I love Asian themes in board games, and in particular, Japanese myth & lore. Dragons, Kami (gods), Oni (demons), Samurai… what’s not to love? My opinion may have been shaped by the fact that my teen years were spent playing a lot of Legends of the Five Rings from Alderac Entertainment Group. It was the first, and only, truly immersive cardgame I ever played. Nothing has compared to it, but the lasting impression will always be there. So when I came across Kami-sama, it was love at first sight.
- Step 1: Cool theme? Check
- Step 2: Great art? Check
- Step 3: Good gameplay? Check
So I decided to reach out to AJ Lambeth, a designer I hadn’t heard of before, to ask his thoughts and get a little insight. I hope you enjoy the interview, and let me know in the comments what you would have asked him if you had the chance!
For those readers who may not know you, how would you describe yourself?
An overly polite gamer who won’t stop talking about Japan, and inherited Robin William’s arm hair.
Do you remember what your gateway game was?
If we’re not counting Magic the Gathering, then Arkham Horror. My group and I were absolutely in love with Arkham Horror when we first found it, we had never played anything like it before and loved sitting around the table for hours battling the elder gods. Almost a year later I started playing games at my local game store and that’s when I found out about the more traditional gateway games such as Catan, Ticket to Ride, etc… which I did love playing as well.
What have been your recent favorites to play?
The first time I sat down to play Gloomhaven I ended up canceling all other plans that weekend and put in 20+ hours in a few days. I’m a sucker for dungeon crawlers and the game kept hitting a lot of my personal checkboxes for board games. The only issue is I’ve played about 10-12 scenarios and I still haven’t gotten to retire my first character.
What is your all-time favorite mechanic in a game?
Open bidding or trading. I love seeing the table come to life as players quickly rush to make deals as they pursue whatever item or goal they’ve had their heart set on for so long. You feel a huge rush of adrenaline when you’ve finally acquired that one missing item from your collection or you may feel a wicked sense of accomplishment knowing you goaded an opponent into bidding their entire fortune for 1 piece of the puzzle.
What is the origin story of AJ Lambeth and Kolossal Games?
Shortly after Kolossal was announced Travis contacted me about my game Kami-sama. He had seen it at a convention a while back and wanted to work with me on developing the game a little further to see if it could actually be worth anything. For a few months, I was running on Redbull as I was working 2 jobs and still coming home to Skype Travis and do developmental work on Kami-sama. It paid off in the end as my dedication to game design impressed Travis enough to offer me a job at Kolossal. I dropped everything and moved out to Indianapolis to begin my dream job.
What made you choose the theme of Kami-sama?
During my time in Japan, I fell in love with Shintoism. The town I lived in had shrines scattered throughout the hillsides and a stream of festivals. I fell in love with the excitement and couldn’t be kept away from any of them. I wanted to express my love for the culture the only way I knew how, board games.
What made you go with the circular board? Do you have a “lazy susan” at home?
The circular board was an older design that I had thrown in my design closet awhile ago. I was originally challenging my self to find a new “spin” on my game designs and started with a circular board just to see what ideas came to me while looking at it. My first design involved a space game where the board turned to represent planets rotating around the sun causing your spaceships to possibly crash into meteors.
Why, oh why, did you include Kurore in your game? Do you want to give people nightmares?
Don’t say her name out loud, it only makes her stronger!
What is your favorite part of Kami-sama?
Am I allowed to say the art? Because I really do love it. Honestly, I love the asymmetry in the game as much as I hate the work required to make it happen. I’ve been playtesting this game for years now with some serious back-to-back play sessions over the last 8 months. I would’ve lost my mind feeling trapped in an odd boardgame purgatory playing the same game over and over again but that’s not what happened. Each character has a different mini-game to them which allows a breath of fresh air each time you sit down at the table. It’s not just your kami but everyone else’s that creates a small meta within each session.
When you’re designing a game, do you focus on the theme, mechanics, or something else first?
I jump between theme, mechanics, and experience. Kami-sama began with the theme but I also have plenty of prototypes that began with, “I want a game that will make players _______.”
What are your top two tips for new game designers in the board game industry?
Playtest with everyone, especially in public. Don’t hide your designs away from the world waiting for it to be “perfect” because it never will be without seeing the game played.
What conventions will you be at in 2018?
Right now I have tickets for Gencon, Indycon, Grandon, and Moon City Con (from my hometown). I expect to attend a lot more, we’re still figuring out who we need where.
Do you have any sneak peeks at any upcoming games you’re working on?
Since the move to Indy I’ve been heavily focusing on development work for my game and the other Kolossal titles instead of my other designs. Once Kami-sama is on its way to the factory I plan to dive back into design and see what rises to the top.
Do you host any game nights at your home or at a local store/eatery?
We demo Kolossal games the first Tuesday of every month at Books and Brews here in Fishers Indiana. If you’re in the area and want to see some upcoming titles or just have a beer and chat please stop by and say hi.
What is your favorite beverage (alcoholic or not — we are I’m A Social Gamer after all)?
Winter Grind, a rich coffee stout from Mother’s Brewery in Springfield, MO. It reminds me of home and is one of the few dark beers I’ll drink year round.
Where should people follow you and your work?