I’ve been friends with AJ Porfirio, the guy behind Van Ryder Games, for a few years now. He’s one of my longest running friends in the board game space and also my perennial GenCon roommate. I was delighted when he picked up Tessen by Cardboard Edison for publication. Cardboard Edison is a husband and wife design duo who are fantastic champions of the board game design community.
I knew I had to interview them for their latest Kickstarter, Tessen.
HG: Introduce yourselves — who are you?
Suzanne: Cardboard Edison is made up of myself and my husband, Chris. We have a four-year-old daughter who is a budding game designer and very eager to help us with anything game-related. We live in Hopatcong, N.J., and love traveling to gaming conventions all across the country.
Chris: We also run a blog for board game designers like us at www.cardboardedison.com. We gather design tips and resources from around the web and share them in one place to make them easy to find.
AJ: I’m A.J. the mean old publisher! Just kidding… about the mean part, the old part is debatable, but I, Van Ryder Games, am most certainly the publisher of Tessen! I couldn’t be happier about that!
HG: Tell us what Tessen is at a high level. What is the essential info?
Chris: Tessen is our first game design to find a publisher. It’s a two-player real-time card game set in feudal Japan. Players control rival clans and attempt to collect sets of mystical animals to prove their supremacy. It’s a super-fast game that’s portable and plays in about 15 minutes.
HG: What made you think of a real time game? What was your inspiration?
Chris: The game that became Tessen originally was going to be a sequel to a completely different game we were designing. The real-time aspect was a change from the first game, so we saw it as a way to broaden the thematic world of the games while offering a different experience for players. But, we realized the first game wasn’t coming together and the follow-up game had some promise, so we decided to focus on the new game instead.
HG: Are you big fans of Japanese culture/art and such? What were some of your thematic inspirations?
Suzanne: We admire Japanese culture, but the idea for Tessen’s theme didn’t come until we ditched the original theme, which was about Christmas elves. We did some research to find examples of things that could be used for both attacking and defending (a key dynamic in the game) and we discovered the Japanese war fan, or the Tessen. The animals in the game were originally going to be resources such as rice and grain, but we couldn’t find good artwork for the prototype. We found some great historic paintings of animals, so we decided to use animals as the “resources.”
AJ: I myself am fascinated by the Japanese culture, and it immediately drew me into the game when I first saw it. As I usually do, when I first played, I expounded the theme to be so much more than collecting sets of animals. I envisioned an epic struggle between two clans where everything was on the line. It worked really well.
HG: Did you look to other real time games? What were your inspirations?
Chris: I grew up playing real-time card games like Speed/Spit, and I wanted us to design a game that had the excitement of those games but also offered interesting strategic decisions to the players. In Tessen, you have to do more than recognize the available plays, you have to make snap decisions and figure out what’s the best move on the fly. People who have played Tessen have said it reminds them of games like Dutch Blitz, Jab and Brawl.
HG: I must note, me and a co-worker, for a while, settled disputes using Tessen as the arbiter. Have you found yourself doing anything like this? It’s so fast!
Suzanne: No, but that is an awesome idea! I’m going to start suggesting it everywhere I can!
AJ: This would be awesome to go along with another idea from Paul of The Cardboard Jungle podcast. He told me that they will leave Tessen setup on the table ready to go, and at any moment someone can shout “Tessen!” and the run to the table and immediately spring into a match! Now think, next time you are in an argument just shout “Tessen!” and run over to the game to solve your problem and determine who wins the argument! It is very much in line with the story in Tessen.
HG: Who is the best Tessen player in your travels? Who is the one to beat?
Chris: Well, I thought I was pretty good until I played you at Gen Con, Grant. I think all those matches with real-world stakes on the line served you well! As for other players, a couple of days into Gen Con, we met these guys who were, hands down, the fastest Tessen players we’ve ever seen. Right after the rules explanation, bam!–they were into the game and flying faster than even experienced players. Their match was the best I’ve ever seen. In the final round, they tied on how many animal cards they saved, and the tiebreaker was the difference between a single card being drawn, so less than one second. The game literally could not have been any closer!
AJ: Yeah those guys WERE fast! But in fairness, they were bending the rules a little bit…
I’ve found that video gamers are particularly good at Tessen. They have really good reflexes and sharp reaction times that really serve them well in the game.
HG: What are some of your favorite games right now?
Suzanne: Gravwell, For Sale, and Jaipur.
Chris: Darn, stole my answers! What she said.
AJ: I can’t believe I am going to answer with a Euro, but Bruges by Feld is really enjoyable. Story War is a nice spin on Apples to Apples we had a blast with at Gencon. Sky Whale!
HG: Sky Whale, indeed! Where did you get the idea for Cardboard Edison?
Chris: When we started designing games a couple of years ago, we began researching the industry. There’s a lot to learn about: prototyping, playtesting, pitching, design theory and so on. As we met and talked with other designers, we realized they were doing a lot of the same research as us, and we figured it might help other people if we shared the helpful stuff we found. So we created the Cardboard Edison blog to put all those useful links in one place.
HG: You have a party game in the works as well, right? Can you tell me about it?
Suzanne: Sure! We have a game called Skewphemisms. It’s a word party game based on alliterative phrases. It’s the first game idea we came up with, and it’s what got us into game design. We’re deep into the playtesting phase, and we’re looking for a publisher.
HG: What are some of your favorite party games?
Suzanne: I am a master of Scattergories unless Chris tells everyone to vote down my creative answers!
Chris: C’mon! “Happy fish” for “Things in the ocean” that start with H?!?
Suzanne: Are you telling me that there are no happy fish in the ocean?
Chris: Madness! Of course, Suzanne is always able to get a few other players to go along with the craziness, and I end up in last place.
AJ: Oh I think I have to side with Chris on this one… as for me Dixit has to be up there. And as crazy as it is, I have a lot of fun with Quelf, although that one can drag on a bit.
Anything else you want to add?
Suzanne: We would like to thank you, Grant, for taking the time to talk with us. It was great meeting you at Gen Con! We also would like to thank our publisher, A.J. We just love working with him! Please check out the Kickstarter for Tessen. It’s up now, and the campaign ends on Monday, Sept. 2.
AJ: Yes! There is just a week left and still several great stretch rewards to achieve. Check out the project today!
Tessen is only $12 shipped domestically in the US. As a long term tester, I assure you it’s well worth that.