This past April, Urban Island Games attended PAX East 2014 for the first time as an exhibitor in the Indie Tabletop Megabooth—a red carpeted area in the middle of the convention that was sponsored by Cards Against Humanity. The Megabooth showcased seven tabletop games in various stages of completion and development, from digital board game experiences created for hardcore enthusiasts, to casual party games designed for people of all ages. Our game, Funemployed, was the latter—a party game where you use all the cards in your hand (also known as “qualifications”) to convince a judge (“the employer”) why you’d be good for a job.
If you had asked me two years ago whether or not I would create a company to present a satirical job simulator card game in the heart of the indie community at one of the biggest conventions in the industry, I would have asked “what’s PAX?” and slumped my shoulders ever so slightly. I had always wanted to make games, but I had no technical skills to do so. I still can’t code, I don’t know how to use Photoshop, and I sometimes have trouble opening up Microsoft Office. I thought technical skills were required to make games—or at least, good games. Over the past two years, I’ve found out how wrong I was.
A year ago, Urban Island Games didn’t exist. Eighteen months ago, Funemployed didn’t even exist. I was in finance, helping lawyers figure out how many millions of dollars they could claim as damages from companies that made billions of dollars. It wasn’t my favorite job in the world, but it paid the bills—that is, until the company got acquired and I got laid off. It seemed like the perfect time to take a break from corporate and try starting my own company.
Around that time, I came up with an idea for a card game—a party game where people got to act out roles and come up with personas they could pretend to be. After all, we’ve all imagined we were someone else or something else, just so we could see what it would be like to be a different person. Why not make that a game?
One night walking home, I came up with the idea to create a party game where people applied to real jobs—think a lawyer, astronaut, or priest—with unreal qualifications—things they’d never say on an actual interview. I mean, how cool would it be if we got to say why laser beams made us the best cowboy? I created a bunch of cards with my girlfriend and played a few rounds, and it was some of the most fun we ever had. I playtested more, got a few others involved in the design, found a publisher, Kickstarted the game, proposed to my now fiancée (using Funemployed), submitted it to PAX, and found myself in the Megabooth almost a year and a half after coming up with the idea (all of these are their own stories for another time—this one’s about PAX).
PAX was excellent. The entire Megabooth staff, the other developers showing off their games, and the attendees were all amazing—it was one of the best convention experiences I’ve ever had. The Megabooth was a bit cramped, but since I’m from New York City, I’ve become accustomed to making the best use of small spaces. We shared a booth with Nasty Dragon Games, a group that had their own Kickstarter project planned for a few months after the convention. The other developers in the space included some great individuals, from Peter Newland and his game about wizards playing dodgeball, to Shawn Pierre and his party game about salesmanship, to the AEGIS guys showing off their sweet mech game and the creators of Alteil Horizons, a digital tabletop game. They were all supportive and talented individuals—just what I expected from the Megabooth exhibitors.
Three of us demoed Funemployed for three full days, including my incredibly supportive fiancée (we originally planned to attend PAX as a vacation; luckily I’m still alive to write this article). We lost our voices, our hearing, and the ability to stand, but it was worth it—on our release weekend, we sold out of every copy we brought with us to the convention (over 100, but we have 15 or so copies left on Amazon at the time I wrote this article). We had offers to buy the copies we were demoing with, we had to demo in the convention aisles because our booth was too crowded, and we even got to do some video interviews. And we didn’t expect any of it. We thought the game was good, but our Kickstarter wasn’t a massive success (we were overfunded, but we asked for a relatively low amount of money) and it was our company’s very first game. We heard stories during the convention that people were playing Funemployed in hotels after the halls closed, that they brought it to bars to play with random strangers (one of its best uses, actually), and that the tabletop free space had exploded with copies. We even heard stories that a group of players trying to learn Munchkin for the first time couldn’t get into their game because they were having too much fun just watching people play Funemployed.
PAX East 2014 is over—it’s been in the books for almost a month now. But it’s an event that will always stay with me. No matter how well Funemployed sells, no matter how many people know the game exists, and no matter what happens to Urban Island Games, I know that I’ll always have the memories of this convention—and that’s enough for me. Everything that comes after is just a pleasant surprise.
Thanks for reading,
Founder of Urban Island Games, LLC
P.S. A Funemployed Proposal
Within several months of Funemployed’s development, I started to think of ways to propose to my girlfriend. I thought of a lot of different ideas, such as proposing on our vacation that spring at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or proposing on her birthday. At the time, I realized we had a job in the game called “Housewife” (which we kept in past development). One round, and after she applied to be my Housewife (and won), I figured out the best way to propose to her: I would create a custom job called “Husband” and apply to be her Husband through the game.
Over the next several months, I planned the best time and day for there to be an organic way for it to seem casual to be her “Husband” through the game. I wanted all my friends to be there as well, but I couldn’t organize a 20-30 person playtest where all our friends came over to test the game–it’d be too obvious. Some of them hadn’t been involved in development, for example, and I felt like she would expect something. I wanted to keep her surprised right up to the proposal, so I figured that the best day to have a ton of people over at our apartment would be my birthday. It was perfect–I figured she’d still get that I was proposing to her while we were playing, but she wouldn’t see it coming until the Husband card was revealed.
What I didn’t expect was her response.
All of our friends gathered together at our apartment and we started playing. I stacked the deck so she’d draw the Husband card at the perfect time, and when she did, my best man would come out with champagne for everyone and we’d celebrate. She revealed the card, and asked everyone to start applying. I told them to stop immediately because I knew my application would be best. My friends instantly understood that I was proposing to her and let me do so. I went into my pitch.
“I’d be the best Husband because my ‘soft hands’ are great at doing dishes and changing diapers, and I can solve ‘every problem ever’…”
At this point, with a smug look on her face, she started to interrupt me.
“Oh yea? Can you solve every problem ever?”
She didn’t understand that I was proposing to her, and she started to chide, poke fun and interrupt me during the proposal. Internally, I kept saying to myself Just let me finish my damn proposal, gah! I maintained my composure, and I continued.
“…and while I don’t have a ‘trust fund’ to buy you whatever you want, I do have a pretty sweet ‘diamond ring.’”
As I finished my application, she kinda just sat there, not really getting it. It seemed that she wasn’t impressed with my pitch.
I got down on one knee. Still nothing. My mind was racing–is this going to be just the worst moment of my life here, surrounded by my friends and completely soul crushed? Is she even going to say yes?
I pulled out the diamond ring I had bought earlier in the month. Another second of her just staring, not really getting it.
My lips are dry; my voice is hoarse. I can barely get the words out. “So, will you marry me?”
She puts her hands over her mouth, stunned. She doesn’t say a word.
“Is…that a yes?”
She pauses for a second, then nods. We embrace, and the rest is history. A few of my friends were even kind enough to film it for us.
To this day, it’s the best round of Funemployed I’ve ever played. Though, looking back at the video, she never did say yes…