FARGO — For some people, a bucket list item is a physical and mental feat, like climbing Mount Everest, or skydiving or being submerged in a shark cage during a feeding frenzy.
For Austin Foss and Jenna Radtke, they only had to harvest their imagination on a tabletop.
“On both of our bucket lists, we wanted to create a board game,” Foss says.
The friends did just that, and this week they're launching a Kickstarter campaign to really capture a following for CULTivate.
Players pick one of the five characters, each a charismatic cult leader. The goal is to gain the most devotees, all the while on the lookout for investigators who could squash your supporters.
Foss says the idea of creating a game based on cults came to him after a dream. He later talked to Radtke, made his pitch and they rolled the dice, forming their own start-up company, Pops & Bejou Games.
Foss says that while cults can do serious harm to individuals, families and groups, he and Radtke chose to take some of the allure away from these organizations.
“We looked at how can we poke fun at different aspects of a cult,” he explains.
One character, Shirley, an eccentric artist-type, is obsessed with tie-dyes.
“Think Andy Warhol’s Factory, but skewed to the ridiculous,” he says.
Ridiculousness is a recurring theme in the game, which Foss says aims to “show the ridiculous side of cultish beliefs. We want to take it to satirical levels, knowing that some cult ideas are silly. At the heart of it, all cults are kind of goofy.”
Another character is Pierre Ahmed Skeem, a play on con men and pyramid schemes. A card states that one of Pierre’s character agendas is Dress to Oppress: “Turn your rough-and-tumble drifters into youthful, beautiful looking citizens by giving them a full makeover and new wardrobe. Then send them out to peddle your products door to door.”
Much of how the game is played was created by a third partner, Jake Sells, who developed the characters and their stories.
“A lot of the personality in our game came from him,” Foss says.
He also credits artist Danny Kvale for creating the look of the game.
The name of the company, Pops & Bejou, comes from nicknames for Foss and Radtke. He earned the moniker Pops as the responsible one among his roommates in college, while Radtke comes from the small Minnesota town Bejou.
Foss says if there’s as much interest in the game as he anticipates, they could develop new generations, add other characters or create different settings that tend to produce or attract charismatic leaders and eager followers. One idea would be set during a college rush week when sororities and fraternities are attracting pledges.
“We make sure we’re always winking, not outright saying this is this (person or organization),” he says.
Foss, Radtke and Sells all met as students at North Dakota State University.
He’s looking to raise $15,000 through Kickstarter to help manufacture the games, which should be available in October, just in time for the holiday season. He says the game will retail for around $35.
CULTivate is for ages 14 and older, which is more of an industry standard than a result of any adult themes in the game.
“The game is simple enough that anyone can pay it,” he says.
While they’re marketing at a broad crowd, he expects specific interest between the ages of 25 and 35.
“Millennials who grew up on screens are trying to get away from constantly being on technology. That’s why they gravitate toward board games,” he says.
They’ve tested the game with over 100 friends and family members and are excited about the results.
“I think we have a really good game here,” he says. “We really love board games. We like bringing people together and we need that now, to get away from our screens.”