More than Pork and Shellfish: An Interview with Ian Framson, Co-Creator of Taboo Jewish Edition

17 Dec

I recently posted a blog entry referencing the amazingly fun party game, Taboo Jewish Edition. It’s just like regular Taboo, except it makes you feel guilty when you don’t call your mother. JK. One of the creators of the game, Ian Framson, kindly agreed to answer my questions about how it came to be. I love that Ian and his business partner Seth were able to take a simple idea that originated around the board game table and turn it into a viable business opportunity. Inspired? Yes indeed. Now, I wonder if there’s a market for TabVark

Kosherland is also a thing!

Everybody’s Invited!: Why do you think the world needs a Jewish version of Taboo?

Ian Framson: I’m not so sure the “world” needs a Jewish version of Taboo. There are 7 billion people in the world. Only a small fraction of them are Jewish board game players. My general business philosophy has been if you can find 1 person who wants your product/service, you have a customer. If you can find 1,000 people just like them, then you have a market. We found a niche market.

I love playing Taboo (and many other board games). With all of the mobile and online games out there — board games have really become a lost art. While playing Taboo with Jewish friends, we found ourselves drawing upon references to Jewish camp experiences we shared, songs, holidays, and other common Jewish experiences that enabled us to better play the game.

After one such session, I went online to search for “Jewish Taboo”… and I couldn’t find anything. At the time (mid-2008), my friend Seth Burstein and I had been tossing around various business ideas. Seth shares my passion for Taboo and we both agreed we should create a few Jewish-themed Taboo cards. “A few” quickly turned into hundreds.

EI!: How did you go about pitching the game to Hasbro?

IF: We started by researching Judaica product distribution channels. We spoke with a few dozen folks who run temple gift shops. All roads led back to Abe Blumberger, Owner of Jewish Educational Toys (a specialty Judaica products manufacturer/distributor). As it turns out, Abe had been trying to create this game but found it challenging to create the 1008 Taboo cards required to have a complete game. We struck a deal whereby we would provide the content for the game and Abe would negotiate licensing rights with Brian Hersch and Hasbro. 3 years and 24 redrafts later, Taboo Jewish Edition became a reality. Our family friendly game is now sold in hundreds of brick and mortar Judaica shops, through online retailers like Amazon, and seasonally at big box retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond.

EI!: Did you do extensive user testing on the guess words and the taboo words? Did you test with both Jews and gentiles?

IF: During the 24 redrafts of our game content, we worked extensively with the team at JET to make sure the content met their strict quality control standards. Through play testing with Jews and gentiles, we determined it would be best to have an easy side (blue) and hard side (green) to each card. We also chose to write Hebrew and Yiddish words as English transliterations and, when possible, provide a definition for these words in parentheses. Our goal in making these design decisions was to increase the play-ability and broad appeal of the game.

We leaned heavily on our family and friends both in creating the content and during play testing. One of my favorite play testing sessions was during my family Chanukah party in 2009 where all of the cousins, aunts, uncles, and even grandmother played our early cards which were printed on my home computer and hand-cut to roughly appear like Taboo cards. After each card was played, I took notes regarding which Taboo words should be modified.

EI!: I think a Jewish version of Monopoly would reinforce harmful stereotypes, but the idea of a Jewish Jenga kind of makes me laugh. Are there other games for which you’d like to see a Jewish version?

IF: JET has Apples to Apples Jewish Edition which is quite fun. I would love to see (or maybe even help create) a Jewish version of Pictionary. However, I fear that consumer appetite for traditional board games may be declining. There are lots of high tech distractions that compete for our time and reduce our attention spans. Family dynamics and the amount of quality time families spend together is also changing.

EI!: What advice do you have for an aspiring board game maker?

IF: As an entrepreneur, I am extremely cognizant of the effort I expend and the corresponding impact. The light must be worth the candle, as the expression goes. I would encourage others who are interested in creating games to closely examine the market, consumer demographics, distribution channels, and the overall business environment before launching a product.

Taboo Jewish Edition would make a great Hanukkah gift. Buy it here.

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3 Responses to “More than Pork and Shellfish: An Interview with Ian Framson, Co-Creator of Taboo Jewish Edition”

  1. Helena January 3, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Looking for educational games to stimuate the kids mind , may be computer , board game,Outdoor games, My kids are 4 and 6 and get board easily and end up watching TV . Some thing that will make them enjoy , learn & think , become creative. ( geneuine answers please)

    • Hannah Kane January 3, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

      Hi Helena, I think memory-based games would be great for your 4-year-old. I’m sure there are a lot of computer-based games, but I think the good old-fashioned Memory card game is more fun because it can be played with a friend or parent.

      I don’t think 6 is too young for a kid to start learning the rules of chess, even though it may take some time to develop strategy skills. I think chess is a great way to learn important skills like planning ahead and understanding consequences. Playing chess has been linked to cognitive development and improved academics (see the information on this page: http://www.chesshouse.com/why_study_chess_a/108.htm).

      Chesskid.com seems like it might be a good place to start (especially if you’re unfamiliar with the rules yourself).

      My five-year-old niece enjoys playing Connect 4, which is a little more fun and interactive than Tic-Tac-Toe, but encourages similar skill development.

      Finally, puzzles are also great for creative problem-solving and inspiring feelings of accomplishment.

      Any other ideas out there?

      • Sarah January 4, 2012 at 12:49 am #

        Make your own puzzles – cut a drawing, painting, or page out of a coloring book that your child has completed into pieces and the laminate each piece and trim.

        Take a nature walk and try to identify the colors of the rainbow, in order.

        Family history game – ask questions like “who do you think worked as a security guard before you were born? mommy or daddy?” or “who in our family do you think was born in a different city”

        Tell a story in a round, start with a sentence or two and move to the next person to contribute the next character or plot point. Can get really wild with the 4 yr old set!

        If you’re looking for cool stuff online, try the Dino Dan site (the Canadian version is better) http://www.nickjr.com/dino-dan/ and, of course, you can’t go wrong with http://www.sesamestreet.org/ Also, check out http://thekidshouldseethis.com/

        Other favorites include Memory (or Concentration), Uno, and Backgammon.

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