It’s Hugo & Samson again, back with Part Two of our interview with This Way’s Head of Communications, Anton Kawasaki. Be sure to read Part One first here.
THIS WAY: When you write updates for This Way! or when you answer comments or reply on Instagram, we can really feel your passion for board games. Where does this passion come from? Did you also grow up in a family with a passion for games or is it more from your friends or elsewhere?
ANTON: There was only a little bit of boardgame playing in my family, but it wasn’t much of a big thing overall. Not like your family.
I absolutely loathed MONOPOLY and most classic games growing up. (Even back then, I thought: “Man, these games could be so much better.”) My older brother and sister and I once had a short period where we played Backgammon a lot. But a little too much — where we discovered the optimal move for every dice throw — so it became boring fast. My older brother played some DUNGEONS & DRAGONS roleplaying games with his friends which looked really appealing to me on a storytelling level, but I was never really able to get my own group going much.
And then there was Chess… and my father. I absolutely loved the pure strategy of chess, and I would occasionally play with friends. They didn’t like playing with me as I would win most of the time. But then whenever my dad would play a game with me, I was the one to always be losing. Even when he severely handicapped himself with much fewer pawns, he would always win. It didn’t matter how many pawns he’d remove — he was absolutely unstoppable. I’ve never ever been one of those people who needed to win games to enjoy them, but even as a kid I thought my dad should let me win at least once to make it fun for me. I still have PTSD when I see a chess board. 🤣
(It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned that my dad had a brief period of his life where he regularly played — for money — in the famous chess table areas of Washington Square Park in NYC).
I think I always loved the idea of boardgames, but they (at least the ones I played) always somehow disappointed me in some way too — so I didn’t think about them that much growing up (I was too obsessed with comics, films, and other forms of entertainment).
But wow, have things changed in the last decade for me…. 🙈
My passion for boardgames comes from the sheer amount of wonderful games out there that have really made an impact on me in the last 14 years or so, and the wonderful gamer friends I have made.
THIS WAY: Do you remember your first modern board game?
ANTON: Yes, though my game addiction actually started much earlier with card games. I became obsessed with MAGIC: THE GATHERING, to the point I was saving up all my money to waste on full boxes of booster cards with each new release. I later collected the STAR TREK CCG, which I thought was pretty cool. (When the Star Wars version came out later with a similar system, I was already too deep into Star Trek to switch to another “money pit,” even though that IP appealed to me more…).
As for boardgames, it wasn’t any of the “usual suspects,” like CATAN or CARCASSONNE (I didn’t actually play those games until MUCH later). I had a few party games, but again… they didn’t quite deliver the experiences I was looking for.
I think it may have been BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE BOARD GAME that finally won me over to modern board games. My husband and I were such huuuuuuuge fans of the reimagined TV show (from the late aughts), that when we saw there was a boardgame of it, we absolutely HAD to have it! I was imagining something really terrible or cheesy (as most games based on popular IPs tend to be), but to our surprise the game ended up being quite amazing. (The semi-cooperative with a “betrayer” mechanic — which is so thematic to the show — has become one of my favorite mechanics in games).
Unfortunately it proved difficult finding friends who were willing to learn the more complicated rules of it, or spend 3+ hours playing it. And so when we moved to Spain, thinking there would be even fewer chances there, we ended up (stupidly) giving it away. (I didn’t realize it would become out of print, and nearly impossible to get later). But then we found a TON of board gaming friends in Barcelona — way more than we ever had in NYC — and I suddenly deeply regretted giving away my games. Luckily I managed to snag another copy of BSG for a decent price a few years ago, once I realized we’d be in Spain for a while and my collection started to really grow BIG…
THIS WAY: Speaking of games, I have a little list of questions for a game enthusiast like you. What is the game where you say:
“Ahhhh, that was a good game though…” — in a dreamy tone. (For a game you’re nostalgic about).
ANTON: Like I mentioned, a lot of the earlier games tended to disappoint, even the more modern ones. But in terms of “classics,” I always enjoyed MASTERMIND. And for a more modern game, I guess I always had fun with TICKET TO RIDE. It’s not the “perfect” game by any means, and lacks a lot — but the train theme always really appealed to me (although I never personally owned it). If there was ever a TICKET TO RIDE LEGACY game, though, I would be first in line to buy it…
THIS WAY: “Is it your first time playing? It doesn’t matter, you’ll see, it’s very simple.”
ANTON: There are a few games I pull out for “first-time” gamers. It all depends on the people, and what I think their tastes, patience level or strategy level would be.
For the people I feel need the absolute simplest game possible (but one that I still enjoy), it’s usually TSURO. It’s such a beautiful and elegantly-designed game, with the most simple ruleset. There are so many times we’ve played it with newbies who then end up buying it as their very first boardgame.
If someone asks if I have UNO, I will tell them absolutely not — “I have something better, and it’s called L.L.A.M.A.” [Designer Reiner] Knizia is great at making better versions of more mainstream games.
For the more creative types, I will bring out CANVAS — which always manages to impress newbies. (My only gripe is that people tend to focus on the puzzle too much, and ignore the theme. So we have a houserule: Every player starts with one of the gray 2-point ribbons. At the end of the game, all players present their favorite of the 3 paintings they created, explaining their artistic intentions. Then each player needs to award a gray ribbon to another player whose painting they liked the best. This makes players pay a little more attention to the artistic side of the creation, and not just the puzzle).
If I think someone can understand a few more rules, I break out PORTO — a simple but lovely game about building the colorful buildings of the Portuguese city.
THIS WAY: “Let’s play one more game!” — at the end of the third game.
ANTON: This is almost always a social deduction game. It could be THE RESISTANCE, or SECRET HITLER, or something else (my latest favorites: FEED THE KRAKEN, which is like SECRET HITLER on steroids, and VEILED FATE, which is simply genius). Most of the times that these games get played in my groups, people want a chance to play “the other side,” which is why we play many games in a row — and it helps that they can be quick.
Although with me, I’m always happiest when I’m playing the “bad guys.” I enjoy the extra challenge, and the layers of deception involved. My favorite moments are when I end up being on the “bad” team several times in a row, and I can pull off being “innocent” over and over again, even when I JUST proved in a previous game that I was lying so much! 🤣
I know some people don’t like these types of games, because they don’t like lying. I TOTALLY understand, because I absolutely can’t stomach real lying. But fake lying for a game, however? No problem! I took drama/acting classes in school, and I never get to use those skills except in games. 🤪
THIS WAY: “Let’s go for 5 hours of happiness!”
ANTON: Sadly this almost never happens with just one game for me, and not by my choice. 😔
I am more than happy with the idea of playing a super long epic game that lasts all day long. I would still love to one day try something like TWILIGHT IMPERIUM (known for its ridiculous length), but I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance. I would also LOVE to play more heavier-weight games, that can take a while to learn and play.
Unfortunately the majority of my play groups consist of players that prefer quantity and quick games over anything else. They are totally fine playing a full day’s worth of games, but they’ll want to fill that time with as many different games as possible. Which I totally understand…. but sometimes I just want to go on a journey with a single game that takes you to certain euphoric highs that a regular game will never be able to get to.
(:::sigh:::) …hopefully some day.
THIS WAY: “The game designer has really thought of everything!”
ANTON: Hmmm…. I actually don’t know how to answer this one. 😝
First, unlike movies, comics, music, and other things — where I DO always follow specific creative types involved in whatever project that they do next — board games aren’t the same for me. There are certainly many designers and artists that I like a lot, but I tend to be more attracted to specific games (that have the right mix of theme, mechanics, production). Although certain publishers are more attractive than others, surely. I will give more attention to games that IV Studios, Orange Nebula or Mindclash produce, for example — though not everything will be a “homerun” for me. Also, unlike most other entertainment that I can mostly consume by myself, when I consider boardgames, I’m also thinking of ALL of my various playgroups and the people in them, and what they ALL would enjoy.
Second, I don’t know if I’ve every actually thought “this designer has thought of everything” for any particular game, because I’m usually always thinking of things that AREN’T in a game, and what else could have been done/added. It’s just how my brain works, and it seems to be mostly evident with boardgames (though I occasionally do this with other entertainment as well — just not as much).
That will probably sound like I don’t enjoy many games and always have problems with them, and that’s absolutely NOT the case at all! There are sooooo many brilliant games that are extremely well done and close to perfect that I absolutely love.
I even have fun with a few deeply flawed games. I just can’t help thinking of “that one thing that’s missing…” all the time. 🙈
THIS WAY: And finally what is your favorite game?
ANTON: This is also very hard for me to answer as it changes on a weekly basis. I have so many games that I absolutely LOVE, but my absolute favorite is probably in my head — it doesn’t exist… yet.
But if I have to answer, I might have to say BATTLESTAR again. It’s probably mostly for nostalgic reasons, as I wouldn’t say it’s a “perfect” game by any means, and has “aged” a bit in many ways. But for me, a good game needs to be a combination of great mechanics, theme, and “fun factor” — and that one really hits all of those so well (for me, anyway).
Thinking of favorites year by year is a bit easier to answer. In 2021, for example, my favorites were:
— UNSETTLED (I’m not usually a fan of cooperative games, but I absolutely love pure sci-fi like this, and the “plug a planet and play” aspect is just soooo cool. Sadly my husband is not as much a fan, so I haven’t had a chance to explore all the planets yet),
— MIND MGMT (which was one of my favorite comics of the last decade, and so perfectly adapted as a game in a really gorgeous and impressive production)
— IN TOO DEEP (unfortunately I think a Kickstarter that didn’t do as well as planned made it fall short in some production areas, but the game is such a clever mix of unique mechanics matched to theme — I really wish I had thought of it).
— DUNE: IMPERIUM (Deck building? Worker placement? Beloved sci-fi IP? YES!)
— RADLANDS (I’m not usually into 2-player-only games, but this was just so well done)
And so far, for this year (2022), my favorites are probably FEED THE KRAKEN and VEILED FATE (satisfying my social deduction love).
Games that are relatively newish (of the last 5 years), that I absolutely adore are: OBSESSION, LOST RUINS OF ARNAK and PARKS (though all of them with their expansions only).
THIS WAY: How did you discover This Way! and what made you want to join us in this adventure?
ANTON: I’ve been a Kickstarter addict for a few years now, and so I always pay attention to the new campaigns of every week. I’ve also been studying them — the good and the bad — to see what works and what doesn’t. Because somehow I knew I would eventually get involved with one some day, either for myself or others…
When I saw the campaign for I C E, it blew me away from the get-go. From Léonard’s gorgeous art, to the uniqueness of so many levels of tiles, and the really “cool” theme… I immediately wanted to know more about this new company.
But when I looked at This Way’s creator link and saw that you guys didn’t have a website yet, I was thinking “No no no… this can’t be. They really need a website! I need to pitch my services ASAP!” Unfortunately I was super busy at that time with other projects, but I eventually wrote you guys an email about 2 weeks into the campaign, asking if you needed a website designer — but it took about another week for you guys to reply to say you might be interested. By the time we finally got on a video call to talk about the details, I think the campaign was already over — which was a pretty successful campaign, even without having a website and being 1st-timers. So because I still had a busy schedule for a while, we agreed to make sure the website was done by at least October in time for Essen.
Since my previous love of comics had waned a bit (I still love the medium very much, but was not happy with how corporate some of the comics companies had become), I wanted to perhaps work in another field that brought me immense joy: Boardgames. But I wasn’t sure how to get started.
I had already done some small work here and there for some other boardgame companies — mostly uncredited. And I completely restructured and proofread the English rulebook for Godot Games’ HUMAN PUNISHMENT: THE BEGINNING — so I thought that maybe, with my background in Editing, that being a freelance editor for non-English companies could be something for me to do.
When I found out you guys were going to be at Essen, I wanted to finally meet and propose the possibility of doing more things with This Way! — since I really loved the approach of your company, and I felt like you guys had something special with I C E. I was curious what else you had planned. When we finally met and went to dinner to talk, I was only planning to pitch you proofreading work. But then I realized I had experience with conventions, and writing, and playtesting my friend’s games, and… well I felt I could offer so much more. And then you guys said you really needed a Community Manager, and that was something I had also done as well. So I said yes — I can do ALL of that!
I was really worried at first you guys might think “who is this guy — wanting to do so much??” But you both have always been so open and willing to hear my thoughts and ideas. I had a really good feeling about you two, and it’s been such a great experience. 😊
THIS WAY: So besides community manager, you’re our website person, regular playtester, proofreader, and help with conventions, writing, and soon our next campaign. As “Head of Communications,” what would you say are the three golden rules of communication for you?
ANTON: Good question! I have many golden rules, but I suppose my top three are:
1). Respond to every single question, no matter what it is, and in a timely manner. I’ve been on “the other side,” and there’s nothing more frustrating than needing to know something important and getting complete radio silence from creators.
I personally try and answer backers ASAP — and it’s often within 5-10 minutes, if not instantly. If I don’t, it just means I’m sleeping/eating/watching a movie or traveling. Because I’ve had a “freelancer” mindset for so long now, there are no specific “hours of work” for me, and so if I can answer someone’s question at 3am (yes — I’m often up that late), then I will, with no problem. I’d rather do it the moment I see it, then wait for the next day.
I don’t advocate that every community person does this, of course. (You guys probably have the much-healthier attitude towards work time than the average American. And that’s honestly how MOST work should be — the French have it right!). But I prefer responding right away, and you can tell that backers appreciate it. For other “normal” community managers, I don’t think a question should ever go longer than 24 hours without being answered. (Unless it’s the weekend and you have a clear “no questions answered on weekends” policy).
When I see some campaigns where companies are completely silent for literal weeks (or sometimes months), and they have no excuse (like a family emergency), it drives me crazy! I find it so unprofessional.
2). Be as honest as possible, even if the answer might not be what people want. There is NOTHING gained by being dishonest, and it can often make things worse in the long run. Backers can sense bulls**t, and they’ll (rightfully) turn on you.
They appreciate and respond well to full transparency. I know it’s scary to have to tell your backers that a project is running late (which we’ve had to do), but they need to be informed at all times — and if you’re honest and forthright about the reasons why, especially if they are beyond your control, then they’ll understand. It’s only fair to loop them in whenever possible. They are locking away a chunk of their money (often a LOT when it comes to KS games) for a project that (as Kickstarter states on every campaign now) isn’t 100% guaranteed to deliver. They are putting a ton of faith into the creators and games they back, so it’s only fitting that those companies be as open as possible with where the project is currently at.
3). Have fun and treat others the way you’d want to be treated! I’ve seen some other companies actually be hostile to their backers, and I’m like “what the hell are you doing?!?!?”
Sure — I’ve seen the complaints that backers can be “too demanding” these days, but I think that’s a bit unfair. Not everyone approaches every campaign from the same place. Some might be boardgame addicts like me, but for others they might be backing their first-ever Kickstarter. Not everyone knows how it works, or that games can take 1-2 years to actually deliver. Not everyone is privy to the difficulty of game production, or the crazy state of shipping these days.
Sometimes people have genuine questions, and just because they might sound angry when they ask them, doesn’t mean they deserve any kind of negativity back. It doesn’t matter if a question has already been asked and answered a dozen times already — not everyone has the time to go through all the comments. And not everyone is having the best day. If I ever get a comment that seems like someone throwing fireballs our way (which thankfully I don’t get much of, as the I C E community has been so amazing and supportive!!), my reaction is never to throw fire back. It’s to make sure that the person is heard, understood, answered, and treated as well as possible.
As any Manadalorian will tell you….
THIS WAY: Do you have a funny story about the backstage of I C E/This Way?
ANTON: The only funny thing I can think of is that we talked sooooo much about taking team photos when the four of us (you two, Léonard and myself) were FINALLY all together at the Cannes Festival de Jeux this last February. We planned it in advance, we talked about it while we were there, we said we would definitely do it on the last day, and then…
…the photos never happened. 😂
Now we’ll be missing Léonard at Essen this October, so the next chance for that full team photo is… maybe Cannes again, next February? We’re disasters!!! 🙈
THIS WAY: After having done so many different jobs (and always with brio!) I can imagine you soon being a great chef or a guitarist in a famous band. Jokes aside, what are your ambitions for the future?
ANTON: Hah! Well as my husband can tell you… I don’t enjoy cooking at all, so a “Great Chef” is probably out of the question. (But I do enjoy eating, so maybe “Food Critic” could be an option… 🤔)
Also if I would be in a band, I would want to be the drummer. 🤪
But seriously… my passion has been boardgames for so long, that all I can think of is them right now. I have one very good friend who’s already designed 11 published boardgames, and I know a few other designers/publishers — so naturally I’m curious about designing my own game some day (and yes, I have many ideas!). But thinking about them all the time and actually creating them is a different story. I’ve wanted to write comics and film scripts in the past and somehow would never get past a certain point in the creative process. Will that be different with boardgames? I’m hoping!! But we’ll see.
At least I know a pretty good publisher of games…. 😉
That’s it for this interview, and now you know more about ALL the members of This Way! Are you interested in us possibly interviewing other members in the boardgame space? Creators, publishers, content creators? Contact Us or write to us on our social media channels and let us know!