Why Phobophobia?

When we shelved the Nexus board game project, we starting spawning ideas for smaller bootstrap games. Ideas like Alien Autopsy, Barbarian Heist, and Sneaky Peas. (Sneaky Peas??) Nothing really grabbed us. Then, last November, a coworker (we’ll call him Marc) told me about an unsettling experience he’d recently had with a children’s book.

Little Engine that CouldMany of us remember The Little Engine that Could. I loved it myself as a child. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. It’s about a circus train. And, on every cover and in every illustration of every edition, there is a large clown riding on top of the engine. Marc loved this book as a child and wanted to buy a copy to read to his 4-year-old-son Miles, to share that memory from father to son.

Unfortunately, Marc hates clowns. I mean, he really hates clowns. Clowns, real or illustrated, trigger a flight reaction: rapid heartbeat, panic, sweating, chills, and difficulty breathing. When he discovered a clown riding The Little Engine that Could, he knew he could never buy a copy. Even if he forced himself to buy it, he knew that he’d never be able to read it to Miles.

Marc has Coulrophobia or a Fear of Clowns. He doesn’t know why. He doesn’t remember when clowns became monsters. He obviously didn’t have a problem with clowns as a kid or he wouldn’t have remembered The Little Engine that Could so fondly. That struck me as a curious thing.

All of us have things that annoy us, make us uncomfortable, or creep us out to one degree or another. My daughter couldn’t stand the site of blood when she was a kid but is now a certified paramedic. Obviously, she doesn’t have an issue with blood anymore. We’re not entirely sure where these fears and anxieties come from or where they go.

After Marc’s revelation, one of our other coworkers asked if there was a fear of phobias. Yes, said Grandmother Google: Phobophobia is the fear of phobias. A phobia of phobias. The fear of fear itself. A klaxon went off in my head.

Game LogoWould it make a good card game? Attack with phobia cards. Defend with treatment cards. Make it a party game. Aim for 15-30 minute play for 2-6 players. Look for a nice balance of luck and strategy. Go for humor that works for adults without going full Cards Against Humanity. Maybe do a NSFW expansion pack. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

We had started out looking for a small lower risk project idea for us to use to learn the Kickstarter ropes but ended up with a game that we are every bit as passionate about as that big board game project that we shelved.

The base deck will not have any clowns in it. I really want Marc to be able to enjoy playing Phobophobia. Don’t worry dude. We’ve got your back.

Why Make a Tabletop Game?

I believe that we are living in the golden age of tabletop games. Players have never had more options to choose from. Designers have never had more freedom to innovate and reach the players.

Some more recent favorite games

A few of our more recent favorites

I’ve been a board game fan from the time I was a small boy. My brother and I played countless games of Risk, Stratego, Sorry, Scrabble, and so on—the usual list of games available in the US in the 60’s and 70’s. When I was in college in the early 80’s I bought a copy of Axis and Allies. We played a lot of all-day and all-weekend games. I still have that first printing copy of Axis and Allies. About once a decade I can convince somebody to play it with me. Over the years, my son and I have built up a sprawling collection of board games.

I became a software engineer and, over time, I met other people like me—together, we spent a decade transforming our love for gaming into making the kind of turn-based, computer strategy games we wanted to play and couldn’t find (See Stars!—still active after 20 years—and Supernova Genesis, its uptown, unpublished sequel that missed the window when the industry turned its eye to console gaming.)

Skip ahead a few tracks to me as a software architect for a health services company (still working with gamers!), sent home with a pinched nerve in my spine and orders to try and not move wrong until therapy and surgery could fix things. Imagine a restless water buffalo trying to stay still for weeks. To distract me, my friend Kurt proposed the neogeek version of “Let’s put on a show!”: leverage the rising popularity in tabletop games and design a board game that we fund through Kickstarter. Perhaps use ideas from Stars! and Supernova Genesis. (Kurt was a partner in Supernova Genesis.) Learn from our past and the game makers who shared their Kickstarter lessons. Put our names on boxes and those boxes in trucks and those trucks to depots and at the depots load the quadcopters and fly them to the homes of people desperate for new classics to hand down to their children! Or, just do good, creative work that perhaps a bigger audience would enjoy as much.

Nexus Advanced Prototype

Nexus Advanced Prototype

Our first try was Nexus, a complex space strategy board game inspired by the universe of one of our favorite authors. It leverages what I’ve learned from building and playing computer versions in the same genre. Nexus involves fleet and planet-based covert operations, politics, and combat in a combination that we feel is unique (and does service to the source material). Our prototype—six months in development–has a dozen decks of cards, a large map, and hundreds of tokens and counters. It eats several yards of table space and begs for a 3D experience.

The more we watched the Kickstarter community and the more projects we contributed to, the more we realized that jumping into the ring with a large game with that many pieces was going to amplify the learning curve to the point where failure wasn’t just likely but nearly inevitable.

Too many things to learn. Too many dependencies. Too big of a startup cost. Too big of a Kickstarter target for an unknown unproven company. For anybody considering kick-starting a project, particularly for a tabletop game, we highly recommend checking out Jamey Stegmaier’s Kickstarter blog.

Games as big and complex as Nexus can be successful. Anyone that has played a game like Settlers of Catan, Cosmic Encounter, or Eclipse with all of the expansions can appreciate what we were aiming for. We have shelved Nexus for now but will return to it when we feel that we have enough experience with crowdfunding, manufacturing, distribution, and the other business aspects of game design so that we can focus on making it a game that hordes of you want to play.