We talk with Steeped Games’ (formally Deep Aqua Games) Dan and Connie Kazmaier about their game, Chai.
Steeped Games, a.k.a. Dan and Connie Kazmaier are joining us today. So first off thanks for joining us, and let’s talk Chai! Could you tell us a little bit about how it is played?
Steeped Games: Thanks for inviting us, Ryan! We’ve both had a great time designing Chai together. It’s a set-collection game where you’ll be collecting different tea ingredients to fulfill customer orders. As each player is a tea merchant, it’s their job to figure out when and what to buy, and if they should fulfill their own tea recipes, or pay a bit more to complete ones from other merchants. On a turn, a player can visit the tea market, where they’ll find berries, mint, ginger, lemon, lavender and jasmine, head to their own pantry for milk, vanilla, chai spices, honey, and sugar, or simply reserve a customer and take the action on a special ability card. You can fulfill one order per turn, which lets you plop (or *clank*? :D) the resources in a teacup before receiving a customer tip.
What is the story behind the creation of Chai and what drew you to a tea theme?
Steeped Games: Oh, good question! We’re designing some other games at the moment as well, including a mid-weight euro with a submarine theme. After Dan went to a weekend game design workshop, he realized on the way home that it’d be best to table that one for the time being and focus on an accessible family game at first. We both love tea and didn’t notice many out there, so we felt it’d be a great theme to pursue!
Why the name Chai over say other teas or tea terms?
Steeped Games: We thought a lot about names that sound appealing, and ultimately landed on “Chai” as its translation is “tea” in many languages, or has a very close etymology. It’s hilarious when we say, “I’ll have a chai tea,” in N. America as we’re really asking for a “tea tea”. “Chai” sounds memorable too, and we wanted something short and one-word to describe the game. Learning more about the origins of tea, and wanting to focus on other areas of the world helped us land on the title.
Did any board games inspire you when you were creating Chai?
Steeped Games: We’re primarily gamers, so probably Splendor, Azul, Century Spice Road, and Bejewelled, if that counts? We were also inspired by elegant games like Santorini and Concordia, and how they convey different options for players in an easy way.
In the game, the market has a very interesting mechanic, one that is similar to iPhone puzzle games, where you can take all of the same ingredients that are linked together (think the phone games Toon Blast or Toy Blast). Why did you add that to the gameplay, and what inspired that?
Steeped Games: We originally had more than 6 (!) ingredients in the market apart from the pantry items, so it was important to figure out how players could interact and collect them to fulfill tea recipes. We’re glad that you enjoyed it! Yes, it’s similar to collect-3 type games, and we wanted to have an economic system that connected with fulfilling orders. At first, we gave people a set amount of funds to begin the game but found if they made a few bad decisions they’d fall behind very quickly. In order to meet our aim of creating a family game with still some good replayability and decision-making, we allow players to collect a gold coin before beginning the market action. With gold being worth three, and there being three rows and three purchase zones in the market (plus taking three tokens in the pantry), we felt using the number “three” throughout Chai helped make the experience more cohesive. It pays homage to some of the other games you mentioned too.
Why did you decide to cut it down to just 6 flavors?
Steeped Games: Great question! As you know, there are so many available flavour profiles – anything is really possible in the world of tea. We had at least 4 more beyond the 6 we landed on, but it mostly came down to colour-blind issues. Although there are unique icons telling everything apart, we felt it would be too problematic having a shade of green for bergamot, for example, when there’s already a bright mint in the game. A lot of Euros that we’ve played don’t go beyond 6 different resources as well, and entry-level gamers are usually familiar with Settlers which has 5. When mixed with the pantry’s 5 different resources, we felt that we covered the most well-known combinations to cover everyone’s favourite brew.
Many people play games 2-player, and it can be important for them. How is the 2-player game different from the 3-5 player game?
Steeped Games: Since we play most of our games at a 2-player count, we wanted to make sure that we could still play the full experience but in a reduced playtime. We were really pleased that our goal of 10 mins. per player was met as we’re able to play together in 20 mins. or under an hour at the full 5-player count. At two, things are a bit more tactical as you’re more incentivized to reserve other customers your opponent is playing for. But because we’re able to manipulate things through action cards, it never really feels like a “take that” sort of game. And it can typically be a waste of time to take a card someone else is working on at a higher player count, so players typically reserve cards they themselves are aiming towards. Probably the most important things to be aware of at 2-player is the possibility of your tea tokens running out. At a higher player count, there’s more opportunity to change your strategy to focus on fulfilling a different coloured card, so there’s a slight edge of difficulty in making sure you complete the big card you’ve been working on. Also, the ability cards add a lot of replayability at all player counts, but especially at 2-player, as you’ll have more of a choice of which ability card to replace at the start of each new round.
Something I find interesting is that there is not only a solo mode where you will play against an AI type character, but you also made this mode co-op for those that may want to change it up a little. Why did you decide to add co-op mode?
Steeped Games: Because we’re gearing Chai towards families, we thought it might be neat to include a small co-op mode for people to play. It’s an extension of the solo variant, but lets you play against a chaiwala together with another player or two. The more players you add to the challenge eases the difficulty, so we thought it’d be fun to include this. We had a few solo game reviewers offer feedback, which was helpful to us as well.
In Chai, you have black for black tea, green or the green tea player, etc. Why blue for oolong?
Steeped Games: Great question! It was tricky to pick different tea types that people would know. Most of them are major teas (green, white, black), but oolong is a bit rarer for people to recognize at tea shops. Surprisingly, even though they appear green they’re marketed in blue packaging! We were going to include purer or darker, fermented teas too, but for a predominantly Western audience, they’re not as popular. As such, we included rooibos, which is actually a herbal tea but stands out a bit more as red in the game.
Let’s talk tea for a second. If you could make your own blend, what would go into it – and what would you name it?
Steeped Games: Hah, love it. Hmmm, we’re starting to enjoy more purer teas (just a nice oolong or green), but we’ve really been enjoying a local ice cream with lavender and honey which is similar in taste to one we had on our honeymoon (no pun intended!) in Victoria, BC. Lavender and honey are in Chai too, so let’s go for a black tea blend with those and call it “Honeymoon.”
What was your favorite thing you actually learned about tea, while researching and making the game?
Steeped Games: One of the most enjoyable things about designing Chai has been learning about tea from our incredible communi-tea! We’ve had tea lovers and sommeliers alike, giving us great feedback throughout the process. We’ve made many new friends, and with such a diverse group everything has been so helpful. Just the other week one member uploaded a personal video on how he makes matcha tea! Because of this, we’ve discovered genmaicha too (a matcha blend with rice), so we’ll be including both of these in our two-player game, Chai: Tea for Two.
Many designers choose to shop around their designs, why was the decision made to instead make your own company and Kickstart Chai, yourselves?
Steeped Games: Dan was working in humanitarian aid for five years, tinkering with some board game designs on the side. When he transitioned away from it early last year he had a bit more time to devote to games, so we thought, “Why not? Let’s give Kickstarter a go sometime in 2018.” We learned it could take years promoting it to other publishers, and felt we had the right skillset in graphic design and marketing to take the dive. We love learning new things too, so picking up a 3D printer (and a laser-cutter now too!) really helped with prototyping and self-making the 30+ demo copies.
The Kickstarter went tea-riffic for Steeped Games if sales keep up post-Kickstarter, will we see an expansion? Have you given any thought to what you like to do? Maybe add new things to the pantry like ice and make some ice tea customers or maybe even an extra module, similar to the market and pantry, like pastries?
Steeped Games: Our community has truly been wonderful in pushing us towards thinking about what’s next in the world of Chai. We’ve already mentioned Chai: Tea for 2 which roughly has the same complexity as 7 Wonders Duel, but will focus on dice placement and producing base teas. Perhaps it’s the precursor to Chai, as the merchants are selling crafted blends. And great idea for pastry items and ice! We’re working on a Bubble Tea expansion for the base game which will incorporate some sweet and icy goodness. It’s uncertain if we can add another player because they’d likely need another teacup (5 is already pretty good), so we’re working on building another module to add to the tea market and pantry. We’re totally open to new and different ideas in bringing this to life, which is what our community has helped with along the journey. Our artist is already working on the box art for the duel and base expansion too, so here’s hoping for a Kickstarter later this year!
If you had to describe Chai with three adjectives, what words would you choose?
Steeped Games: Immersive. Communi-tea driven. Family-friendly!
About that ‘Communi-tea.’ Chai has a rather large and loyal and creative community it has built. What are some of the things that stand out to you about the Chai community?
Steeped Games: The Chai community has been an incredible encouragement and source of positive comments that keep driving us forward. It’s easy to get bogged down in a playtest iteration or manufacturing, so the group has kept us focused. They remind us that it’s all about making a game experience to be enjoyed by friends from all over the world! One lady even sent us a 2019 board game calendar and some Christmas ornaments because she felt like she wanted to give back to the community. As cliche as it sounds, it’s moments like those that make us feel loved and want to keep the group a welcoming place for all.
You two are very outdoorsy people it seems. I know you have all these drink games your working on, but do you think we will ever see a hiking or camping game from Steeped Games?
Steeped Games: That’s really perceptive! Truth be told, we’d love to make a mountain game (perhaps a roll and write), or a Canadian-themed game. There’s a lot of outdoor beauty in our colourful country and wonderful trees and critters that we want to share stories about. Perhaps we’ll have to make a prototype or two on some ideas we’ve been chatting about!
I am not sure how perceptive that is, I mean you’re literally on a card together in Chai, camping outside. Hahahaha. Well, I suppose it’s time that we wrap this up. Is there anything else you would like to say or add to what we’ve talked about today?
Steeped Games: Thank you for your kindness and friendship! We’re truly honoured getting to know you, and appreciate that you reached out to us well before the Kickstarter. It’d be a pleasure meeting you in person, just like others in the communi-tea especially as we visit new cities in the years to come. If you’re reading this, please say hi to us via social media (Editor’s note: Facebook / Twitter) or at a board game convention, and stay tuned for our next Chai Kickstarter later this year!
Thanks again for taking the time out to do this interview! If readers would like to hear The Inquisitive Meeple review on the Chai, you can find our podcast review for it by clicking here.