Culture Dose: A Party Game With a Twist

Lift your spirits with Sway: A Game of Debate & Silver Linings.

It’s no question that our world could use as much positivity these days as it can muster. That’s why we find this to be particularly good news: Just in time for the holidays, two Seattle-based female entrepreneurs have launched a “party game that inspires optimism”—Sway: A Game of Debate & Silver Linings.

Margaret Marshall and Rachael Kauffung co-created Sway while working at Amazon, thanks to the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign. In a nutshell, they describe Sway as a game of debate where only “for” arguments exist. An example: you’re forced to argue why something like having your car towed is great, while talking like Yoda or doing yoga poses. We chatted with Margaret and Rachael to learn about how their creation came to life.


Q: How did this concept come to be?

We worked together and became fast friends who played games regularly, with a particular love of party games. We noticed a trend where the humor and intelligence came from the game content rather than the players. Many games also seemed to generate laughter at the expense of others with an underlying negative tone. We realized that we wanted something different in a party game and that we weren’t alone in that.

I (Margaret) broached the idea of forming a game company to Rachael (and then ultimately to our other two contributors, Sam and Jeff), sharing a list of undeveloped ideas that we began to materialize and expand upon. We focused in quickly on what became Sway. It was exactly what we had envisioned for our game—humor rooted in the positive and driven by the players. The idea was solidified when we started play testing and saw how much joy people got from playing it.

Q: What makes Sway stand out from other games?

There are a few stand-out elements of Sway. First, Sway is a debate game, but players defend radically different topics and always take the “pro” stance (even if, on the surface, the topic doesn’t seem good). This leads to some hilarious combinations, like debating which is better: “middle airplane seats” or “getting gum stuck in your hair.” Challenges, like “incorporate animal noises,” take the game from funny to downright hilarious. Sway also handles judging differently than other games. The judge is not selected until after the debate has occurred, so players are not able to tailor their argument to a particular person.


Q: Why was it so important to you to “facilitate joy, connection and expression” through your creation?

Our lives, and that of many of our friends and family, are constantly connected. Surrounded by smartphones and other devices, it is easy to get sucked away from the physical world and into the digital one. For many of us, that means we have to make a proactive effort to generate the kind of in-person interaction that used to be commonplace.

We believe tabletop gaming offers an opportunity to disconnect from technology and engage with friends and family, even if only for an hour at a time. Sway facilitates doing so in a way that shines a light on the positive and allows you the freedom to let yourself out of your box. For us, and the people we’ve seen play our game, it creates happiness. And, at least for us, that’s what we are striving for.

Q: What was the game-making process like from your first sparks of inspiration to the final product?

It was iterative! Our first version of Sway was hand-written on note cards made in a weekend. We started play testing with that first version and begin refining the game elements and concept from there. After various card layouts, judge selection mechanisms and brand designs, prototype #5 finally stuck. We also relied on invaluable input from other local game designers. We are lucky in that Seattle has a fairly well developed board game community, including creators and enthusiasts, that we could tap into for play testing and advice. Whit Alexander (Cranium) and James Ernst (Cheapass Games) both graciously met with us and shared advice from their own experiences that we are still incorporating to this day.

Our favorite part? Play testing with strangers at “cons” and gaming venues! Having someone you don’t know play your game gives you so much information for how to make it better. Play testers gave us ideas that are in the final version of the game, including the easy/not so easy topic card format.

Q: What’s your favorite part of playing Sway?

Watching how creative people are when they are finding the positive in a topic that is not at all positive on the surface. And seeing different takes on the challenges like speaking in a Scottish accent or yodeling. We were at GeekGirlCon last weekend and I witnessed the best Yoda impersonation of my life. She nailed it with the voice, the syntax, even the facial expressions! True talent, that was!

Q: What feedback have you gotten from those who’ve given it a whirl?

People have told us that this is a game they could see having just as much fun playing with friends on a Saturday night as they would with Grandma at Thanksgiving. The positivity aspect is something we’ve heard a lot of excitement about. We had one player tell us recently that he will never again think negatively about walking out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to his shoe! One thing we weren’t expecting was how many people would use Sway as a team-building game at work, but apparently it’s great for that.

Q: Any plans for a follow-up game?

We have quite a few ideas for possible expansion packs for Sway, the first of which we produced as an exclusive for our Kickstarter supporters. I suspect the next thing we will do is create versions designed for specific age groups. There have been a lot of requests for a version for kids under 13, both for family play and for use in the classroom, and for one tailored specifically to adults. We also have an ongoing list (that keeps growing!) of other games we hope to make some day, but right now we’ve got our hands full with Sway.