One of the greatest compliments you can pay a person, we think, is that they’re interesting. Jack Dire (also known as Darin Ross) is someone we admire here at Geek & Sundry: We’ve had him on our streams and we play his games excitedly. And he’s not a run-of-the-mill game designer or creator.
A creator across multiple mediums, he’s the kind of designer who can channel the outrage of a poorly assembled burrito into a viral blog, would describe himself as a weird person made some card games and escape rooms, and tells stories by burying boxes in the desert (we’ll get to that). He recalls one of his greatest life moments as playing a game of his design with the likes of Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, Guardians of the Galaxy), Grant Imahara (Mythbusters, White Rabbit Project), Shane West (Salem, ER), cosplayer Meg Turney, and supermodel Adrienne Curry. This is someone who values experiences over typical accomplishments.
He’s also a Kickstarter darling, successfully funding five projects, four of which turned into games on the shelves of friendly local gaming stores and big-box retailers (like Barnes & Noble and Target) alike. It’s undeniable that these party games are popular and successful, but that’s not something that gets to Jack’s head: there’s a humility and gratefulness that shows in the face of this success. Suffice to say, the designer of party games like as Superfight, Blank Marry Kill, Red Flags, and his most recent game You’ve Got Problems., is a hell of an interesting guy.
He’s probably most well known for creating Superfight. The game’s premise is a simple one: three to ten players each assemble a character with chosen and random attributes. Each player advocates for their own character, putting forward why their champion would beat everyone else’s character in a, well, super fight.
The table decides the winner of the fight. The delightfulness of this experience in the most extreme and silly kind of headcanon a group can undertake. Also: there’s a Justin Beiber card in the deck. Any game that imagines a group of people fighting the Beibs with weaknesses like “has to pee really bad” and “is afraid of own shadow” is bound to be a great time.
Red Flags is a game of his design almost anyone can relate to: the game of terrible dates. Like an overbearing yenta setting up friends with people you think they’d love, you pick qualities of a date for a friend. The twist is that each date candidate gets a red flag card – something that you don’t get to pick that could turn your perfect match into what is basically a serial killer. You make the case for your candidate, but the person who you’re playing matchmaker for ultimately chooses the winner of the round.
Beyond being the kind of game that captures the terribleness of dating as a whole and turns the awfulness of it into a fun, social experience, it’s also really fun to learn just what sorts of things might be real deal-breakers, and what lovable quirks end up being the right kind of OK. Maybe someone who recites the lines from Titanic in their sleep is perfect for the friend you didn’t know hums “My Heart Will Go On” before bed every night. There is, after all, the old matchmaker adage that says that every pot has a lid.
Blank Marry Kill is another fun game Jack’s created that twists the rhetorical Screw-Marry-Kill-style challenge on its head. Instead of being faced with three straightforward candidates and three straightforward choices, players get to twist the options and candidates to make the choices more complicated. For example, you might change one of the options to “Give Power of Attorney” or “Share a Prison Cell With”.
The candidates themselves also get a shake-up — while sharing a prison cell with a cat doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, when that cat only has one minute to live, you’re faced with being stuck in a prison cell and being really, really sad. As such, giving a panda your Power of Attorney might not seem like such a bad idea (it still probably is though).
The most recent addition to the Jack Dire repertoire of games is You’ve got problems. The game revolves around the concept that despite how amazing and awesome some people might seem to be, they’re never really as perfect as it seems. Everyone has problems.
Each player has a set of perk cards, two of which each presents to the round’s judge. They’re all fantastic attributes. However, the twist lies in that each player also has problem cards, which they play on top of other player’s perk cards. The judge has to make a hard decision between all the options that are presented, and players score points on winning choices.
There’s a certain mix between the absurd and the mundane that makes Jack Dire games compelling. It’s the absurdity that makes them lighthearted, but the mundane that makes them accessible and relatable. It’s also what makes it easy to connect with the game and the people you’re playing with. These games are fun, but also resonant.
Departing from games, but not from connecting with people, Find the Starlight was Jack’s first project, funded in 2013 and like him, is creative and unconventional. Its Kickstarter described it as, “the beginning chapter of a story told through items sent to readers, left in public spaces, buried, hidden, and sometimes lost.” Yes, Jack did bury boxes in the desert, but he also mailed pages to people who signed up to receive them. As he told it, it’s not just a story, but a new way to tell it.
In a 2013 interview, Jack divulged that the story started as a novel he was writing while also working on an art project that included hidden elements. “I was writing it in novel form. At the same time, I was working on an art project that had this element of hidden things to it. Then one night in my car it struck me that they are the same story. They always had been. And more importantly, they could tell the story with one voice.”
Beyond the story, it’s also a community project. People find pages and artifacts, share them, and together a group of otherwise unconnected people piece together the story. Chapter One started four years ago, and now a community of people, some of whom were involved with Chapter 1, are now receiving things like coins in their mail as Chapter 2 is set to start.
Whether it is fun party games, escape rooms, or burying boxes in the desert, a hallmark of Jack’s work is his ability to connect people together and provide unique experiences. These games without people are just boxes of cards. Sheets of story pages that aren’t shared are just paper. It’s the people that Jack’s work connects together who make them meaningful. It’s what makes his work compelling and something we’ll continue to watch, whatever project he embarks on next.
Images: Skybound Games, Jack Dire
Editor’s Note: This post is sponsored by You’ve Got Problems.