Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What Kind of Books do YOU Have on Hand?

Welcome back to the Conversation!  Today I’m joined by Matthew Moore who is here to talk to us about his project Bring Your Own Book, the game of borrowed phrases.  

Hello, I’m Matthew, game designer for Bring Your Own Book. I’ve been a professional video game designer for a few years now, but this will be my first published tabletop title. I’m excited for it to happen and happy to have a chance to chat about it.

By the title alone one might think you’re creating some kind of book club with your project, but that’s not right at all is it?  Can you tell us a bit about Bring Your Own Book and what kind of shenanigans you have waiting for us?  

Sure! Bring Your Own Book is somewhat inaccurately described as a card game, because what we provide is cards and a timer, but really it’s a book game. In order to play, every person at the table needs a book. Different books make for different experiences, so you can challenge yourself with textbooks, have good clean family fun with children’s books, or enjoy a raunchy game with racy romance novels. It is what you make of it.

The core activity is taking text out of context. If the prompt asks you to find “A line from a teenager’s diary,” you’ll need to search through that detective story you brought and pluck out something that works. It can be any amount of sequential text, from a whole paragraph to a single word, and it can ignore existing punctuation. For example, a player recently tweeted at us their find for “The name of a beauty product.” They proposed “Pledge: For Her,” which they extracted from “‘I will not take a pledge for her,’ I replied.”

The mechanics are simple and not unlike other popular social games. Players take turns drawing prompts from the deck. The player who presents the best selection receives the card as a way to keep score. Any time any player gets to three cards, everyone passes their books to the left. The first to get enough cards wins, and it’s time to play all over again with different books.

From the sounds of things I’m not the only one who heard about your game from Drew Scanlon during the Giant Bomb panel at PAX South.   Does this mean your trip to PAX South was worth it?   Do you think events like this are required to do well in the board game space?  

When we found out we were selected for the PAX South Tabletop Indie Showcase, it was staggering. It let us meet hundreds of attendees, and it got us notice from guys like Drew and Pat Baer (404ing It), who in turn directed even more people our way. There was certainly a cost involved in getting our four-person crew from Seattle to San Antonio, but our Kickstarter campaign funded the following Monday, just under five days after starting. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say PAX South was key to the surprising speed of our success.

Since this is my first foray into tabletop games, there are more seasoned designers who can better speak to the importance of these events to a game’s bottom line. That said, as a long-time PAX attendee and Enforcer, I’ve experienced firsthand the reciprocal excitement shared by creators and fans at conventions. Even if the financial return isn’t great, the experience certainly is...provided you can afford it.

Well as far as your Kickstarter is concerned you’ve definitely done well as you’ve blown well beyond your $13,000 goal and are now past the $30,000 mark.   Are you surprised by how well you’re doing?  What do you think is driving your success?  

I was floored by the initial response, and continue to be touched by the enthusiasm of backers and supporters. It’s not just the financial success that’s so amazing, but the intensity of people’s passion for the game. I think a great deal of that is fueled by its use of books. I mean, we’ll take credit for crafting good prompts and honing engaging mechanics, but we’ve heard a similar refrain from a large number of readers: “You made a game for me!”

When I sent releases and inquiries to game blogs before PAX South, I received very few replies, and they were mostly polite declinations. I think that may be because, when placed in the context of other tabletop games, Bring Your Own Book is easy to frame as “yet another CAH-like.” And while I’m not implying the communities don’t overlap, because they certainly do, there’s just this instant connection with people who love books. PAX attendees came up all weekend long, pulling novels out of their bags, ready to play. Since then, we’ve had a number of write-ups by book bloggers, with headlines like “I went to a video game convention and found the books.” Teachers, librarians, tutors, and writing instructors have all expressed their sincere happiness and I think it’s because, though the game requires irreverent retooling of an author’s work, it has an innate respect for books as a form. It celebrates the written word, and a lot people gravitate toward that.

What gave you the idea of bringing random books together to play a game with?  Have you noticed any kind of books being better or worse at playing with?  I have to imagine it’d be kind of hard to find “a line from a teenagers diary” in a math text for instance.  

The idea for the game sprouted from a social media meme. I used to see these posts that said something like, “Grab the nearest book. Turn to page 42. Type the third full sentence. It will predict your future for the next year!” Sometimes they produced funny results, but often they were just non sequiturs. I thought it would be more enjoyable if you were given the target and got to find a phrase that met it. That turned into competing with others for the best selection, and eventually it became the game we have today.

Your experience with Bring Your Own Book varies depending on the source material, but that’s part of the fun. A group reported that they recently played an entire game using only children’s board books with delightful results, and they planned to do another night with all Heinlein. I’m often surprised at which books provide more challenge than others. In playtests, I saw people really struggle with Jane Austen. At PAX, many people found amazing selections in Tom Clancy. Some of the real heavyweights though have been books that span many topics and tones. To Be Or Not To Be, a pick-your-path take on Hamlet, by Ryan North was an early favorite. Recently, I’ve heard some killer picks from the short-story anthology Machine of Death, pun intended.

If new players want to have an easy time getting into the game, I’d recommend starting with general fiction from the late twentieth century forward. Nothing too technical or packed with jargon. Once you’ve got some experience with the game though, try at least one round with that math textbook. You might be surprised.

I’m sure you’ve done plenty of playtesting on this game, what are some of the funniest moments you’ve had?  

Okay, mild content warning. At the first playtest with anyone other than just my wife and me, I was explaining the rules. I held up a card and said, “For example, you might be asked to find a line from a bird-watching guide,” and in a blink, my friend Megan, who’d brought Snow Crash, had opened to a page and replied, “Like ‘Don’t fuck around with Raven’?”

My all-time favorite is the selection my wife, Miranda, found for “Something you could hear Arnold Schwarzenegger say”: “Tell me everything you know about the Chicago Symphony!” I want to see that movie.

As an Australian board gamer I am disappointed that you don’t ship overseas, but given the costs involved I am not surprised.  I’m glad you’ve setup a mailing list for those interested from around the globe, but in your current campaign was there any thought of creating an international print and play level for the complete game and not just the demo?  Or did you feel print and play would cut into your physical game income at the moment?  

I too am disappointed we don’t ship overseas, but it’s not just the costs that make that a tall hurdle to jump. When we started this, we thought we’d barely scrape past our goal. We also figured that we’d hunker down in a friend’s garage when the shipment arrived, throw everything in flat-rate boxes, and send it out the door.

When your team is four people with full-time jobs and you’re looking at the expense and logistics of shipping, easier equals better. We could charge overseas backers an exorbitant cost for shipping (literally four or more times the U.S. postage rate to ship even to Canada), but it would also mean different boxes, different labels, customs forms, and a separate shipping flow. And that’s not counting the work on the campaign side—determining proper regional rates, setting up different reward levels, cross-referencing backer’s pledges and addresses to make sure they’ve selected properly and paid enough—none of which the Kickstarter system makes easy.

As much as I want to bring this game to everyone, I need to be practical and respect our limitations. This is our first time designing, manufacturing, and fulfilling a physical game, and I don’t want to set up the team for failure or set up our backers for disappointment. However, we are looking into a number of options for bringing the game to international players. Anyone who’d like to know when we’ve got something put together should definitely sign up on the international notification list. We hope to have news for you all soon.

The demo was limited in size to encourage people to actually print it out. Anyone who’s intrigued is just three sheets of paper away from trying out the game with their friends. We have no plans to charge money for a full print-and-play, but I encourage interested parties to back us at even the lowest level so they’ll receive word whenever we expand the free version (which we’ve already done once during the campaign).

As Kickstarter has matured so has the backer audience, they have become more savvy and some would say more jaded as the years have gone by.   To that end, one thing I’ve always suggested creators include is a budget breakdown.  This basic business tool allows potential backers see there is a full plan in place to make your project become more than just pretty pictures and words.  Is there any particular reason you haven’t included one in your campaign?  

We’re very lucky that the experience of Bring Your Own Book can be fully contained in a print-and-play demo. Unlike a film or video game project, we don’t need to prove to people that the game will exist because it does exist; they can try it out for themselves right now. The only real questions left on the table are whether we can get it manufactured and shipped, and we are exceedingly confident we can accomplish that given our funding goal.

I respect that some people won’t feel comfortable backing Luke and I based on the information we’ve provided. If they’d like, they can sign up for our mailing list (by downloading a copy of the demo from, and they’ll be notified when the game is available at retail, so they can buy it risk free.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

I just checked my backer history and, wouldn’t you know it, my first pledge was for Double Fine Adventure. So, I owe my thanks to Tim Schafer and crew:

Thank you, Tim! Hi, Double Fine! I loved Psychonauts and Costume Quest! Come check out our game!

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Conversion sounds so Borg-like. We had a number of ideas for contests, scavenger hunts, polls, and such, but they’ve turned out to be mostly unnecessary. Anyone who is uncertain about the game can download and print the demo. One game session with friends and they’ll know if Bring Your Own Book is something they want to support. After that, they can join in the fun on social media, where we have impromptu search-and-tweet sessions.

We’re working out the final details of a few more in-person events before the campaign closes, but we’re quite fortunate to have backers who are already engaged, ready to share the love, run live streams, and help us knock out stretch goals. Our success is all thanks to them.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

PAX South definitely took center stage in our early efforts. From there, it was a mass e-mail to every friend, family member, peer, and connection in the address book. We jumped on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, where we interact with fans and curious passersby. For the most part, I avoid looking at Kicktraq so as not to get alternately overconfident and despondent. I’m not saying their projections aren’t interesting or valuable, just that I could easily obsess over them in an unhealthy way.

We’re working on getting a mentions page up on our website. Until then, if you want to see a shoutout from Ryan North or a video feature on CNET, social media is the place to be. Occasionally we put big mentions that will be exciting to backers in our Kickstarter updates.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

It’s like having a second full-time job, unless you don’t have a full-time job, in which case it will be your full-time job, probably more. Also, be 100% ready to fail. No joke: There are so many factors behind unfunded campaigns that it’s just not worth losing your mind over or catering to every odd request. You will also meet the biggest supporters your ideas have ever had, people who are willing to gamble on your dream, and you should cherish that.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

I’m happy for us to be a part of the growing number of crowdfunded projects showing that community support can make great new things that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Thank you for your time and patronage!

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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