An Interview with Brotherwise Games
  • Sep 27th 2021
  • Posted by Nelly Steiner

An Interview with Brotherwise Games

Brotherwise Games makes incredible games that are highly thematic and immersive. Remember old-school side-scrolling retro video games? Well, Boss Monster takes that idea but instead of assuming the roles of adventurers moving through a dungeon, you are the Boss Monster trying to defeat them. Brotherwise Games was founded by Chris and Johnny O'Neal in 2012 and they have produced excellent games ever since. We had the chance to sit down with Chris and Johnny and get the inside scoop. 

Chris and Johnny O'Neal

(Mox) With games like Call to Adventure and the tie-in products you’ve developed with authors in the past like Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson, what do you think it is about board games that makes them work well when it comes to storytelling?

(Chris and Johnny) People are natural storytellers. We've never met anyone who didn't enjoy telling or hearing a good yarn. But storytelling is an intrinsically vulnerable activity. It's performative; you're getting judged; it's scary! Board games with story telling components provide some structure to help the reticent story teller. When we watch people play Call to Adventure, we see two types of players. There's the RPG-loving storyteller who's crafting a hero's journey that's entirely focused on the events, points be damned. And then there's the strategic min-maxer who's out to get the best score regardless of how disparate the plot points are in their hero's quest. But a funny thing happens at the end of the game. When you ask them to, those min-maxers end up weaving pretty great stories as they look back at what their hero accomplished. They really light up when they get to bring that story to life.

(Mox) Now that you’ve added Overboss: A Boss Monster Adventure to your catalog, can we expect to see more titles with different methods of play in the Boss Monster world?

(Chris and Johnny) Of course! Boss Monster was originally imagined as a constantly evolving and growing game. We've always got new expansions in the works and we've been working for a while on "Super Boss Monster" for the game's 10th anniversary in 2023. Nostalgia comes and goes as a fad, but something about the retro-gaming look of Boss Monster and its dungeon-building game play has made it an evergreen. We're determined to keep the world of Boss Monster fresh and alive with new projects. Overboss has had an awesome year, and we're releasing a really fun non-game product this November!

(Mox) If there was any intellectual property you could publish a game for, what would it be?

(Chris) My favorite IP of all time is "The Expanse" series (both books and shows), but there's already a great Expanse game and RPG out there. Sad face. So I'll take TRON as a close second. I love the visuals. I love the concept. It captivated me as a 10 year old, and it continues to captivate me.

(Johnny) I've been lucky to already work on three of my favorite fandoms: The Stormlight Archive, The Kingkiller Chronicle, and The Dragon Prince. Stormlight is an amazing IP and I want to work on it for years to come. And my top "bucket list" IP would have to be Avatar: The Last Airbender.

(Mox) If you were the adventurer going through one of the Boss Monster dungeons, be it the original, Next Level, or Rise of the Mini Bosses, which one would you want to risk your life exploring?

(Chris) I've always thought the heroes in Boss Monster were a bit daft. The dungeons of that world are pretty merciless hero-crushing machines. But if you forced me to pick one, I suppose I'd pick one of the mage-focused dungeons. Spells seem more my speed.

(Johnny) If I had to be a hero in the world of Boss Monster, I'd want to be playing with one of the Item expansions: Tools of Hero-Kind or Implements of Destruction. They definitely give the heroes more of a fighting chance!

(Mox) Over the last year the industry has seen a lot of aches and pains when it comes to shipping fulfillment, cost increases, or just not being able to get basic supplies for manufacturing. Has Brotherwise Games been affected by this as well? What are some of the challenges you can see the industry facing in the future?

(Chris and Johnny) For sure. I don't think you're going to find a single publisher that isn't a little shell-shocked from the challenges of the past year. Even before the supply chain problems started, the pandemic had all of us asking what would happen to our very, very social pastime and industry? Could hobby gaming as we knew it survive a direct challenge to its very identity? We think the answer is yes, but the next year is going to be tough. There's a big backlog of games that were held back during the pandemic. Those are going to be hitting the market all once and our recent problems of too many games are going to be exacerbated. But we expect most of those issues will be temporary. The supply chain is already (slowly) piecing itself back together, and we hope that things inch closer to normal over the next year.

(Mox) What is your favorite kind of monster? Additionally, what makes a monster a monster to you?

(Chris) Monster is a term with a lot of meaning, but I'll take it as face value as a nerd. I'm a dragon guy, mostly because I think the best monsters in fandom remind us of our humanity, our frailty, our virtue, our bravery, and our empathy, and stories with dragons tend to give us that moment to shine. I'd point to Neil Gaiman's famous quote, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

(Johnny) I have a lot of affection for goblins and kobolds. They're the underdogs of the monster world, and I can't help rooting for them. They're definitely some of the cutest characters in Boss Monster.

(Mox) What would you tell someone wanting to get into games publishing? What are some of the first steps?

(Chris and Johnny) Crowdfunding has made publishing more approachable than it's ever been, but we'd warn people not to assume that Kickstarter cash paves the way to easy success. It was 5 years after the mega success of Boss Monster that Chris went full time with Brotherwise, and 7 until Johnny did. Gaming is currently a crowded, competitive market. Most newly published games aren't seeing the long sales tails that characterized games when we got started. If you want to be a publisher, go for it! We'll welcome you to the industry with open arms. But do your homework. Study other successful indie publishers. And don't quit your day job. Even the biggest hit is not guaranteed to keep your company running forever.

(Mox) What inspired you to become a publisher?

(Chris and Johnny) It started with a bet about which of us could design a working prototype of a game the fastest. Chris won the best, but it was Johnny's design for the game that would become Boss Monster that captured our imaginations. Most every step after that was us going, "what should we do next?" "Kickstarter worked. Should we take it to retail?" "Retail worked. Should we make an expansion?" "Expansion worked. Should we make another game?" We wish we could credit some grand plan or lifelong dream, but the reality is that most of it was just following inspiration to the next idea. Now that we're here, we realize how lucky we are. It's without a doubt, the best job in the world. 

(Mox) What is your favorite thing about tabletop gaming? 

(Chris and Johnny) That's easy. The community. We've always loved how open and inviting the community of gamers has been, both to us and the people who play our games. Our motto is "Games that bring everyone to the table," and that motto was inspired by the people that we met as we became more established in the industry. Having said all that, we think the community is at a critical point. We've got to ask ourselves what openness really means. Are we creating safe spaces for all players? Are we holding bad actors accountable for abusing this spirit? There's always room for improvement, and we've been thrilled to see the community continuing to evolve and mature, while sticking to this foundational principle of openness. 

(Mox) What is your favorite food to eat while playing games?

(Chris) Chips (I know, I know. Grease is bad for board games but what can I say, they're tasty.)

(Johnny) I love any kind of fresh-baked goodies, like homemade cookies. Your mochi donuts sound like the perfect gaming snack!

Mox is offering 10% off all Brotherwise Games Products throughout the month of September. Stop by and pick up something new for game night, and don’t forget our knowledgeable staff is always there to answer any questions you may have. In-store dining is now available in a few of our Mox locations, so enjoy a bite and/or cocktail while you play.

-See you at Mox!