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Despite the tagline, “You build magnificent, glorious monsters to eat despicable, horrible babies,” I can confirm that the co-creator of the deck-building game game Bears vs. Babies doesn’t actually hate babies. He just likes the alliteration and the humor that comes from the title. He does, however, love crowdfunding.
Elan Lee, one half of the team behind the viral cardgame Exploding Kittens, wants budding game designers to know that crowdfunding is hard work. During the campaign “you don’t get any days off.” Still, he says, it’s worth it for the community engagement that comes from putting the focus on the players, learning what they’re interested in, and involving them in the process.
“Once you have enough money,” Lee says, “all that matters is that people are playing the game.”
That community engagement is what earned Exploding Kittens the title of most backed Kickstarter project of all time, when it raised $8.7 million in 2015, and the strategy hasn’t changed with the new game, Bears vs. Babies. Lee and his partner on both games, The Oatmeal‘s Matthew Inman, knew that crowdfunding was the right choice for them. Their focus on community-building over raw dollars, including social media challenges to unlock new stretch goals like the game’s furry box and an exclusive backers’ card, paid off — the 30-day campaign raised more than $3 million from 85,581 individual backers.
Of course, none of this would matter if the game wasn’t fun to play. Thankfully, Lee has the game design chops to back it up. He was the lead game designer at Microsoft Game Studios and Chief Design officer for XBox Entertainment Studios. He decided to work on a physical, engaging card game after visiting his niece and nephew and realizing that they barely even looked up from the XBox (playing a game he designed, he points out) to talk to him when he arrived. Thus, the idea for Exploding Kittens was born. It was on a vacation with a mutual friend that Lee met Matthew Inman, who flipped over the game and asked to be involved. They added the signature style and humor of The Oatmeal to the game and took to Kickstarter, where The Oatmeal fans and tabletop gamers alike flipped over it.
For their second venture, Lee and Inman worked on an idea that Inman had for a deck-building game. In Bears vs. Babies, players build up armies of monsters, exquisite corpse style, to fight armies of babies. That’s about it. It’s simple, but it’s supposed to be. Both games are designed to be easy to learn and play at a party.
Even if you missed out on the Kickstarter, you can still get in on the community. In addition to the NSFW expansion already available, Lee and his team are hard at work on expansions and tweaks to the game. He says that because of the engagement that they’ve cultivated since the beginning, players are constantly sharing their house rules, homemade cards, and ideas for improvements. Players are involved in the process every step of the way.
To get in on the action and join a community of handsome, baby-killing monsters, you can pick up the furry box game and NSFW expansion at Amazon and ThinkGeek. If you somehow still haven’t played Exploding Kittens you should definitely get on that, though according to some lady in Minneapolis it makes you a psycho.