Cardboarding with Carla: Intelle

Today, Carla chats with David of Fisher Heaton Games and discusses the current Intelle Kickstarter campaign.

Game Title: INTELLE – Hack or Be Hacked
Short Description: It’s hacker vs. hacker and the corporate mainframe is the target in this quick abstract strategy game for 2 players.
Launch date: October 10th, 2017
End date: November 4th
Funded?: Not Yet
Cost for a copy of the game: $19
Published by:  Fisher Heaton Games
Campaign Link:

Hello! Welcome to Cardboarding with Carla and thanks for being on this interview! Could we start off with you telling us a bit about yourself?

Sure.  My name is David Abelson. I live in Charlotte NC with my wife and kids and I am a high school Marketing teacher. In 2013, I moved to Charlotte from New Jersey where I had owned an Advertising Specialty business for several years.

Shortly after moving here I was introduced to modern board games by my step-son and some men from church and a few months later, after becoming entrenched in a hobby that I hadn’t even been aware existed before, I began to feel the itch to learn to design something.

Do you think that being a marketing teacher has helped you with marketing Intelle?

I’m sure it has, but having a foundational knowledge of marketing theory isn’t at all the same as knowing the industry and the channels, and it is certainly no substitute for good honest community building. I have found that while some things are the same across the board with consumer goods, niche industries like Designer Board Games have there own quirky sub-rules about what will or will not become successful. Traditional advertising, for instance, doesn’t seem to be a factor. And there are some very big marketing elements that we haven’t begun to include in our high school curriculum yet, like Social Media. I have had to learn that from scratch.

Intelle Box

Can you tell us more about Intelle?

Of course. Intelle is a 2 player cube placement game that plays in under 15 minutes. Players play the roles of hackers – one good and one evil. The evil “black hat” hacker has infiltrated the corporate mainframe and the good “white hat” hacker is trying to prevent it. Players take turns playing cubes called “blocks of code” into the various systems of the mainframe, represented by 7 hex shaped tiles. The first player to gain control of 3 adjacent system tiles is the winner.

But see, there is a catch. Every move you make determines the parameters for your opponent’s next move. This means that you are bound to placing your next block of code in the system tile where your opponent wants you to go. It makes for very interesting strategy!

What made you choose to make Intelle a strictly two player game?

It is based on the basic tic-tac-toe game. We toyed with making it play up to four but after building the 2p version we had a great deal of trouble scaling it. It worked out for the best because once we played a couple dozen times as a 2p game I knew it didn’t need any more players. It is really the perfect game to play to start off a night while waiting for friends to arrive, or when one group of friends finishes a game and is waiting for another group to finish – because it takes only 15 minutes. What I like most is that it is surprisingly immersive.

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Was Intelle always themed around two hackers battling?

Actually, no. I had read and heard from several sources that modern game players really preferred to have themed games and that abstracts didn’t have a place in the market. Even so, Intelle was just going to be an abstract game. I am so thankful for having play tested and demonstrated the game out in the local community.

A game store owner expressed an interest in the game and thought it would be very successful at retail because of its size, price point, and play time but was worried that it wouldn’t stand out on the shelf because it had no thematic elements. It was actually Tom Anderson’s idea to work in the theme of hacking. I got some insider computer info from my brother Heath who is a software engineer, and our little abstract game had a theme.

Any advice you would like to give to other designers about designing an abstract game?

I found it very useful to have two brothers who knew how to create simulations. We were able to simulate various different patterns and win conditions in order to determine the best possible theoretical outcome before starting live playtesting. After the basic simulation was designed, I would put out a list of requirements on the Slack channel and they would proceed to determine the answers.

I am still a young designer with a lot to learn, but I believe the process is the same whether the game is abstract or not. Design, test, iterate, test, reiterate, test, test, test, and then test. Iteration is the reason we have a modular board rather than fixed, why there is a unique and specific space pattern on each hex, and why the win condition of the game is NOT control 4 system tiles.

What do you feel was the most important thing you learned during playtesting with Intelle?

The most important thing I learned is to watch everything. Players emotions change during the play of the game, and you want to isolate the moments of fun, of stress, of confusion, of hopelessness, and understand why they happened. I couldn’t fix every one, but I feel pretty happy when I am watching a game and someone is really thinking a few moves ahead to outwit their opponent, and as it turns out they outwitted themselves.

I will be trying to use video for playtesting in the future though, because I am easily distracted and I miss things often.

Do you have any interesting stories to share about designing Intelle?

Once I had gotten it in my head that we needed a theme, I considered a covert CIA theme or a Paratroopers theme, and I developed a map. The game was going to take place on a map, with all kinds of Icons all over it and lots of colors, and when we tried it with people, they didn’t understand what I was asking them to do. It was a disaster.

Also, I am proud to say that last Christmas when I took my family on a cruise, Intelle came with us and we played while drinking fancy cruise drinks. Good times.

Intelle Player Board

Are you doing anything different with the Intelle Kickstarter campaign?

I am trying to prove myself to the Kickstarter community and to the Board Game community. My Kickstarter campaign is what many would consider modest. It has a very achievable funding goal of $2,000 and only a few stretch goals. We don’t have thousands of reward levels. I wanted the outcome of the campaign to be a top quality, deliverable game that I can feel good about and get into the hands of backers with confidence. I think we have done that.

Do you have anyone that you’d like to give a shoutout to that gave you some really good advice? Feel free to list more than one, if you’d like!

Tom Anderson owns the Mighty Meeple in Concord, NC and he gave me the idea for the theme.

My brothers Micah and Heath clocked countless hours on their computers for me.

Steve Finn of Dr. Finn’s Games played Intelle this summer at DexCon and gave me some great feedback.

The gang at Tantrum House played the game at MegaMooseCon this summer as well and have been helpful.

Your advice has been very helpful and encouraging too. Especially when you said, “If your game is worthy of backing on Kickstarter, you are worthy of being interviewed.”

I could keep going…It definitely takes a village.

I’m glad I could help out; that makes me really happy! 

Thanks again to David for being on Cardboarding with Carla! Spy Club will be on Kickstarter until November 4th, so make sure to check it out before then!

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