Words by David C. Obenour
While most modern goods and industry have been increasingly dominated by exclusive distribution channels both online and at retail, board gaming has experienced a renaissance through direct crowd-funding. Through novel concepts and components matched with savvy marketing, game designers are now able to directly reach a global market and the results have been remarkable. Having a game at Target and local gaming shops still has its advantages, but it’s not the only path for designers.
A great example of this is boutique game designer, Jordan Draper who has been making small and beautiful games that have had a big resonance. With a number of inventive games to his name, the most recent include a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $200,000 for the fourth, fifth and sixth games in his Tokyo Tabletop Series. This series explores the colorful and everyday experiences of living in Tokyo with titles including Jutaku (Japanese architecture), Metro, Jidohanbaiki (vending machines), Coin Laundry, Tsukiji Market (fish market) and Game Show.
Off Shelf: You talk about personal experiences being central to your games, can you tell me a little bit about the genesis and inspiration for the Tokyo Series of games?
Jordan Draper: A lot of the themes from the series have come from my absolute joy experiencing new things in Japan. TOKYO JIDOHANBAIKI for example was directly created after the experiences I had taking unguided walks across the city and buying new drinks from vending machines along the way. I would say I averaged 3-4 new drinks per 1hour walk, a good statistic if I do say so.
OS: Everyday experiences play into many of your games, what inspires you to take something that someone else might see as mundane and turn it into a game?
JD: Repeating themes in the tabletop world have really started to play themselves out. I think variations on those themes are a bit overrated as well, so I challenged myself to make something that may not be exciting at first sight, exciting once again! There is beauty and depth in the mundane everyday things of the world, and sometimes it just takes a perspective shift to realize it. I hope I’m offering that to others through my designs.
OS: Do you think this concept is translatable to different geographic regions or perhaps even themes? Could you see yourself starting another series and do you have any idea what you’d like to potentially explore?
JD: Of course every culture of the world has a richness that could be explored in this way, but for me Tokyo is likely the only series based cultural exploration I’ll do. Hopefully someone else can pick up the string for another region that inspires them. I am currently working on another series, called the Material Series, that showcases the material of the game and has a strict restriction of a one material type. The game Rubber will inflate, as an example of how the material will dictate the design constraints.
OS: Are there other themes you’d like to explore in future games for the Tokyo Series?
JD: There are still three unannounced games, so you’ll have to check in on the Kickstarter update at the end of the 2020 campaign, as that’s when I reveal the next three game themes.
OS: You definitely have a unique aesthetic to your games, can you tell me your thoughts on the balance of a game as art or a toy in relation to play?
JD: I put aesthetics above all else, hopefully every game I create is beautiful and intriguing enough to be displayed on a wall or shelf. After that goal is reached, I have a strict set of design constraints that help me to shape my games cohesively. Every designer has their own rules and guidelines. All of my games need to be player balanced so the game isn’t dictating the strategy and structure, and they need to be fully immersive. A dash of fun is always a plus too.
OS: I was really interested in your stated ethics in the games you create, if you’ll indulge me, could you tell me a little more about your emphasis on sustainability within production?
JD: This is a hard thing to fully control, at the moment I’m doing my best to make informed decisions and spend a lot more time on the design. I work with sustainable partners that have criteria for testing when possible, but I want to expand into local production through my own machinery over the coming years.
OS: …material exploration?
JD: Someone somewhere decided tabletop games have to be made entirely from paper based products. That’s all fine and good, but I hate rules. I’m convinced new materials will offer new ways to design, so I’m looking to set the groundwork for the industry here because I doubt anyone else will do it.
OS: …small box size?
JD: Big boxes are literally the worst design decision possible, they take up more space, cost more to ship, use more material, and take away the opportunity for indie publishers to make as big of an impact without selling out to distributors. Japan has informed the world that small boxes are the future, and I am pioneering the movement with them at a global scale.
OS: …unique components and experience?
JD: I studied architecture and self-taught myself just about every hand making process imaginable while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, which carried through to my component design in tabletop games. I decided from the beginning that immersive experiences really required a setting that was beautiful and rich. Hopefully my hard work into the 3D side of my games pays off for the players.
OS: …innovative design that always pushes forward?
JD: I can’t see any point to repeating something that’s been done before, unless you are really pushing in a new direction with that as a starting point. I still look back to my first few games and think they could have been a bit more innovative, which is a great reminder to push myself. It’s easy to get lost in a saturated market, so it helps on multiple fronts to try innovative new ideas for marketing and self exploration.
OS: What are some of your favorite games currently?
JD: I’m not allowed to say this since I’m part of the design, but the RPG I’m co-designing with Luke Crane that takes place in a Japanese laundromat has been a lot of fun to play test. Startups from Oink Games has become a cult classic for me. This Is It from Asobi Dept in Japan is really, really good, it’s about trying to read the group think, which is something all gamers should be more aware of.