19 October 2023
Queen by Midnight, the deck building game of badass princesses fighting for their chance to rule, is the latest from Darrington Press, and the first for game designer and creator Kyle Shire. We caught up with Shire about the process of bringing the game to life, what makes it stand out, and the underlying themes that make it what it is.
Who is Kyle Shire, Designer of Queen by Midnight?
It’s no surprise that Critical Role – the live play D&D series that brought TTRPGs to the masses – is a team full of highly creative individuals. On your screens, in each episode are highly talented voice actors and improvisers, with Matt Mercer crafting intricate tales that have captivated us for years. Of course, the talent doesn’t stop there, and it’s with Critical Role Producer Kyle Shire that our tabletops are poised to benefit, from the tale of Queen By Midnight.
“Folks may also know me from my work with Machinima, or my appearances on Hyper RPG, or from Amazon’s Out On Stage, back in my days as a stand up comedian.” Shire explains, a creative history that no doubt contributes to the great narrative of a game.
And whilst Stand Up comedy was a priority once for Shire, it was the disillusionment with the profession that began the process for Queen by Midnight to exist.
“I was going through a really rough time in my life, where I had very little going on professionally, let alone artistically, and I needed a reason to get up in the morning. I had fallen out of love with stand up comedy, I was unable to find a new job after getting laid off, and no one was interested in any of my scripts or pitch decks.” Shire explains of his time in 2019.
“I wanted to try my hand at making something new, something I had never even dreamed of making, and I had gotten super into deck building games, so I decided to just make one. I also wanted to make a game that I personally would want to buy. Games that feature an all fem presenting cast of characters, who are three dimensional and interesting, are few and far between, especially in the tabletop gaming world.”
“Creating this game and working on it, little by little, and playtesting it, became my unofficial, unpaid job for virtually all of 2019.”
Whilst simply making one is a much more complex process than it was made sounded here – Shire later comments on the notorious difficulty encountered in creating deck building game with ensuring balance, as he’d experienced himself in Friday Night Magic games – the game was put to one side when Shire landed the role of Producer at Critical Role. However, with the formation of Darrington Press, the publishing arm of Critical Role, which saw the likes of Uk’Toa come to life, Shire approached its head, Ivan Van Normal to bring the game to life. Despite understandable nerves at its release, stock was selling out at Gen Con each morning of each day, and the game officially launched in September.
What is Queen by Midnight?
“Queen By Midnight is a fabulously badass deck building battle game for 3-6 players. You play as one of six princesses of a dark fairy tale flavored continent called Twelvefold, who are all battling one another to become the new Midnight Queen. Over the course of twelve rounds, players build their decks by purchasing cards from their own princess’s vaults, or from the public bazaar, that allow them to attack, defend, earn clout, or scheme against one another. At the stroke of midnight, the game is over, and the princess with the most health and clout is crowned the new Midnight Queen!”
The difference in Queen by Midnight to many other deck builders, is the careful design touch that appears within it throughout. You won’t simply be drawing cards from the centre, but from a 3D Clocktower that has the multi purpose of counting rounds, as if truly counting down to midnight, turning to each player to denote turn (and command presence), and acting as a dice tower. Tabletop games can be notoriously flat, especially when cards make up the majority of the game, but Queen by Midnight sprawls upward, like the Evertree of Everdell, or the Bird Feeder of Wingspan.
“The beautiful 3D, turnable, clocktower is entirely a creation by Alex Ubaldi, Queen By Midnight’s game producer.” Shire explains. Uboldi is also credited with the game Gladius, and runs Cat Quartet Games. “I was always imagining I’d have to Kickstart this game by myself, if I were to make it at all, so I wanted the pieces to be as affordable as possible. That meant making the “clock” element of the game a 2D mat with a little bracket in the middle basically. But Alex had the idea to amp up the game’s table presence by making the clocktower not only 3D, but turnable as well, so players don’t have to stand up and move around the table just to see what cards are available in the bazaar, or what time of day it is.”
Why Queens in Queen by Midnight?
The inspiration behind games can be multifaceted, and Shire explained his original disillusionment with comedy and and having been let go from his day job as the original prompt. However, he describes an interaction with his niece, which formed the path that took making a game for fun, into making Queen by Midnight specifically.
“We were discussing fairy tales,” Shire explained, where his niece went on to says she felt like “Princesses couldn’t be strong”.
“Something about that statement from a little girl reverberated inside me like a church bell. I wanted to make something that reminds people, especially young ladies, that fairy tales are for everyone, and they can be remade and reimagined in any way you like. So I used that as the backdrop to the story behind this game; what could these princess stories look like if they were told in a matriarchal society versus the patriarchal one in which they originated?”
Queen by Midnight formed as a result, with nods to various pop culture icons - “metric tons worth of nods to some of my favorite movies and TV shows baked into some of the characters and cards (Clue, King of the Hill, Addams Family Values, to name a few)” Shire says, when we asked if it included any Critical Role (it doesn’t) – but we asked his favourite princess to play, which turned out to be Boss No, inspired by a range of strong females.
“I will always have a soft spot for Boss No. She is my love letter to Emma Frost, Selina Kyle, Carmen San Diego, and Madaline Khan. I also prefer to play a slower, long game rather than a smash and bash type character.”
What’s the best way to play Queen by Midnight?
“My favorite way to play is with friends whom I love dearly, so we can trash talk one another with reckless abandon while we battle for the crown, all in the best fun possible. Sadly whenever I play QBM, 9 times out of 10 I am focus fired by every player because they all assume I’m some sorta Seto Kaiba type who is both the creator AND THE GREATEST PLAYER of Queen By Midnight, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth; my win rate in my own game is mid at best.”
But for those of us who don’t excel at board games, Shire shared one of his favourite parts of the development of the game – and one which keeps those who may not win engaged– came from the feelings of his partner.
“My boyfriend, Jonathan Sims, will be the first to tell you that he struggles with board games, and always feels like he’s the first one out.” Shire shares.
“It was actually his pitch that maybe there should be some mechanic that allows players who’ve been “ousted” to still have some impact on the outcome of the game. And I thought that was a great idea because I too know what it’s like to be knocked out of a game and just noodle around on my phone for an hour while everyone else gets to continue to have fun. With the Inner Circle Mechanic, a player that’s been knocked out of the game after 6 o’clock can become another Princess’s Advisor; where at the start of their leader’s turn, an advisor can activate 1 or 2 abilities that’ll help their leader win the crown.”
What’s next for Queen by Midnight?
“All I’ll say is that the continent is named Twelvefold and there are six playable princesses (so far)...
“As far as other games on my docket, I have an idea for a TTRPG that I’m developing that draws upon my years worth of experience (and love) working in reality television”
You can find Queen By Midnight available from Darrington Press.
We had one last question...
Who is Mimzy?
"Due to an ironclad NDA given to me by Mimzy’s attorney at the time of the game’s creation, I am legally unable to tell you what Mimzy’s role in production was. But after reviewing the contract one more time, and conferring with our legal advisors, I CAN say that Mimzy is the best boy who definitely has never stolen a bag of hamburger buns from the cabinet and dragged them under the couch to be slowly consumed."