Making Everything Ever
We chatted with designer Nathan Thornton, the designer of the party game Everything Ever about the road to creating a game about everything!
[Everything Ever] really is the game I’ve been playing my whole life. I know a lot of people play a similar kind of game, but I have been completely obsessed with it forever. It’s my favorite game of all time and the game I’ve always wanted to make.
I made Everything Ever because I get bored waiting for things. And ever since I was a kid, I had to wait for things: for the food to get there at a restaurant, to finally get to the Great Smoky Mountains (or wherever) on a road trip, to get to the front of the queue for the rollercoaster, I was always waiting around with my friends and family, just looking at our hands, sitting there with our butts in our pants.
So we’d play this game. Somebody would say a category (“Movies with a monkey in them” or “Bands with a food in their name”) and we’d go around the group naming those things. Sometimes we’d buzz in, like EHNNNH! (this is supposed to be buzzer sound): “Blind Melon!” or BZZZT (does that seem more like one?): “The Lion King!” or sometimes we’d just go around the group.
And we’d laugh and laugh and the hours would zip by as you pulled that obscure potato chip flavor or song about a city, or you’d try to squeak in “Deep Purple, and I’ll tell you why: purple is a flavor and flavor is a food” or “Monkeys, Monkeys, Trains & Automobiles.”
But like most things, my dumb friends and I were bad at it. We weren’t bad at naming the things, we were bad at coming up with the categories. We’d do like “Movies about Ghostbusting” or “People on Mount Rushmore” or “Songs about finding out if somebody else likes pina coladas” and the lists wouldn’t end up being very long.
And then we had the best idea: What if somebody else came up with fun categories for us? And then nobody did... and so I didn’t think about this until like 20 years later.
"I love it when games take the kinds of things you do for fun anyway and give them structure and rules and props."
Here’s the part where it becomes Everything Ever. Everything Ever is the kind of game I like because I love it when games take the kinds of things you do for fun anyway and give them structure and rules and props. Like, putting things in a box that gives you the materials to create moments. Moments of joy, moments of interaction, moments of hilarity, and moments of surprise. Moments you tell stories about later. Moments that can only happen when you’re in the moment.
This list-making game was exactly that. I can’t tell you how many incredible moments I had playing this game. Because it lets you show off what you know without having to know too much. It was about thinking things up without having to think too hard. It was about movies and TV and food and music and books and art and sports and the world and people and literally everything ever.
"It was going to be called Every Tom Cruise Movie Ever Made."
And I had the perfect name for it. It was going to be called Every Tom Cruise Movie Ever Made. Because that was the kind of list you’d do! Cocktail, The Last Samurai, Risky Business, Minority Report, Interview with the Vampire, and Vanilla Sky (is vanilla a food?). Tom Cruise is fun to think about and so are his movies. The game would be about making all those other lists but we’d call it Every Tom Cruise Movie Ever Made as an example of the kind of list you’d make.
People were quick to point out the limitations of this title. “Nathan, people will think this game is just about Tom Cruise movies. It’d be like if you opened a store called Scissors, Scissors, Scissors and it didn’t only sell scissors.”
It’s not exactly like that, but I guess I get your point, fictional person I made up.
I put the title on hold for the time being and made a bunch of category cards. And I wanted the category cards to all be good. To be mostly stuff people already knew and that you wouldn’t need to have a lot of specialized knowledge about. No trivia, just saying the names of the things.
The criteria for categories:
- TIMELESS – so that they won’t feel outdated in a year or two.
- UNIVERSAL – so that adults and kids and people from different backgrounds could easily play together.
- INTERESTING – so that nothing feels expected or basic.
- CONCRETE – so that there’s little to no wiggle room on what constitutes a correct answer. Either it’s a character who’s made out of food or it isn’t. Either it’s a TV show with puppets or not.
- ABUNDANT – so that each one gives you lots of options. If we couldn’t think of 10-15 examples for a category, we cut it.
"Danielle Deley is a super-talented artist, and she did all this amazing art"
So I came up with 469 category cards and we thought they were all fun. And my friend Danielle Deley is a super-talented artist, and she did all this amazing art for the cards in her distinctive style.
Ok, what else. We added these judge cards, that you could use when people were giving iffy answers. THESE HELPED OUT A TON. Like, sometimes people would give answers that were technically correct, but they were annoying. The judge cards let you nudge an ill-intentioned player, or call them out when things got out of hand. And we were watching Law & Order when we had the idea for them, so we used authentic TV-judge language on them.
We printed up all these cards and kept playing, trying to squeeze the most fun we could out of them. And we quickly found out how much more fun it was to have to think of things in two different categories at the same time.
NOW we had a game!
Quick, name a Song with the Word “Time” in It and a Kind of Bean.
Name a Captain and a Kind of Furniture.
Name a Candy Bar and a Beatles Song.
“…Baby One More Time and chickpea!”
“Captain Kirk and nightstand!”
“Oh Henry and Hey Jude!”
THIS THING JUST GOT TWICE AS FUN.
And as we kept playtesting (I mean, really just playing), we thought there was no way to make this THREE TIMES AS FUN, so we didn’t even try until we realized that you could name one thing that’s in both categories.
“Name a Pirate and a character with a color in their name.”
“Name a movie that’s set in the future and a country in South America.”
“Name a summer camp movie and a ball.”
“Name a scientist and a kind of car.”
“Name a breakfast cereal and a magazine”
THE POSSIBILITIES ARE SORT OF LIMITLESS, IN A WAY, IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT.
"...the killjoys in the group made us change the name from Every Tom Cruise Movie Ever Made..."
So, by this time it was called Everything Ever (the killjoys in the group made us change the name from Every Tom Cruise Movie Ever Made so it wouldn’t be “confusing” or “deceptive” or “too long for a name” or “not even really what the game is” or “potential lawsuit from Tom Cruise, who is almost definitely a kind and understanding person but might have an issue with having his name associated with a thing he has zero association with.” And a couple of these reasons are good ones, I guess.
At this point in the designer diary, I’m really glad people mostly just look at the pictures and don’t really read them. Because I had this other idea that didn’t go anywhere. I wrote—get a load of this—fake movie quotes to put on every card. They didn’t contribute anything to the game, had nothing to do with how you’d play it, were deliberately confusing, and weren’t really specifically related to the category on the card. About these fake movie quotes, people said “we’re taking those off, right?” And at this point in the process, the people saying that were the publisher.
"It’s a lighter-than-air party game!"
I’m kind of all over the place with the timeline here, but at this point, the game was going to be published by Floodgate Games and they had a ton of good ideas that made this game even better. And some would argue, more of a game.
And they loved Danielle Deley's art, so they got her on board to do all the art for the whole dang game, with unique illustrations on every single card. That’s why it looks so good!
And they helped add some ways to change the categories more frequently throughout the game. You win the game by taking the fewest cards. So if you don’t know an answer, just take the card and change the category! Or change the category with a card from your hand and press your luck on taking a big stack of cards later! This was fun and added a little bit more strategy to the thing.
We didn’t want to give this game a ton of rules. It’s a lighter-than-air party game! It’s why we call it the “party game you’ve been preparing for your whole life.” Because it’s all stuff you already know, just by living in the world for however many years.
But I hope you can see that everything we did put into this game was to make it as fun as it possibly could be. That’s all it is. A game that’s supposed to be fun. A game that’s kind of about everything (not just Tom Cruise movies, although that is still one of the cards). A game for everybody. A game you can play anywhere (just grab a stack of cards for a road trip or whatever). A game about everything ever.
Sounds cool? Get Everything Ever here!