Interview: Molly Zeff
Wing It: The game of extreme storytelling is a party game for 4-7 players that challenges peoples’ storytelling and problem-solving abilities. Bebo took some time to talk to Molly Zeff about the creation of Wing It and its journey to the US!
We spoke briefly at GAMA about your adventure getting and staying there! What were some of your GAMA highlights?
Well, the biggest highlight definitely involves cheese, a bar, and a bunch of rambunctious retailers. So get this: the second night of GAMA, I went to the hotel bar where there had been an event for retailers. I decided to jump into the big crowd to meet people but I had no idea what was about to happen. Everything totally changed for our company that night.
I walked up to a friendly-looking group of people in a lounge area of the bar all chatting and joking, and began talking with a store owner from Vancouver, WA. After talking for a while, Matt said, “I’ll look at your game while you eat your cheese.” I had come from buying some groceries and I realllly wanted to eat my cheese. I have a cheese obsession. Anyway, Matt takes Wing It out of my bag, looks it over, and says he would Paypal me for 10 of these right then. I was like, really?!? Then he says, “I could sell 5 of these tomorrow. I could sell 5 right now. Watch me.”
And he got the other retailers’ attention, gave them all cards, and played a round right then. I felt like Annie in the musical Annie (“pinch me please”). But it gets better. For the next 3 hours or more, until 2:15 am, we played with other retailers, got one friend out of bed to get him to come to play… and they gave me endless advice about how to succeed. And when the bar closed, we walked to the couches in a lobby and kept playing rounds with new retailers and even a distributor! It was a dream come true for a new designer. Orders began coming in from stores around the country by the next afternoon!
So one night at the bar in Reno, a block of cheese, and Matt and the others, who passed that story onto other retailers, led our game to spread and helped our company more than quintupled in size in 4 weeks and begin spreading to Australia as well and other countries!
In your Kickstarter Risks & Challenges section you stated:
Lastly, there is always a possibility that we could be chased and eaten by a pack of rare carnivorous rabbits before manufacturing and shipping are complete… so we will be sure to carry a unicycle, a canoe, and a box of kittens with us everywhere, just in case, to escape any unexpected situations.
I have to admit, this sounds like a dream come true. How did carrying the box of kittens everywhere go?
It was actually not all sweet and cute as it sounds. Some of the kittens got antsy in the box and started fighting, causing a few broken tails. And frankly, I’ve now been chased down by more dogs on the streets of Brooklyn than I can count because the dogs could smell kittens in the box…
What inspired Wing It! And do you have any additional expansions planned or in development?
Back in 2010, when I had just turned 26, I decided that I needed to either write a book or invent something to pay for grad school. I started out writing a book on “How to Fail Well,” since I felt like, hey, I’m great at failing (and coming back from it)…. The thing is, I had barely started the book before I decide that I needed to be older to write it and fail more first. Sooo…I switched to inventing something.
I was inspired to create a game by this “Would You Rather” book from my youth, which one of my best friends from high school gave me for graduation years earlier. I pictured adults sitting around a big conference table coming up with crazy questions like, “Would you rather have a pencil sharpening navel or a nose sharpening nostril?” and I was like, these people are paid to be weird all day! I want to be paid to be weird. I also like games, so I came up with a game based on a similar idea to that book, in which players would have to get out of ridiculous situations using random funny objects. I called my childhood friend Jon,one of the most creative, quirkiest people I know, and was like, Jon, want to invent a game together? We hadn’t talked in ages. And he said, Sure! I told him the idea and he offered a key improvement right away.
And then we invented a game together, sporadically, over the course of 4 years.
As for expansions, yep! We already finished the first one, which is due out in winter 2019. It has 3 themes our Kickstarters voted on: Apocalypse, Space, and Travel Mishaps, and we worked with an incredible creative team of 5 designers to come up with it. There are a lot of Situations in there that blew me away with how funny and weird they get…I love working with people weirder than I am.
We also recently reprinted 5,000 Wing Its and they’ve been selling well!
Do you have any other games in the works now that you’ve wrapped up Wing It!?
We do! As soon as we get beyond the huge push for the holidays, we’ll be continuing work making some improvements on an unpublished game from an Israeli designer that’s a super fun party game with what I think is an original gaming mechanism. I can’t share more than that, unfortunately, but look for playtesting details in spring of 2019! We always love playtesters from different areas of the country.
But first, we got to sell 5,000 games from the second printing of Wing It!
In your Kickstarter Video, you talk about the development of the game. How many times do you think you played Wing It during its four years in development? What memorable experiences do you have from its development?
Well, so during those 4 years of developing it, we actually never played at all! We were waiting until we had “enough” cards, and after maybe 3.5 years of doing this as a side hobby, in summer 2014, Jon simply felt like we were ready for playtesting. Let’s see… I might have played it or had remote groups test it 10 or 12 times. At least. The most memorable fun moments from that time were when playtesters came up with cool, new creative ways to play that we added to the rules as alternate ways to play.
For example, when I demoed Wing It at a board game store and cafe in Brooklyn during the Kickstarter campaign last year, the group of strangers I played with came up with an incredibly fun, challenging way to play we call “On the fly:” Basically, players don’t know their resources in advance; instead, they have to just start telling a story about how they’ll resolve some ridiculous situation and they’re dealt each resource mid-story and must incorporate it within a sentence or two. This very challenging way to play was hilarious for us when we tried it out, and we’ve now played it this way live onstage with comedians.
I could see this game being a valuable tool for teachers and librarians. Were you hoping that this game would be used for educational purposes?
Absolutely! We found out English and ESL teachers in Kenya; South Korea and some places in the US (such as Mississippi and Massachusetts) were bringing Wing It to schools to use with English, ESL and even theater students (the “very challenging” alternate way to play is all about improv, with Resources revealed in the middle of the player’s story and then players have to incorporate this mid-story). So we’ve now started donating to classrooms or public libraries (e.g. for ESL and English teachers to use for teaching storytelling and creative problem-solving). Storytelling is such an incredibly valuable tool for a range of career paths, from sales or marketing, to teaching, to community organizing and advocacy, to politics.
We hope to expand the use of Wing It in schools and libraries and make board gaming accessible to kids who may not be able to afford the luxury of a game themselves.
What are some of your favorite games and what makes them important to you?
Magic Maze: This game is BRILLIANT. I could never have invented something that relies on this kind of spatial intellect, and I can rearrange a fridge of food for 16 people together for a holiday like nobody’s business. I love how in Magic Maze you have to go through an ever-growingmaze without talking. Well, and it doesn’t hurt that my team won the first time I played. But fortunately there are 18 levels to keep it challenging…
The Visitor, because well, I like ET. No, in all honesty, this game is a new favorite because it managed to totally stump 6 intelligent people the first time I was playing with a group (just played it my first time after PAX East, where my cousin got a copy before the release happened!). There’s a “rule” regarding which objects may enter an alien force field, and some clues feel impossible to guess even several rounds in. I LOVE watching all of us, myself included, feel so incompetent at such a deceptively simple setup…