TDmonthly Magazine!
July 2012 | Vol. XI - No. 7


Interview with Curtis Paul, Creator of the Award-Winning KATATU

TDmonthly Magazine recently had the chance to interview Curtis Paul, creator of Creative Child Magazine's 2012 Board Game of the Year, KATATU.

KATATU is the the second game from Curtlin Toys and Games LLC, and below Curtis Paul tells us how, by focusing on simplicity and play value, he brought the game from the initial spark of an idea to award-winner.

Creating the Game

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your award-winning game, KATATU?

A. After making my first game (XTREME TAKEOVER ‘Battle of the Xiacons’) I had not only learned a lot, but also had people come out of the wood work with ideas and suggestions for new games. Most of the ideas, I have to admit, are not very good. On a rare occasion someone brings a good (novel) idea, and in the case of KATATU that someone was a girl named Esther from South Africa who introduced me to the ancient game which KATATU takes its roots from.

Q. Can you outline the basic concept of the game for our readers?

A. It is actually part of our game’s catch phrase: "Where Tic-Tac-Toe leaves off…KATATU picks up"! KATATU is based on getting THREE game pieces (bugs) in a row, or what is called a "KATATU mill," and when you do you can capture one of your opponent’s bugs. The strategy is not only in placing your pieces, but also in deciding which game piece should be captured to better your chances of winning in the end.

Q. What elements set this game apart from its competitors?

A. In my opinion, there are hardly any well-designed "thinking strategy" games for very small children (ages 4 or 5), and KATATU fills that gap. Many people tell me it’s "essentially" a classic game that is easy to learn and play but hard to master. Because of this, parents and people of all ages enjoy playing it with their kids or with each other.

Getting the Game Produced

Q. How did you bring the game from the first initial spark of an idea to actual production?

A. It was rather quick. I had a prototype in less than a day and it was pretty much designed in my head from the first "spark," or what I call the ‘A-ha moment"… but keep in mind it is just bugs and a game board! What I have learned is that there is beauty in simplicity (less is more), and it makes for a better gaming experience. After prototyping the process slowed, especially working with overseas vendors. It took a little over a year to get to full production.

Q. What made working with overseas vendors particularly challenging? Do you have any advice for people just entering the market that could help make this aspect of production go more smoothly?

A. The main disconnect is the language barrier, among the other obvious time zone issues. I found that searching for a vendor can be like entering a black hole, and knowing the quality and reputation of the vendor is paramount to the end product. I cannot stress how important understanding this is — if you make a game in today’s market you will have similar challenges!

Research, Challenges, and Play Testing

Q. What were the top-3 obstacles you had to overcome to get this game to market?

A. There were really no major obstacles per se, since I had just published another game and had gone through the difficult process already. Getting the Bugs (game pieces) just right was a little challenging, and there is a magnetic aspect to the game the added another level of complexity in the production. I would also say that I had to do extensive research to ensure that there was nothing else like it on the market, which there was not.

Q. How did you research other games on the market to make sure there were none like yours?

A. Like most people I checked the Internet first, but I also hired attorneys and researchers to verify my findings.

Q. What mistakes did you make/hardships did you face when trying to publish your first game? How would you avoid them in the future?

A. With my first game (XTREME TAKEOVER), my box size was too big for the stores to carry, but I really have very little remorse since the game is creative and I have achieved a U.S. Patent for its game play.

Q. How did you play test KATATU?

A. With anybody and everybody! Testing the game is one of the most important phases of game production, and designers need to listen to the game testers since they are, ultimately, the consumer. I am still tweaking things to make the game even better for future production runs. I do owe a lot of credit to my son who I bothered relentlessly to play the test game. Incidentally, he got so good at KATATU that I have trouble winning against him now!

Q. What do you think are the three most important elements of a successful game?

You ask this question almost as if I have a world of experience with game designs… so I am flattered (thank you). I am hardly the "Guru" of games, but what I have learned is this:
  1. Your packaging needs to be the right size (not too big, not too small) and needs to have a "wow" factor; it must be eye catching not only to the child, but also to the parents buying the product.
  2. The game itself must be a clever, in-depth journey that takes players somewhere fun and leaves them wanting to play again and again. This is what I call "Play Value," and learned about it from Elliot Handler (Mattel)
  3. The game must be simple at its core. Easy to learn and play (deciphering the directions should be simple), and quick to start. The game from there must have layers of twists and excitement in order to keep the attention of the players. Board games in today’s world have to compete with electronic games, which as you know is a tough order to fill. All of us at Curtlin Toys and Games just hope that KATATU can fill a few!
The Path to Success

Have you always been interested in games? Did you ever think you would end up professionally designing games?

A. Yes, I have always been interested in toys and games, even designing several games and toys as a young child. I also used to write articles for "Toy Shop" magazine on die cast toy cars (Hot Wheels). Last year I published a book on the History on Hot Wheel Prototypes, so I guess toys are in my nature.

Q. What experiences from your adolescence do you think helped prepare you for the business world?

A. Everything! Life experiences are cumulative, and all good, bad and indifferent experiences create who we are and what we do. I would like to think that more people should go after their ‘dream’ and worry less about following the path of the masses.

Q. What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to get his or her game produced?

A. Unfortunately it comes down to money, marketing and whom you know. I see great games and products that individuals have created, but without the proper funding, they go nowhere.

On the flip side, I see some less than brilliant products make their way onto store shelves because they have the marketing horse-power and the money to make them successes, despite the fact that children may only play with them once.

It is a tough balancing act for a small company with only one or two products to compete with the ‘big boys’, but I continue to work and create with the truth and understanding that the small guy can succeed and possibly and win "Game of the Year," as we did with KATATU!

KATATU, which means ‘three’, is a unique abstract strategy board game, very rich in history, that takes its roots from a 3000 year old game that was played originally in Italy and Egypt and eventually made its way to Southern Africa. KATATU is adapted from this ancient game that has never before been available in a packaged form to the Western part of the world until now. Very easy to learn, but hard to master, KATATU can take some surprising twists and plays in about 15 minutes. Ages 5 and up. Where Tic-Tac-Toe leaves off, KATATU picks up.
Awards: 2012 Game of the Year and 2012 Preferred Choice Award from Creative Play Magazine; 2012 Seal of Approval National Parenting Center; Dr. Toy 2012 winner Best New Products; 2011 Preferred Choice Award Creative Child Magazine; TDmonthly Magazine Staff Pick August 2011
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 32580      (added 7/19/2011)

MSRP: $24.99
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games
General Games

In the board game, sworn enemies Black Xiacons and Red Xiacons must battle each other in order to take the other's bunker while each protecting their own. The game comes with red and black "casino looking" dice and a gameboard that provides the battlefield for play.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 26034      (added 11/9/2009)

Justina HuddlestonWriter's Bio: Justina Huddleston graduated Magna Cum Laude from Emerson College with a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing in 2009. After graduating she was the on-site director of the Boston Children's Museum gift store for a year, selling educational, developmental, and creative activity toys that tied in with the museum's exhibits. Justina also interned at children's book publisher Candlewick Press before moving from Boston to Los Angeles, where she is now Editorial Director of TDmonthly Magazine. Read more articles by this author


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