Will Thompson & David Thomas

#127 – Will Thompson & David Thomas

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've passed along the way.

My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking with Will Thompson and David Thomas from Absurdist Productions, who designed– I'm going to try to pronounce this right, Churrascaria, a game all about eating meat. I also met them at the Tabletop Network convention. Will, David, welcome to the show.

Will Thompson: Thanks for having us.

David Thomas: Thank you for having us.


Patrick: Lovely. So, I always start with a lightning round. You guys ready for this?

Will: Sure.

Patrick: Favorite meat?

David: [Picanha.]

Patrick: What is that?

David: It is specifically at Brazilian steakhouses, it's a cut of meat that you can't find in the US, but the way they cook it literally melts in your mouth. It's just amazing.

Patrick: OK. And you, Will?

Will: It's hard not to say the [picanha] because I love that, it's probably my favorite thing at Brazilian steakhouses. I also love some really good barbecue ribs.

Patrick: All right. I'm going to start with you this time, Will. What's your favorite new game that you played a BGG con?

Will: I played Zoo-ography with the guys from– What's their company called?

David: Doomsday Robot, I think.

Will: Yeah, Doomsday Robot. That was pretty awesome, and [inaudible] was also really great.

Patrick: I've heard good things. All right, what about you, David?

David: I didn't make it to BGG con. Will went there solo this year.

Patrick: Got it. How about this? Favorite new game you just played recently.

David: Probably for this 2019, Parks. I'm a huge fan of Parks, and then Horrified was enjoyable too.

Patrick: All right, very cool. We'll start with you this time, David. What is a game you play with someone every single time at a convention? Like, no matter what?

David: Sagrada and Century Spice Road are both–

Patrick: Yes, great. And Will?

Will: I don't think I have a con go-to, I'm always looking for whatever is new and different, something new I can experience. I don't know, and I don't think I have an answer for that.

How did you get into board games and board game design?

Patrick: All right, fair enough. First of all, for both of you now, how did you get into board games and board game design?

David: Growing up, game nights were a family thing. Typically the traditional American ones, Monopoly and Yahtzee, and various all kinds of different card games. Then as I got older, I started– I discovered hobby games and the more I played them, the more I wanted to make my own.

Will: I'm similar, I started out growing up playing card games like Spades and Hearts and stuff with my mom. My dad taught me how to play Chess and Risk and things like that. I got a little older, started getting into things like Magic: The Gathering and some role playing games that turned into doing my own homebrew stuff for role playing games.

That led me into, through a roundabout way, of doing educational video games and then finally to board games. I went through this whole gamut of different gaming stuff, and gaming has always been a big part of my life.

Tell me about Churrascaria, how did it get started?

Patrick: That's cool. I think we were chatting over breakfast, or a breakfast place for lunch, and we were talking– We were chatting about your game Churrascaria. For those who don't know, that is a Brazilian steakhouse, “Eat as much meat as possible” type of place. How did you decide to make a game like this?

David: That one was all me. A bunch of us went to the first PAX South convention down in San Antonio in 2015, I believe. Just on a lark, I went to several panels on game design just because I was curious. At the end of the con, one of our friends said, “We've got to go to this restaurant. It's amazing. We're going to celebrate this great convention.”

He was the only one who had gone before. We walk in, and they walk you by the salad bar, and it's just amazing. He sits down. The rest of us get up and run to the salad bar, and he sits there and waits with an empty plate. We come back, we start eating, like “Dude. What's going on?” And he's like, “I'm savoring the moment.”

And then the waiters start coming around with the meat, and as he piles up his plate, we're all trying to make room because we stuffed ourselves with salad. We have no place on our plates for food, for all this meat that's coming out. Then one of our friends may have had a little too much to drink, and a lot of the cards that exist in the game exist because of things he did that night.

Patrick: OK.

David: Because he was swapping plates and stealing food off people's plates and the whole thing. It just sparked this idea, “I bet I can make a little card game about this thing.” I made a first draft, some friends played it and said “That was amazing fun, broken as hell, but amazing fun.” Then I just kept working on it, developing it until it became what it is.

Patrick: I love that. I'm finding so many food games, and there is– I obviously made a game about fries, I talked to other people who made a game about eating burgers and fast food, and you guys have a Churrascaria one. It's great. What has been people's reactions to this game?

David: Most people seem to enjoy it, which always makes me happy. Both Will and I have academic and educational backgrounds, so we put a lot of effort into making sure we did it right. Because neither of us are Brazilian, so all the food dishes look amazing. The artwork is amazing, from our friend Ellie Chang. Then all the names of the cards we put in Portuguese with the pronunciation in the rules manual.

Patrick: That's fun.

David: We've had great– We've almost sold out of the first print run, so it's gone well for us.

Will: People are a little surprised to see a food game usually, but I think it's becoming more and more popular. We usually get compared to Sushi Go, even though there's no real mechanical similarity between the two. But people really love it, and if somebody has been to a Brazilian steak house they immediately get it, and they immediately know what's going on.

So they have this immediate connection that goes with it, and we also find that people– It makes them hungry. People want to go eat immediately afterwards, which is great because that means the theme is getting through. It's coming across.

David: We've had a few people from Brazil come up at booths and events, and they give us the side-eye thing, they're like, “You guys aren't Brazilian.” They start looking at the cards and everything, and they'll ask me to pronounce words, and all of a sudden, as soon as I pronounce them correctly, they just get a smile like “That's great.”

Patrick: That's cool. In the age where everyone has dietary restrictions, have you had vegetarians who don't want to play your game? Has that come up at all?

Will: We have.

David: We have. A lot of times, people will come up, and we get two things. Either we have a vegetarian that comes up and looks at it and goes, “I'm a vegetarian. I can't play this game.” Or, the vegetarians who come up and go, “I have to own this.”

Patrick: That's amazing. What is the ratio? Like, 50/50?

David: It's about 50/50. My favorite thing was we had a couple come up, and The guy is like, “I got to play this.” They sit down and start playing, and halfway through playing she goes “I'm a vegetarian–” Which is funny because our artist was also a vegetarian, and all of a sudden I hear as they're finishing up playing the game, she leans over to him, and she goes “I don't understand. I'm so hungry.”

Tell me about your Kickstarter campaign, how did that go?

Patrick: First of all, I think it's cool that you guys made this game. I also think I was worried that vegetarians would just not be interested at all, and that's maybe 5% of the population or something. It's great to hear that maybe a tiny percent aren't interested, but many of them are– They might like it even if they don't eat it, and that's good to know. So before the show, you guys were telling me about your Kickstarter campaign and bringing this game to market. Tell me about that, and what happened.

Will: Dave told you about how he got the prototype together, we decided it was a good idea, I made the offer that we go into business together and try to Kickstart this thing and make it happen. We started planning that, and we ran our first Kickstarter campaign and came up short. I think we were trying to raise around– That first time we were trying to raise around $10,000 dollars.

David: We were about 80% when it finally ended.

Will: A few months later we decided to start it up again, we took our following from that first campaign, and we did some more marketing, we did some better targeted advertising and things, and we hit our goal the second time around. As Dave was saying, we had a few hiccups along the way. Like prices for manufacturing shot up in between those two, that the quote from our first campaign would still be valid by the time we did the second one. That was not true. It turns out that quote had an expiration on it, which is something we should have known but did not.

David: We learned that the hard way, and then it also wasn't– Prices always go up, but it wasn't a mild price increase, it was during that time where I don't know exactly what caused it, but the paper prices in China tripled. So the cost of manufacturing our game with the company we were working with almost doubled. When they told us we almost panicked.

Because it's like, “There's no way we could do this anymore.” So we started sending out quote requests to various companies, and we went through the whole process of finding a new manufacturer, making sure everything was going to work and everything. Day 10, we found out all this, day 15 we had the new manufacturer picked, and the quote and everything worked out so that we weren't going to fail.

Patrick: First of all, there's a couple of important things there. I think one of the important lessons is always if you have a first campaign and it doesn't work and you're going to relaunch, double check every quote you have. That seems like a pretty big one. I'm glad I'm chatting to you because now I know that. Then number two, how did you–? I guess I'm just wondering when you finally talked to other manufacturers was it still more expensive than you originally planned? Then, how did you absorb that cost?

David: Yeah, it was. Everybody we talked to, the prices were higher than they'd been the first time we got quoted. Because we originally got quotes for about six or seven different companies and then we went back to the same group the second time around, but we'd also– That was a boon for a plus on our end, is that we had padded everything a little bit with the assumption that something could go wrong.

Will: Yeah, that padding saved us. I will say by the time the campaign ended, and we fulfilled things, we were slightly below positive. But then we got a really lucky break of getting into the PAX South Indie Showcase.

David: Yes, that was huge.

Will: It was free, and it was crazy. We got so much business there it is beyond what anybody ever expects to get at a con.

David: We sold almost 300 copies in two days.

Patrick: What?

Will: We sold almost as much at the con as we sold at Kickstarter, it was crazy. That never happens at cons, from what I understand.

Patrick: What was the magic sauce?

David: It was a number of things. One, being in the showcase at PAX, you're right in the middle of the convention. You're dead set in the middle there, so everyone walked by us. But then because we had people stopping to look at it anyways, we had two demo versions set up so we could run people through pretty quick, and then someone had the brilliant idea– We had, just as a prop, we had these skewers of meat.

Will: Cardboard.

David: That we had set up as a prop, just skewers of meat, and someone said, “We have people sitting in line who want to play. Let's give them to these and say they are reservations, they just have to hold them up.” Our booth was surrounded by people waving sticks of meat, which just attracted more people.

Patrick: That's brilliant. I love that.

David: We were right next to the North Star Games booth, the Evolution guys. I think day two, they came over to us and said, “We need a copy of your game. We need to understand what the hell is happening over here.”

Patrick: That's great.

Will: On top of that, it was also just the right setting. Churrascaria is a light party game, a cut-throat “Take that” kind of game. It just hit the right note for the PAX South crowd. This is like BGG con, it's a little bit more hardcore gaming, and a little bit heavier is the preference. This game was just exactly right for there, and for some reason, it just worked well. We brought four people with us since we got in for free and got the free badges, we were able to bring four people.

Dave and I spent most of the time running demos while at the same time we had two people out basically just talking to people, telling them what the game was about and handing out those meat sticks, and just doing all of that. They did a fantastic job with that whole marketing thing. I don't think that these same tactics will necessarily work at every con and every situation, but it just worked out very well in that particular situation.

Patrick: This is a small thing here, but when people do go to cons, I think they think a lot about what the game's going to look like on the table, and setting up the demo booth, and all that stuff. But there's some surprisingly easy things you can do that cost very little money like I imagine printing out cardboard signs of giant meat and having people hold them up is very low cost and probably did bring people over to your booth.

Will: Yeah, it did great.

David: It ended up that every con we go to [is a surprise] because every single con we go to, I have at least one person who tries to buy them from me.

Patrick: That's a great sign of the working. They're interesting enough that people want to buy them from you, that's fantastic.

Will: But on the note of the way you've got the table set up and stuff, as a Kickstarter add-on we printed out play mats that look like a placemat. So it looks like a plate with spaces for your food and all of the cards that'll go down, and those made it both easy to see how the game is laid out and where everything goes. They became way more popular sale items than we ever thought, and we sold out of them super fast. They also just gave the table presents that drew people in, on top of just a simple card game.

Patrick: Fantastic. You mentioned earlier that you're just about to go through your first print run, does that mean you're going to reprint it and try to sell it again and just keep going?

David: We're probably not reprinting Churrascaria yet, we have a second game that we're hoping to take to Kickstarter at the end of the summer, and that's where most of the money that came from Churrascaria is going, into that game. Then we'll see how the Kickstarter of that game goes on what the future brings.

Will: Hopefully, we will be able to eventually order another print run of Churrascaria, but we feel like at the level we're at and what we're doing, getting another new game out to Kickstarter is a better investment of our money, to make that happen. Then if we've got the money, later on, we will probably do an expansion or a reprint or something with Churrascaria to keep it going.

Patrick: So let me ask you this because now that I've made one game, I'm thinking a lot about how do I want my games to synergize, if at all. When you guys are thinking about your games, are you thinking about “Do we want to make another food eating game? Do we want to make another restaurant themed game?” Or are you guys just making whatever works for you, and they're very individual, and they're not related to each other at all?

David: We think about this a lot. We do have a lot of ideas. We even have a partial design worked out for a– Not a direct sequel, but a spiritual sequel to Churrascaria that's setting the scene, that's another– More of a pickup and delivery game where you're the waiter instead of the people eating. But we want to do some other games first, just to not typecast ourselves.

Will: The other games we're working on really aren't related at all right now. We're working on a game that is about being a veterinarian for dinosaurs, and another one that's about building a village and an indigenous community. Another one that's about being a spy and collecting intelligence. They're not connected at all, and I know a lot of people tell you to have a theme and a type of game that your company publishes, but we just– I don't know if we can reign ourselves in that much.

Patrick: It does limit your creativity a little bit. If maybe I have a really good dungeon crawling game and I don't know how to– I don't how to make a dungeon crawling game work on my previously fry-themed game. You know what I mean? That's hard to do, so it might limit you.

Will: That's one of the things, we don't want to limit ourselves. We want to make fun games, and we want to make games with weird and silly theme, or games that are thematic. We probably won't ever publish a heavy euro, we probably won't ever publish a straight up Cards Against Humanity type party game, but for the light to medium games with fun and weird themes, I think we're not holding ourselves back.

How did you two decide to work together?

Patrick: Great. We talked about your Kickstarter campaign and Churrascaria, I want to talk about how did you two decide that you want to work together?

Will: It started with Churrascaria. Dave and I, we met through mutual friends, and we started hanging out, playing games together, and stuff. Then we all– Our whole group of friends went to PAX together. I started seeing Churrascaria, I saw what they did, and I talked to him. I didn't know what he did before we met, but it turned out that he was an instructional designer in the air force.

I worked for an educational company as an instructional designer, so I had no idea we had similar backgrounds, and we happened to be hiring. I was like, “We're making educational games at my day job, and you look like you have all the requirements we need, which is hard to find.” So he applied, got the job, and we worked together for a while.

David: I had already been working on Churrascaria, and you pulled me in, and then we worked together there almost three years.

What is your local play test scene like?

Patrick: All right. It sounds like both of you are also pretty involved in your local playtest scene, I think I was talking to you guys about this at Tabletop Network. How did you guys get involved in your local scene, and what has it done for your games?

David: The local scene, I can almost say I helped develop a lot of the local scene just by accident. I started going through a lot of the normal board game community groups and tested my game, just trying to get people to play it, and then eventually, one of our local game shops started a monthly day where they were inviting people to do play tests. It wasn't well organized, but it was great. They were giving us a place to come out and play games.

So eventually myself and a few other designers took that over, and now we have at least– We schedule events out at least one a month, sometimes three or four a month at various game shops around town and local conventions, all that stuff. Just up building up, trying to pull in as many local designers, and help get the games going better.

Patrick: I guess the question is, is it worth all that time and investment? Because to me, organizing takes time and investment to talk with a store owner and make sure that the dates are available and there's tables, and you have to wrangle people to show up on time. Is all that worth it?

David: I think so. For one thing, it exposes our game to a greater variety of people, so we have some people who come back to every event, and we have others– We have new players showing up at every event. Brand new people are experiencing the game, we're getting completely different viewpoints in the play tests, and what they like, what they don't like, what's working.

Will and I are both very data driven, so I collect amazing amounts of data out of all these events. Having them helping to organize these means the game he mentioned a little bit earlier, the dinosaur veterinarian one, [Paleo Vet], is the next game we're focusing on. I probably in the last year, I probably play tested that 150 times with different people.

Yeah, exactly. Lots. We were able to do very quick revisions to it every couple of weeks, and we would revise the game based on getting a lot of play testing in a very short amount time. For us, it's very worthwhile.

Patrick: Do you feel the same way, Will?

Will: I agree entirely. I think that it's hard getting playtests together. I think it's hard for pretty much any designer to get outside of their own personal game group and get people to play their games unless you have the resources and ability to go to every single con or pay people or whatever. It's a hard thing to do, and it's one of the biggest challenges I think for me, and probably for a lot of designers is to just get those playtests in. It is so important, and this community that we built up has facilitated that in a way that I don't see we could have done in any other way.

I love my friends and the game group we have and getting to play games with them, but I don't want to subject them every single week or every single month even to the same game of mine over and over. But it's a different atmosphere at a playtest event, where people are expecting that. Then I can still have the chance to play published games for fun every once in a while. I think it's great, I think it's pretty invaluable, and I don't know if we could do as much as we do without it.

Patrick: OK, so let me ask the question this way. Because a long time ago I used to live in a very tiny town of like 2,000 people. If you live in a very rural area, would you recommend–? If you want to get your game to market to get out there, would you recommend driving an hour to go to a local playtest? Is that worth it to you?

David: We have people and designers who come to our playtest events who live 45 minutes to an hour away, they come out and we also– In Oklahoma, we have a number of fairly good sized towns 5but they're long distances a ways from each other, so we have an event coming up in February that's at a town about 45 minutes away from where I live.

We purposely did that because there's several designers in that area, so we're all going to gather there. About six months ago, we did one that was about two hours north, and we did a playtest event. We are purposely trying to grow the community, not just within our little cities like the city we're in, but within practically the state.

Patrick: Obviously, your attendees do think it is worth it.

David: Yes.

Patrick: Cool.

Will: I was going to say we've even on occasion, and we can't do this all the time, but driven down to Dallas for some of their playtest events just because they've got some bigger– It's a much bigger city than Oklahoma city, and they've got some good playtest organizations down there.

So Dave and I have driven down there a few times to get feedback from there, and it's not something I want to do every month, but it has been really valuable when we've gone to do it.

David: Getting the different insights and points of view helps.

What one resource would you recommend to another indie game designer or an aspiring game designer?

Patrick: Yes. This is great because this is something I hear all the time, and I think playtesting, and I'm starting to think if you could only do one thing, go to a monthly playtest group. Because I've heard from numerous guests, but let me move into one of my other favorite questions here. Besides playtesting, what is something you'd recommend to another indie game designer or aspiring designer?

David: For just general advice, get a prototype made as soon as you can. Because you can sit there and math hammer something in an Excel sheet or write notes for years and not make any progress. Make a prototype, get it on the table, find out what's broken, and start fixing it as quickly as possible.

Will: I think that's some of the most basic advice. As far as things like equipment, get a good rotary style paper cutter, and that'll save you a huge amount of time. I've done a lot of reading and listened to a lot of podcasts. Take in as much information as you can from as many sources as you can.

Whether it's Facebook groups or podcasts or books or whatever, just seeing that perspective and getting past that initial stage of not knowing anything about the industry. It's a pretty big step.

What was the best money you ever spent as a game designer?

Patrick: This brings me to my next question, what is the best money you've ever spent as a game designer? By that, I mean, what is something that's been worth every single penny that you put into it?

Will: Yeah, I'm going to go with that rotary paper cutter that I mentioned. I think it cost me $40 or $50 bucks, and it can cut 8 or 10 pieces of paper in one go, super straight. That has sped things up so much compared to a guillotine style cutter. I know it's a simple little silly thing, but it was totally worth it.

Patrick: Great.

David: Just the amount of time in prototyping it saves you is amazing.

What are some fun ideas or mechanisms that you're looking into?

Patrick: Fantastic. Then what are some fun ideas or mechanisms that you're looking into maybe for future games?

Will: For an upcoming game I'm working on, I'm working on a hidden worker placement mechanism where you start off with everybody's worker mixed up together, and you don't know– The person placing it knows whose worker is placed, but nobody else does until enough workers appear to produce resources.

It makes for a really strange game, but it's also been a very challenging game to make. That's a pretty unique one. I think Dave's mechanic that he's using on his espionage game is pretty unique, and it's sort of a reverse Pandemic.

David: Where the way resources are generated, as you remove resources from one area, they generate resources in adjacent areas and whatnot.

What does success in the board game world look like to you?

Patrick: All right. Very cool, sounds like fun. I always like to end this with, what does success in the board game world look like to both of you?

Will: I would like to eventually make this my full time job. I enjoy designing games, and I also enjoy the publishing process. I don't think that's necessarily for everyone, and a lot of people hate it, but the challenge of figuring out all of the pieces and putting it all together to make it happen is another game to me. I like that.

David: I'm the same. I can't help that everywhere I look I think of new ideas for games, “How can we make something into a game?” It's just designing is something I'm going to be doing regardless of if I can do it full time, but if I could do it full time, I'm like Will. We like sitting down and discussing the logistics of manufacturing and production, figuring out “How could we make this game do this, how could we get these pieces made,” that kind of thing is something we enjoy doing.


Patrick: That's exciting. I'm curious what percent of my guests and audience for that matter are interested in doing game design full time, for many people, it's a labor of love, and if they can go full time, they would, but not all of them. It's cool to hear that you guys are interested in that. Moving into the final thing, I end my show with a game called Overrated/Underrated. Have you guys heard about it?

David: I have not.

Will: I think I have heard it on your previous shows, yes.

Patrick: I'm going to give you a word or phrase, and you just have to tell me if you think it's overrated or underrated. If I said– What's going to be my example today? If I said “Christmas lights,” you might say, “Overrated, because they use too much electricity.”

Or you might say, “Underrated because they're so pretty.” Something like that. Cool? All right. I'm going to go for the first one, combining a game convention with a game designer conference AKA BGG con plus Tabletop Network. Is that overrated or underrated?

Will: I'd say it's underrated. I think that was a great experience. I liked having the chance to do both, and I liked that they have their own spaces that are separate, but they were still happening right next to each other.

David: I'm going underrated. To point out how underrated, we've already discussed it. I'm going next year.

Patrick: Yes, OK.

David: I'll be paying the money to go toward next year.

Patrick: I love it. All right, we're going to start with you this time, David. Buffets, overrated or underrated?

David: Depends on the buffet. I made a game about a Brazilian one, so I will say a good high quality buffet can be underrated, but there's a lot of overrated buffets out there.

Patrick: All right, and you Will?

Will: I would say actual proper buffets are overrated. All the best ones are things like a Churrascaria or a dim sum where they bring the food out to you, the ones where you go get food that's been sitting on a tray for who knows how long are definitely overrated.

Patrick: I like it, buffets but they have to bring you food. Cool, I dig it. How about, I just want to go with sports-themed board games. Overrated or underrated? I'll start with you this time, Will.

Will: I'd have to say overrated. Not my thing.

David: Yeah, I think I'm the same. I'm not a huge sports person, so they don't do a lot for me.

Patrick: All right. The last one, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Overrated or underrated, David?

David: I love comic books, so for me, I have watched every one of them like a gleeful little– They throw me back to being a little kid, and I just watch the spectacle and enjoy. I love them.

Will: Yeah. I'm going to have to say underrated. I think the logistics that goes into coordinating all of those movies into one mostly coherent narrative is pretty impressive, and I think that is totally underrated.

David: Yes, and no one else has managed to replicate it yet.

Patrick: Yes.

Will: True.

Wrap Up

Patrick: So Will and David, thank you so much for being on the show.

Will: Thanks for having us.

David: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Patrick: Where can people find you and your games online?

Will: Our website is AbsurdistProductions.com. We are on Facebook at Absurdist Productions, we're on Instagram @AbsurdistProductions, and since the handles have to be shorter on Twitter, we are @AbsurdistProd.

Patrick: OK. Listeners, if you liked this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you heard us. If you leave a review, Will and David said they'd help you raise the little flag in the Brazilian steakhouse so you can eat as much raw– Not raw. You can eat as much meat as possible.

You can visit our site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, You can follow me on Twitter and BoardGameGeek, I am @BFTrick on both platforms. That is all I've got. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.

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