Josh Bakken

#158 – Josh Bakken

Patrick: Hey, everyone. Patrick here with a bonus episode, I guess. As you know in the last couple of months I've reached out and I've let people know in this audience that I'm looking for people to sort of help me and maybe add your own segment to an episode or even to record your own episode. And one person did reach out, his name is Matthew Stockton. His brothers were on in Episode 151, Sam and Ed Stockton.

He recently got into board games really heavily in the last couple years, and he has a couple people that he wants to interview that are people that I haven't really heard of and I don't really follow. So I'm really excited to hear Matthew Stockton ask new questions and interview new people that I might not have reached out to, so he's really interested in feedback. Feel free to send me feedback on social, feel free to send him feedback on social.

I also have a contact form on the website. So just go ahead, try a different format of episode with a different host and different set of interview questions. I really left it all up to him to come up with whatever he wanted to come up with. Go ahead and enjoy Matthew Stockton and his guest, Josh Bakken. Here we go.

Matthew: All righty. I want to thank Patrick for this opportunity today. My name is Matthew Stockton. I'm doing podcast here for Indie Board Games Designers. And things are going to be a little rusty. This is my first time doing it, but I want to thank you all for listening. And any sort of honest feedback would be appreciated. I'm always up for constructive criticism, but more importantly, moving on to our wonderful, wonderful guest that I've known forever now at this point, right?

His name is Josh Bakken and he has a ZU Tiles: Hime. It's a game that I ran across when I was actually on Facebook and I saw an advertisement for it. I got interested, reached out to him. And he is a wonderful human being with actually an excellent game that I recently picked up. Josh, welcome.

Josh: Thank you. Thank you for that super kind introduction.

Matthew:  No, I appreciate it. And so we'll try not to over complement each other too much during this. And I apologize to anybody that has to listen to my stream of consciousness here. But getting to it, Josh, how are you doing these days?

Josh:  I'm doing really well. We just got into the new year as everyone knows. And I'm working hard on Starter Set 2 for ZU Tiles: Hime. So I'm sure we'll talk about the Starter Set 1, which is the ad you bumped into on Facebook, that was what that was for. But people are clamoring for 2, and so I'm working as hard as I can to get that all designed and tidied up and off to the printer.

Matthew:  Yeah. I've seen some of those fan art or not fan art, excuse me, but some of the previews of some of the art, and I'm pretty excited about that myself, because I know my Chinese Zodiac birth year hasn't come out yet. So I'm excited about that. And full disclosure to everybody listening, I do own a copy of the game. I am not sponsored in any way, but it was just Josh is a wonderful, wonderful person to talk to. So I highly recommend it when you get the opportunity and just check out his game.

Josh:  Thank you.

Matthew:  But anyways. So how long have you been into this whole board game card hobby, Josh?

Josh:  Oh my goodness. Gosh. Well, board game, tabletop game as early as I can remember really. I was playing friends of my parents back when I was, I don't know, five, six years old playing board games against them, chess, stuff like that. So my love and fascination for tabletop/board games goes way, way back. And then for me actually deciding, or having a passion, or thinking that I might have the capability to actually contribute something and to make a game myself, I think that really started back when Richard Garfield dropped the bomb on most of us in the form of Magic: The Gathering and that game, I don't want to say changed my life, but it definitely blew me away.

And this is where I'm at risk of starting to really ramble about things, but I'll just try and keep it super concise and say I was around when Wizards of the Coast was very, very small and to see them create something more or less out of the basement that grabbed the hearts and minds of so many people, and just to see that grow was just phenomenal. And I was like, man, maybe someday, if I ever got inspired… I mean, because you never know. Your thoughts are, oh, is that even possible for somebody to do something like that?

And then you see an example like that of a small company able to do something like that and it kind of instills in you at least a hope that it's possible, right? So it's not like, oh no, that's only for the Mattels and the Hasbros of the world. They're the ones with the teams and the intelligence and all that kind of stuff to be able to do something on that scale. But to see a little scrappy company like Early Wizards of the Coast do something like that, it kind of instilled in me, at least, thinking, hey, maybe at some point in my life I might give that a shot. So that's kind of where it came from as far as me thinking I might have the capability or the potential to do something like that.

Matthew:  No, I appreciate you telling me that. I remember my own self now that you mentioned Magic: The Gathering. It's something that… Oh, man, I was in high school and they're all in, I think it was maybe it was middle school. I don't know. That dates me a little bit, but it's the science teacher's classroom during lunch, I remember going in there and these guys are playing this game that looks all like, what is it?

Unholy Strength with the pentagram and the background and stuff. And this is during the middle of partially the whole Dungeon Dragons is the devil type stuff, but it was just… I remember was like, man, that game looks cool. There's something like that. It was that and Vampire: The Masquerade, I think, some of that around the same time.

Josh: Yeah, exactly. I was a little bit older, so I'm dating myself even a little bit more, but I was just getting into college and somebody brought it over before we were getting ready to actually do a role-playing system called the Hero System. I don't know if anybody out there would recognize that, but that was our role-play system of choice for our group. And before the game started, somebody brought some decks and played around with it and I was just blown away. And, again, this is total…

I need to dial it back or I'll just ramble for hours about this, but anyway, long story short, it just really blew me away. The competitive aspect early on blew me away. The creativity that I saw when I first went to… The very first tournaments were just these ragtag affairs of just an individual person saying, “Hey, I'm going to have this. I'm going to rent out this hall.”

And not associated or attached with Wizards of the Coast at all, just an individual person going, “I really liked the vibe of what this community is bringing in and I'm going to rent out a hall and everyone come in. It's $5 entry fee and you could win X, Y, or Z as a prize.” And I remember going to that and aside from the gameplay aspect, just the creativity kind of blew me away basically.

Matthew:  I mean, again, with the Magic is something that one thing I've always been impressed with even though I fall in and out of love with it all the time is I just think it's well-designed to a certain extent with the longevity that it has and just how it works without having an overly complicated rule set. I mean, granted there's other things that with each new set, you have rules that come into play and come in and out of style, but something that I've noticed I've always been impressed with.

Josh:  Yeah. And for me, I kind of fell out of love with it around '95, '96, I'd say, just because that was the advent of what they call meta decks where you would go to a tournament and everybody would bring the same deck because through the Internet and stuff, everyone would kind of figure out what was the best thing to bring. And then I started to see a little bit less creativity in the competitive community. And so I lost kind of competitive interest in the game. But totally hear what you're saying and it's a great game. No doubt.

Matthew: So that actually kind of segues into what I wanted to talk to you about kind of why I brought you in, because you have this wonderful game. I don't want to call it little, but in some ways it's cute little game called ZU Tiles: Hime.

Josh: Absolutely. Call it cute. It's totally fine.

Matthew: It is. Anybody, honestly, if you have anybody that's interested… Anyway, I'll talk about that later. Sorry. Getting off track myself.

Josh: Sure.

Matthew: But do you feel Magic inspired you in the design of this game at all? Or your experience with Magic: The Gathering?

Josh: Oh, absolutely. But not Magic directly. And then here's another rant warning, but I'm going to try my best to get this reigned in.

Matthew: Yeah. No problem.

Josh: Again, kind of at the beginning of Magic, when it came out, something that happened soon after is that a ton of other games started popping up to kind of ride the coattails on this thing called Magic: The Gathering. And at the time, if a new game came out, I played it and I played, I don't know, 10, 50, 100 different collectible games. Pretty much anything that came out at the time, I took a look at.

And my experience with that was that a lot of these companies and attempts were really just cash grabs at trying to ride on the coattails of this really popular game and trying to kind of carve out a little market share, but it wasn't done organically, let's just say. It wasn't done from the people's heart necessarily like that they want to create this new thing. It's more like, “Oh, this thing's making money. Let's try to do something similar and take some of that money.”

And my reaction to that, I just didn't like it. It didn't feel good to me. It didn't feel, again, creative, or unique, or new. So the reason that I'm saying that is a preference to answering your question is that during that time, and those experiences really set into me that I did not want to ever do that. If the only game I could ever come up with was a collectible card game, then I would not have done any game at all. Let's just put it that way. And so that was kind of set in my mind, no on collectible card games.

And then, fast forward when I actually did get some inspiration, that we can talk about later, for the game, the one thing I knew I didn't want to do was a card game. And so that's kind of the reason that I was, I wouldn't say forced, but the reason why I kind of looked past games or card games, I should say, and kind of tried to find something else that could be not only as fun, but in many instances and what many people tell me, even more fun. So, yes, Magic did play a part. The early Magic scene did definitely play a part to what Zu Tiles is today.

Matthew: Oh, awesome. Well, I do appreciate the insight on that because it's always fascinating to me, creators when they talk about things that had direct influence or indirect influence. It's really interesting to get that side of it because it's something that for me, especially, relatively new to the convention or actually talking to creators type thing it's just been an experience. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm a history major or was in school, but I like to know stuff.

And so I know a lot of other folks are curious about that. So I appreciate you sharing that. So introducing the game. Which is to say hypothetically, I'm walking into a game store and you're running a demo. How would you go about say introducing the game to me or somebody else that is not familiar with the game? They just kind of see a poster or they see what's going on over there with these cool tiles and they're like, “Hey, what is this?” How would you best describe it without having the visual aid, I guess, of being there in person?

Josh: Sure. So basically, when somebody comes by at a con or something like that, even though we haven't had cons for a while, but I would always say, “Hey, learn your next favorite game in eight minutes or less.” And so that kind of perks people up and go, “Oh, I've got eight minutes.” It's kind of a joke, right? I don't know if this is going to be their next favorite game, but that usually kind of gets them to the table.

And then once I'm there, I say, “Hey, Zu Tiles is a strategic tile placement game. So what we're trying to do is create groupings of tiles, and your opponents also trying to create groupings of tiles. And we can use each other's tiles to create these groupings that we're after.” And that's the first kind of thing I would say to them. And then I would say, “And the tiles are loosely based on the creatures of the Chinese Zodiac.

So whether some of them are compatible with each other, some of them aren't compatible with each other.” And then I'd kind of start to go from there. And usually they're interested. And after I give a quick description, I say, “Did that sound interesting enough? Would you like to play a game?” And most of the time they're like, “Yeah. That sounds cool. Let's play.”

Matthew: Nice.

Josh: Yeah. But I find that really helps. And one of the reasons why I was so excited to design the game is because it uses animals, and animals are very accessible to everybody, right? So I don't have to begin this game and talk about some fictional universe or some fictional rebellion kind of thing. I don't have to explain any kind of lore to explain this, right? When I'm teaching Zu Tiles, it's like, here's a rabbit. And these are actions that rabbits can do. And one of them is hop And everybody just gets that because what do rabbits naturally do? They hop, right?

And horses can kick, and gallop, and do all kinds of stuff like that. So I just find it very helpful because that's kind of the source material that I can teach it easily. And it's really accessible for people all over the world. I was just talking to someone this morning from Malaysia and we were going back and forth about the game and they're super excited about it, but it's very cool. I really liked the source material of the 12 creatures of the Zodiac.

Matthew: No. And that's actually one of the things admittedly that drew me to that was the theme, I guess, that was presented in it and the way it was presented. Because admittedly, I'm kind of, I won't say I'm a mega fan, but I watch anime and read manga and stuff on occasion. And so was that something that was intentional when you design the game was to… I mean, you have that theme of the Chinese Zodiac and the creatures, but that sort of art style? What made you use that?

Josh: Well, so it's a really interesting story. So the art style that you actually see in the game today, the anime-inspired art is not the first art style for the game. The game I actually started creating back in 2003. And I'm not a wealthy person and I wasn't then. So I have this game design, but I need art, right? So I went and I traveled around the different conventions and I talked to different friends and I got about 19 different artists to contribute their individual interpretation of the animals and of the action and reaction tiles.

So that whole set of art, there's 195 different pieces of art, that's actually not represented at all in the Hime set. And we call that set the Zu Tiles classic. And that may see the light of day at some point but just kind of for people who are interested, the art set that you see today is not the first set for the game. What happened was… Gosh, I feel I'm going to ramble again, but I'll try and make this super [inaudible].

Matthew: It's all right. We're all ears about how this came about.

Josh: Sure. So I started developing it and then I had a decision to make. I had a young child, a young boy, and I still do. He's a great kid. And trying to launch a game, and work full time, and be a single parent is a daunting task, even just doing it by yourself on the best of circumstances. So I actually decided to shelve the game back in 2004, 2005, and I didn't really touch it again until my son graduated from high school, which was 2018. And when he graduated and he started to go off to college, I was like, oh, wow. I have a little bit more time on my hands now.

It kind of just hit me one day. And I was like, well, what am I going to do with all my time? And then I was like, oh, you know what? Let me grab Zu Tiles and see maybe this is a project I can finish off and run a Kickstarter for or something like that. But the first thing I had to do was see if the game still worked and see if people still liked it, because when I originally had it, people loved it and I was taken to conventions and lots of very good feedback and love for the game back then. So I had to kind of see if that still was the case.

And I took it to a little convention in Redding, California, Sundial Comic Con, and with this really super small table, maybe two foot by two foot table, just kind of laid out my stuff with the old artwork back from years ago. And sure enough, the game didn't skip a beat. People would come by the table and look at it, “What's that? Oh, that looks really interesting.” And they sit down and play it and they be like, “Oh, can I buy some?” I had one guy go, “Oh, I'll take two cases right now.”

And I'm like, “Oh, I don't have any. This is just the prototype for a game I may do something with, but I'm really happy that you like it. Thank you.” And then around that same time, an acquaintance of mine, a professional acquaintance who runs a small manga publishing house called Golden Plume Comics, he was at the same convention and he was looking at it and he was like, “Hey, have you ever thought about doing anime-inspired artwork?” Because that's what Golden Plume Press kind of focused on.

And I was like, “No, I have never thought about that.” And so he liked the game enough that Golden Plume decided to commission a whole new set of art for the game. And that whole new set of art that was commissioned by them is the art that you see today. So I know I'm guilty of rambling, but it is kind of a longish story as to where we got to where we are today.

Matthew: Oh, no. And it's fascinating because sometimes people are like, “Oh, I rolled out of bed.” I mean, not that this happens commonly, but I've heard stories where it's like, “Oh, I've rolled out of bed, kind of came up with this idea in a year later, I'm kick-starting a game.” But just the fact that it got shelled and then so long you come back to it and then having the fact that you demoed it, probably just to gauge interest in and then somebody like a professional acquaintance comes by and he's like, “Hey, we'll commission that.” That have been a big deal, commissioning that artwork for the game.

Josh: Oh, it was a huge deal. And it was just breathtaking because this is not to say anything bad about the classic version of the art. But the classic version was 19 different artists interpretations of different… All I would do is I would give them a title name like mosey on and I wouldn't give them art direction and they would bring something back. And it was very charming and it was very great. But when I started to see this very contemporary anime manga style art, I remember seeing the very first piece for ox and for some of the other ones and I was just completely blown away.

It was very cohesive and it was very contemporary and I wouldn't say that I'm a purebred otaku, but I like anime as well. And so I was just like, oh, this is so good. It was great. And the art comes in and when I got the whole set together and I start cutting them out from the printer, kind of printing them out on sheets and cutting them out, that was just a real blast to see that all come together.        

And to see the first sample of it when it got sent over and crack that open, it was a real cool experience. I mean the whole thing has just been an amazingly positive and great experience from people like you who have complimentary things to say, to different reviewers who have nice things to say. So it's all good all around.

Matthew: Well, and not that I've played a lot of games, but, again, I'm personally biased, but it's just something that's… I've noticed that I like how it plays because, I mean, after I had a few questions from you, I remember you were available for questions and that was awesome. But just the fact that you can get into it and once you realize–

I think I was trying to create rules in my mind that didn't exist. I was making it more complicated than it actually was. I started playing it with my daughter who was in middle school. We both just immensely enjoyed it. I mean, because the artwork, as you mentioned, was awesome, but it was just a fun game to play that doesn't have to take that long.

Josh: Yeah. And that was something I was really aiming for. I mentioned before when we were talking that I was kind of heavy into the competitive collectible card game scene and I've seen the good side of that and I've also seen the bad side of that. And I wanted to create something that was a few notches down from the competitive scene. Like your daughter, like someone your daughter's age, I want to give them a game to kind of play with some of the cool aspects of a tradable card game, but not necessarily having to learn all the rules and all these crazy stack timing and giving somebody priority and all that other kind of stuff that goes along with pretty heavy game.

So I hesitate to say this, but in my mind when I was creating I'm like, I think there might be a market for a baby TCG or baby CCG where it's not geared to hardcore players like I once was, but geared more towards tweens, and early teens, and stuff like that. And the reason why I hesitate to say that is because that is not the entire market for Zu Tiles because I've heard people in their 50s say, “Oh, this is great.” So it really has a broad range of appeal for ages.

But when I was designing it, I tried to keep that simplicity in mind for someone, so a ten-year-old could grasp it, so a twelve-year-old could grasp it. And I'll give a little hint if anyone out there cares about the design philosophy of tiles. If you're wondering like, “Oh, why is this like this?” Or “Why is there only this many allowed?” It's because when I designed the tiles, I try my best to hop into a ten-year-old's mind.

And if something is too harsh for them, for instance, let's take extinction for instance, right? Extinction is a tile that's very powerful, but I only allow one in a deck. And the reason why is because I'm thinking, if I'm a parent and I'm playing my ten-year-old and I hit my 10-year-old with that once, that hurts and that's ouch. But if I hit them again, they might just want to quit, right? It's too punishing, right? Whereas other TCGS will be like, “Oh, I don't care what's punishing.”

I want to make the most punishing thing because then I can sell it for $50 or $100 on the secondary market or something. But that's kind of not the same philosophy of where I'm coming from. Another example is the uf tile, right? The one where if you are ram, you play that. You can knock out tiles from your opponent's hand. The reason why there's only two of those, I think, is because any more would just be too punishing to a child who might be trying to play the game.

Matthew: It's actually appreciated. It's something that I noticed. I played a game, who was it, two nights ago with my daughter and I still have yet to win a game. I'm not super known for being great at CCGs or anything like that. But that's one thing I've noticed is that she really grasps how things are kind of working.

Or spatially speaking, she's just really good with that. But just some of the combinations that can happen, not that it's complicated, but there's just a lot of different possibilities just I've noticed based off of the design of the game with all the different things that can happen with the placement of tiles and how certain tiles interact with one another.

Josh: Yeah. What I tried to do is just build a framework, right? A framework, and then I can kind of build things within that framework. And one of the pieces of that framework is the difficulty of the tiles or the punishment that a tile will provide. So I kind of feel that's why I think future tiles will be easier to design because they all kind of live in this framework and it's supposed to be very simple, the whole action stack mechanism. That'll always stay very accessible and very easy for people to be able to gauge and to handle. That's kind of one of the things I'm committed to.

Matthew: No, and it's actually appreciated. I think there's a lot of different games for all kinds of different people, and that's what I think is appreciated. And what I love about the hobby so much and what I found about yours is because before I was kind of obsessed with a little bit about things like Twilight Imperium or things that they're an all-day game.

And it takes a very heavy time investment or even just reading the rules. And it was nice to have something that I know I could replay over and over again, while at the same time I could pick it up and if I had 30 or 45 minutes with one of my kids in between homework or something, it's something that I could play with them. And so that's very much appreciated.

Josh: Yeah. It was always intended for it to be something where a kid would take it to an adult. And it was something that when the adult sees it coming from the kid, they don't cringe. So there's a lot of games out there for children that I'm sure just numb in the minds of parents. So they're like, “Oh, not Candy Land again.” Or “No, not Life again.” Or “No, not this again.” But they play it, right? And they put a happy face on because they want to engage with their children.

But the goal, the one design goal that I pretty much just dictated the tone and everything about the game really had to do with, I wanted to make a game that a kid in middle school or whatever could pick up excitedly and take to their parent, and their parent be just as excited to play with them. And that was the goal, and that will always remain the goal of the game.

Matthew: And that's actually very reassuring. Definitely appreciated. I remember… Well, I mean, I got stories for everything too, it feels like. But just playing Sorry! with my mom, Ad Nauseam or, I mean, Candy Land, like you mentioned Life, Monopoly, we never played it right. But we played Monopoly a lot. So things like that where kids' game or game that kids can play doesn't necessarily have to mean it's terrible.

Josh: Exactly. Way back in 2004, I actually took the game to Spell and Spectacle in the Netherlands and I think kids, we don't give them enough credit. I've seen kids, I've had reports of kids as young as six years old playing and having good fun with the game and I'm blown away by that. But I saw it firsthand when I was there in the Netherlands.

These kids would come up and I would try to explain it to them and then they would pull some crazy combo that I didn't even see. And I was just like, whoa! So I don't think we need to give kids these dumb down games necessarily. Maybe not all of them, but I know some of them can definitely rise to some pretty challenging games.

Matthew: And that's, I think, the great thing about games like this that just allows people's creativity or personalities to come out with their strategies, and their not strategy. And it's nice not to be shoehorned into you have to do a specific thing.

Otherwise, for me, some collectible games are difficult for me because it feels like you have to do X, Y, and Z every time if you're going to win, whereas this, it allows their strategy involved, but it still allows that… It's almost like your personality comes through. I'm sure, especially when the second set comes out and there's more people identify with certain members of the Zodiac, for example.

Josh: Yeah, absolutely. The more tiles that come out… As I mentioned earlier in the interview, I really enjoyed all the creativity that I saw back in the early days of TCGs. I want to bring that back. I'm not a proponent of the meta decks or this set comes out. Everybody knows that you got to get X, Y, Z card to be competitive. I don't want any of that. I mean, I'm sure it'll happen but to the degree that I can design into it that that won't happen, and give an equal playing field across all the creatures. That's really what I'm shooting for.

Matthew: I think that's awesome. And it's great to have something like that. So I was going to go ahead and kind of shift gears a little bit.

Josh: Sure.

Matthew: And so you did mention it just from the personal side a little bit, or actually going back to when you mentioned, say Malaysia and going to the Netherlands and stuff, is there certain parts of regions of the world that seems to have a certain reception or reaction to the game or seems to be more popular? Or is it kind of just evenly spread?

Josh: It's very weird. Fans, for whatever reason, from Italy, the Netherlands, Malaysia like I mentioned, Japan, Mexico, and I'm sure I'm leaving U.K. All of these places are popping up and have at least one or two, I don't want to say rabid fans, but people who… And just for your listeners out there, I'm mostly on Instagram from social media perspective, but my DMS are always open.

So if you ever do end up getting a copy of the game and you have a problem or have a question, feel free to ping me on there or Facebook. I'm very accessible. But anyway, the reason why I bring that up is because I'm having all these conversations with people from all over the world. And the general gist is that they really, really like it pretty much universally over all of those places.

So the same kind words that you have for the game when you and I have talked in the past, very similar to what I'm hearing from all these other places, or I should say from people from all these other places. And the biggest challenge for the game, I think as a very, very small publisher, is to get the word out. But I really love the fact that I do see these little seeds of support popping up all over the globe. So that's really cool.

Matthew: No. I imagine that's pretty reassuring too, that there's that just positive reaction–

Josh: Oh, definitely.

Matthew: What feels like everywhere. So going on, you mentioned Starter Set 2 a little bit, and I'm super excited about it, but how's that looking for you? I know you can't give specific timelines or anything.

Josh: Yeah. So it's looking really good. The artwork is, I think, two pieces away from being complete. Well, like I said, Zu Tiles was created… I had 196 tiles already created way back in the day. And so obviously, Starter Set 1 did not use 196 tiles. It actually only ended up using 34 of those tiles. So I'm getting another 34 tiles, pulling another 34 tiles out of that 196 mix, and that'll be what goes into Starter Set 2.

So I pulled the 34 out and I kind of reworked all the rules and I've been doing play testing for it. And I play tested the two decks that will be in Starter Set 2 against each other, and that felt really good and really nice. And then just recently I started play testing those decks versus Starter Set 1 decks, and those games are going really well. And so I'm feeling really good about it.

I'm feeling good about what will be presented as Starter Set 2, and I think the differences between the two is that, I can't remember what I said. I said it somewhere, but Starter Set 1 to me feels very much more like, oh, I'm in the kiddie pool and there's little fun, extra fun things like neigh the horse one where you make a horse sound for a free point and lots of cutesy stuff going on. Whereas Starter Set 2 still has cool stuff going on, but it's not as cutesy per se.

It uses the same anime style art. So you'll definitely know it's still Zu, it's still in the Zu family, but after playing the game, there was a lot of brain power by me when I'm… The first time I played the two decks with someone, I was like, wow, there's a lot more tiles that stay on the board. There's a lot more opportunity to kind of set things up. And so you're thinking a lot harder with Starter Set 2, I think.

I mean, it's supposed to be a customizable game as well, right? So when the next Starter Set 2 comes out, I really hope to see people start to take a dragon and mix it with horse and mix the two sets together and start coming up with some really cool creative stuff with all the animals available. So that'll be really interesting to see when that happens. But it's going great, I have to say.

The first time I played them, you're a little bit, well, these should work. Like I said, I got a framework for it. So I kind of put these pieces in the framework of all the animals, but you never know until it actually hits the table and I'm very confident that my experience was good and that other people should have a similarly good experience when they get the game.

Matthew: And just to clarify, so, I mean, because it's Starter Set 2, it's going to be you can buy one or the other and be just fine starting out, correct?

Josh: Absolutely. Yeah. The Starter Set 1, which is the game that you have, has two decks and you can play those against each other all day long. You can even mix them up if you wanted to and play around with them. And that'll be the exact same thing for Starter Set 2.

Starter Set 2 will have two 40-tiled decks and one of the decks will be dragon, snake, and rooster versus, ox, rat, and monkey. And so it'll be the same thing. One person can play ox, rat, monkey. The other person can play right off the box, dragon, snake, rooster, and they can go to town and have a great time.

Matthew: Yeah. I've seen some of the ones on… what is it? There was a tile that I saw. You showed it recently for the rat, and I was actually pretty excited about that with rolling eyes and stuff. That was pretty neat.

Josh: Yeah. That one's called sewer system and it's really cool. I think people who play rat are going to really enjoy that tile.

Matthew: I have a feeling it has something to do with some dirty tricks, so to speak, if–

Josh: You'll have to find out. You'll see.

Matthew: I know. I'm not good at waiting. You can tell my wife loves to torture me with that stuff with Christmas time, for example.

Josh: You're in the same boat as the distributors that we use. They're like, “When can we get something out? We want to start taking pre-orders.” And I'm like, “I'm trying as fast as I can.” So believe me, as fast as I can do it, I will get that out to everyone. At least get it out so that people can start placing their pre-orders for it.

Matthew: No, that's awesome. I know we're all anxiously awaiting it or those of us familiar with it. I'm evangelizing it to whoever I can speak to. I have a couple of brothers that are developing a game and I've been talking their ear off and telling them that, hey, they need to grab a copy because they have kids and it was like, dude, it's worth your time.

Josh: I appreciate that. I really do, because that's the way this is going to succeed or fail is all by word of mouth. I can't put a value on how much I appreciate everybody, one, enjoying it and two, helping spread the word about it. It really means the world to me.

Matthew: No. It's something that I think we've talked about this before personally. I know recently for me, it's like I recognize it moving to cure to California there's a lot of creators with some amazing ideas for some just games that are just blowing my mind, and they're just small creators.

I know word of mouth is what probably going to be all the difference in the world. But it's amazing just to kind of be a part of that to a certain extent. The accessibility you have with the rules and some other things, it allows people to really feel a part of the process to a small degree. And so that's awesome.

Josh: Yeah. Great. I'm trying my best. I am.

Matthew: No. And keep up the good work. So if anybody wants to support ZU Tiles: Hime and what you're trying to do, what would be the best way for them to go about doing that?

Josh: Well, probably the best thing is to find us on social media so you can keep up to date on all this stuff that we're doing. But if you're interested in actually purchasing the game, we have a link to an online store. The link is So that would be And where that will take you is to a listing for the game on Game Kastle online. And Game Kastle, for those who don't live on the West Coast, is a small franchise of about 11 local game stores, and they also have an online presence.

And they've been super helpful and supportive of the Zu Tile's journey. Please also, this also helps, go bug your friendly local game store and go say, “Hey, could you get me a copy of ZU Tiles: Hime?” And they'll look at you and they'll be like, “What?” With this confused look on their face. But tell them to see if they can get a copy from their distributor. But if they can't,, we'll get you one in a really short order.

Matthew: Yeah. Because that was going to be my follow-up question is for game store owners or anybody that's interested in distributing it, where they would contact.

Josh: Oh, I mean, if you're a game store owner, if you're on the Western part of the United States, please contact Golden Distribution. And that would be, with ds. So gold with a d and then dist with a d .com. And then if you're on the Eastern side of the U.S., please contact Bridge Distribution. I think it's And both of those are our distributors and they will get you as much product as you want.

Matthew: Fantastic. And so if somebody wants to kind of socialize about this, is there any fan groups or anywhere that they can go on Facebook or any of those places to kind of discuss the game or ask questions?

Josh: We're on Facebook at Zu Tiles. You just do a search for Zu Tiles. We should come up and then there's Zu Tiles on Instagram. And I actually just started a Zu Tiles TikTok, believe it or not. I did start easy tiles community on Facebook, but I think there's only two or three people on there.

But I can tell you what, if somebody does like Zu Tiles and they're looking for a community, hey, feel free to start a community and let me know. And I'll hop in to whatever Reddit group or any kind of group. Oh, there's some places on Discord too. But if somebody is looking for community, I encourage anyone to maybe start a community and let me know, and I can be very active in it myself.

Matthew: No. And the amount of accessibility, excuse me, is great. And it's pretty exciting stuff. So, just kind of close out with something fun, you mentioned something about being a fan of anime and manga. What are your favorite ones if you had a top five?

Josh: Oh, top five. Gosh, let's see.

Matthew: You're probably going to write them down to give you an idea.

Josh: So I do like Full-Metal Alchemist. That was one that I liked. Someone introduced me to Inuyasha. I liked that one a lot. Trying to think what are some other ones. There's an old one—

Matthew: That's what I said.

Josh: Yeah. It’s called Noir, and I guess for something a little bit more contemporary, I did like My Hero Academia. I thought that was really cool as well. I mentioned the one Noir. That's kind of a really old, old, old, old school one. Ah, gosh, I know there's a few others out there. Let's see. I'm just going to say Naruto because that was… I don't know if I'm pronouncing that right, because that was one that's jumping to my head for some reason. But I'm not a super fan of it, but from what I have seen it, I did like that.

Matthew: No, that's great. I mean, I think Naruto was the one that I watched with my kids a lot. I would fall asleep on the couch and they'd watch like 50 episodes while I was asleep on the couch or something like that. They were way ahead of me on that and I never finished because that's a lot of episodes.

Josh: And there's ones that I've seen that I really like. I've gone to cons pretty much my whole life right? And any con worth itself has the anime room, right? So it's running 24/7 for the whole con, and there's been so many that I go in and I sit and I watch and I'm like, oh, this is really great. But I never get the name of it. I tend to really like fantasy-oriented ones. So if anyone out there has recommendations for a good fantasy-based anime, feel free to ping me on social media and say, “Hey, you got to check this one out.”

Matthew: Nice. That's great. So I have a few that I might suggest to you later then in that case.

Josh: Cool.

Matthew: Awesome. So, again, Josh, it is awesome. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us. It's been an eye opening experience and a learning experience for me as well. Is there anything else that you wanted to add as a final note about your game or to anybody out there that's listening?

Josh: Just as a final note, we're extremely small. So it's me and a handful of other people who are doing this. And I just want to give a personal commitment as the designer of the game that this is kind of a real deal. This is not a cash grab. I don't have any investors who I'm beholden to. So it's my commitment. And my promise to the Zu Tiles community that the design of the game, and the balance of the game, and the fun of the game will always take top priority.

So if you do decide to give Zu Tiles a shot and you like what you see, know that I'm not going to be next year force feeding you product. And if you don't keep up with that, you're going to be left behind or anything like that. The number one priority for the game is longevity, and I think longevity comes through balance and fun. And so just know, coming from me, the designer, that that is the case. And I hope to get all of us have a nice long run together with the game.

Matthew: No, I'm excited to see what the future holds. I know a lot of other folks that have been fans of the game are as well. And a lot of people that don't know it yet, but I am pretty sure that they will. And I encourage everybody listening to go check the game out, ZU Tiles: Hime with creator, Josh Bakken. And this has been Indie Board Game Designers Podcast. My name's Matthew Stockton. As mentioned before, I appreciate any constructive feedback. Again, I'm on social media with Facebook and [inaudible] in all.

Josh: Bye, everyone. Thank you.

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