“Legends are made in this game!”: Format Games’ Matt Edmondson on why 13 Beavers is unlike any game they’ve done before
Matt, it’s great to catch up. We last interviewed you about the launch of Format Games – and now you’re a firmly established player in the sector with a suite of winning titles!
It’s been amazing! The business continues to surprise me – and it feels like we’ve sort of ‘grown up’ this year.
Well, Format Games started as an experiment that got charmingly out of control. For the first few years, it was just me and Laurence doing absolutely everything. Since then, we’ve got entrenched in the board game business community. I feel like people know who we are and what we do – and not just in the UK. We’ve made a lot of friends.
Our range has continued to grow and our knowledge of what works and what doesn’t has been refined. Before it was largely ‘What do we want to make? Let’s make it!’ That still drives a lot of what we do, but Laurence is very commercially minded – he’s been a great curator of what will and won’t sell. It means we’ve been able to expand quickly and have placements in places like Walmart and Target. Walmart actually took three of our games: Karen, Wheels vs Doors and Toodles.
Fantastic. And Toodles is your drawing game?
That’s right. Toodles was a whole new thing for us because we had to get some stuff tooled. We invented this little device for the game and that was fun.
We’ve also started selling internationally and have partnerships with different distributors. And we’ve grown the team with some fantastic people! We have a designer called Rich Walton who was at Professor Puzzle. Whenever I see a product I like, I take a photo of it and put it in a folder in my phone. I was in New York for the Toy Fair and saw a game in a shop that I really liked and – unbeknownst to me at the time – it was one of Rich’s.
Then, when we were looking for a designer, I was on Behance and found Rich’s profile. It was like someone had ported the folder in my phone to his page! All of the games that I felt were eye-catching were his! He’s fantastic. We’ve also got Chiara who does our marketing and Jamie who’s sort of a jack of all trades. We’re quite a small team but our ability to deliver interesting ideas at pace and at scale is exceptional.
Absolutely. Sticking with Toodles, it’s a drawing game… That category is sometimes seen as a tough nut to crack for companies.
For me, it’s all about the idea. I’d never sit down and think ‘We have to do a drawing game’ or ‘We can’t do a drawing game’. If it’s compelling enough that when people play it, they like it and want to come back to it… That’s the only metric that’s important to me. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a drawing game, as long as it’s a great game.
In this industry, there’s a lot of looking at what’s been done before and doing versions of that, and I understand why that happens… But we don’t want to put anything out that feels like it’s been done already. And, as it happens, we launched Toodles last year and next week we’re launching another drawing game at London Toy Fair called Quick Draw. It’s a brilliant game and I defy anyone to play it and not want to buy it! And if you already own Toodles, it doesn’t matter because the feeling and the mechanic behind Quick Draw is totally different. There’s room for both and the proof is in the playing.
I gave Quick Draw a go at New York Toy Fair last year and it’s brilliant. Can you talk us through how it plays?
You have a circular board on the table with a spinner in the middle and everyone has circular drawing pads. Basically, one player is effectively blindfolded by wearing a pair of blacked out shades with a card on top. The card has six things you can draw listed on it. Everyone else stands by… The dice is rolled and that tells players what they’ll have to draw – say, ‘a snail’.
Everyone then has to draw a snail as quickly as possible. There’s a 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place and 4th place on the board, each worth different amount of points… The most being on 1st place, the least being on 4th place. The first person to finish their drawing puts it in the 1st place spot. The second person puts theirs in the 2nd place spot and so on.
Then, once everyone has placed, the guesser takes their shades off and views the 1st place drawing – the one that was doodled the fastest. If they guess it’s a snail, great – that player and the person that drew it gets maximum points…
But, chances are that drawing was put together very fast, so it might not look like a snail. And if the player doesn’t guess ‘snail’, the wheel in the middle spins and the next player has the chance to get maximum points… And the second placed player took a bit longer with their doodle, so it could very well be more accurate… And by that point, we’ve seen two drawings, so the guesser is better informed. Anyway, they still might not get it and so the person in third place then reveals their drawing and gets a chance to score, and so on.
It’s a really funny game. It’s not about being a good artist, and it’s not really about being first. There’s a real trade-off between speed and quality of drawing. It’s hilarious.
I also wanted to pick your brains on another new game that Format launching next week, 13 Beavers.
13 Beavers is unlike any other game we’ve done before. It’s more of a traditional board game; there’s a board, there’s little meeples, there’s bits of card… It looks amazing; it’s very eye-catching. It might give the impression that it’s complex to play, but you can learn it in 15 seconds.
And I’ve never seen people react to a game like they react to 13 Beavers – it’s like watching people react to their favourite sports team in a cup final! Bizarrely, it reminds me of how people react to street magic; it’s very visceral!
How does it play?
The game is essentially a mixture of Play Your Cards Right and The Weakest Link. You move one square at a time in a bid to be the first beaver to reach Beaver Paradise. You can keep moving forward as long as you can guess whether the next card is higher or lower than the previous one. If you’re wrong at any point, you go back to where you began – or your last safe point. But you can choose to play it safe and stay where you are, then play then passes to the next player.
There’s luck and probability and risk-taking… Legends are made in this game.
Haha! How did it come about?
The idea came from a desire to design a game around statistics. The original idea was centred around weddings, and stats relating to couples. Like ‘What percentage of people find wearing socks in bed a turn-off?’ I thought there was something in a ‘Survey Says’ type game, and I thought the ‘Higher or Lower’ mechanic would work well in a data-driven game. So after one stat, you’d be read another and have to guess if the percentage was higher of lower. That said, I knew that alone wasn’t enough…
I was up feeding my kid in the middle of the night, and I thought if you were moving a piece along a board and answering ‘higher’ or ‘lower’, then a push your luck element could be interesting. Maybe if you pushed your luck and got it wrong, you’d have to go back to where you were, or you could play it safe and stay where you are. That was interesting to me.
The next day I went into my radio show early and said to my producer: “I had this idea for a game last night. I think we can play it now.” So I draw a board with a path – a start and an end. I said: “This would usually be played with stats, but I haven’t got any data so let’s just play with a pack of cards.” So we played it like that, and within a minute I was like ‘Forget the stats, it doesn’t need it!’ It just overcomplicated it. Doing it with 13 numbers was perfect.
And how did you go from playing cards to a beaver theme?
For a while I thought about doing it theme-free, like an old-school classic game like Ludo. But there needed to be a logic to it and beavers and dams just made sense. The beaver moves along a river and builds a dam when it wants to stop. That made perfect sense – and there’s something inherently amusing about a beaver! And 13 Beavers is an intriguing title and has a nod to luck – or bad luck.
It’s also one of the first games that we’ve really playtested to hell and back. I must’ve made eight versions of the board, but I think it’s perfect. I’m really excited for people to play it. If you’re coming to London Toy Fair, for the love of God swing by the Asmodee stand and play 13 Beavers – it’ll be the best thing you do!
Great stuff. I have one last question for you Matt. What’s your most underrated game?
I’d say Noggin. It’s my favourite game to play. If I had to chisel something onto my gravestone, it’d be ‘INVENTOR OF NOGGIN’. You could explain all of our other games in 30 seconds or less, but Noggin requires a little bit extra. You have to do an example round – but once you’re in, you’re in.
It’s a game that represents how my brain works – I love it. When I demo it at events, I’m sad when the day is over.
Well, I’m sad this chat is over; it’s been fun! A huge thanks again Matt. Looking forward to see you next week at Toy Fair!
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