This post originally appeared on my blog: http://www.thebookishgamer.com/2016/07/interview-with-jack-r...
Today I chatted on the phone with Jack Rosetree, developer of the tabletop game ABXY. ABXY still has some time on its Kickstarter campaign. The game is described as a "2-player, simultaneous action selection game inspired by the legendary battles from our favorite monster training RPGs. With just 4 button cards and 5 creature cards each, you'll need wit, insight and strategy to defeat your opponent." ABXY can be taught in just a handful of minutes and all information is on public display, meaning players don't have to worry about secret mechanics. It's one of the most innovative projects I've seen in a long time, and it's worthy of your time and money.
The Kickstarter campaign can be found here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/brokengames/abxy-0
The Bookish Gamer [TBG]: Thanks so much for chatting with me today. Can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Jack Rosetree [JR]: I guess the short version is I went to college for creative writing, worked at Forbes, worked at a non-profit start up and then did news and reviews for e-cigs. Now I'm trying to make a board game. This is my first go at table-top games. I have two games that are also sort-of developed, but there are more cards and more components. ABXY came ahead because of its design. It couldn't have been made without Eddie Rodriguez, my wife Desiree, my friend Gail Sherman and artist Ed Francis.
TBG: So how did ABXY come to fruition?
JR: Eddie is a game designer, and he had a game called Animous, but it couldn't really get off the ground. I tried to help him with editing. Finally we sat down one day, almost a year before we launched the campaign, and I had an idea for a game called, "Fuck it, it's Pokemon," It was going to be a simplified combat card game. I took it and ran with it, but Eddie helped with the abilities and play-testing, etc. We wanted to make a game that felt like actual Pokemon battles. The Pokemon card game and the Pokemon video game aren't really the same. For ABXY, the bare minimum was to make sure there was depth, but that there was also these epic climatic battles with cards.
TBG: Did you start with the mechanics first or the theme?
JR: I definitely started with the mechanics. Then I focused on characters and abilities. I thought I want an ice creature and an arachnid thing. I just threw things on paper, and because I did some mechanical brainstorming, it all came up balanced. It made sense for the game.
TBG: You said you've drawn inspiration from our favorite monster-training RPGs. Are there any other games or IPs that influenced ABXY?
JR: Monster Rancher and Jade Cacoon. I played those to death. [editor's note: I love Monster Rancher, and I couldn't believe Jack mentioned Jade Cacoon. I thought everyone forgot about that game]. I drew a lot of inspiration from Pokemon. I watched a lot of high level Pokemon video game tournaments. It became apparent that creatures usually only took two hits and sometimes just one. That helped frame the game.
TBG: How did play-testing go? Who was involved?
JR: Everybody we've play tested with it has had a great time. You explain it once, and it's pretty clear. There might be small snafus, but once you know the logic, it tends to go well. When we went to DexCon we had a group of 12-14 year old boys who played over and over again. They took it and ran with it. So play-testing has gone extremely well. There were small tweaks. One character who was too powerful, and two characters who were below the competitive level, but outside of small instances, the game has worked well since the prototypes..
TBG: A lot of great games emphasize skill over luck. When you look at Board Game Geek's top 100, the higher the ranking of the game, the more skill that is involved. Where does ABXY fit into skill over luck?
JR: There is definitely a luck factor. A lot of it plays like Rock, Paper, Scissors. I would actually compare it to poker. You could argue that the selections are random, and that you could do just as well choosing cards randomly. But the reality is, in most cases, there is skill and skill in reading opponents. If you play it best two out of three rounds, whoever is the better player will emerge. Of course, there will always be outliers. But you can definitely focus your attention on the skill and interactions. At DexCon we saw people talk about whether its casual and whether its competitive. A tournament level Magic: The Gathering player and his friend who is a casual gamer got into a debate, but the guy who played Magic said it feels competitive. The girl who won at DexCon had played ABXY for the first time that day. In the end, she reflected, "I don't feel casual."
TBG: What have been the challenges of starting the game on Kickstarter?
JR: The two main ones: no one knows who we are, and we have no money. It sounds silly to make it that black and white, but it's the truth. Our conversion rate when people watch the video and get through it is great. Around 25% of all people who start watching the video, see it all the way through. People see it, and they like it. The problem is we have no previous games, We can show that we've done stuff, but it doesn't look like we've back anything before. It's just me and my friends. We don't have a budget. We have only one ad up. We can post to our ABXY Facebook, but it's not exactly the easiest. We set the campaign at $15,000 because we wanted to make sure the campaign would pull through. If there was a problem with a lower goal, it would set us back. We didn't want to go bankrupt. We knew that the funding goal was going to be tough. We will hopefully have ABXY up on Tabletopia today. We also want to make it clear to our backers that even if it doesn't fund, there will be ways to access the game. We're offering a complete print and play. We want to get it in front of eyes. People who play it, like it. If we decide to do the campaign again because it comes up short, I don't think we would change the goal all that much.
TBG: Do you think Kickstarter was the right avenue? Did you think about pitching the idea to a publisher like AEG or IELLO or is that just tough?
JR: Getting in the door is really difficult. You can always go to a convention and find somebody to force and play the game. And that's possible, but it's tough with no budget. It's a cheap enough product to make on our own without selling the kitchen sink. We already have one company who is interested in doing a game with a totally different theme. We are also looking at public domain: maybe a Dr Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde creature that changes when he flips. It would be great if ABXY could be legacy style and make Adventure Time ABXY or a Jim Henson ABXY.
TBG: Have you thought about taking ABXY to mobile devices?
JR: We have thought about it. There are a lot of tabletop games where the mobile version makes the tactile game version obsolete. Think about the Ascension App which made the original obsolete. [The mobile version] cleaned up so much about the game. When we look at ABXY, we think there's a certain amount of social deduction that you can't get through a mobile device. But we do think we can get a mobile version of ABXY without cannibalizing the game.
TBG: Did you play a lot of 2-player games to see what worked and what didn't?
JR: My big secret is I hate 2-player games. About halfway through they tend to be foregone conclusions. In a 2-player game, you cannot overlook the social deduction, which was something we made sure to include in ABXY. There are also a lot of 4-5 player games lose something when reduced to 2-players. The Castles of Burgundy is one game that doesn't fall apart that way.
TBG: What are some of your favorite board games 2-player or otherwise?
JR: I have a very wide range. Just looking at my shelf. I really like Automobile. It's meaty, and it's really great for those who want to play Monopoly but realize that Monopoly isn't good. Argent: the Consortium from Level 99 Games is great. The theme saturates every part of it. It takes out things that are non-thematic. You're not collecting victory points, you're collecting votes. I'm also a big fan of Village, Quadropolis. Zooleretto. There's also Cargo Noir - it's from Days of Wonders. There are some issues with it. There might be some problems with the context and race, but it's a really solid bidding game. The components are just beautiful. Libertailia is always up there too.
TBG: Any advice for those just getting into ABXY?
JR: The big thing to realize is that if your opponent is doing anything, it's because you're letting them get away with it. If your opponent gets out somebody who heals the entire, it's because you let them. Try to figure that out and use the creatures to your advantage.
TBG: Do you have a favorite monster from ABXY?
JR: Bosco, He's the unofficial mascot. He's an angel golden retriever. I have an old drawing of him with wings. Now it's the eye of a golden retriever with a halo in his eyes. He can heal and he is a great equalizer. He's always been my favorite. I think he was the first creature I made.
TBG: You have a unique approaching to your Kickstarter. You have certain tiers which donate games to the armed services or hospitalized youth. How did this idea come about?
JR: There was another Kickstarter, and it was a cookbook that helped make helpful food for less than $5. [Editor's Note: I think it's called Good and Cheap] And you could buy a copy, but for the next tier you could give a copy to get someone in need. To this day, I think about that. It donated something like 12,000 books to those who can use it. I was talking to my roommate Eddie and my friend Gail who were veterans. We were talking about things we could do - good and interesting things for the community. I talked to Support Our Troops and they said they would make sure it could happen. Hospitalized Youth was trickier because board games made out of cardboard could carry bacteria and other harmful diseases. I then talk to a manufacturer who could produce the cards on an alternate material that could be easily wiped down and safe for kids to use. Now we also offer that version and maybe we could get some additional backers too.
TBG: Anything else you might want to add?
JR: I'm continuing the campaign through the final hour. We want to push forward. We made it a short campaign, and we're happy that we've come this far.
Thank you very much to Jack Rosetree for his interview and his time. ABXY's campaign is going until July 26, 2016. You should definitely back this cool and innovative new game.