Dan & Connie Kazmaeir

The husband and wife design duo talk about the lessons they learned after returning to Kickstarter this year and raising more than $200,000 for their game's first expansion, Chai: High Tea.

For those unfamiliar with your work, tell us a little about the two of you. 

We’re Dan and Connie Kazmaier from Calgary, Canada. We’ve been married 5 years but have been gaming quite a bit longer! We both came from families that loved trick-taking card games, and during university discovered Settlers of Catan with Ticket to Ride. It wasn’t until playing Puerto RIco that we became aware of the wide range of games available, with every type of mechanic and theme imaginable. Connie is now an elementary teacher after working with special needs children, and Dan spent five years in humanitarian aid before taking the jump into board games full-time. We’re both tea lovers too, to be sure!

Photo Credit: Travis Wilkins

How did your company, Steeped Games, get started?

We were originally working on a submarine game, and it wasn’t until Dan was driving home from a board game design conference that the idea of a tea game started to percolate. It seemed a perfect theme, and we quickly made a free print and play prototype that we released while hiring a friend (Mary Haasdyk) to work on the box art. She did an incredible job, and we soon had hundreds of new online friends trying Chai, and giving us valuable feedback to make it even better. It took roughly 9 months from idea to Kickstarter, which is quicker than most games take, but we were very focused and have had a tea-riffic community supporting us along the way.

Why did you decide to use Kickstarter for your first game? Leading up to launch day, what was your game plan for the campaign and what were you hoping for?

A few publishers were interested in Chai before we decided on self-publishing it, but to be honest we really wanted to personally see it come to life as we had invested so much time and energy into the design and community behind it. We’re both wedding photographers and have a graphic design and marketing background as well, so we thought we’d give it a chai (hah)!

The vast majority of board games are funded on Kickstarter, and having backed dozens ourselves before launching our own project, we were familiar with the platform and expectations. There was a rush of adrenaline in the last 48-hours before the campaign as Dan was coming home from PAX Unplugged and we still had to finalize the project page. Thankfully all the pictures and video content came together last minute, and we were in awe of how well it was received on launch day.

Your first campaign for Chai hit it's funding goal on Day 1 and raised over 500% of its funding goal by the time it finished. What was working on that campaign like and what surprised you the most?

The success definitely surprised us and we were fortunate to have prepared enough content and stretch goals to keep the momentum flowing throughout the campaign. Our community also had some incredible ideas that we gladly included in the game. We learned afterwards from other publishers that it’s best to never crowdsource stretch goals, but because our community are largely tea drinkers themselves, we feel they’re suitably qualified to help! In fact, because we visited many board game conventions in advance of the campaign, the Facebook community grew to over a thousand members before the campaign, and over five-thousand followed us on Instagram.

The most surprising part was the number of backers in our community, but probably more so was the energy they brought. Roughly 27% of them were new to Kickstarter (including us), which was very exciting as the average is typically below 10%. We had no idea there’d be such a cross-over between games and tea, which meant we had created something that resonated in a meaningful way.

What are the biggest lessons you learned from your first campaign for Chai, and in what ways did you approach your second campaign for Chai: High Tea differently?

Even though we felt prepared for both campaigns, each day during the Kickstarters presented new challenges that we had to tackle on the fly. Making sure we had a media package and link of pictures for reviewers and news outlets was something we later created, which helped create a social media buzz. But most importantly, we discovered that keeping our energy and implementing self-care was vital for success and making sure we could make it across the finish line. Preparing food weeks in advance definitely helped for the second campaign, as time is ultimately the biggest asset when running a Kickstarter. We’re excited to be running a future Chai: Tea for 2 campaign, and other games in 2021.

What do you think are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of Kickstarter as a platform for crowdfunding games?

That’s a fascinating question. We’ve both used Kickstarter and Indigogo crowdfunding platforms as consumers, and are glad the board game community has gravitated towards Kickstarter. Apparently almost half of the annual pledges come from board gamers, so we’re here to stay. It’s a tremendous tool for smaller publishers such as ourselves, and honestly the only way to really raise the needed funds to pay for a print run. Without this ability, we wouldn’t have been able to get the word out about our game, the expansion, or future games that we’re creating. Kickstarter is pretty reliable with server up-times, and we appreciate how they make their page very mobile friendly. We hear they’re working on different features such as the ability for backers to add accessories to their pledge level, which would be extremely helpful, as we use a pledge manager post-campaign.

What game designers have inspired each of you the most? 

Phil-Walker Harding has been an inspiration for both of us. Dan really appreciates Bärenpark’s polynomial simplicity, and Connie’s favourite game is Imhotep with the boats offering many strategic options. For us, we gravitate towards family games that still have a lot of depth. The best ones are still great at two-players, such as Great Western Trail or Terraforming Mars. We really enjoy the Kosmos series as well, which are perfect with dessert or while camping.

What are some of your favorite games that you're playing right now?

We still play Targi quite regularly, and are excited the expansion is now available in English! Deadly Doodles and Cartographers were recent surprises, so we’re getting into more “roll (or flip) and writes” these days. On Kickstarter we’ve recently backed the new Rurik expansion, and can’t wait to receive the new Steampunk Rally from Roxley, which is a dear local publisher that has helped us every step of the way.

Do you have any upcoming projects you're working on that you'd like share with us?

We’re very much excited to release box art for a game on Canadian animals before the Christmas season! We’ve been working on it for over a year with Andrew Bosley, who also helped us on Chai: Tea for 2. This is a two-player game still in the Chai universe, but focuses on tea production before it makes its way across the seas. We’ll be launching this on Kickstarter in the next few months, as Chai: High Tea is fulfilled worldwide. There’s three other games in the works that we’re steeped to share about, when the time is right. But we’re also pleased to announce that we signed the digital rights of Chai to Digidiced just this week, meaning it’ll be available on Android, iOS, PC, and Nintendo Switch sometime in 2021!

My biggest thanks to Dan & Connie Kazmaier for agreeing to take part in this interview.

If you want to learn more about Steeped Games, click here.