Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Omari Akil
'In Focus: Perspectives in Board Gaming' is an exclusive series from Punchboard Media that spotlights diverse perspectives across the board gaming industry. Our guest this week is Omari Akil, the designer of Rap Godz and co-founder of Board Game Brothas. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Before we talk about Rap Godz and Board Game Brothas, tell us what kind of tabletop games you like to play, Omari. Do you have any favorite themes? Any favorite designers? Have you played any interesting games recently?
I'm really into 4X games actually. Those are usually Sci-Fi/Space themes and I really have fun with those. It's really hard to pick any favorite designers. Now that I've been on the scene now for almost two years I know so many designers who have made some incredible games. But I have to admit that its pretty cool to have Daniel Solis in North Carolina with me so I get a little more visibility into his process. I've played a lot of super interesting prototypes recently and I don't wanna say too much about them... but I can say I got to be a mischievous monkey and a semi-shady art dealing family during in the renaissance in the same weekend!
What’s your favorite 4X game?
At what point did you decide to design games instead of just playing them? How did you go about it?
Designing a game was mostly my brother's idea. He REALLY wanted to make a Hip Hop game and when he found out I was really into board games, it just made sense. We're both creators and we've always been. A part of me was trying to figure out why I hadn't started designing games sooner.
Your brother is the co-designer and artist for Rap Godz. What is your collaboration process like?
It's actually been great. Since he's in New Orleans and I'm in Durham, it's a nice way for us to be in touch constantly. Our sister is a little bit jealous, I'm trying to bring her into the mix too! We do a lot of long calls and I try to go down to New Orleans every couple months so we can get some of the more serious work done. We're just constantly throwing ideas out there and trying stuff to see what works in terms of design. I take the lead on that, but he brings a perspective to it that I am usually not considering. When It comes to the art, I basically let him run the show. He's brilliant and I just basically do quality control and make sure things are consistent and fit in functionally where we need it.
Tell us a bit about how Rap Godz plays.
We really tried to create a game that would tell a story each time you played it. It starts with each player choosing a Rapper and a City to represent. Each turn you get to play event cards that are things that happen in your career and life. All the cards you play can increase your Rap Skillz, Money, or Street Cred and get you Plaques (the victory points in Rap Godz). The players all have 3 Albums to prove themselves and try to out perform everyone else, battling for each other cities, trying to achieve their personal goals, and racing to grab a few randomized objectives. My favorite part is at the end, whoever wins can read out their entire career and it's usually a pretty fun story.
Was Rap Godz designed with the theme in mind first, or did you create the mechanics of the game first?
Definitely the theme came first. That seems to be our approach for most of our games we've worked on so far.
You and your brother formed Board Game Brothas, and published Rap Godz on Kickstarter through your company. Did you try to pitch it to other publishers first, or was your intention always to self publish? How has that decision impacted how Rap Godz was developed?
Initially we wanted to go through publishers. Before we got an opportunity to pitch to anyone we changed our mind. We decided this wouldn't be our only game and felt like self publishing would be better for us to learn the entire process from start to finish. We both learn better through first hand experience, haha.
The Kickstarter for Rap Gods finished with over $26K in funding. Was it nerve wracking watching the campaign progress? What did you learn from running your first campaign? Would you do anything different in future campaigns?
It was absolutely nerve wracking, but we felt pretty confident the entire time. We had some very passionate followers who we knew would help us get there, especially if it was really close. YES, we learned a lot!!! Mostly we had a very ambitious game to be our first. It was a lot more difficult because of that. We probably could have given ourselves another few months to gather emails and build up our social media, but that would mean another few months before we got to make another game. We're really happy with how things have gone and now that we have one completed successfully it has helped us plan better for the next one.
Where can people order Rap Godz now that the Kickstarter is over? When is it expected to be delivered?
Pre-Orders are currently closed, but we will have copies available again closer to delivery. Right now we're still on target to deliver at the end of August.
What's the plan for Board Game Brothas going forward? Are you working on any others designs right now?
Our next game is almost done! It's called Graffiti Knights. After making Rap Godz, which is a bit of a complex game, we wanted to make a game that was quick and easy to jump into. We have a 3 on 3 basketball game that were working on but it needs a LOT of work. Sports simulation games feel so difficult for a few reasons that I've talked about with other designers, but I'm sure we will figure it out.
Tell us more about Graffiti Knights. How does it play? When do you think you will be putting it on Kickstarter?
It's a 20 minute, 2-5 player card game where you each control a crew of street artists and you're all trying to tag the most locations. There's a Day and a Night phase of the game. During the Day everyone secretly plays action cards on the locations that can have an effect on the Night. It's basically a multi-dimensional rock-paper-scissors game. During the Night, each player has to send out a group of Graffiti Knights to try to tag it. Whoever has the most Knights at a location will get it an earn sweet sweet Map Points in the process. We added a couple more things to make it more interesting, like Police, and special one-time-use crew skills. We're really excited about how it's playing now and we're looking forward to getting it out there. If everything goes well with our Rap Godz delivery, we will hopefully be able to get Graffiti Knights onto Kickstarter in October.
Before we go, is there anything else you'd like to tell us about yourself? Any other passions, interests or hobbies?
I've been talking to folks about producing a Twitch/YouTube channel that features a really diverse group playing and talking about board games. I've started organizing that already, so anyone who follows me online will start getting some info about that soon...