Interview: Zabu Studio brings designer board games to Facebook

Designers board games are seeing somewhat of a renaisance on platforms like the iPhone and iPad, bringing the fun and strategic play to a whole new audience. And Zabu Studio is looking to do the same thing with Facebook. The studio has released three games so far, all designed by noted German board game designer Reiner Knizia, and it won’t be stopping anytime soon. Gamezebo recently spoke with Zabu’s founder and CEO Milton Soong about the studio, board games on Facebook, and we can expect to see in the future.

Tell us a bit about Zabu Studio. Why did you decide to form the company in the first place?

Most of us at Zabu Studio, Inc. have been avid gamers (of the non-digital variety) for as long as we remember. We play old style wargames, Euro board games, pen and paper RPG, what have you. Some of us also worked at EA so we are familiar with the world of video games. When this new-fangled thing called Facebook came along, we thought that we could bring some of our non-video gaming experience to this new platform.

What is it about tabletop-style experiences that make them a good fit for social networks like Facebook?

Playing a boardgame or cardgame with your friends and family is the original social game that exists in every culture. That experience has taken a beating since the advent of electronic gaming, but has survived in the form of the modern designer or Euro boardgame scene. The recent popularity of the Settlers of Catan shows that people definitely crave that experience, and in my opinion, Facebook is a platform that could bridge the best of both worlds.

Your first three games have all been developed in conjunction with Reiner Knizia. How did you first start working with Knizia? And what has the experience been like?

The Zabu Studio team are all big Knizia fans. My very first Euro game purchase back in the mid – 90’s was The Settlers of Catan (the original German edition), and Dr.Knizia’s Modern Art. His games always give the players interesting and tough decisions. When we decided to form the company and started thinking about marrying designer boardgames and Facebook, he was our first choice when it came to choosing a design partner. It’s been a great experience working with Dr. Knizia. He has always been interested in experimenting in different platforms, be it boardgames, cardgames, customizable card games, mobile games, you name it. Designing for the social network platform has its own challenges and Dr. Knizia is very keen about learning about its quirks.

What has the reaction been like from fans so far?

Dr. Knizia has a lot of fans both in the more hardcore games group (Euphrat & Tigris and Modern Art), as well as the lighter family game genre (Pikomino). We deliberately chose the lighter offerings for our first effort. Our first two games (Lost Cities and Pickomino) are based on two of his best-selling designs, but are deliberately simplified into a solo experience to test its appeal among the mass audience who may or may not have heard of Reiner Knizia. Both games have a small but loyal following. Many diehard fans are pushing us to implement the full unadulterated “Knizia experience,” something we are considering.

Your third and most recent release, Poseidon’s Realm, is a match-3 game. Why did you decide to tackle such an ubiquitous genre? What does Poseidon’s Realm bring that’s new?

Even though I consider myself a pretty sophisticated gamer, Bejeweled Blitz is one of my guilty pleasures. One day when I was emailing Knizia on a game design issue, he surprised me and mentioned that his favorite online game is also Bejeweled Blitz! He then showed me his design for Poseidon’s Realm and asked if I was interested in that design. After I read through it, I immediately said yes!

While Poseidon’s Realm is a match-3 game, it stands the genre on its head by adding a lot of strategy elements. Instead of looking for two jewels to swap, you have to think one step ahead and plan what happens after a bubble a pops and the board changes. Furthermore, we allow you to rotate the board so you can take advantage of potential lines from all four directions. Last of all, we introduce the megabubble as a score doubler. You always want to have a lot of megabubbles around to increase your scores, but their presence makes spotting scoring lines that much more of a challenge. The combination makes this an insane game that is highly addictive (I mean insane in the gameilicious sense of the word of course!)

Can you talk a bit about any of your upcoming games or projects?

We have a couple more Knizia games in development, but next in line for release is the Facebook rendition of Take It Easy, a game of connecting lines over a series of hexagonal tiles that’s been a favorite among discerning Euro gamers for many years now. Besides the original game and the more challenging Take It To The Limit add-on, we have also added a “social” mode that takes advantage of your FB social network and makes that a part of the game. A warning though, it can be habit forming!

Any final words for your fans?

Zabu Studio, Inc’s mission is to bring the face-to-face gaming experience to the new social and mobile platforms. We have started with light strategy games, but we are considering many other genres of gaming and tailoring them for the new platforms. Stay tuned for other new and exciting announcement from Zabu Studio, Inc.!

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