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Andrew Federspiel Talks Knee Jerk

The Inquisitive Meeple
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The Inquisitive Meeple
Andrew Federspiel Talks Knee Jerk

Interview with Andrew Federspiel, on his game, currently on Kickstarter, Knee Jerk. A party card game, in which "One player plays as the host, rapidly announcing random situations. The first player to create a valid ending to the situation wins the point. If more than one player answers, the host picks his favorite. The first player to gain five points is the winner!"

Andrew, could you share a little with us about yourself and what got you into tabletop gaming?

Andrew: Hi! Thanks for the interview. I’ve been fortunate to have video and board games around throughout my life. At age 3, I had access to a SEGA Master System and plenty of classic board games. At 10, I fell for Magic: The Gathering, and my interest in tabletop design blossomed from there. 

What are some of your favorite games to play currently?

Andrew: As for published games, I’ve been playing Ascension and Hearthstone. The new energy expansion (Rise of Vigil) came out recently for Ascension on iPhone, so I’ve been playing that a bunch with my girlfriend. My grad school friends have been dominating the tournament scene on Hearthstone, so I’ve been working on getting up to speed so I can kick their butts someday (or threaten to and then lose horribly).

As for unpublished games, I’ve been playing a bunch of my tabletop designer friends’ games. One of my recent favorites was a dungeon crawler called Glory by Matthew Austin (developer of CHAOSMOS). In addition, I’ve been playing our own Knapsack Games: Knee Jerk and Potion Motion (working title). Now that Knee Jerk is getting ready for manufacturing, most of our playtesting time has switched to Potion Motion. It’s a tactical match-three game with shared and personal player powers – a real brain burner with hidden information that throws an exciting wrench into the mix.

What do you look for when you are buying a new tabletop game?

Andrew: I look for a game with great replay value, which implies that the game has deep strategy to learn and/or endless game scenarios. Like most designers, I jump around frequently to different games so I can be exposed to as many game mechanics as possible. However, I fall hard for deep, elegant games occasionally. The game Innovation is still one of my sweethearts.

Currently on Kickstarter, you have a party game called Knee Jerk. Could you tell us a little bit about what type of game it is and give us an overview on how it is played?

Andrew: Knee Jerk is “the party game of instant reactions” where players make up endings to funny situations as fast as possible. It’s for 4 to 8 players ages 9 and up, and plays in about 10 minutes.

Here’s the basics: The host plays a card from his hand to form a situation consisting of a Feeling, Location and Action. For example, “I Feel Panicked At The Beach Because I Saw…” Then, simultaneously, all other players shout out an ending to the situation, like “shark!” or “my grandmother in a bikini!” The first player to shout an answer wins the point, but if multiple players shout answers within a few seconds of each other, the host picks his favorite. The first player to gain 3 points is the winner. (And, for those that try to “game” the system with quick, rubbish answers, the host can deny any answers that don’t make sense.)

What is the story behind the creation of the game?

Andrew: In December 2013, my grad school friends and I put on a mini design retreat for just the three of us. We each hosted one day of the retreat, each creating an entire day of content around one subject. I chose to put on a day of “context types” in games. Halfway through the day, I randomly assigned one context type to each of us to brainstorm new games. I received “situational context” and imagined a game that rapidly switches players from one real-world context to another. An hour-and-a-half later, the first version of Knee Jerk was born.

One of the things that stands out about Knee Jerk, is unlike other party games, the “judge” role doesn’t switch between players, the “judge” is the same person the whole game. What do you think this adds to the gameplay?

Andrew: Pacing is important to the feel of Knee Jerk. As I mentioned, the game is about rapidly switching players between contexts to keep them on their toes. Keeping the “judge” (or “host”) the same the whole game makes one player responsible for keeping up the pace. If the host switched to different players during the game, they’d have to keep sliding the current cards on the table to each new host between situations, slowing the game down.

In addition, when there’s only one host, he or she is the only player that holds a hand of cards during the game, so the other players are fully focused on the host and the other players instead of being distracted by cards in their hand. I think party games are about people, after all.

To play devil’s advocate, there are advantages of party games where the host switches to different players during the game. Each player gets a turn to host, and play dynamics keep shifting (preventing skilled players from dominating). In Knee Jerk, since the games start and end so quickly, we alleviate domination by letting the winner of the last game host the next game. 

Knee Jerk is really a game about, well...knee jerk reactions. You have to be fast with your answer, as only those that give a quick reaction are in the running to be judged for the point or not. What is the funniest thing you have heard in the game?

Andrew: Tough question. I’ve heard such a wide variety of answers throughout all of our playtesting. We’ve had young to old players, conservative to liberal, clean to dirty, groups of friends to families, and so on. Some answers I can’t repeat here, but one of my favorite answers was a mix of all of the above.

I was playing with a family of four at Origins Game Fair – two parents with their two daughters, maybe ages 10 and 12. The situation was, “I Feel Like Something Is Wrong In The Attic Because I Was Touched By…” and the 10-year-old shouts out, “The severed hand I put up there!” The family stared at each other for a split-second, horrified – and then everyone broke out in laughter. Everyone gave her that look of, “You are so weird and we love you.”

I want to test you at your own game, so I am going to give you 3 sentences I made at randomly made up from cards in the game, and we want YOUR knee jerk reaction:

A. I Feel Like ---> I'm going to throw up on a school bus ---> because everyone is talking about....

Andrew: My first kiss - it turns out she's my sister!

B. I Feel Whimsical ---> In My Time Machine ---> Because Someone is Eating...

Andrew: Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans (they're real in the future!)

C.  I Feel Like This Could Be The End ---> In The Distant Future ---> Because Someone is Wearing...

Andrew: A Dalek suit!

What age group are you going for in Knee Jerk? Do you feel this is a family game – I mean while there is at least one card that mentions a “sensual woman” you could easily take it out, if you don’t think it appropriate for the crowd you are playing with. So, what age range are you shooting for?

Andrew: We advertise Knee Jerk as ages 9 and up, but I’ve seen the game work well from 6- to 60-year-olds. Yes, it’s technically a family game, but more mature groups get into it by shouting obscenities.

What’s unique about the game is that there are no answer cards – just situation cards – so you can monitor what answers you share. Some of the game’s situations can be suggestive of adult themes that make players snicker. However, there’s a “clean” answer to every situation, so you’re always fine to play with kids. 

Thus, any group plays well together. Knee Jerk is for everyone.

So Knee Jerk is a party game, what are some of your favorite party style games to play?

Andrew: Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity are great, and are inspirations to Knee Jerk. I also enjoy Wits and Wagers, Dixit and Werewolf. Outside of tabletop games, there’s the mobile game Spaceteam, and a component-less dexterity game called “Ninja” that’s a blast.

What makes Knee Jerk stand out, in your opinion, from other party games?

Andrew: Most party games are turn-based, depend on answer cards, come in a big box, and cost around $25. Knee Jerk is fast – games are 5-10 minutes long, and players get to play simultaneously. There are no answer cards, so content is fresh and unlimited. It’s portable – just a deck of cards – so you can fit it in your pocket or purse. And the game is just $10 on Kickstarter.

Knee Jerk is for 4-8 players. Is there a different feel to the game when playing with 4 players than say with 8 players?

Andrew: Sure, there are some differences in feel. 4-player moves a bit faster since there are less answers to consider, and 8-player can be funnier since laughter is contagious. However, the intimacy of 4-player allows for more inside-jokes, so it evens out. The game is even fun to toy around with at 2, 3, and 9+ players, we just think it’s the most consistent at 4 to 8.

Why did you decide to start your own publishing company to publish Knee Jerk as opposed to the more traditional route of pitching it to an already established game company?

Andrew: I’ve been designing games professionally for 5 years, first in video games and then tabletop, so I’ve been well exposed to full-time design. While it may seem like a fantasy, I started noticing that I was unhappy working solely on design, even if I multi-tasked on different projects. I considered alternatives and thought: “What if I self-published Knee Jerk so that I would have less time to design?” It seemed like a counter-intuitive idea, but I tried it out. Since switching, I’m incredibly glad I did. I spend maybe 20% of my time designing now, and I treasure every moment. Also, self-publishing gives me a better shot at making Knapsack Games sustainable, which will be a huge bonus if I can make it happen.

What was the best piece of feedback you received from a play tester when you were still prototyping the game?

Andrew: I’m going to cheat and provide two:

1. One of my friends said, Knee Jerk is about pitching the setup of a joke, and letting the other players have a shot at nailing the punch line.” This clarity gave me insight into the content and structure of the game, really helping define what it was.

2. Another playtesting friend said off-hand, “Let’s just answer at the same time. If it works, it will jive with the name ‘Knee Jerk’!” It sounds obvious looking back at it, but the game used to be turn-based. Trying out this simple tweak helped define the experience, add rapid (fun) tension, and differentiate the game from other party games.

What was your favorite part of designing Knee Jerk?

Andrew: Trying out new content and hearing playtesters’ corresponding answers. As I mentioned, the game is about setting up jokes and nailing punch lines, and it feels awesome to set the host up from behind-the-scenes. Players still surprise me with their answers.

What was the most challenging part of designing it?

Andrew: Creating the content. Even though it may seem like the easy part, we tried and failed on so, so much content. We eventually discovered “the rules” to creating good Knee Jerk content, and everything fell into place from there. You can read more about it at

When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed the game? 

Andrew: Universal laughter. The fact that the game makes so many different people laugh out loud is really rewarding.

So, if someone is out there reading this, sitting on the fence as to wither or not if they should back this on Kickstarter, what would you say to them?

Andrew: Do you like laughing with your friends, kids and/or family? Do you want a party game you can easily bring and play anywhere in 10 minutes? It’s only $10, and you can try the Knee Jerk print ‘n play for free on our Kickstarter page. Feel free to email me directly at if you are still unconvinced!

Finish this sentence in 12 words or less. Knee Jerk is ______.

Andrew: ... the party game of instant reactions!

So, as we wrap this up, could you share with us what is on the horizon for you or Knapsack Games design wise? Is there anything else in 2014 or in 2015 we should be keeping a look out for?

Andrew: The Knee Jerk Kickstarter runs from September 16th to October 15th, and will ship to backers in 2015. After we ship Knee Jerk, we will focus on Kickstarting Potion Motion (working title), the tactical match-three game I mentioned earlier. If you like Bejeweled or Chess, it will be right up your alley.

Thanks Andrew, for not only for doing this interview, but for also sending a copy of Knee Jerk to The Inquisitive Meeple!

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