On Sunday, February 16, we had the pleasure of interviewing game creators Bob Kelly and Arejen Tamminga about their game Los Cthuluchadores: Elder Things in the Wrestling Ring. We have mentioned this game before in our Around the Web: Kickstarter Edition and we were very excited for the chance to dig a bit deeper into this game.
TIG So, just to start off with, we would like to get your personal stories and any background that contributed to your decision to make Los Cthuluchadores.
AERJEN My name is Aerjen Tamminga. You should hear Bob try and pronounce it. I’m actually a research psychologist, so most of my days are spent trying to figure out how humans work. And by night I design games and try and apply some of my psychology background into that. Coming to the States I first found out about the Game Makers Guild, a group of game designers coming together to test each other’s games and the first time I was there somebody saw one of my games, was really interested in it, and was even talking about publishing and I was like “Oh, this is something you can do for real” and that’s when I started to actually pursue game design more seriously.
For the past year I’ve worked for the Boston Festival of Indie Games as a producer. This year I’m a director. I now organize the Game Makers Guild myself and am really enjoying working together with Bob on Los Cthuluchadores: Elder Things in the Wrestling Ring and hope that many more games are about to come.
TIG And Bob, what about you?
BOB I’ve been in and out of the game industry for about twenty years now. Every time I get involved with a game I always end up getting a really good offer to go outside the game industry and of course I sometimes follow the money a little too seriously. But Los Cthuluchadores came to me after playing Guacamelee, which is an indie game. I absolutely love it, love the puns, I am a big… if you ever want to play the game and make sure I laugh, give me a good pun and I’ll definitely crack up. But the cool thing that happened was I knew I had a really good idea for a theme, but I didn’t have a mechanism and I wanted to make sure the game was really, really tight. So I talked to Aerjen about it and sort of brought him on and said “Hey, I got a great idea. Let’s see how we can get this developed and move forward”. And ever since then we have had just the best luck in design and in art and in cooperation and in learning and people’s feedback. It’s been an absolute pleasure to do.
I started out doing basic flash games on what is now Newgrounds, it used to be something before it was Newgrounds and then after those flash games I decided to get back into it with board games. I’ve been an avid board gamer, love to GM, love to role play, love to do all that stuff. It’s just in my blood so I’m really, really happy to get this game out and at the professional quality it is.
TIG Bob, you touched briefly on the inspirations for the game a moment ago, but I was wondering if you could go a little deeper into that.
BOB Los Cthuluchadores has a challenge. People can’t pronounce it. They see the logo, they love the idea, they don’t know how to get their teeth into it. And that’s where we stumbled on to the tag “Elder Things in the Wrestling Ring.”
When I was a kid I loved watching the luchadores and professional wrestling. [It’s] the idea of someone who’s masked, who is a hero of the people going out and fighting against other people. Some people would argue it’s high farce; I would argue it’s like a comic book. But then when you introduce the Cthulu mythos it puts such an interesting twist on it because everybody knows the Cthulu mythos, Lovecraftian works are all about this existential horror that people are afraid of.
I want a fast game. Two players in this game is five minutes if you know what you’re doing and know how to play the game; Four players can play in twenty minutes. So it’s a real fun, fast game. The idea that you can also evoke the themes of everything that Cthulu is, but totally tongue and cheek, became a design challenge. Look at Arkham Horror. It is a two hour game. Elder Sign, [is] an hour long game. Call of Cthulu is a game that you really have to be up for and sometimes you want something light. And this light tongue and cheek humorous approach to the Cthulu mythos is up there with Cthulu Munchkin.
We stumbled on using the origami as we were working on the game one day. The designer walked by and she just dropped one of these on top of the game and then it became one of the big drivers because we like the idea that if you spend five minutes to make one of these—and it doesn’t take much longer—but then when somebody gets the ultimate domination rule and crushes it there is a feeling of loss. And there is a feeling of investment and if you combine that with the taunting rules it there is a payoff like I have never played in any other game.
AERJEN I would also describe it not necessarily as feelings of loss, but feelings of pure joy. Being the crusher and not the crushee.
BOB I mean seriously, when you do this *crushes the origami he was holding* it is fun. And then you have to blow him back up so that’s even sillier. (Bob crushed that one a little too energetically and it was toast)
AERJEN I think some of the things [Bob was] talking about, the way he views games and game design, rings very true for me as well. I think that’s one of the reasons we work so well together. When Bob pitched the idea of hoisting Cthulu in spandex I was like “Yes! That is something I want to do,” because I am familiar with a lot of Cthulu or Lovecraftian games, and I actually quite enjoy them myself. I like the feeling of mounting dread and all of that but I also felt like, let’s do something different. This is actually a theme and we tried to design and make the frivolity the core of the game by introducing the taunting mechanic which Bob was just referring to. Are you familiar with the taunting mechanic?
TIG I’m a little familiar with it. I’ve watched the videos of you two playing on the Kickstarter page. I’m glad you brought this up though because it leads right in to my next question. Could you give us a brief description of how the game is played?
AERJEN To make it a bit chronological, I’ll not start with the taunting even though I think that’s actually the core of the game. The game itself revolves, as we said, around Cthuluchadores, Elder Things in the Wrestling Ring. The goal of the game is to either squeeze all of the ooze out of your opponent and basically wipe the wrestling ring with their desiccated husk, or convert the majority of the crowd into your loyal cult following and they’ll take over the whole arena. During the game every single move boils down to three basic maneuvers and just like [in] rock, paper, scissors: A wins from B, B wins from C, and C wins from A.
Our basic moves are Shambling, so you basically ooze and slide along your ooze, so ooze is very important for mobility. You have Grapple where somebody tries to hug and squeeze all the ooze out of the Cthuluchadore, and you have Counter, [in which] basically somebody is moving in for the squeeze—the Grapple—and you grab them by the tip of their tentacle and you fling them anywhere in the arena. So that’s the base for the interaction. That gets absolutely frantic and insane when actually played with the full game, which is [when] you’re playing with signature moves. They [are] also all based on the same three principles, but you can suddenly have ooze explosions, you can throw your opponent out of the ring, [or] you can corrupt somebody else’s followers.
Each turn is basically four steps:
Step 1) Both players choose an action—or, if you’re playing three player or four player, every player chooses an action. Everybody reveals and you check [to see whose move is dominant].
Step 2) If you’re dominating, you get five seconds to taunt your opponent. You have five seconds to make your opponent laugh or crack a smile, and it doesn’t matter how you do it. We’ve seen all kinds of different things. We’ve seen people mimic what their Cthuluchadore was doing; we’ve seen people get a little physical and a little frisky; we’ve seen people crack jokes. I’ve been amazed and very pleasantly surprised. About eighty or ninety percent of everybody we play the game with have actually gotten into it and really go for it.
Step 3) is mayhem. [This is where] the movement happens, the damage happens, the oozing happens. And at the end of the turn you convert the crowd into your loyal cult following. When you actually start playing the game you’ll notice that, yeah, it’s rock-paper-scissors, but there is actually this weird tactical depth in the game. It’s like, “Alright I’m perfectly positioned to grapple that person, but if that person realizes that I’ll probably play grapple, they’ll probably play grapple. They’ll think what I think they’ll think what I think or should I just do whatever I think is best and then that gets fun.
BOB Just to relate one of the best experiences I’ve ever had was early in the game. This was before we had a beautiful board or our artwork was done and we had just got two colors on the board. We had just found out the importance of the taunt mechanism and a six year old kid was playing and his mom tells me “Hey, he’s going to be a little bit difficult, he doesn’t do eye contact well”. I’m sitting there looking at the kid and all I see is the kid’s head because the kid doesn’t look at me at all. So we get to the taunt mechanism and he finally wins a round and now all of the sudden the six year old kid goes (makes a dry heaving sound). He’s already face down so I’m wondering what’s going on (more dry heaving noises). And then he does this real cute look up at me and smiles. I mean that’s one of those things that as a game designer you love to have happen. You love to have that one connection with somebody; and if I can provide that through this game, or any other game, it pays for itself. It pays for itself in joy.
I’ve made money. I’ve gone out and I’ve made money for other people. I’ve done the contracting gigs. This is the first time I’ve really made something that a perfect stranger has looked at it and smiled because of what I’ve done. And that is probably more important to me than any game mechanic, or using Cthulu, or anything like that. But the fact that it’s also part of all that is just really been probably one of the best experiences of my life. Definitely a high light of my game design life.
TIG Tell us a little bit about your Kickstarter campaign and how it is going.
BOB This is our first Kickstarter. We’ve never done this before. We did this primarily as a learning experience and we set the value based on some expected sales and enough revenue for us to carry over to a few cons. We’ve realized since then marketing is everything. You can have the best product in the world and if you don’t have any marketing, if you don’t get anybody out there doing outreach it’s not going to be enough.
So we’re sitting at roughly $7800 if I remember, and we need $22,000 for it to go. We now know a lot more about how to reach out to people like you. I cannot say how invaluable the blogosphere is. You guys are so important about getting the word out about Kickstarters or about that. Also learning how to get into conventions and then demoing our games to people. It is so very important to have a wonderful looking game…you know I can take prototypes like we did a couple weeks ago and do our play tests, but showcasing the game, going up to complete strangers and saying, “Hey would you like to play this game?”[is] a skill that both Aerjen and I are learning how to do.
I am disappointed that it isn’t at the $22,000 level at this point, but I’m not discouraged. I think that the amount of information I’ve learned, [and] there are some really neat people who you meet doing these Kickstarters and it ranges from just people who are creative and artistic, to people who just really, really, really just want to help you. And if you learn how to say yes to these people, good things happen, there’s no doubt in my mind. I mean if you look at our trending on Kickstarter, we were running flat. But we’re going north again, we’re beginning to hit that number. So, we may not make it, but we’re beginning to pick up speed again.
We are definitely going to reach out to you and everybody else and make sure you get copies of the game this time. We’re gonna make sure we find ways of getting it into your hands so that you can actually experience some of the things we’re experiencing. The other thing that I’d really like to point out that I love, [is that] almost to a word—to a person—a reviewer that has touched the game and made a review [has been] glowingly positive about our art work. [They’ve] been glowingly positive about the things that we’ve done. It’s up there with the [story about that] kid, of knowing that I’ve got a good solid product that I’d love for people to play. It’s just a matter of getting it into their hands.
AERJEN In terms of Kickstarter and marketing I think [Bob] was selling us a little bit short there, because we did actually spend time on marketing. We really tried to learn about how Kickstarter works before we actually went to Kickstarter. So we went through all the Stonemaier Kickstarter blogs, which are fantastic. We’ve gone through I don’t know how many episodes of Funding the Dream on Kickstarter, and other blogs and podcasts in preparation. At the same time, the amount of information, for me at least, at some point in time becomes almost overwhelming and you start seeing things contradicting each other. For example: what’s the best day to launch, how should you set your funding goal, how do you reach out. We basically tried to do our best with that and I think some of the things we’ve done we’ve done very well.
We actually have a product that has been fully play tested, which has been going, not just to friends, family, regular game maker’s guild meetups, but also to stores and to random strangers playing the game and doing blind play tests and at the same time [we were] still being open to what people say. Now we’ve put the free print and play files up on the Kickstarter and we’ve sent things out to reviewers.
I do feel that we’ve definitely have reached out but there were things we could have done and possibly should have done before we launched, which we’ve learned in hindsight that were more important than we thought.
TIG Thinking positive thoughts, let’s say your Kickstarter is fully funded by the deadline. Walk us through the step-by-step process of what would happen next.
BOB This one is a lot of fun. Aerjen did a lot of investigation on how to get the pieces printed and in a box. We’re looking at Panda Publishing and some of the other publishers in China and here in America. So publishing and printing runs from 500 to 1500 [units].
We would love, absolutely love to be able to have enough purchases around the world where we can ship to Amazon centers in America, in Canada, in England. They just opened one up in Netherlands. And we’re seeing a lot of interest, of course, in Brazil and believe it or not, Australia. To ship it to Australia from America would be $40. So of 1000 prints we want 100 of them to be shipped to Australia, we want another 100 to be shipped to Brazil, we want another 500 to be shipped to America. The majority of the money goes to a combination of printing and shipping to the different locations.
To fulfill our Kickstarter [pledges] we would pay the shipping and fulfillment out of the budget we’d raised out of Kickstarter to ship to the individual rewards to all of the people that pledged. Everybody who has done a $10 pledge [will receive] a print and play [PDF] download with instructions on how to construct the game.
We have basically two levels of pledges [above $10]. One is the people who have participated [at a high enough donation to receive] signature moves. Here’s the signature moves for one of our characters, the Azul Abhorrence. He has nine extra signature moves that we need to create and we already know what tactics we want to put in. [We tell the donator] “This is a shamble move—the tactic is whatever tactic we decided—and we need a name for it. What would you like to name this move?” More importantly, we have two lines of twelve characters each, so it can only be 24 characters long. So we have to get that pledge backer to engage in a little bit of creativity.
We’re also gonna name all of our cultists, so one of the backer levels is for people who want to have their names on the cultists. One backer, his brother unfortunately died, and was into wrestling a lot apparently and so he wants to have his brother immortalized in the game and we said, “Absolutely, we’d be honored to do that!”
Then, once we actually have enough of the units in all of the Amazon locations, we go on to other conventions and start pushing in a more conventional sense of self distribution. [Customers] can come to our websites and buy the game, both through Aerjen Games and Heresy.com, but then the key thing is that we get it into local game stores and we get people to play the game.
I love our four player rules. We have the free-for-all, which is everybody looking out for themselves, and then we have tag-team. [Aerjen] loves the free- for-all. I love the tag team. Let’s say the four of us were playing. The two of you would be on one side, we would be on the other. The fun thing about that is that both of us can taunt you, and both of you can taunt me. So we’re trying to make Andrew laugh, but Aerjen and I would get to do it together.
AERJEN We’ve thought about how we can make sure that things go as smoothly as possible, also realizing this is our first time doing this so the less risk we run in messing things up the better. You see some [Kickstarter] campaigns where you’ve got all these different pledge levels where this game comes with this or that game comes with that and we decided that if someone pledges to get one extra card, [then] everybody gets that extra card. So, the more cards that people pledge to be added to the game, the more cards will be in the final game.
Also, when researching different manufactures, obviously we’ve been working with them to get different quotes and figuring out what is the optimum number of components. How can we make sure that we have everything we want in this game and what is the room to add extra things without moving to another cost bracket. For example, with cards you usually have [a set number of] cards per sheet. If you add one, you pay for another sheet instead of just one card. However, one of the manufacturers in the States that we are talking to actually [has customers] pay per card instead of per sheet. So we wanted to make sure we had one manufacturer that we really want to go for, and then we have a backup one just in case their factory blows up. I hope not—keeping my fingers crossed.
BOB It all depends on the opportunity that’s in front of us. We talk to all of our options and we look at all options and we find out which one is going to be cost effective, but more importantly quality effective.
TIG That sounds fantastic! So once the game is published, do you have any plans for additional support? Will there be any expansions to the game?
BOB I am really excited about our two expansion packs. The first one is El Lodo Sobre Aztlan, which is “the Ooze over Aztlan.” We get to introduce items that are in the spectator arena and you get to throw the items back into the ring.
AERJEN We have the Folding Chair of Doom!
BOB The Folding Chair of Doom! Come on, you just stepped on my joke!
AERJEN I’m sorry, I just couldn’t wait any more.
BOB We are really excited about the Folding Chair. Seriously, I’ve got goosebumps. We already know for people who learn the game and who play the game you don’t need the folding chair of doom and it’s perfect for an expansion. If somebody really loves the game and we throw in the folding chair, they’re gonna love the folding chair of doom, guaranteed.
The other one is Cultos Innombrables, “Unspeakable Cults” where as you’re placing items around, the cultists start taking their own little actions by themselves, and they fight with the other cultists. ‘Cause you know, you can’t control fans. They’re going to do what they’re going to do.
As you can tell, both Bob and Aerjen are very excited about this game, and quite frankly so are we. We’re really looking forward to getting a copy in hand and testing it out for ourselves. Again we’d like to thank Bob and Aerjen for their time and for offering us a peek into their process and their minds.