*Pictured above: Board and Tale team
A Hamilton resident for the past five years, Jacob Chodoriwsky, 32, co-founded Board and Tale Games in March 2015 with partners David Gundrum and Kenneth Pham. His flagship game, Stratos, is in stores across Canada and the US. Stratos is the culmination of a decade of work between Jacob, David, and the Board and Tale team. The idea manifested while Jacob was completing his math degree at Laurentian University in Sudbury and continued to develop throughout his Master’s degree at the University of Ottawa. Jacob lives in Hamilton’s Kirkendall neighbourhood with his partner Rebecca and two boys. He works on Board and Tale games full-time. We chatted with Jacob about creating his board game and the best places for game nights in the city.
What is your earliest board game memory?
Probably playing Monopoly with my younger sister Sonya and older brother Adrian. There are quite a few years between us so I have to credit my brother for figuring out how to make it work, although maybe we were just mesmerized by the cool metal tokens to move around. But often when the game would stagnate, he’d find inventive ways to get people having fun again. I’ve always looked up to him for how well he genuinely connects with people.
What’s the concept behind your first game, Stratos?
It’s a mix of Euro game and RPG [role playing games] for 2-5 players – think Catan meets Dungeons and Dragons or Final Fantasy. There are pretty tiles to place and resources to collect, but it also has a battle system with enough complexity to keep things interesting, yet simple enough to pick up quickly.
David and I have always loved how Euro games keep things interesting right until the end. Since there are often multiple ways to earn points, you don’t truly know who is going to win until the game is actually over.
But our background and heart is actually with classic video game RPGs, especially tactical ones like Final Fantasy Tactics and my personal favourite game ever, Shining Force. We have a big list of influences, but I’ve always felt that the depth of such games could be brought to the table top in a way that includes variety and sense of adventure, but without being overly long and complex. I feel like we have succeeded in our goal, and am excited to make it even better.
What was that process like, designing, manufacturing, and distributing your first board game?
In a word: big. We had the definite advantage of years worth of playtesting earlier versions and refining the game every step along the way. It was nice to really take our time with that part and enjoy those special moments and the people we met along the way in Sudbury, Ottawa, and finally Hamilton.
Manufacturing gave us the unique challenge of going from producing early versions in-house to our first step in going international. We contacted a couple dozen manufacturing companies, and ultimately chose WinGo Industry Ltd. in China. My contact Ivan was incredibly helpful at every step along the way, and his efforts to put clear communication and customer service first really stood out, and reminded me of my time at Top Hat and Henkaa where exceptional customer service was such a key part of company cultures.
I wouldn’t say it was easy by any means, as we had to change a number of design aspects along the way, and work very hard at resolving issues quickly so we could meet our Christmas 2015 launch promise. Ultimately the first shipment arrived December 19th and we had all those pre-ordered copies out and shipped by end-of-day on the 21st. It was pretty intense, and included some hand-deliveries in the GTA, Hamilton, and Tri-Cities.
With a background in eCommerce, we began by selling online through our website. Since then we’ve approached stores directly to self-distribute. We have been contacted by distribution companies about the game, but wanted to try it ourselves first and go from there. It’s really nice to start these 1:1 relationships with individual stores and owners who are excited for our game. We’re a new company up against well-established heavyweights, so it’s nice to have enthusiastic stores on our side!
Where can we pick it up in Hamilton and the GTA?
You can find it at the following places nearby:
Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo: The Dragon, Crossroads Game Cafe
Greater Toronto Area: 401 Games, Dueling Grounds, Wood for Sheep
What elements comprise the perfect board game?
This is a tough question for me because there is so much variety in the industry. There are two elements I’ve come to appreciate most, which are having a great balance of luck versus skill, and dynamic elements that make people think on their feet.
The former is important to get right so that new players have a fair chance, but experienced players are rewarded with deep mechanics and choices that get more interesting the more you play. Too much luck will make a game less interesting in the long run, while too much strategy makes it only fun when you are evenly-matched. I really prefer games that have real substance, but can be enjoyed with a variety of people.
Dynamic elements that change the game state for everyone are probably my favourite. It’s just more exciting when there are things to react to that make people who thought they could just coast to victory, perk up and scramble to keep an advantage. Overall these became two of the most important guiding principles early in the development process, since they are the things that really stood out in my favourite games.
What is next for Board and Tale Games?
We’re pretty excited for some events coming soon. We’ll be at Space City Comic Con in Houston TX at the end of this month and Niagara Falls Comic Con for the first weekend of June. We’re working on some new custom item tokens for Stratos that will be just awesome (and to be made in Hamilton!).
We look forward to announcing our first expansion as well, with plenty of surprises to delight both existing fans and newcomers. Our artist, Garth Laidlaw from Guelph, has already begun the new art and having seen one piece so far, I am especially excited for the month to come.
Stay tuned for a release of their map editor tool for players to create their own scenarios, and interactive character tutorials and a competitive strategy helper app.
Quickfire with Jacob Chodoriwsky
Favourite board game of all time
Am I allowed to choose my own game? Haha. Actually it would probably be Suburbia. Great structure, clean aesthetic, and subtle humour make it one of my go-to-games, and it has a theme everyone can relate to.
Last game you played
I last played Stratos and Magic the Gathering: Arena of the Planeswalkers with my kids. Everything is so much fun with them because of how excited they are for things. Elijah loves spelling out the heroes’ names in Magic, although he refers to heroes like Jace Beleren as “ice guy” or “water guy” etc. Zechariah enjoys making maps for me with the Stratos tiles, fitting them into the trays to hold them in place and telling me he made that map “just for you, Daddy” which just melts my heart how much he loves helping and making things for people.
Best snacks to accompany board game night
My wife makes an amazing assortment of Epicure dips to go with nacho chips. Not sure if this counts, but snacks are definitely better with something from Collective Arts Brewing.
Places to hang out and play in the city
We’ve had some very fun game nights at My Dog Joe in Westdale – they make all their snacks from scratch and you can tell! Mancala Monk may be my actual favourite board game café – the owners are super nice, they layout is welcoming, and I love how much better the game experience is with big, bright tables and lighting. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the new developments at 1UP Games as well – they have a really cool space and I can’t wait to have an event there.