Q&A with Chad Elkins of 25th Century Games

Chad Elkins (25th Century Games) Interview

25th Century Games are currently fulfilling their Kickstarter project from October 2018, Space Explorers, whilst being bang in the middle of their next major project, Kingswood. We catch up with Chad Elkins, who started the publisher in 2016, to see what life is like in the 25th Century.

Could you tell us a bit about how you go from working at NASA to publishing tabletop games with 25th century games?

My career to date has taken me on a journey across a very diverse and interesting mix of companies. From large financial institutions and tech companies, to small start-ups and ad agencies, making retail grocery products for a celebrity brand, and as you mentioned even NASA. My time there was during the wind down of the shuttle program and the inner space nerd kid in me loved every minute of those few years. Directly before starting 25th Century Games, I was at a mobile game studio when I designed a card game version of a mobile game we launched. The studio wasn't interested in branching out into tabletop games, so I worked with them to publish it myself...thus 25th Century Games was born.  

Almost my entire career has been in product management of some form. That skill set, in my opinion, could be one of the most valuable to running a small independent tabletop game studio. Boot strapping an indie game studio means you need to wear a lot of hats as you're basically running your own mission control. You need to be able to organise and keep the product journey in motion, pulling the trigger on various tasks when the time is right. You also will be relying on others with specialised skill sets to assist in the process, whether it be art, manufacturing, or logistics. Being able to keep that level of multiple step management (some sequential some parallel) flowing and in line is not an easy task, especially if you've never been involved in that sort of work. 

Your latest game, Kingswood, is currently live on Kickstarter and it looks great! With so many games currently on Kickstarter, what is it that makes Kingswood stand out from the crowd?

Thank you for the kind words. I would agree, but I'm a bit biased. April was a tough month to launch in for sure. Lots of high profile campaigns competing for backer wallets. My last game (Space Explorers) launched in October last year, which was a brutally tough month from a competition standpoint. Given the explosion of new publishers and people to the hobby, a crowded market is just going to be the new norm and that trend doesn't appear to be slowing down. 

To your point, you must find a way to stand out. Not only is that critical for while you're on Kickstarter, but you needed to have spent months and months prior to that standing out and creating awareness. Long gone are the days of "I have an idea so please give me money to make it." That might still be true in some areas on KS, but in tabletop games you need to bring your A game and your A game only. Nothing less than that will gain traction. Even bringing that A game has no guarantee of success and you still see large established publishers launch then cancel games due to poor traction. 

Kingswood has two great things going for it: art and design. Those can be said in interchangeable order. Henry Audubon (whom you might recognise from his other games; Space Park and PARKS) has created a clever, approachable, fun little game. The core mechanism of a dual action selection rondel in a game that only takes up to about 30 minutes to play is an appealing game for both seasoned gamers looking for a lighter experience as well as families looking for approachable and unique gameplay. Once you combine that design with beautiful, light, and playful fantasy art by Tristam Rossin, then that is a compelling combination. 

So, I said two things, but let's add a third as I think is just as important when considering a Kickstarter purchase. That third element is price. Our offering in the retail and deluxe edition at a price point of $25 and $40 respectively, is a tremendous value and gives people another reason to pause and consider supporting us. 

The gameplay and components look spot on. So, what are you most excited about people getting when they open the box and get it to the table?

I'm a huge gamer on the purchasing side of things. After all, I was a gamer long before I was a publisher. That feeling of excitement when the package arrives at your door, the unboxing of the shipping carton, followed by the first opening of the shrink is just wonderful. Probably the closest thing as an adult as Christmas morning is to a kid. For me, it's the entire experience that I want someone opening Kingswood to feel good about.

The look of the art when they first sift through the deck of cards. The custom wooden meeples in fun shapes. The bonus King's Favor starting player coin we are sending to all backers being beautifully detailed with a nice coin weight to it. Even the box art itself. You can't think about components in isolation. We are creating an experience that extends beyond gameplay. If a person opens this game and gets goosebumps on their arms as they break the shrink, punch the chits, and sort the cards...that's what I'm most excited about. That's why I publish games. 

Chad Elkins Interview - Kingswood Artwork (Credit: 25th Century Games)
Obviously Kingswood is your focus at the minute, but what else is on the horizon at 25th century games?

I'm incredibly excited about what is on the horizon for 25th Century. Kingswood very much has my attention at the moment, but also right now we are in the process of fulfilling backer rewards for our last campaign, Space Explorers. That game will be released to the public at our booth at Origins, followed by a retail store release at the end of June. It's beautiful and if you like tableau building games, then it's worth checking out.

Coming up after Kingswood is a light family dice-chucking game called Winner Winner Chicken Dinner that we are aiming for late summer to bring to Kickstarter. This one is actually my design and it features some ridiculously beautiful art by Shawna Tenney. Her ability to bring those foxes with tons of personality traits forward as well as some super cute derpy chickens is nothing short of amazing.

Later this fall, we are bringing to Kickstarter a game called Jurassic Parts. It is an area control, set collection game about excavating fossils. Super clever filler designed by Kevin Lanzing (best known for the Flash Point series of games) and will be illustrated by Andrew Bosley. You'll find his outstanding artwork on such games as Everdell, The River, Mars Mission Red Planet, Love Letter, Citadels, and more. I'm so excited to be working with both Kevin and Andrew to bring this game to life.  

For many of us, board gaming holds many memories: those last minute wins, tension so great you want to swallow your fist, the heartbreak when the dice rolls over from a six to a one, or the simple joy you experience, punching the card from your most recent purchase. What are your fondest gaming memories?

In college, some friends and I went through a Risk phase. We played it all the time and into the wee hours, a nice break from the studying and usual going out. When I was a kid, I played a lot of Rook and Pass the Pigs with my grandparents during summers at their lake house. Both of them are no longer with us, but those specific memories still stick with me all these years later. It's not a specific memory, but about 10 years ago, when Last Night on Earth came out, I picked up a copy and myself with some friends played it every week for a while.

We then started expanding into other games. This was the catalyst for my regular weekly game group. Some of the people have come and gone, but there are still a couple core members playing every Wednesday night at my house. While I can't name a single game moment, that one is more of a collection of moments by taking time out of every week to stop the rest of what life throws at you, drink some good craft beer, and spending time with close friends over games. That's what it is all about and why this is such an amazing hobby. 

And finally, what game would you most like to play that you haven't been able to yet?

My shelf of shame...excuse me...shelf of opportunity... is getting out of hand. Glancing around at the Kallaxes I see a few that I really need to get to the table: Big Trouble in Little China, Western Legends, Feudum, and Root. Sadly, there are so many more! Publishing and developing games gets in the way quite often to actually playing other publisher's games. 

Thanks Chad for your time and letting us in on what gaming means for you and what you and your team are bringing to our hobby. The horizon for 25th Century Games looks really exciting and I am looking forward to getting Kingswood to the table. I love the sound of Winner Winner as well!