where it seems like you’re job is just to make presentations, but no work gets produced. Or the work that gets produced is less than inspiring. Those ruts are where I struggle, and I’ve been through a few of them. I can power through clients, disorganization, and internal battles as long as I’m producing work.
The enjoyment of making a finished product has always kept me engaged. There’s nothing more satisfying than putting a piece in your portfolio that you’re truly proud of.
Except maybe meeting celebrities. That’s fun, too.
Michael: Yeah the droughts of making no work are definitely tough. Sometimes it’s tough to see some truly great ideas get killed or nitpicked to the point of no return. That can be difficult.
The thing that keeps me going are the ideas and the process of sharpening them. I love seeing them take shape. Sometimes I know they might not have a snowball’s chance in hell, but I hold hope for them each and every time.
What was the impetus behind funneling those frustrations into a fun board game called AdQuest?
Adam: We had a brutal project a year ago that lasted something like nine months, so we started joking that advertising was like a board game that was impossible to win. We also joked that clients had this rolodex of reasons to torpedo an idea. In every meeting, they played a new card. “Too expensive!” “Hate the strategy!” “Off brand!” Sometimes the reasons would contradict each other. Those became the cards, the rules followed, and before we knew it, we had a real game.
Michael: I mean sometimes you just have to laugh at the ridiculousness that happens in the ad world a bit and take it in stride. Everyone has their war stories they love to share, so this game became a way that everyone could do that in a fun interactive way.
How does AdQuest work? Can you share a little bit about the general objective, rules, and what it takes to win?
Adam: The basic premise is to make book pieces and have the best portfolio. The challenge is that the entire world is hell-bent on stopping you. You know, just like advertising.
Players move through the typical phases of a project: Concepting, client reviews, testing, production and post production.
In each section, they draw cards that present scenarios which either drive you back or send you forward. The game is also littered with rebrief square, and obviously those make you start over. Wild Cards are to be played more strategically, and allow you to switch places with other players, get bonus book pieces, or become immune to rebriefs, testing, and the rest of the terrible stuff that happens to you in advertising.
Winning is half strategy and half luck of the draw. Just like advertising.
Is AdQuest intended for fellow advertisers to commiserate, or for everyone outside of the ad world to finally gain some understanding on what your work life is like?
Adam: As Michael said, we all have this shared experience living in the often-absurd world of advertising. So it’s great for commiserating. We’ve also played with people in media, PR, sales, even coders. They could relate in their own fields.
That said, we think it will be fun for those who have nothing to do with advertising as well. Parents, family or friends who want to know more about your job. We felt it important to walk that fine line of sharing insider stories but still making it playable and fun if you’re not in the industry.
Did you get input from your creative peers or rely primarily on your firsthand experiences in the industry?
Adam: A majority is first-hand, but we definitely got suggestions from other creatives. Our producers also shared a lot of stories from shoots and post that made the game. But we always made sure the situations were relatable to everyone and not isolated incidents.
Michael: Yeah it’s so funny because once you tell some people about the premise of the game, people just have tons of ideas that make for some really funny gameplay.
We hope to get even more suggestions for situations to add to a future version. We’ve barely scratched the surface of advertising’s wrath.
Which element of the game are each of you proudest of and why?
Adam: The relatability. Our goal was to make a game only creatives could make, so I love when people read a card and say, “This just happened to me today!”
Michael: I think it’s fun when non-creative people who work in advertising play it and love it. I love when non creative people go, “Wow, it’s not easy to get a finished piece in your portfolio”.
Which board games from your childhood most inspired the rules and look of AdQuest?
Adam: It’s like a jaded version of Life, mixed with Chance cards from Monopoly.
Michael: I really dug the design-ey look of this game called Tokaido Road. Just really nice and clean. The simplicity of the board for Monopoly also definitely played a part in it.
What has the response been like from fellow advertising creatives?
Adam: They love it. I mean, yes, sometimes they want to flip the table over. But in a fun, misery loves company kind of way.
Michael: Yeah, creatives like it a lot. But I think anyone in the agency world likes it too. They really like the funny perspective of playing an advertising game from the creative’s POV. Not like we’re ragging on Account people or anything, but there’s some choice zingers in there that are directed at everyone.
What’s the best advertising advice you’ve heard or received that all creatives should hear?
Adam: Be good to people. It’s really true that you rely on your peers in this deceptively small industry. Respect and a good attitude will be rewarded over and over.
Michael: An old colleague used to always use that Wayne Gretzky quote “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. I’m not a big sports person, but I really think that’s a good one to keep in mind when you’re overthinking stuff and start getting a little gun shy.
Also don’t be a dick.