This week we’re sharing a cuppa with Connie Kazmaier, co-designer of Chai, and upcoming Chai: Tea for Two!
What got you started playing board games?
I grew up playing tea-riffic card games like President (or Cheat) with my family long into the evenings. Growing up in an immigrant family, we didn’t have the usual board games (like Monopoly and Risk) that many others grew up with. In university, I was introduced to modern games during a Settlers of Catan marathon that started at 4 AM! My current favourite games include Imhotep and Morels, and we’re currently working our way through season one of Pandemic Legacy.
What inspired Chai?
Daniel was at a playtesting convention in a nearby city with another game that we were prototyping. Inspiration struck on the way home, when he thought about making a family game on tea. We have always been avid tea drinkers, but once Chai got rolling, we realized how little we actually knew about the tea world!
A friend of ours helped us research real tea combinations for our customer cards. Daniel’s mom tried out the early prototype to help us make the game accessible for those who don’t normally play board games. We took it from there, put together a print and play version, posted it on different forums, and quickly realized other gamers and tea lovers were just as excited!
Are there any games that you’ve played that make you think about design in a different way?
I keep going back to Imhotep when I think about good design in games. I love that the game can change drastically based on which sides (A or B) of the action areas you choose during setup. I love that the board areas tie theme with mechanics so well. For example, the obelisk area is about building the tallest structure, and actually looks like an obelisk. When theme and game mechanics flow together well, it is such a pleasure to play.
Another game that marries theme and mechanics well is Santorini. It looks beautiful, and I love how accessible the game is. We brought it once to our friends’ house and successfully taught it to their 5 year old. One of our main goals in game design is making sure the game is as inclusive of ages and skill range as we can make it. Coming from a teacher perspective (which is my day job), a good game should be able to differentiate for the audience.
What do you like most about the design process?
Going back to my training as a teacher, I enjoy figuring out how to best create a sense of “flow” in a game. In the classroom, when there’s a lack of flow, it creates barriers to learning. For example, if a student is expected to get their workbook from the shelf, but the shelf is disorganized, the student may give up and doodle instead. I think the same principle applies to games.
When there is a lot of bloat in a game, visual chaos, or unnecessary rules, it creates a barrier to learning the game. This increases frustration and decreases enjoyment. When the processes of the game make sense, the rules are clear, and the visuals are intuitive, people can’t help but naturally enjoy the game.
Are you finding the community supportive?
One of the biggest joys through the designing and publishing process has been our Chai Playtesting Community. We had 1000 individual playtests around the world before launching our game on Kickstarter. Our communi-tea provided such helpful feedback to us throughout this whole journey! When the inevitable negative feedback appears, we know that there are still many others who are cheering us on.
As for the board game industry, as with any community, it takes time to build connections and relationships when you’re new. We were just at Essen Spiel and it was so encouraging to meet up with so many industry friends who we’ve only met online. People have gone out of their way to connect us with other contacts, and we are super grateful! So many publishers have also been super helpful to us along the way.
What’s been your biggest challenge to date?
For both of us, it’s been work-life balance. I’m a full-time junior high special education teacher, which is very demanding physically and emotionally every day. When I’ve come home from work, sometimes the last thing I want to discuss is refining our game designs. Because we are a couple as well as co-designers, it’s easy to allow the “work” to take over our dates, vacations, free time, etc. We’ve also learned that running a Kickstarter campaign last Christmas was probably not ideal, as we were constantly trying to answer comments on our phone during family get-togethers. With a few more boundaries in place, we’re learning to create some healthy rhythms.
What’s next on the design front?
We have dozens of ideas but we can’t publish it all, so we try to narrow it down to the best couple for each year. We’re trying to focus on designing a few new, interesting mechanisms for each game, as well as making the games as immersive in the theme as possible.
We’re excited to announce that Chai: Tea for 2 is coming to Kickstarter February 2, 2020 (02-02-2020… see what we did there?). Our duel game is a completely different game than the original Chai, with a focus on getting tea leaves from harvest onto tea clipper boats, and sailing away! Chai: Tea for 2 is a light Euro engine builder with dice placement, which is a perfect game to relax to after dinner. We have a Canadian animal game on beavers we’re excited to share about too, but we’ll do a formal soft launch about it soon!
Favorite game of 2019?
I truly love Chai, but for me it was discovering Pandemic Legacy: S1! We’re half of the way through and loving it. It helps that we’ve won every month so far, but I have a feeling that we’re long due for a loss soon! I love the way that the game evolves and changes every month, with new rule permutations and interesting new characters.
Where would you like to see the industry and community in five years?
I would love to see more diversity in the industry in the next five years. I’ve been so encouraged by the boldness of Rachael Blaske and Debbie Moynihan, as well as the rest of the Board Game Broads group, for creating spaces for women in tabletop games. Elizabeth Hargrave and her Spiel des Jahres win was such a highlight as well from 2019, and I hope that this momentum carries forward.