Jess Chu and Katie Khau Talks Windup War

Interview with the Jess Chu and Katie Khau, the designers behind a new windup toy war game, Windup War.

Katie and Jess, could you share a little with us about yourself and what got you into tabletop gaming?

Jess: A little about me: I do a little of everything and not enough of one thing, so I’m kind of like a jack-of-all-trades, except maybe a few notches down. A ten-of-all-trades? This metaphor didn’t go the way I wanted

I would credit Katie and Jason Scott, Studio Design Director at Volition, for getting me into tabletop gaming! Katie insisted I take a game design course with her in college, which was taught by Jason and taught game design through making tabletop games. Jason told us about a local board game design competition, and things have never been the same since! I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t know that other board games besides Monopoly exist if it weren’t for this chain of events.

Katie: It really snowballed from there – we joined the board game design competition, CUDO Plays.  From there we kept designing other games and doing small game design challenges. It led us to fill our lives with board games as we kept making friends in the industry and also led us to help run that same board game design competition. We want to continue making fun games.

What are some games that are hitting your table lately?

Jess: We came home from GenCon with significantly less room in the car than when we set out. We both picked up a copy of Imagine, which is like Concept but with PICTURES (enough said), and I bought Sushi Go Party, which is an *expansive* and, of course, fun upgrade to the original game. Also, we bought like four copies of Dragoon, because not having heavy metal would break my heart. (fall out boy? Anyone? Okay) Cryptozoic was only selling one copy of Card Wars: Doubles Tournament per day, and my friend managed to nab the Friday copy for me while we were demoing Windup War in the morning. I am forever indebted to him. Now if only I could get three friends together at once so I can actually play…

pic3100488_mdYour game, Windup War, will be on Kickstarter soon. Could you tell us a little bit about what type of game it is and give us an overview on how it is played?

Jess: When the kids are away, the toys come out to play… AND FIGHT! Windup War is a game of programmable simultaneous actions, where the players assemble their units, program actions, target their enemies, and fight to be the last army standing!

What is the story behind the game’s creation and theme?

Jess: Windup War was originally Windup Warfare, which came out of the DFW Nerd Nighters Game Design Competition, where we were challenged to make a game in 2 weeks with a set amount of components. Thematically, we knew from the start that we wanted to make a game with wind up toy soldiers. We design games holistically, so the theme inspired the gameplay and mechanics as well. You “wind up” the toys to take their actions!

There will be multiple different factions in the game – what can we expect to see and are they all the same outside of the art?

Jess: Yes, all factions have the same units. But they’re all cute in their own unique way! We have the Tin Soldiers, the Dino-Soldiers, the Good Knights, and the Gladi-8rs, and two more that we have yet to reveal!

When we were expanding on the game after joining forces with Bellwether, we wanted to make the factions so that the players feel like their teams are different, even if they’re functionally the same. People can pick favorites as well.

14102711_523126891225550_1811170312955535483_nDo either of you have a favorite faction to play?

Katie: Dinosoldiers, definitely.


One cannot help but think Pack O Games – when you think gum shaped cards. Did this inspire you guys at all or was the card size decided after you were signed to Bellwether?

Jess: Bellwether did decide the card size – Dennis thought the small card size made a great fit for the game, especially considering the theme of tiny toys. It also allowed for more content in a smaller space – the six factions will fit into a “toy box.” It worked out really well, and I can’t wait for people to see Katie’s art!

Windup War does have direct player interaction and even player elimination. Two things that can sometimes turn some buyers off – was this a concern at all when you guys were designing the game?


(We did want to create direct player interaction – the player elimination part just worked out as we designed the game. We didn’t worry unless it interfered with the fun of the game! Since our game is pretty quick, the player elimination mechanic isn’t detrimental to the experience.)

cri3xc2wcaanqylAnother thing that stands out about the gameplay, is the fighting is done with color-coded action cards that are pre-programmed. You have to be careful because if enough people get eliminated, some of your actions may affect you instead of other players. How did the color-coded pre-programmed actions come about?

Jess: This was a suggestion from Dennis! Originally, Windup War only had three units, which all could use the same actions. Dennis suggested having different actions for each unit, to add depth. The color-coding came about as a natural result of needing a visual cue to tie the units to their actions. There are also little symbols!

Bellwether Games is publishing the game, what has been your favorite part of working with them?

Katie: Dennis from Bellwether Games has been awesome to work with! The process is very collaborative between all of us and I think my favorite part has been how easy it is to communicate back and forth.

Katie, you did the art for this game. What influenced you when it came to the art?

Katie: My illustrations stylistically lean cute and what I like to do the most are vector illustrations. I have a great love for tiny things so I was excited that I was going to get to draw all sorts of small windup toys for this game. I was also inspired by one of my favorite board game artists, Kwanchai Moriya, who illustrated Catacombs because his style is so unique. Like him, I wanted to illustrate in a way that was different and easily recognizable.

pic3112722When you were still prototyping Windup War, what was the best piece of feedback you received from a playtester?

Jess: We brought Windup War to Stonemaier Games’ Design Day, and one of the playtesters said that though there was a basic element of strategy, it also felt like it lacked depth. Every decision we made afterwards has been to add depth to the game.

What was your favorite part of designing the game?

Jess: Playtesting!

What was the most challenging part of designing it?

Jess: Playtesting…

What was the biggest lesson you learned in designing Windup War?

Katie: Sometimes, less is more when it comes to components. We had markers to track health and ammo, but it was easy to forget when to move them up and down. Dennis suggested replacing ammo with actions, and reloading actions instead ammo, and it worked out really well – now instead of tracking how many shots you had on your unit, you could just look at your hand and plan out your attack from there. We also replaced the health marker with another card, so removing those components both reduced the amount of confusion and materials needed for the game.

What is one thing we haven’t covered today that you think fans of Windup War would find interesting?

Katie: Making even a light game takes a lot of time and development to refine. If we didn’t have Dennis and Bellwether Games, we would be much further away from bringing Windup War to Kickstarter! Although we collaborated on the design after he picked us up, the majority of our playtesting was done by Dennis. Jess and I both have full time jobs, which means our free time is limited, and usually it becomes work time for our games anyway. So having Bellwether help us with development and testing made everything work out much smoother and faster!

pic3107973When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed Windup War?

Jess: We came up with the concept and prototype within one week. Not everyone can work under that kind of pressure. I guess I’m proud of that!

Katie: I’m most proud of the art! I’ve had to create a lot of different characters for the factions, so creating so much art is something I am proud of.

If you had to describe Windup War in 3 adjectives, what would you choose?

Jess: Cute, Toyetic, Spontaneous!

If Windup War does well, do you think we will see more factions or even action cards added later down the road?

Jess: We would love to add more factions!

Katie: I think it would be cool to add a new unit type with new weapon actions or possibly special actions that could be one time use actions.

14054235_521481391390100_4164821502047333132_nI have to ask, what is going on with your game, Heifer Heist and we will we see it return to Kickstarter?

Katie: At this time since Jess and I both have full time jobs that aren’t board game related so we don’t have the time to plan and run a relaunch Kickstarter so we are in the process of looking and pitching Heifer Heist to publishers. We hope to find a good home for Heifer Heist and get it to people’s tables to play!

As we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to add?

Katie: We hope we can make games that people like to share!

Jess: Games have really changed our lives – we hope we can give something back!

Thanks for taking time out Katie and Jess to do this interview.

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