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Game of Phones: Interview with Game Designers Luke Stern and Sam Wander


Games of Phones

"Game of Phones" is a fun card game that launched a few years ago on Kickstarter and has since become an incredibly popular card game across the nation.

Game of Phones is a fun card game that launched a few years ago on Kickstarter and has since become an incredibly popular card game across the nation. The latest version of Game of Phones kicked off on Kickstarter in September of 2019.

“Game of Phones” is a card game where all you need is your smartphone to take on creative and unexpected challenges. It’s the ultimate digital scavenger hunt and now we’re back with a totally redesigned version that’s bigger and better in every way. It features fun new ways to play challenges that bring variety to every round, a fresh new design that we’re really excited about, tons of new challenges that we’ve tested and tested again. Also, people’s favorite cards from the original game are included as a free Mini Pack!

Recently designers Luke Stern and Sam Wander discussed the game via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you discover your love for games and how did you break into the toys and games industry?

Luke: Games have always been a big part of my life, but I don’t think I truly realized that until trying to make a game myself and seeing how I was pulling from so much past experience. Whether it was puzzles and board games growing up, chess in high school and beyond, and now a little bit of everything, games have always been a great creative outlet for me. It wasn’t until going to design school with Sam that I think we both realized what a good tool games can be for tackling interesting problems in the world. That’s what led us to exploring making a game and getting into the industry.

Sam: I also grew up playing games and loved getting absorbed in them with friends and family. They open up new ways of interacting the people around you, you see different sides of people which is always interesting! This idea of facilitating different ways of interacting became an obvious fit for things we were trying to do at design school – so games became a key theme for the projects I did there.

MM: How did you come up with the concept for “Game of Phones”?

Luke: It was actually for a class we were both taking in grad school for interaction design. We were looking for interesting dilemmas evident and present in our own surroundings and realized the stigma of phones in social scenarios would be a fun problem to tackle. Pretty quickly we realized we didn’t want people to avoid using their phones as they can be such powerful and fun tools. A game seemed like a great way to get people interacting with each other, but using something they were so familiar with and could share from, their phone.

MM: How did you create the prototype and how different was it from the final product?

Sam: The first prototype was a just a few slides that we put on an iPad and brought around to a few bars near school during happy hour (we knew we would have captive audiences likely using their phones). We would ask random groups of people if they wanted to play a quick game we were testing and then show a few prompts on the iPad. The response was overall really positive so we quickly came up with a bunch more prompts, printed them out at school, and cut them into cards. The game has definitely evolved a lot in design (and quality), but the core idea is still there.

MM: How did you come to work with Breaking Games?

Games of Phones

‘Games of Phones” is easy to learn and a lot of fun to play!

Luke: We needed to get a better prototype printed quickly and researched where we could get that done. We called and emailed a lot of people and luckily ended up speaking with Shari Spiro over at Breaking Games. She was really excited about printing even a small run of cards for us so it seemed like a no brainer. It was a really great decision because they still print our games today and we’ve had an awesome working relationship with them ever since.

MM: What was the most challenging part of creating this game?

Sam: The most challenging part of making “Game of Phones,” and probably any game, is ensuring that it’s going to be fun for a wide range of people. You really need to get out into the world with prototypes, put them in front of everybody you can, listen to their feedback, and use it constructively. It’s a really fun part of the process, but not something you can do just sitting in your office of living room.

MM: There are a lot of cool prompts in the cards. Do you have a favorite?

Luke: I really like the ones that have you taking photos of yourself or the people/things around you. I love that the game is asking you to create artifacts that you will then come back to and discover later when looking through your camera roll.

Sam: I enjoy the ones where you show photos from your phones that you otherwise wouldn’t. It’s the opposite of the more curated sharing people do on social media so you see more “real” parts of people’s lives.

MM: What has player response been like so far?

Luke: Overall, we’ve had really positive responses when playing with people and in comments online. We also look out for any feedback on how to make the game better and are always trying to improve it.

MM: How many games have you created to date and what are their themes?

Luke: We’ve really only created Game of Phones at this point (with expansions), but have just released a second, totally redesigned version that will include a lot of “mini packs.” These will be packs of Game of Phones cards that can be played on their own or mixed together to make one big deck.

MM: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of working as a game designer?

Luke: It’s really amazing to see something you’ve spent a lot of time and effort on be made into a physical product and put on a shelf for people to see. What’s even better is getting texts or emails from people I know saying they discovered the game at a random bar or friends house. Feels great to know it’s reaching people.

Sam: Similarly, seeing it out in the real world. We love when people share photos from the game on social media. It’s great to see the creativity and unexpected things people create or do.

MM: Where do you hope your career will be in ten years?

Luke: Hopefully still making games! Or at least taking the same process that we used to create Game of Phones and using it on other issues in the world. It would be great if that created more games, but I’m open to where it leads.

Sam: Yeah, I think the important part is making things that challenge the way we spend time together. Games are great for that, but who knows where it might lead next.

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To learn more, check out the “Game of Phones” Kickstarter.

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