6 November 2013 | 11 Comments
Today I have an interview with the creators of a current Kickstarter project called Two Rooms and a Boom. The project caught my eye as an asset for other Kickstarter creators to know more about, so I reached out to Sean and Alan to dig deeper–you’ll see what I mean in the interview. We discuss hype, mini-campaigns, PnPs, art, and more.
Sean: Two Rooms and a Boom is the best game ever designed by man. Just kidding. Two Rooms and a Boom is this fun little social deduction hidden roles party game. Alan will probably describe it better. Personally, I’m passionate about it for a few reasons – first, because of the people involved. I love working with Alan and the whole experience of collaborating together has been hugely fun and hugely educational. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Second, I’m a huge fan of Ultimate Werewolf – and to be adding something to that genre, or to be doing hidden roles from another perspective – feels like a great honor.
Alan: If you’re looking for a thorough description of the game, then… Two Rooms and a Boom plays 6 – 30 players, only about 15 minutes of game time, no moderator, and every single player in the game can have a special character power or role to play. We’re truly passionate about our Kickstarter campaign simply because it is a great game. I don’t mean that in a salesman type of way but rather me being completely honest. Two Rooms is the game that I would want to play if I was with my friends, at a convention, or at any social gathering (even if I wasn’t one of the designers).
The first time we played the game, we knew we had a hit on our hands. We were over our friend Jeremiah Lee’s house with about 10 players. Sean and I imagined how the game would play, and it played EXACTLY like we imagined it. I remember being on the red team and realizing that I lost at the last round of the game. The experience was so intense that I remember screaming and crawling on the ground in defeat. That game was so fun that I realized… this game deserves to be enjoyed by everyone.
Players are randomly assigned to one of two playing areas (the “Two Rooms” part of the title) and then each player receives a face-down card identifying them as a member of the either the Red or Blue team. Mixed in amongst the Red members is a Bomber, and amid the Blues is a President. Members of the room are selected to be “hostages” by an elected Leader of the room. “Hostages” are the players traded to the other room at the end of each of the three rounds of the game . If, at the end of the final round, the President is in the same room as the Bomber, Red team wins, otherwise Blue rejoices in victory.
2. Can you name three other games that, if people like those games, they’ll also enjoy Two Rooms and a Boom?
Sean: It says right in our video! If you like Mafia, Werewolf, or the Resistance – you’ll love Two Rooms and a Boom! But really, anyone who likes to get up and socialize at a party, people who love Charades, or Taboo, or any other really social party game, I think you’ll like Two Rooms and a Boom.
3. I’m not an impulse buyer when it comes to games. Even for the game Tzolk’in, my favorite game of the year so far, it took me reading at least 5 reviews over the span of 2-3 months before I reached a critical mass of “I need to own this now.” I write about this tipping point here—it’s one of the major reasons I recommend that Kickstarter creators get the word out about their project early and follow through with ads and guest appearances on blogs and podcasts throughout the campaign. I mention all this because I experienced it as a backer firsthand with Two Rooms and a Boom—although I didn’t follow the development closely at all, every once in a while mentions of it would pop up online, and by the time you launched the Kickstarter campaign, I didn’t even have to think about backing it. Have you guys experienced that as backers? How did you create that tipping point for your backers over the last year?
Sean: So, my background before starting Tuesday Knight Games with Alan, was at Arcane Wonders, working on their flagship game, Mage Wars. One of the biggest things Bryan Pope and the guys over there did right was that Mage Wars was marketed for a full year before it came out. We flirted with pissing customers off a couple of times, but ultimately, everyone had heard of us when we launched. I think because of that experience, it was my default position to just try and hit every show we could. I’ll share a longer story if you’re interested, because I think the idea that we “created” the tipping experience is slightly deceptive.
We demoed Two Rooms at GenCon in 2012 every night and we were able to draw maybe 15-20 people to play consistently for a couple of hours. A few of those initial fans ended up being our biggest evangelists. They play Two Rooms by forum on BGG, they bring the game to local shows, and on longer saturdays, Alan opens a Google Hangout and they tear through the rulebook looking for inconsistencies based on their collective experience. We could not have done this alone. I don’t think there’s a secret to this though – you work hard to make a good game, you take it everywhere you possibly can and show it to as many people as you possibly can, you contact all the reviewers and podcasters that you know and ask if you can talk to them, and then the last one I would say is – don’t sit behind your booth if you go to any shows. Stand up, look people in the eye, smile, and tell them about your game. It’s on you to sell this thing.
Alan: I’m probably the worst person to ask when it comes to backing projects. I am a Kickstarter addict. I peruse Kickstarter everyday, usually several times a day. I’ve backed a ton of projects. Sometimes I’ll back because I want the game/product really badly. Other times, I’ll back a project because I really want the people behind the project to succeed. I’ll even back a project if it simply makes for a good story. The truth of the matter is, my basement is full of so many games I’ve received from Kickstarter. Every single game has a narrative behind it as to why I pledged. As strange as I know it will sound to many, my Kickstarter collection is my art gallery. I can walk someone through my collection and share with them the internal experiences they brought. So, this probably doesn’t have a place in this conversation, but as a backer premarketing doesn’t matter too much to me. As a campaign manager… it is everything.
4. One of the really interesting things you did was run a smaller Kickstarter campaign for a documentary about you as you created the Kickstarter for the game (I’m pretty sure you came close to creating a paradox that would have caused the universe to collapse upon itself). How do you feel that mini-campaign affected the game campaign? What percentage of backers for the documentary were friends and family versus strangers? Would you recommend mini-campaigns like that to other project creators?
Sean: The mini-campaign and the documentary were entirely Alan’s idea. I wasn’t a huge fan of it at first, I wanted to put all our resources behind the Two Rooms KS. I’m insanely glad we did it though. First off, there’s just some lessons you won’t learn until you hit that Launch button. You don’t know what information you’ll have on the back end. You don’t know what it’s going to feel like to get a backer. You haven’t though of what messages you’ll need to send out. You haven’t thought about graphics for updates, there’s just a whole lot that you’re blind to. For us, it was a chance to get a game in the win column early on with a successfully funded kickstarter, know what we were getting into.
The Boom or Doom kickstarter is also indicative of our story – we want to give things away. We want to be a gift to the gaming community. That can be hard to do, especially at the indie-level where every sale is a struggle. Transparency is also one of our core values and we wanted to peel back the curtain on the industry so that more indie guys could have more information about what they’re getting into. More information means better games being created, which is good for creators and players alike.
Alan: Many of our backers were friends and family. But many other backers were some bigger names in the gaming industry. The beauty of the documentary is that it gave us a concrete excuse to approach Justin Gary, Michael Mindes, Cory Jones, and so many other successful Kickstarters in the industry and interview them for advice. So not only did the documentary gives us an educational experience about Kickstarter, but it also was like a “back-stage pass” at GenCon.
Would we recommend a smaller “mini-campaign” to other project creators? That is really tough to say. I’m very fortunate to be working with Sean. His background is in film and editing. Between the two of us, we could split the work, each of us filling a different and specific role. If you have access to the talent and the ability to share the workload… why not launch a mini-campaign? But there is simply no way that any of this could be happening without Sean playing his part.
5. I recently filmed a blog entry about PnP reward levels, but I didn’t talk about playtest PnPs before the Kickstarter campaign. Can you tell us about your approach to playtest PnPs? What advice do you have for creators who worry that people will use the PnP as a replacement for the game?
Sean: This goes along with that transparency value and our desire to be a gift to the community that I was talking about. We took a page from Cards Against Humanity’s playbook and thought, if these guys aren’t worried about it, we shouldn’t be either. Honestly, at the end of the day, this is a small tight-knit industry that takes care of its own (example: Cryptozoic fulfilling the orders for the Doom that came to Atlantic City after the project tanked), and so the idea is that if we offer the game for free and players like it, it’ll sell. Players can become a larger part of the process, as we get tons of ideas and playtesting up front without having to look for it. There are already players out there that have a PnP of what will likely be our next project, they just don’t know that yet.
6. Art can be a huge expense for a game, especially one with tons of unique cards like Two Rooms and a Boom. From a fellow publisher’s perspective, it looks like you mitigated that expense by going with clean graphic design for the cards instead of full illustrations (without sacrificing clarity or theme—in fact, it may have added to the theme). Can you talk about that choice? How might a project creator figure out if they need full illustrations or just effective graphic design?
Sean: A lot of considerations went into that decision and it wasn’t one we took lightly. Alan and I for the longest time wanted to do a propaganda poster mixed with sort of a Team Fortress 2 look. We found a lot of artists out there and I had some experience and some contacts from doing a lot of art direction over at Mage Wars, so we knew the cost.
What it came down to for me was that players weren’t going to be spending that much time looking at their cards. I saw this on Masquerade, which is a great game, with amazing illustrations. But the thing is, they have these beautiful character portraits that spend the entire game face down on the table. It makes sense in CCGs where the cards are face-up the whole time and create this more visceral experience – this idea that a battle is actually going on below you. But in a game where the cards were going to be in the players pockets most of the time, we felt like it was going to be a wasted cost.
Alan: I think what Sean is being modest about is that he is the one doing the flat artwork for our game. From the beginning, I knew that artwork is a critical component to the game. You can have a great game, but if the artwork sucks, people won’t even pick it up. Conversely, I know many people that will keep playing a horrible game just because it is “pretty.”
The art does the job of immersing the players into this alternate reality of specific themes. The cards and components should become invisible. Players should believe that their ogre is attacking an armored dwarf, not that their slab of paper is touching another piece of cardboard. I believe Sean’s flat artwork style successfully provides that escape and immersion for our players. Otherwise, I wouldn’t agree to it.
7. Finally, open mic: Do you have any remaining words of wisdom for Kickstarter creators who want to follow in the footsteps of your success?
Sean: My biggest piece of advice is that wanting to design a game is a different desire than wanting to run a board game company. They are different skill sets and the truth is that running a successful kickstarter campaign taps more into the business side than the design side. I’m lucky, I have a great partner who is an awesome game designer and has a marketing mind like you wouldn’t believe. But we really do try and split the duties between business side and design side. So, first, design a good game – and I’m sure Alan could write a book on how to do that.
Second, get out a spreadsheet, write down what components are going to be in your game, contact someone like Panda or Cartamundi or Ludo or DeLano – just get some manufacturers on the line and get costs for your units. Shipping is going to be confusing as all hell, but get a general number for that too.
Third, get your game out there and find out if people like it before you order 2,500 units of it. Take the hard feedback, if people aren’t playing it at a show, they’re not going to pick up a copy at the FLGS. Make friends and ask questions. Guys like Sean Brown at Mr. B games and Jason Maxwell at 8th Summit, have been a great support group as well as really helpful in answering questions about our blindspots. Get out there and make some friends.
Alan: Only thing I could at to that is simply, “Have fun!” If you’re not enjoying it, then what the hell is the point?
A big thanks to Sean and Alan for sharing their insights! If you like their approach to games and Kickstarter, please check out their project here to learn more.