Snap, Cackleberry, Pop: An Interview with Rob Thompson of Cackleberry Games | Casual Game Revolution

Snap, Cackleberry, Pop: An Interview with Rob Thompson of Cackleberry Games

Gardens of Babylon

Cackleberry Games is a fledgling publishing company who just launched their first game on Kickstarter: Gardens of Babylon. This is an abstract game with a unique cascading waterfall mechanism. With a simple ruleset but deeper strategy, it is seeing good success early on in the campaign.

I recently spoke with Rob Thompson from Cackleberry Games about how he got into board games and how their team met while working on video games, and he offered some great insights into the game publishing and Kickstarter process.

Andrew Birkett: I see you had a career in video gaming. Why did you transition from video games to tabletop games? 

Rob Thompson: Indeed! Three of our four team members actually worked together at Riot Games and, more recently, Wargaming. We're all passionate members of the board game community, and have been since even before we worked in video games. Collectively, I think we own over 300 board games and have backed more than 200 Kickstarters. Board games are a big part of both our work and our play, even while we continue working on video game projects. 

AB: What led you to start Cackleberry Games? 

RT: While working and living overseas we actually found our gaming habits changing. We didn't have time for longer games, especially ones that took hours to learn the rules, and half the time was setting up the game. We wanted something easier to bring to the table that still offered depth, and we formed Cackleberry Games so that we could make those games: games that were accessible, but still had deep game play. You can see this vision embodied in Gardens of Babylon.

AB: What are your biggest board game inspirations, either companies or people? 

RT: I remember I was at Gen Con listening to a panel about how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign. Everyone was talking about marketing and strategy and things like that (lots of excellent advice, really). After everyone else had finished, the last person said, "first, make a great game." That really stuck with me, and it's something we're all dedicated to at Cackleberry. We want to make the games that we'd want to play.

AB: What led you to publish Gardens of Babylon as your first game?

RT: After meeting Stavros and playing some of his design prototypes, everyone involved felt that Gardens of Babylon was the perfect blend of what we wanted from a game. It was accessible, thematically fun and interesting, simple in terms of components, and had a really engaging game play and mechanic. Basically, after a single play through we all got very excited about bringing the game to life!

AB: The Kickstarter looks incredible, especially for a first-time creator, what resources did you utilize to create the campaign? 

RT: Thank you! I started by binge-reading all of the blogs from both James Mathe and Stonemaier Games. Those guys are awesome, and it's incredibly cool the way they really want to grow and support the board game development community. I also actively participated in the Kickstarter Advice Group on FB. I also spent a lot of time on Kickstarter looking at other campaigns to figure out what I liked or thought could be improved, which helped a lot with context. For example, something that worked for a $100 big-box game with a ton of miniatures may not be as suited for a $40 euro game.

Gardens of Babylon components

AB: As the Kickstarter date approaches how are you feeling? 

RT: Excited and nervous for sure! I feel excited to share all of the campaign surprises that we have planned and unveil the game to the World. Nervous, of course, hoping that all of my decisions and assumptions are correct. It's really easy to second guess yourself as a first time creator, so I've tried to surround myself with mentors and leaders from the community to keep me balanced.

AB: What do you think sets Gardens of Babylon apart?

RT: The game feature that consistently receives the most positive feedback is the cascade mechanic. I've never seen a mechanic exactly like it, and it creates epic (and sometimes friendship-testing) moments between players. For the Kickstarter, right from day one we're offering the Solo Rule Variant "Supplant the King," and fully localizing the rulebook in French, German, Spanish and Italian. We wanted the community to have those right away, instead of artificially adding them as stretch goals.

AB: I see you’ve backed 214 projects on Kickstarter. How important do you think it is to support other creators? 

RT: Incredibly important. Not only does it give back to the community, but it also helps you understand the backer experience. One thing we learned from our time in video games is you can't create a good player experience unless you understand it, and the same is definitely true for Kickstarter and board games. We read every Kickstarter update we get to learn about what challenges to watch for, from manufacturing to fulfillment, and pay close attention to what works and doesn't when it comes to communicating with backers.

AB: If you could give one piece of advice to other aspiring tabletop game Kickstarter creators, what would it be? 

RT: Know your audience. Every decision you make should be decided from their perspective. The board game market has many sub-segments, so it's critical to figure out the right one for your game and make decisions that will create the best experience for them.

AB: How long have you been working on the game? 

RT: Stavros was working on the design of the game even before we formed the company, so probably about 18 months in total. Since coming together, we've put a lot more focused time into getting it ready for launch, but it was pretty close to done back when we first saw it. 

AB: What has been the longest step of your process of becoming a Kickstarter creator so far? 

RT: Once we knew we were going to bring the game to Kickstarter, the focus was on building an audience before launch. We unveiled the game at UK Games Expo in 2018, and since then it's been a six month journey of playtesting, demoing, giveaways and community engagement. Today our FB group has grown to over 250 members and our newsletter is 5x that size. For new creators I would say it's never too early to start creating content. Don't wait until it's perfect, start sharing your journey and bring people along for the ride!