An Interview with Chad Elkins: Founder & Lead Designer-25th Century Games

Jillian Schmett

Hey everyone! I recently got a chance to chat with Chad Elkins, of 25th Century Games. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me about his experience in the industry and some of his upcoming projects. Be sure to check out the facebook page for Christmas Lights the Card Game to stay up to date on the project!

You are the founder and lead developer at 25th Century Games, can you tell us a little bit about your journey to starting the company?

I suppose my journey started much like many other folks who are involved in varying capacities in this hobby, as a gamer. Without that core passion and love for the hobby first and foremost, I just don’t see how anyone would want to get into gaming on this side of the table. Specifically for 25th, I was working with a startup mobile game studio here in Atlanta called Dragon Army.

After the launch of Robots Love Ice Cream, the studio’s first game, I got to thinking about how it would be fun to take that same universe of characters/environments and bring that to life in tabletop form. The folks at Dragon Army thought the game was fun and represented the original game well, so they let me license the IP from them for the project. Being an unknown designer and working with a small relatively unknown IP, it wasn’t really a game that other companies were interested in. So I created my own company, 25th Century Games, and went to work on developing it myself.

I had never designed a tabletop game before, but looking back I realize that having those guardrails in place of wanting to simulate as closely as possible the video gameplay experience into cards very much helped me to focus the design effort. Establishing boundaries ended up being a lesson that I try to give myself as I work on trying to move other game designs along. Now I find myself doing more developing than designing, which I actually find much more aligned with my background as a product manager.

25th Century games has had 3 successful projects in the past, and has a 4th coming soon to Kickstarter. Can you tell me a little bit about Christmas Lights the Card Game? (What are some of the mechanics/player count/targeted audience age?)

Christmas Lights as a collective is designed to be one of those games that provides families and friends a way to enjoy their time together during the holidays. I use the word collective because the game is a little different than most hobby games. There is a core main game called “Christmas Lights”. During development of the project, other games were created using a subset of the core card components. These bonus games cover a wide variety of ages from the youngest card gamers up through adults. Several designers contributed to those bonus games with new original designs and we even re-imagined some childhood classics into the theme. We’ll be releasing more info about those as the Kickstarter campaign progresses as timed content.

The core Christmas Lights game supports up to 6 players ages 6+ and features a bit of set collection mixed up with some memory and trading. The rules can be explained in about a minute so it’s easy to teach and get right to playing. Each player is trying to place bulbs into their set in the order listed on their light strand pattern cards. The kicker is that you can never look at the cards in your hand, but you can see the cards in everyone else’s hands. You can trade with players and exchange information for bulbs while you race to be the first player to create two strands of 5 bulbs each connected by a plug card.

Is there an expected KS launch date for the project yet?

We’re targeting the week after Memorial Day weekend with a May 29th launch date.

What inspired you to create a Christmas themed game?

The game was designed by Adam Collins and Chad Head. I contacted them after seeing the design and knew I had to bring this game into the 25th lineup. I love the holidays and the whole Christmas season in general. I decorate my house the weekend after Halloween just to enjoy the tree and lights in the yard/house for as long as possible. The holidays also mean getting together with groups of family and friends. At least for me, folks getting together almost always ends up in board game time so I thought a holiday game like this would be a wonderful addition to those gatherings. Bringing people together at the table is our core mission so a holiday game just felt right to develop and publish.

Do you anticipate the marketing for this campaign being a little more difficult than it might be for other themes, since it is so seasonal?

It’s certainly going to be an interesting learning experience, that’s for sure. I want this game to be delivered to backers and into retail by the holidays, so either we launch it in the off season to be delivered right before that window where playing the game and selling it in stores makes the most sense OR we KS it during the holidays for delivery in the off season. The latter just didn’t feel right as the excitement of the game getting to backers should coincide with the season it is geared for.

All of that said, we’re going to need to get folks in the holiday spirit right at the beginning of summer, which will be interesting for sure. My hope is that backers relish the theme connecting it to the time when it will be delivered and when they will be playing the game and not focus as much on the season they are pledging on KS not matching the theme. We’re going to offer some discounts for multiple copies, so it’s a great excuse to knock out some of those holiday gifts a bit early this year. Ok…way early.

This is the second card game you’ve brought to KS (the first being Robots Love Ice Cream), do you feel more prepared this time in that you have a better idea of what to expect from running a KS campaign?

Oh of course. KS is an ever evolving entity as is the community. What worked two years ago might not work today and today won’t work in two years. It really is a unique living and breathing platform. I think no matter if it’s your second or your twentieth campaign, you always learn something new and had those “I should’ve done…” realizations during and after the campaign. The key is to take those learnings from your previous project, what is working for others, and then put the best campaign you can out there. Learn from that one and apply to the next. And so on.

The art that I’ve seen so far is adorable! Who is the artist you’re working with?

That’s nice of you to say. I also have to completely agree. 🙂 I’ve been a big fan of Dave Perillo’s work for many years and have several pieces framed in my home. When I started developing the game, a retro Christmas light bulb type style seemed to be a fun direction to go in. Bring in that vintage vibe mixed with feelings of those old stop motion Christmas specials like Rudolph and Frosty, which I loved to watch every year as a kid. Dave’s art style has that look to it already, so bringing him on to the project to handle all of the art just seemed like the perfect match. He’s done one other board game to date which was a fun retro styling Planet of the Apes version of Monopoly.

What is your favorite part of being a game developer? What would you say is your least favorite/most difficult part?

The best part for me would definitely be taking something that is in a conceptual basic form and helping move it into a polished sellable product. As a small operation, that involves having to play mission control to a lot of various elements, some things I work on directly and others that I contract specialized help to accomplish. Making sure all of those various elements line up in the right order and timeline is a fun challenge. It also allows me the creative outlet to set a vision for the overall aesthetic of the game in conjunction with the level of components needed to make the game fun and usable, while keeping in mind target audience and price point.

The most difficult part usually revolves around scaling the game design down to minimize components and maximize/streamline the use of what is in the box, although that can be a fun challenge as well. Most publishers will always say logistics is their least favorite part, which can be quite true. It’s certainly not as fun as play testing or working through art concepts, but if you think of it as its own game or puzzle of sorts, then it can be a satisfying quest to take on and complete.

What is your personal favorite board game right now?

This is always such a hard question! With me it’s the same difficulty as with picking favorite movies. I generally have to try and sort it into genres or styles and then pick several as top contenders. All of that said, if I had to narrow it down, I might have to say Alien Frontiers could be my favorite. I love the retro science fiction space look to the game and chucking dice is always fun. Mechanically, I like how every turn you have to constantly balance long term strategy with tactical maneuvers specific to whatever you happened to roll that round. Did I mention the art and look of the game?

Another that will always have a permanent place in my favorites lists would be Last Night on Earth and shortly after that one Fortune and Glory. LNoE when it first came out was the catalyst that got my regular weekly gaming group together. If you let yourself treat and play the scenarios and actions like a bad zombie movie unfolding in front of you, then it can be a lot of fun. Same with F&G on the grand adventure side of things.

Other top honorable mentions would be Battlestar Galactica and Galaxy Truckers (even though I’m epically terrible at building my ship).

Do you have any advice for other aspiring designers?

Whether it’s designing, developing, creating content, or *insert anything here*, the best advice is to just start. Start. That’s honestly the hardest part, taking that first step. I should dos and I have a great ideas and someone should dos is just that. Talk. Ideas and talk are nothing until they are made. To bring it into more tangible discussion, obviously playing a lot of different games, watching content, etc. will help you understand the current state of the industry which is a good foundation. If you want to design games, even if you don’t have your own game design, attend a Protospiel or Unpub event and play test games. While doing it, ask questions of the designer on why they chose to do certain things in the game and listen to their answers. Seeing games in those varying states of readiness will help you to better understand the iterative process in front of you as you begin your own material edifice. Ask questions from those who are already successful in the industry. What so great about the board game space is that it’s so easy to connect and talk with creators, both new and veteran.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

Of course! I’m currently in the art development stage for our next game, Winner Winner Chicken Dinner. That one is slated for Kickstarter launch in Q4. It’s a take that style dice chucker game where players are foxes raiding a hen house. Their objective is to steal chickens from the coop and then cook those chickens into chicken dinner to score points. That one is actually my design and one I’ve been slowly working on for a couple years now. The art from Shawna and Warren Tenney looks amazing and we’ll be sharing more info on our social channels as it gets finalized.

Also, I’m currently in talks with various designers and trying to solidify the 2019 lineup. My goal is to launch 4 projects, one each quarter.