Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin

Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin

'In Focus: Women of Board Gaming' is an exclusive series from Punchboard Media that spotlights women in all facets of the board gaming industry. Our guests this week are Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin, the creators of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi. 

Hello, Juliana and Ariel! Before we talk about your game, what are some of your favorite games to play? What's been hitting your tables recently?

Werewolf is how we met and still top of our list.  In general, we love hidden identity games like Secret Hitler and Resistance. We just finished Pandemic Legacy and loved it, which has led to getting into other cooperative games like Mice & Mystics and Forbidden Desert.

What made you decide to create an escape room in a box? Had you done a lot of real life escape rooms before designing your game?

We were, and are, Escape Room addicts. Los Angeles has some of the best escape rooms in the country and new ones are opening every day so we never run out of rooms to play. At this point, we've played almost 100 of them.  We decided to create the at home version because we are also, ironically, homebodies and thought it'd be fun to host an Escape Room night at one of our regular game nights at Juliana's house. When we looked to buy a tabletop version to play there weren't any, so we decided to make one ourselves.

Since you designed the game together, what was your co-design process like? No spoilers, please, as I haven't gotten to play my copy just yet!

A lot of playdates and even more texting. Our very first "meeting" was Ariel with a notepad while Juliana pushed both kids on the swings and we talked through our favorite types of puzzles. Now we get together a few times a week and release the kids to their own devices. When we aren't together we text every five minutes or so.

The first edition Kickstarter version of Escape Room in a Box. 

The first edition Kickstarter version of Escape Room in a Box. 

This was your first Kickstarter project. As a backer, I want to say that I appreciate the clear communication to your backers, despite some production challenges and delays. What did you learn from the process? Any advice for other potential future Kickstarter creators?

Thank you! We truly appreciate our backers and wanted you all to be as much a part of the process as possible, since none of this would have happened without you. We have learned much more than anyone wants to read, but I think the big take-aways were: 

1. Do your research. Jamey Stegmaier and James Mathe both have really excellent blogs on how to run a successful kickstarter, and if you follow their advice chances are you'll do better. Look at successful KS campaigns that are similar to what you want to do and emulate them.  Reach out to everyone who covered them to see if they will cover you.  If you have questions, reach out to the creators and ask them. The KS community is pretty awesome and generally wants to help each other.

2. Use common sense. No matter how great your product is, give it the best odds of success: Start your campaign on a morning mid-week when people are bored at their computers and you have the highest chance of reaching your goal quickly (which ups your profile). Set as low of a goal as you possibly can.  People are more willing to donate to something that is already successful. Don't launch during a holiday or vacation season. Reach out for reviews a month or so ahead and ask them to post on launch day. Ask everyone you know to donate $1 on day one since the more backers you get, the more attention you'll get.

3. Be gracious. Anyone writing you cares enough to do so, even if what they are saying isn't nice. Respond to every comment and message in a thoughtful and polite way.  And always keep your backers informed.  Your project is becoming a reality because they believe in you, so make sure they feel a part of the process.  We definitely had updates that delivered news we did not want to deliver, but we were blown away by how wonderfully supportive our backers were.  

Of course, since you've created an escape room game, I have to ask -- have you played any other escape room games, such as EXIT: The Game or Unlock? If so, what did you think of them?

We've played a lot of them, and own all of them own. We love playing puzzle games and, for obvious reasons, we can't play our own, so we're pretty pleased about all the other games out there.  Plus, the more people are aware of escape room games and enjoying what's out there, the more likely they are to look for the next escape room game like ours to get their fix.  

When you created Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment, none of those competitors existed. Was it hard watching them beat you to market?

We would say we were the first to market, but they beat us to the shelves. We really wish we could've manufactured more quickly, but because of all the physical components our game has, it just wasn't possible. But precisely because our game is physical in a way that the other games aren't (they're mostly paper based) we always knew that once we got in people's living rooms it would be an entirely unique experience from everything else out there.  

I love how you really embraced the Mad Scientist/Werewolf theme with the spooky music and party planning ideas on your website. How did you settle on the theme?  

We met at one of Juliana's infamous werewolf nights, so we always knew the game would have a werewolf as a callback to that. The mad scientist part came out of a discussion of what actually makes sense when you are doing a room escape in your living room. You know you aren't locked in. You know you could leave at any time. So, how could we impart a real sense of urgency? And how to combine that with werewolves? We settled on mad scientist because she could be sending out these unauthorized experiments to turn the populace into werewolves, plus the science theme is a natural for puzzle design.

I see the game is listed as 2-8 players. What do you think the ideal play count is? 

Four to six. We love the idea of people playing as a party game and in the four to six range each player gets to do a good number of puzzles. 

I know a lot of solo gamers like to play escape room board games. Is your game really not able to be played solo?

You could play solo, but there is a variety of puzzles for different types of brains, so it would definitely be challenging.  Plus our game has some fantastic surprises and hilarious moments that are best shared with other players.  

The retail version of Escape Room in a Box from Mattel. 

The retail version of Escape Room in a Box from Mattel. 

Congratulations on recently having Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment picked up by Mattel.  How did that come about? How has it been working with them?

It was a combination of things. Ariel's husband is friends with a wonderful woman who is our mentor and used to work at Mattel. Also, one of the game designers at Mattel was a backer and is an escape room enthusiast, so the two things together got us in the door for a play test. They are the coolest to work with! I know, you think we have to say that, but we talked to a bunch of different companies and had multiple offers. Mattel was really the stand-out. They immediately "got" what we were trying to do because they are incredibly creative, smart and passionate gamers themselves. They have also been extremely respectful of our project, bringing us in to see every sample and getting our opinions on changes. We truly could not have found better partners.

Are you planning on making more escape room in a box games in the future? Or designing other kinds of board games?

We are working on our next escape room tabletop game and, without giving anything away, it is going to be amazing.  We've also been hired to design a variety of "non-boxed" escape room events, everything from fundraising galas to weddings.  

Thanks so much for chatting with me. Is there anything else you'd like everyone to know about you before we wrap up? Any other hobbies, passions, or interests?

Well, this is going to sound cheesy, but believe in yourself! When we started this project we were two stay-at-home-moms, which is a full time job that is so culturally defined and judged that it makes it hard to pursue anything else. But, we also loved puzzles and games, that was also a part of who we were. And, yeah, we'd never created a game before, but we'd played a ton and this grew out of complete passion and so we somehow found time that hadn't seemed to exist previously and we are grateful for it everyday. 

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