A wise man once said that alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. For Jason Anarchy, at least half that sentence proved to be true.
“I was working a typical 9 to 5 job,” said Anarchy, a resident of Ontario. “It was a good enough job, but in my head, I know I don’t want to do this.”
But Anarchy did want to drink and play games, so he found a way to combine the two and get paid for it when he created Drinking Quest, a hybrid RPG/drinking game. So far, it’s been an indie hit amongst tabletop gamers. After designing two stand-alone expansions, Anarchy recently celebrated a major milestone with the launch of the Drinking Quest Trilogy Edition, and is even branching out with a comic series/passion project based on the property.
“The comic will always be second to the game series unless a publisher picks it up and gives me enough money to buy a helicopter,” said Anarchy.
In the meantime, the game’s appeal goes well beyond the booze. Though it looks like a silly glorification of debauchery – a tone that Anarchy does not discourage in the game’s marketing and social media, which is mostly about biceps – nothing about the design, the theme, or the humor is accidental. Growing up, Anarchy would stitch together parts of favorites like Hero Quest and Final Fantasy to create his own unique RPGs for friends. He called on that experience when making Drinking Quest, eventually coming up with a concept that works better as an introduction to RPGs than an introduction to drinking, even for those who have never played a single round of Dungeons and Dragons.
“I came up with what I consider to be the simplest possible definition of a pen and paper RPG, a good party game that you can learn in ten minutes and start playing right away,” said Anarchy.
“There are so many nights were I’ve set up a game and not actually played it,” he continued. “In my mind those are wasted nights, and once you’re an adult there’s far fewer nights with your friends.”
Of course, it’s all fun and games until someone tries to drive, which is what makes Drinking Quest different from most other drinking games. Though Drinking Quest associates alcohol with good times and adventure – much of the humor focuses on the omnipresence and effects of ale – the game has a strong moral core that emphasizes responsible behavior. Drinking Quest is supposed to play out over the course of an entire evening, a true tabletop RPG that keeps a group of friends busy for hours. Sessions wouldn’t be much fun if people got too drunk too quickly to play.
“Most drinking games are horribly front heavy,” said Anarchy, criticizing the haphazard races that teenagers learn in college. “Drink as much as you can as fast as you can. It’s not an actual board game.”
With Drinking Quest, Anarchy set out to make a game that he would want to play as a lifelong gamer. He deliberately designed it to be on the low end of alcohol tolerance – there are even separate rules for non-drinkers – mostly because he wanted it to be accessible.
“Drink responsibly. Once you know your limits, drink to your limits. I always wanted to make sure there was some kind of disclaimer and I definitely don’t want anyone to hurt themselves,” said Anarchy.
Interestingly, the mechanics and the pace actively facilitate responsible consumption. Drinking Quest plays out across four rounds. You have to chug your drink if your character dies, but the one chug per round maximum puts a cap on the debauchery. An average game translates to two or three chugs over the course of two or three hours, a reasonable intake rate for the typical adult human. Some people still think there’s too much drinking while others think there’s not enough. The same is true of alcohol in general, which is why the game provides leeway to allow players to customize their experience.
“It takes into account that people are going to sit there and drink their drinks like normal people,” said Anarchy. “That’s why it’s not primarily a sip system. A chug is an event. You probably don’t want to do a chug, but your friends want to point and laugh while you do it, so it’s a lot of fun.”
That’s ultimately why the game works so well. The checks and balances that make it safer also make the product more consistent and engaging, holding players with gameplay and booze rather than relying solely on one or the other.
But let’s not overlook the obvious. Despite the lawyer-approved calls for restraint – Anarchy estimates that his is the most socially responsible drinking game money can buy – the alcohol definitely helps the sales pitch, especially when used to make fun of the dreary logic of medieval fantasy.
“It’s just such a dry genre,” said Anarchy. “There’s a 300-page book you have to memorize to play [D&D]. It takes itself really seriously, and that’s why Dungeons and Dragons is a great game, but also lends itself to parody. You never see Frodo with a hangover.”
Drinking Quest Mixology Lesson 1 – Anarchy’s Fist: “Half a shot of two kinds of whiskey, with soda water and some grenadine so it doesn’t taste terrible. You have to mix two nationalities, so a Bourbon and a Scotch, or something like that.” – Jason Anarchy
In Drinking Quest, the references get far more specific than Lord of the Rings. Anarchy assumed players would be familiar with the tropes of D&D, so the comedy can be more off putting than the structure of the game itself. That may be the biggest point of contrast with Munchkin, another, slightly more complex tabletop card game that satirizes RPG conventions. Anarchy had never played Munchkin prior to creating Drinking Quest, and while he has since grown to appreciate the game, he argues that the difference between the two lies in his approach to comedy.
“Munchkin is broad,” said Anarchy, who wanted his game to be replayable for its humor. “Drinking Quest is more niche. I’m not writing it for people that don’t play Dungeons and Dragons. So maybe Munchkin is more Two and a Half Men. Drinking Quest is more Arrested Development.”
Drinking Quest Mixology Lesson 2 – The Sloppy Wheaton: “You take a bunch of [nearly empty bottles of] alcohol that you just want to get rid of. You mix it all together, and you mix it with some kind of wheat beer. It doesn’t taste good, but it helps you clean out your bar.” – Jason Anarchy
Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a barrier for his target audience. Most of the cards in Drinking Quest still have a surface level gag to draw in newcomers. Once you get beyond the biceps, there are plenty of inside jokes and more biting cultural satire.
“The content of the game glorifies drinking in some regards, but there’s just as much humor about the negative aspects of drinking. Drinking is great, but it’s also terrible, just like in the real world,” concluded Anarchy.
That authenticity is probably why Drinking Quest resonates with audiences. The aesthetic complements the mechanics, which in turn complement the overarching message. The result is a complete experience that successfully walks the razor’s edge between inhibition and restraint, a balance that every regular drinker intuitively understands. Drinking is fun, but it’s best when done in the company of friends with an eye towards safety. That way everybody wins, no matter how much (or how little) alcohol you drink along the way.