Critical Role's Queen by Midnight Creator Tells All About Game's Origin sits down with Critical Role producer Kyle Shire to talk about his new game Queen by Midnight.

Queen By Midnight might be the hottest board game of 2023, and we've got the details on the game's unique origins. Last month, Critical Role's Darrington Press released Queen by Midnight, a unique battle royale deck-building game featuring six unique princesses (each with a separate style of play) who are vying for the role of Queen by Midnight. The game was created by Kyle Shire, who also serves as a producer for Critical Role's streaming programs. had the chance to speak with Shire about his new game, its origins, and whether he plans to continue his dual roles as a producer for one of the hottest brands in gaming and a designer. 

[Note: A video version of this interview can be found on The Character Sheet,'s YouTube channel for tabletop and fantasy news. This interview has been edited for clarity and space.]

queen-by-midnight-2.png My first question is, how long have you been designing on top of being a producer? 

Kyle Shire: It's honestly a little strange. When I started producing, I was working at a company that rhymes with Mishminima that is now defunct. When that company went belly up, I had this game idea on the back-burner for a really long time, and I just had so much free time on my hands, I just figured I'm going to put my nose to the grindstone and try to do it and give myself a reason to get up in the morning. It was the first game I have ever designed, and so far, it's the game that I have designed to completion. I have other games that are kind of on the back-burner right now as well. But basically, it was a strange fluke.

My partner runs a Changeling: The Dreaming game, and there's this odd mechanic in Changeling: The Dreaming where Changelings can sort of inspire mortals to create something completely out of nowhere. It's like an enrapturement where they just get completely obsessed with a strange idea and the Changelings feed off of the inspiration, basically. It kind of feels like that, where there was just this idea that came at the right time. And I was given the gift of freedom in that year of 2019 to focus a great deal of my energy on it. And I'm really glad I did, because so far, it's paid off.

So what was it like pitching this game to Darrington Press? Was this like a Cones of Dunshire situation where you just had a fully crafted game ready to go? How did the pitch meeting go?

Shire: It absolutely was The Cones of Dunshire. Absolutely, it was. It really is striking how similar the parallels were, me chainsmoking on my porch in my pajamas, just going like "Would a depressed person make this?" 

Strangely, I had actually met and talked with Ivan before I even started at Critical Role, it was our friend Xander who connected us when Xander found out I was working on a game.  And so Ivan and I had a really short coffee, just casual coffee meeting months before I even interviewed at Critical Role. But when I started there, I was really focused on producing and I was really just trying to focus on doing the thing and making sure that that was my main focus.

And I really thought that this game that I had made was going to sit on the back burner and maybe in the future I'd be able to kickstart it or something. And when Darrington Press became a thing, I had a bunch of friends that were play testers on the game that kind of did encourage me. They're like, "Hey, so are you ever going to work up the courage to show them Queen by Midnight?" I felt really nervous about it. And so I took the time to create it on Tabletop Simulator to run play tests during Covid.

And so I basically just asked Ivan like, "Hey, super softball thing here. I made this thing and I've made it on Tabletop Simulator and I'm going to be running a play test. Would you mind just sitting in on a play test and just telling me what you think?" And he was like, "Well, I got about 20 minutes and I'll give those 20 minutes to you." And we orchestrated it, we got it all set up, and he basically just watched about 20 minutes of it. And then it kind of grew from there. 

So it was not a hard pitch as much as it was like a, "Hey, I made this cool thing. I'd really like your thoughts on it. Maybe you'd want to work with it, maybe you wouldn't, but let's just see where this goes." 

So how did you develop the world of Queen by Midnight? Were there any things that you took inspiration from when you were building up what seems to be a full-fledged world? 

Shire: I realized I wanted to develop a fully fledged world and thread a narrative of the game into this idea. And a big inspiration or sort of guiding stone for it was reimagining popular princess fairytales and folk tales in world that was a matriarchy instead of a patriarchy. All of these stories are kind of shaped by the idea that they were made in our world, which is run by men. And so all of these female protagonists who have grown to become heroines for us, even though they don't have this sort of stereotypical heroine form, they basically have grown to be that for a lot of people.

And then I wanted to add this kind of fun, a little bit of Neil Gaiman-y dark fantasy twists to it, because that's just where my heart sings. So yeah, that was basically the most fun that I had working on this game, was trying to figure out who these princesses are in this different world and how to take elements of their story, but find interesting twists on them.

What was it like seeing your work literally come to life at the company you work at, especially as Darrington Press took your design and added art assets and other design elements to it? 

Shire: There was a strange amount of, I don't want to say cognitive dissonance, but there was a strange detachment, almost like my body was trying to make me not get too excited over it. But, gosh darn it, what they made was truly above and beyond what I was expecting. I knew that it was going to be great, but I mean, the first time that I saw the fully realized box, we were going into an all hands meeting over at our main office, and I remember just walking in and seeing the box and people had already opened it and we're looking at the pieces and I was like, "It's a thing!" And then I sat down and meticulously put together the tower for the first time.

It is truly surreal. And the thing that I was most touched by was the fact that so much of my flavor text, they kept intact. So much of the initial spirit of the princesses and their play styles were kept intact. And the lore for the worlds, they all kept intact except for maybe a few things here and there. But everything that they brought to the table in terms of shifts and balancing decisions, everything that they did was in service of making the game the best possible version it could be. And so seeing all of those choices blossom into this thing that I was never expecting, it was really surreal. It's still surreal. I still feel like I'm going to wake up from this at some point.


Was the vertical clock tower component part of your original design?

Shire: Oh, oh my gosh. If it had been up to me, the thing I was envisioning this would be a Kickstarter thing, and I was literally just imagining what would be the cheapest possible way that I could make this a reality. And so I was just imagining the whole thing would be done with mats and the clock would be in the center, but it would be two-dimensional, it would be a little dial that you would turn with your fingers and whatnot. 

And it was the brilliant Alex Uboldi that basically was like, "You know what this game needs? It needs some three-dimensional table presence, because you talk about this clock tower a lot. What if we've made that a three-dimensional centerpiece of the game that housed the bazaar and actually fully rotated for each person?" And the first time I heard that, I was like, "There's no way. There's no way that's ever going to work." And sure enough, Matt Puckett and Co. and Alex Uboldi were able to make that happen and not just make it happen, but the quality of the Clock Tower itself is also exceptional for a cardboard piece that comes in a box like that, it really does hold up and it doesn't feel like it's going to wobble and fall apart. It feels premium. So that was really amazing to see.

Were you surprised by how embraced this was by the Critter community and by the board gaming community in general? Because this isn't a Critical Role tie-in at all, which is made the daily Gen Con sellouts that much more impressive. Were you surprised it was one of the big things that people talked about coming out the show?

Shire: Truly shocked. Absolutely, truly shocked. I walked into the show floor on the first day and I got to see the line basically right at the tail end of it. And I remember Darcy Ross pulling me aside and saying, "We sold out of our first day supply in 49 minutes." And that was when I was like, "Oh, oh wow. Oh wow, this is really cool." And the fact that every day after that it was selling out, basically in under 20 minutes, I saw some videos of people running to get in line as the show floor opened, and that was nuts in the best possible way.

I always was expecting it to do okay, and not because I didn't think it was amazing. It was because I had adjusted my expectations to not be severely disappointed in this thing that I had built up in my head for multiple years. And sure enough, I was absolutely flabbergasted by the response to it because, it not having anything to do with Critical Role and to have people who haven't bought anything from our company yet, or were just kind of getting involved in Critical Role or didn't really know us coming up and organically inquiring about the game was really cool. I didn't think that was going to happen. I definitely knew that it could make a splash with Critter folks, but the fact that people outside of our community embraced it was amazing.

Christian Hoffer:

So what's your next game? Are you playing on sticking with the deckbuilding genre? 

Shire: Well, my first thought is I hope that sales for Queen By Midnight do well, and that maybe we can think about more products that take place in that world. I am not saying expansions, but maybe that could be a thing that we talk about, which would be amazing. I will say it takes place in a kingdom called Twelvefold, and there are six princesses in this game. 

I have two other projects that are tabletop RPGs, and they're in a little bit of an early stage of development, but I'll say that one delves very deeply into my past as a production assistant and heavy consumer of reality television. And so, I'll just kind of tease that a little bit. Yeah, I don't want to give way too much, but it feels like a niche within a niche almost. But I really like the idea and I think I want to chase it down.

Is there anything else that you want to tell our readers about Queen by Midnight or anything else?

Shire: No, I think I'm good. I think I'm good. Okay, I will say this, the bazaar refreshes every single time you buy a card from it immediately.

Queen by Midnight is available now on Darrington Press's store and at local game stores.