There were a lot of new tabletop games at Play NYC this year, but one of the most unique was a small title called Zer0 Inbox, the debut game by Macho Zero.
The game, depending on your point of view, is a nightmare-infused hellscape that pokes fun at the monotony of an office job. Think Office Space, but in playable form.
"Zer0 Inbox is a corporate parody party board game [that's] all about screwing over your coworkers, while trying to clear out your inbox before any of them do," explains Zach Moore, one of the game's creators. "It's basically real life, but satirized it a little bit, so it's a little softer and not as triggering for your day jobs."
The game's objective seems simple enough: Clear out all your emails, represented by a deck of cards you draw, and cross the finish line first Monopoly-style. Of course, things are never that easy, as Zer0 Inbox has plenty of cards that can just pile on the emails for unsuspecting players, with four different types of emails that players may be given at time.
Players would move around the board, landing on different colored spaces that correspond to the four types of emails. If they have the same email in their hand, they can discard it, being one step closer to winning the game. Some emails are attached to a chain, meaning you can delete them together at the same time because their titles and heading match up. Other cards are untitled 'wild cards' which can be matched up with any chain of cards.
These chain emails actually reference real-life office hijinks experienced by members of the team.
"The card copies have very satirical writing in it," stated Lina Skandalakis, the lead marketer for Macho Zero. "People find it funny, the storylines in [Zer0 Inbox]. There is one storyline where this one CEO who has an anime body pillow that gets leaked to the press, so it's got these funny mini storylines like #CuddleGate, along with groan-worthy stories like 'As per my last email' and things you would see in a corporate environment. So we got this mix of really silly things and really corporate things that are designed to meld and be very relatable."
The game itself has more than just satirical emails. Players can also draw action cards which can be used to interrupt other players at any time. These action cards range from immediate use, such as the 'Reply All' card that gives every player a new email, or the "Meeting Request" card, which means they must skip a turn. Other cards allow you to look at players' hands, manipulate the dice roll totals, or even move a player's position on the board.
These action cards were not in the first incarnation of Zer0 Inbox, but came about through play testing.
"I playtested an early pizza-box edition with index cards with my coworkers," said Moore. "The only request they had was 'I want to be able to mess with everyone way more.' This is when the action cards came into the game, that allowed you a lot of agency over your own actions and the other players actions."
Much of the design of Zer0 Inbox comes from real-life inspiration from Moore's day job.
"I'm a games producer by trade," said Moore, "but I was trying to learn about game audio, so I took a game design course, and as a result of that three-day course they wanted you to prototype a game based on your everyday life. So, being a game producer, I'm fielding all kinds of emails on my projects from other teams, and having to stay very organized. So I thought, 'Well, that's a huge part of my life,' so why not make a game all around zeroing out my inbox and keeping it nice and tidy."
The game is a frantically paced game that can be over in one rotation around the board if a savvy enough player has their way. On average, a single game would likely take 20-30 minutes, depending on how many action cards are played. The design of the board itself, by Luis Roma, is colorful and easy to use, and the production on the cards and demo pieces were already a high quality for a game in production.
After two years of development and touring small gaming conventions, the next step, Moore stated, was Kickstarter. Macho Zero plans to have a Kickstarter for Zer0 Inbox posted later this year, and is hoping to drum up enough interest for the game ahead of time to guarantee its success. They even have a newsletter titled the "Culture Committee," which offers prospective players a downloadable print-and-play version of Zer0 Inbox for those looking to try the game out for themselves.
"We definitely hope to use the Kickstarter as a jumping off point," said Moore. "So make sure every one of those gets fulfilled and then have some excess to send out to other retailers, Amazon online orders, and more."
Check out what else we saw at Play NYC by going to our Play NYC 2019 Coverage Hub.