Friday, March 14, 2014

Interview with Galactic Sneeze

I have a special treat for y'all today, an interview with Sara and Bryan from Galactic Sneeze, creators of SCHMOVIE (reviewed on this blog last December.)  Schmovie is available for purchase at Amazon.  Cheers!

How did you get the idea for SCHMOVIE?  Did other games inspire you, and if so, which?  Or some random event?
Schmovie actually started as a film-themed spin-off of an earlier game we designed called “Pitch King”, where players came up with names for wacky inventions. We were also working on writing a screenplay for an animated film at the time, and had been reading a ton of books about screenwriting and story structure. We applied the film theme to the other game and ended up liking it better since it was more replayable and had a universal theme... everyone likes movies!

About how many times do you think you play-tested the game before printing?  What was your strategy in finding testers? 
We tested the game a lot. We played with friends, family, our friends’ families, and our family’s friends. We started with people we knew since it was easiest to pull folks together quickly that way. We sent out testing/scoring sheets with the prototypes so we could get feedback.

Did the game change much over the course of development?  If so, how?  What was the game like when you first created it?
The core mechanic of the game has stayed the same, but pretty much everything around it has evolved: the name, the branding, the trophies, and the design. Schmovie was originally called “Screen Play”, but we realized pretty quickly that it would be hard to secure the URL for that name, or have the game come up readily in online searches. So we knew we had to come up with a name that was more unique and ownable. We tried out a bunch of different names, and Schmovie just sort of schtuck!
The original design of the game was black, white, and gold… pulling inspiration from Hollywood and the film industry. It made sense but lacked our current playfulness. Once we changed the name to Schmovie, we got a little sillier. It was actually through our play-along Facebook page that the Schquid Trophy (our reward system) evolved and ultimately became the face of our brand.

Why did you decide to go the "start a small business and do everything yourself" route, rather than "try and find a company to license and publish the game for you" route (or did you try that too?)  Are you happy you went this direction?
We originally formed Galactic Sneeze as a “fun stuff think tank” with the goal of pitching toys, games, and IPs to larger companies. And that’s exactly what we did… at first. One company was interested in Schmovie (when it was still “Screen Play”) and considered it for about 6 months. We grew increasingly excited as it made it to subsequent review rounds within the company. They ultimately passed, but the fact they had been so interested inspired us to pursue self-publishing. It has been a tremendous learning experience, and although bringing a game to market is a ridiculous amount of work, the reward is greater.

How much of a time and effort commitment is it to run Galactic Sneeze, on top of family and other work considerations?  What do you two do in your other lives?
Galactic Sneeze is 24/7. We talk about projects over morning coffee, while grocery shopping, on the subway, and while cooking meals. On weekends, we put our 2-year-old daughter down for her afternoon nap and then squeeze in a few hours of work. It is extremely demanding to run a business with your spouse and also have a family. You become partners on all levels, which is also uniquely awesome.
Up until recently, Bryan was a Creative Director at an advertising agency. He now focuses on Galactic Sneeze full time. I (Sara) still do freelance toy and game development for larger companies. I really enjoy the creative work involved and feel fortunate to be able to continue to do that in addition to Galactic Sneeze projects.

Is "Galactic Sneeze" a callback to Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy books, one of which mentioned a competing theory to the Big Bang theory, in which the universe was sneezed out of a creature called the Great Green Arkleseizure?  If not, where does the name come from?
No… but we’re fans of the series. :) We wanted to come up with a name that felt big and fun. It captures the moment when you’re first struck with a great idea, as well as the energy of it growing and spreading. This lead to our tag line: Contagious Concepts.

What has your experience been in creating, publishing and marketing SCHMOVIE?  Was it difficult to find distribution and to get your game on Amazon?  Do you have any advice for aspiring game company startups?
It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to create, publish, and market a game. Bryan’s background is in advertising, and I come from the world of toys. And even with our experience, we had a huge learning curve ahead of us. There are several ways to get your game onto Amazon, so depending on your goals, that part isn’t too difficult. We’ve been working hard to get our game into retailers, and it’s awesome when they call us to reorder because they’ve sold out. We’re now working with a distributor to get Schmovie into larger stores... and we’re excited to announce it’ll be available at Barnes & Noble starting in April!

What other game ideas are you working on, if you can disclose them yet?  What sort of game would you like to do next?
We have a couple game concepts/prototypes currently being reviewed by larger game companies, which is promising. We’re not opposed to self-publishing future games, but we’re going to focus on growing Schmovie before bringing another  one to market on our own. All of our current concepts are in the Party and Family Games category. We also pitch toys, intellectual properties, and kids’ TV shows.

What is your favorite thing about making games?
Sara: My favorite aspect is the creative process, and the joy that stems from that “aha” moment when you figure out the solution to some creative problem that’s been plaguing you for weeks.
Bryan: I love watching people play our games. I’ve seen folks laugh so hard that beer came out their nose.
Sara: And they weren't even drinking beer. Ha ha.

Thank you so much! :)  Much success and best of luck in your continued endeavors!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Telestrations: the "telephone" game, sketched out

If you haven't been to a games party in a while, you may not know the game Telestrations has been taking the party game world by storm for a few years now.  Games magazine declared it the "best new party game," and pronounced it the "Party game of the year."  High praise - but is it well deserved?  Read on....

Telestrations continues the tradition of old surrealist parlour games like "Exquisite Corpse" and "Eat Poop You Cat."  With the addition of dry-erase boards and markers, plenty of drawing ideas on cards, and rules for optional friendly or competitive scoring, USAopoly has brought these old paper-and-pencil concepts to a new and very receptive audience.  The company deserves special kudos for listening to their customers and releasing the 12-player Telestrations Party Pack! This expands the game so you can play with more than 8 players.  Every Party Pack contains everything you need to play with up to 12 people.

The concept of the game is simple.  The roll of a standard 6 sided die determines which item you will write on the first page of your erasable booklet, out of six on a card.  (You and your group may also opt to make up your own wacky words or phrases.)  Pass your booklet to the player on your left, and receive a booklet from the player on your right which contains a word or phrase that player wrote down.  Now everyone flips to the next page in the book they currently have, and draws the item that was written, without using any letters or numbers (symbols are ok, as in Pictionary and other drawing games).  Then the process repeats, and now the person on your left is guessing what you drew and writing that guess, while you are guessing the drawing of the person on your right.  This continues until everyone has contributed either a drawing or a guess to each booklet.

The absolute brilliance of the game is that each player only has one piece of information to go on, and never sees the full evolution until the round is complete.  This causes some absolutely hilarious twists and turns along the way.  Though one may initially feel intimidated if one is not artistic by nature, not only does that not matter, it actually makes the game MORE fun if a drawing is incomprehensible or weird (a sand timer is included to keep things moving and to make drawing more challenging, and although clean-up cloths are provided to help in erasing, no erasing is allowed during the round.)

The result is a party game activity that almost anyone can participate in and enjoy.  Written clues can be made easier for the youngest players (for example, a young player can be given the option to choose one of the six items on a card, rather than rolling a die to choose one randomly) and if only adults are playing, the drawings and guesses can be of a more scatological or adult nature.  The game scales beautifully to the participants.  And it's fun with almost any number of people (more is generally better.)  The game is easy to tailor to the players - use the timer or don't; use the cards and die or don't; really the payoff is in the final reveal where you see what happened to the initial secret phrase along the way.  If you're like my players, you'll want to have the person revealing flip back to re-show an especially hilarious drawing just after reading the following uproarious guess.  The only improvement I can suggest is rigging up some sort of webcam system to show the final reveal on a big living room screen, similar to the old overhead projectors - this would be helpful in a big game where it can be a little hard to see the detail in the drawings.  That will be my next experiment.

It's easy to see why hundreds of customers have given Telestrations a perfect five-star rating on  For more information, check out the USApoly web site.

Here is an example of how things can change and morph over the course of a round - that's Barney Rubble on page 3, obviously:

Friday, February 21, 2014

"Open Up" to your friends with a new conversation game

Wiggity Bang Games, creators of the wacky-funny party games FURT and QUELF, have released an interesting twist on the old "Truth or Dare" type conversation game: Open Up is simply a colorful container of sturdy paper strips each with a provocative question.  (Unlike their earlier games, this one is strictly for the adults).  Good friends, brave souls or those who wish to know more about one another use these prompts by pulling them out and asking each other (or by handing them to one another to answer), or, if you insist on making it a more structured game, Wiggity Bang has suggestions on their web site for more game-like variants, including a "truth or dare" version, and one in which players guess if someone's response is true or made up.
Open Up Sticks
Elegant in its simplicity, Open Up provides many ways to play and will likely provide some memorable or eye-opening answers.  For example, I learned I was greatly in the minority in answering in the negative when it comes to "Have you ever photographed yourself nude or allowed someone else to photograph you nude?".  Apparently this is something everyone does now.

Another way to use the strips would be as subject matter for a game like Loaded Questions or Things, in which you have to "guess who said which."

I enjoyed my "Open Up" experience quite a bit, and look forward to playing again.

Learn more at the Wiggity Bang web site.

FURT Box Enlarged

Friday, February 7, 2014

Decisions, decisions.... Looney Labs introduces "Choose One"

Looney Labs, best known for the many versions of their card game Fluxx - a chaotic game of ever-changing rules and goals - have created something much simpler with their new game Choose One.  In essence, they have distilled the "Getting to know you" game to its purest form.

In Choose One the active player is asked to select a card from five in her hand, each of which contains two options (for example, Godzilla and King Kong), and do just that: choose one.  All the other players must then attempt to guess which one best suited the active player - using whatever means they can; intuition, knowledge based on a long friendship with the active player, getting a read or "tell" on the person, a wild-ass guess or just straight-up mind reading.  You'd think that it would be necessary to know the other players well to win this game, but I am here to tell you in a recent game I hosted, it was the newbie outsider who guessed most accurately and won the game.  Of course, it's possible random chance played some sort of role, but in any case, a party game is not about the points, it should really be about people's reactions to the choices, and the social interaction that follows ("What do you MEAN you'd choose evil children over an evil clown!"... "Well, an evil clown just seems more effective at doing evil.  The evil children are just kids.")

The choices on the cards are family- and kid-friendly and seem often to be geared to a geeky crowd; you may find yourself choosing between Spider-Man and the Hulk, for example, or in the limited edition promo pack, you'll find a card that asks you to choose between Kirk and Picard.  

The instructions make it clear that you must be honest in your answers - this is not a bluffing game.  The way to be tricky as the active player is to choose a card from your hand that won't give the others an easy guess.  For example, I would never play "Halloween or Christmas" if there were such a card - my friends would know instantly I will pick Halloween every time.  (And if they're at my house, people who have just met me will probably know as well, just because of my everyday decor.)  Instead, I might pick a card that had "Thanksgiving or Independence Day" which would be somewhat tougher.

One of the great things about Choose One is the game lets you dump and replace any or all of your remaining cards from your hand after you take your turn.  This is handy if (as with my newbie winner I referenced above) there are  things on the cards you are not familiar with or that would be too obvious a choice for you.  This rule lets you refresh your hand and find some good cards to choose from.  There are some interesting choices!

Something else my players loved about the game was the player tokens.  Like a modernized Monopoly, players represent themselves with a quirky assortment of cute tokens like a long blue wine bottle, purple brain, or shiny hardware nut - each in a different color.

Choose One is a simple and fun game that almost anyone can play and enjoy.  It's much faster and more efficient than Would You Rather or Consensus, while scratching the same itch (In Consensus, you are asked to read the mind of the group, rather than that of one player).  For a more risque or "edgy" experience, you could play using the cards from Would You Rather.

For more information or to purchase the game, visit the Looney Labs web site.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Seven Card Slugfest - A chaotic card-slappin' punch-up

In the surprisingly large field of bar fight games (Red Dragon Inn, Inn Fighting, etc), Seven Card Slugfest does the best job of simulating the chaos and randomness of an actual brawl - while also having an interesting strategy component that becomes clearer as you play.

The concept is each player has a different character with a unique deck of cards that has just numbers printed on the backs, and numbers and more details on the fronts.  Each card performs a specific sort of action or attack, and your job is to quickly smack them onto your opponents' piles in a matter of seconds - while everyone else is doing the same thing.  The numbers on the back are there to give you a general idea of what the card is, but you don't know exactly what the card does (you play cards without looking at the fronts), so there's extra chaos and randomness.  Interestingly, Level 99 games has created a game world called Indines, populated by Japanese-anime-inspired characters who inhabit their various games including Seven Card Slugfest.

The initial impulse for many will be to slap down cards randomly as fast as possible and go out as quickly as possible, in order to grab the best "drink token" off the table (the drink tokens provide a health bonus - or health debt - consisting of anywhere from +3 to -3 health points, and you want to grab the highest number one you can.)  But if you play randomly and quickly like this, you will lose, and lose badly.  Your goal is to figure out how your character's attacks work, figure out how other people are playing, and play your cards right - yet quickly.  I found that concentrating on people nearest me was more effective than trying to hit everyone.

Seven Card Slugfest has been requested for repeat play at my house because it's fast, lighthearted and fun, and you can play with a flexible number of people (4 to 8, but it's best with about 5 or 6).  If you are a fan of fast action and figuring out strategy on the fly, and you and your friends can slap down cards accurately and without hurting each other, give Seven Card Slugfest a shot!

Level 99 Games

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Just for fun, go Off Your Rocker

From those fun-loving nuts over at Stratus Games comes Off Your Rocker, a funny play-acting and deduction party game with a similar feel to improv comedy party games such as "Psychiatrist".  The idea is one player is the therapist, the others all know of a certain quirk they share, and they give hints to the therapist one at a time, making sure to be helpful, but not TOO helpful as the therapist figures out what the wacky quirk is, based on the cryptic answers (which are extra funny to everyone "in the know" about what the secret is, as the guesser looks puzzled and makes everyone laugh even more).  

First, a disclaimer - as The Who famously put it, "it's the singer, not the song," and you will need the right group of participants for this "group therapy".  As with any game, people who "aren't into it" for whatever reason, will impact the game negatively.  I can tell you however, that I have played it with a group of random people I'd mostly just met, and we had a crazy fun time.  The "quirks" are often very clever and fun; some of the ones I enjoyed a lot are:

  • The first word of each answer must start with the letter M
  • Each answer must contain a word that rhymes with "day"
  • Players think they are at a presidential debate (we had a very energetic Ross Perot in this one)
  • Players think they are on a date being chaperoned by their mother, who is the psychiatrist
  • Players think they are talent scouts discovering a starlet, who is the psychiatrist
Rather than have the therapist player leave the room while we chose a quirk, we took turns looking at and choosing one of the four quirks on a card, and just told everyone "top one on the blue side," or "bottom one on the yellow side," etc.  This allowed us to get to the fun right away.  

The game awards a point to each psychiatrist who makes a successful guess, and lets players vote on the "patient" who gave the best performance each turn, who gets a point too.  For an added challenge, the psychiatrist can ask players to portray two quirks and get two points if both are guessed - or zero if one or neither is guessed. But scoring is really secondary to the intense fun everyone will have in a good game of Off Your Rocker.  I can honestly say I will never forget the recent session I ran at one of my game events.

In late 2013 Off Your Rocker was a featured part of "Stir Game Nights" hosted by dating site in 20 cities across the United States.  The game playfully encourages participants to come out of their shells and express themselves, and so is perfect for events like this. Also, up to 12 people can play, so it's great for parties.

Off Your Rocker is getting great reviews from the party-game-loving public and it's easy to see why.  You'd be crazy to miss it!

Learn more at the Stratus Games web site.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Schmovie Review

In SCHMOVIE, Sara Farber and Bryan Wilson have produced a silly party game that delivers serious laughs.  Although some players may be initially intimidated by the "creativity factor", once they warm up they will find this is a game for almost anyone - not just the quick-witted jokesters.

The concept is this: players form up into teams (if necessary due to a large group) then take turns being the "Schmovie Producer" who will choose the best answer on a turn.  All other players (or teams) write funny made-up movie titles on dry-erase boards.  The genre for these wacky films is determined by a six-sided die (which includes one "Producer's choice" side, which gives the judge the ability to choose any sort of film.)  The subject of the film is chosen randomly by drawing two cards, one from a WHAT deck and one from a WHO deck.  So you might be called upon to make up a title of a film about, say, a FLAMBOYANT COWBOY (how about "Showgun"?)  Or a DRUNKEN COMPUTER. (Will you go with "WALL-AA"? Or "HALcoholic"?)  Maybe it will be a romantic comedy about a policeman who has a small child.  "Kindergarten Cop a feel".  Or a science fiction movie about a naughty dessert... "Earth Girls are Cheesecake."  The game works because it gives players many "hooks" to hang their ideas on, but does not constrain the judge to only choose an answer if it matches the category or genre (as Schmovie Producer, you can choose any answer as best, even if it didn't follow the die or cards at all.) Also, you can use the title of a real movie as inspiration and put your own twist on it - or just come up with something completely new.

Everyone in my group loved SCHMOVIE, even the player who was most concerned about coming up with something funny.  When playing in teams, you have the benefit of multiple brains and don't have to worry about being on the spot to think of something.  But be sure to encourage quieter teammates to take a turn writing a response.

As a person who has always loved puns, the game is a natural for me. Let me be the first (probably not!) to not only give SCHMOVIE my highest recommendation, but to give it two thumbs up!

To learn more (and to play the game with others online) visit SCHMOVIE on Facebook!  They also have a site on Wordpress.  And you can purchase the game on Amazon.