Yesterday Rule & Make announced that it is shutting down. The company, and the core duo of Allan and Alannah who started it all, have made a lasting mark on tabletop. Both within Australia and internationally. In recognition of the importance of Rule & Make, we decided to look back at an interview with Allen Chang. This article originally appeared in Issue 15 of The Campaigner, published in 2016. The issue is still available as digital download or in limited print stock.
Interview by Matthew Lee (ML)
In Australia tabletop game design and publication is a fairly new, but growing, industry. One of the current success stories is Rule & Make, publishers of such worldwide hit games as Rise to Power and Entropy. This issue we talk to one of the owners and designers at Rule & Make, Allen Chang (AC). He tells us how the company started out, how it has grown, and some of the challenges they continue to face.
ML: Can you tell us about what Rule & Make is, and what it does?
AC: Fundamentally, we’re a tabletop games publisher. And we’re very specific to mention tabletop – as opposed to ‘board’ or ‘card’ games – as our focus is broader than just those two categories. We want the flexibility to extend into role playing or other analogue games.
ML: How did Rule & Make start?
AC: R&M started in 2013 with Alistair (Alannah) and myself. We had originally come up with an idea to manufacture a tabletop accessory, the ATLAS Card Case. We had that idea about 10 years before we started R&M when we were at university together but at the time we just didn’t have the experience or finances to do it. Fast forward to 2013 and we finally had the opportunity to produce the case. It became quite popular, so much so that we then had the initial funds to look at doing other things in the tabletop space. This lead to other accessories and eventually into game design and our first game (Rise to Power).
ML: What was the first game you decided to publish? Why did you choose this one?
AC: Rise to Power. Alistair and I were actually toying with the idea of working on a mobile game. The game we had initially designed caught the attention of a publisher overseas, who wanted to pursue it further with a view of releasing it. However due to a change in circumstances we shelved this project… but we’d already done a lot of work on it. It was around this time Kickstarter came to Australia, and we’d been thinking about trying to use that as a funding model for a future project. So Alistair suggested we revisit the game design work we’d done already and see if we could convert it into a tabletop format. We were playing a lot of card games at the time and, well, the pieces all fell into place from there.
ML: You have used Kickstarter to fund a number of your games. What about the Kickstarter platform appeals to you in particular, and how do you decide if a game should be crowdfunded or not?
AC: For the majority of campaign creators on Kickstarter, the funding aspect is the biggest priority; how do we get project ‘x’ funded. For us though, that’s only half the equation. The other half is about building a fan base. Kickstarter is a great way to get funded but also become more well-known to the community. Having that crowd watching you, and participating in the process, is very important.
As to how we choose whether to use Kickstarter or not, it comes down to two factors: risk and format. Kickstarter is particularly good if the game you have is very visual, or the concept of the game can be explained easily and/or visually; presentation is very important. There are certain abstract games that, while very interesting, just wouldn’t work on the platform as conveying their essence would be too difficult.
But there are also really strong games out there that, for whatever reason, don’t have a unique selling point, and we’ve found these also don’t do so well on Kickstarter. So we’d be considering self-funding if presented with games like this.
ML: How involved are you with the Australian tabletop game design industry?
AC: Very involved and constantly in contact with those who are in the industry. The Tabletop Game Designers of Australia group on Facebook is the main forum for those of us who work in the industry, and anyone who is part of this knows who we are. We participate in the the same sub-groups/forums, do regular play test sessions, and collaborate together.
ML: What has been your favourite game to publish so far? Why?
AC: This is kind of like choosing our favourite child, right?! Probably Burger Up so far. We’ve learned things during the development of all our other games that we could apply here, so it’s the most ‘complete’ game, if you like, that’s gone through the whole process (bar manufacturing, but that’s in train) and carries with it the full R&M experience to this point.
The remainder of this interview is available in Issue 15. The issue is still available as a digital download.