“AKA” and “Korner’d”: Endless Games Designer Brian Turtle Discusses the Company’s New Releases

Endless Games
Brian Turtle is the co-founder of Endless Games.

Endless Games is a company that puts emphasis on endless fun. They recently launched some new games including “Korner’d Challenge” and AKA: Also Known As” which are fun for both groups and solo-play.

“Korner’d Challenge” is a new game by Endless Games that is truly versatile. Marketed towards general audiences, it is suitable for kids and adults as well as groups of players or solo-sessions. It’s double sided board—one featuring animals, the other showcasing colors—is deceptively simple looking. In actuality, this is a clever and very challenging game that will keep you engaged to the point of obsession. The Korner’d Challenge ($19.99) was designed to be played by 1 to 6 players ages 8 and older. Although its setup resembles a board game, it is actually more akin to a puzzle. The object of the game is to match the images or colors on the title to those on the board…but there is only ONE match for each tile on the board grid. Playing it alone for the first time is surprisingly difficult but the game can really pick up the pace with groups when players have to match all of their tiles on the board before their opponents. The Korner’d Challenge puzzle-game comes with a two-sided board and 36 individual, two-sided tiles. Players choose to play the color block grid or the animal pattern. Tiles are divided evenly among the players and the game begins. The first player to match all of their tiles correctly on the board wins.

AKA: Also Known As” ($19.99) is a new card game by Endless Games that uses word play to provoke players to guess categories such as people, places, and things by listening to clues of words that mean the same thing (i.e., a “house for bees” is a “hive”). This is a fun game that can be played with three people or a party group and is recommended for those twelve and up.

Recently design and endless Games co-founder Brian Turtle discussed the games, his career, future aspirations, and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into designing games and how did you forge a path in the toy industry?

Brian Turtle (BT): BLIND LUCK! In all seriousness, it was a “happy accident.” A couple friends and I created the game “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” as a way to pass the time in college, and the thing just snowballed. It went from three guys playing a drinking game, to going on the Jon Stewart show and Howard Stern… even Dateline NBC! Eventually, we figured we might as well make a board game version. That creation (originally drawn out on the back of a Budweiser beer carton) coincided with the start of Endless Games by toy Industry veterans Mike Gasser and Kevin McNulty (who had both been a part in the sales and development of Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary among other games). We had shopped our game idea around to some other companies, but they didn’t see it the way that Kevin and Mike did, who felt that “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” could be the premier item for their new company. It worked. The game really put a spotlight on Endless Games right out of the gate. I was originally just supposed to demo that game, but once I went to my first Toy Fair in NYC, I didn’t want to leave! Kevin and Mike brought me onto the team, and we’re still working together almost 25 years later!

Endless Games
Endless Games is a company that puts emphasis on endless fun. They recently launched some new games including “Korner’d Challenge” and AKA: Also Known As” which are fun for both groups and solo-play.

MM: How do you typically come up with the concepts for your games and their themes?

BT: Inspiration has a funny way of popping up when you least expect it. We try to have some product development meetings as often as we can, where we try to spin out some fun ideas. Once, we were driving home from a golf outing and we started quizzing each other on coming up with five songs by a particular band, or five movies starting some actor or another. It was a game I had loosely played around with on the beaches of the Jersey shore with friends. A few months later, one of our top sellers “Name 5” was born! Another time, I had just spent the weekend at my parents’ house for the big Turtle Family Christmas party. There were lots of children there all hopping from the couch to a pillow on the floor and back again like I’d do as a kid pretending the floor was lava. A week later I’m driving and my sales rep calls me up and says “I’ve been thinking about trying to turn the classic kids’ game The Floor is Lava into something more substantial”. I literally pulled the car over I was so excited. The next thing you know, I’m home with my kids cutting out pieces of play foam and messing around with numbers and colors to build out the game. And then there was the time when Mike, Kevin, and I were having lunch and asking each other relatively simple trivia questions. Then it became a race to see who could answer the most questions in 60 seconds. That became the game “Everybody Knows”. So, to answer your question, I guess there is no “typical” method to what we do! But if one of those little idea “nuggets” hangs around a while, we usually know it has potential.

MM: How did you make your dream of “Endless Games” a reality and what was the process of establishing it officially like?

Endless Games
The two-sided “Korner’d Challenge” looks easy…but it is not easy at all!

BT: This was again, really, a right place/right time circumstance. Mike and Kevin were trying to build something, and my game had some strange notoriety behind it that helped us “turn the lights on” together. That said, I do feel a very strong connection to games. I had always loved the competition of playing a game, but I like the entertainment value even more. Playing a game is one of those areas in life that’s more about the journey than the destination. We find things out about ourselves and the people we are playing with when we play games together. It’s such a pure means of human interaction for a social kind of guy like me. I just love it.

MM: You are well known for creating a book and a game about Kevin Bacon. So, how did that come about and what was Kevin’s reaction to being your muse?

BT: Funny question: The story has been told many times over the last 25 years. In fact, Kevin gives a great retelling of how he felt about it initially here at this panel we hosted together at SXSW a few years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiHiyF7Tza8&t=5s The shorter answer is that it was all coincidence. We were in college watching “Footloose” on TV and then another Kevin Bacon movie “Quicksilver” came on, and we just started trying to come up with people, who had NOT acted with Kevin Bacon. That, then led to the whole linking actors through other movie connections and the game was born. It was really just kind of limited to Albright College early on where we would connect people back to Kevin Bacon like some weird “stupid human trick”. It really hit a tipping point about a year later when Kevin Bacon was on The Jon Stewart show to promote “Murder in the First” and we got to meet him and play the game with him. He tells the story better, but I think, at first, he thought we were either goofing on him or even maniacal fans, but once he got to know us, he saw no harm in the game and really warmed up to it… and to us.

MM: Why stop with Kevin, might you do something similar with other celebrities in the future and make it sort of a series?

BT: I think at this point that would feel like cheating on Kevin. We’ve established a bizarre and unlikely friendship over the course of the lifetime of Endless Games. I wouldn’t want to take anything away from the important role Kevin Bacon has had in all of it by trying to capture the same magic with someone else.

MM: Korner’d, your latest release, looks very simple but it’s actually quite challenging. Where did you find this play pattern and who thought up the double-sided board?

Endless Games
“AKA: Also Known As” is a wonderfully fun word game.

BT: I wish I could take the credit for the brilliance of this game! Alas, this was developed by a guy named Brad Ross who came up with the play pattern while working with another game inventor Jim Winslow. Brad brought the concept to Endless Games and we really liked the whole “game-puzzle hybrid” play to it. Initially, we found the colors to be very challenging. Then we realized the animal side of the game board (initially a separate game all together) was even more challenging! The thing I love about Korner’d is you open it up and you see this color grid and these tiles and you’re thinking, oh this should be simple. But then you try to find the location of that first piece and it’s like “wait a minute… there’s more going on here than I thought”! Then there’s a natural tension whenever another player successfully places a tile on the game board. It really is brilliant. I could talk about this game for hours.

MM: AKA is a brilliant word game. How many writers did it take to think up all those clues and synonyms?

BT: You’re right. I know I just gushed about Korner’d being so “brilliant” and here we are using that adjective again, but it’s true, AKA is an amazingly clever game. And speaking of amazing, would you believe this game was fully written and designed by one person? Yeah, quick Six Degrees sidebar: about 20 years ago, Endless Games put out a game called “Pop Smarts” which was created by a couple of writers for TV’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. Ten years after that, those guys introduced two other game creators to Endless and we put out their idea in board game form. Then THESE TWO guys tell us about a friend of theirs who produces TV Game Shows for a living, but also has these great board game ideas that might make sense for Endless Games. So, this guy – Aaron Solomon – tells us all about AKA and we just loved it from the start. The game – like most here at Endless Games – is pretty simple on the surface. It’s all about identifying movies, songs, car brands, or any other title by what it might Also be Known As. So, for example, if the card says “What Tom Hanks movie is Also Known As Large”, you’d know that answer would be “Big”. If it was looking for you to identify the one-hit-wonder song Also Known As “Which of you Freed the Canines”, you’d know that’s “Who Let the Dogs Out”. These are the more straightforward clues, but with over 1400 AKA challenges in the game, some of them are much more challenging; and some are flat out ingenious like the kitchen appliance that’s Also Known As “Tiny Non-verbal Greeting”, or the Christmas song AKA “Are We Listening to the Same Thing?” (I won’t spoil the fun by giving you the answers to those!)

MM: Both Korner’d and AKA can be played alone—an option which isn’t available in many games. Was the solo play possibility important to you as a designer, or was it something of an afterthought?

BT: I do like that feature, especially in Korner’d, which is really like a jigsaw puzzle you play. It’s also fun to challenge yourself with some of the AKA clues, but I like that one more in a party setting. We don’t usually set out to develop a one-player game, but it’s never a bad thing when that option is available.

MM: Do you design all of these games in house or do you occasionally work with freelance inventors?

BT: We ABSOLUTELY look at products from outside inventors. Heck, even under quarantine, I am trying out new products at home with my family. We have done several games “in house” where we’ve built the whole thing soup-to-nuts. In a lot of cases though, we work with an inventor, who has an idea or a prototype, and we sort of help polish it and fine-tune it a bit.

MM: Typically, are the prototypes of your games very different from the final products?

BT: Yes and no. Sometimes we get a game in a plastic baggie that looks nothing like what it becomes in the end. Other times, like with “The Floor is Lava”–which was a projects we worked on with inventor and developer Jarryd Goldberg–the idea of throwing foam tiles all around the room very closely resembled the final product – right away.

MM: What is the process of finding a factory to produce these games like and was it tough to get them into big-box stores?

Endless Games
Endless Games produces games that can be played with groups or by yourself.

BT: If I was starting all over again in 1996, I’d say it would be MUCH more difficult to find the factory and get your game up and running. Nowadays, you can find answers to most of your manufacturing questions on the internet, and people are launching new games on Kickstarter and Amazon every day. Once you can get some traction on-line, it’s a good start to getting you into brick and mortar retail stores. And in my honest opinion, I’d tell anyone starting out to look into ASTRA. That’s the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association. It is THE community of smaller, independent retailers, manufacturers, inventors, and everyone else that makes toys “special”. Big Box stores may seem great for volume, but it’s the local shops that really give life to new products.

MM: Be honest, of all your company’s games, do you have a favorite?

BT: I LOVE the fact that my children are on the back of our “Floor is Lava” box, so that will always be a great time-capsule item for me. But as far as what can I play over and over and never get bored with, I’d go back to another one of our “home-grown hits” like “Name 5.”

MM: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of working within the toy industry?

BT: Getting to share these memories with you of course! I’m kidding… although this IS fun! Actually, the most rewarding part of this whole journey has been the fact that this industry gives those of us in it so many great opportunities to give something back. Endless Games has supported toy drives for needy children, or for victims of natural disasters, or churches, or girl scout troops, or just about any other cause you can think of, and it ALWAYS FEELS GOOD to give something back to the community!

MM: Where do you hope your career will be in ten years?

BT: If I’m lucky enough to keep doing exactly what I’m doing here at Endless Games right now, I’ll take it! I love going to work and facing all of new challenges and opportunities this industry puts in front of us. I have never felt like any of this as “going to work”. We get to manufacture fun! I’ll take this gig for a long as it’ll have me

MM: Are there any upcoming events–or impending game releases–that you would like to mention?

BT: Let’s face it, I think we are all ready to be over and done with this quarantine! I can’t wait to get back together with my ASTRA toy community to help our local small businesses get back up to speed once people are up and out of the house again. That said, I hope we all remember the fun we had and are continuing to have here at home playing games with our friends and families. There’s nothing quite like just unplugging and having some good old-fashioned fun over a board game. And as long as people agree with me and want to keep playing, I – along with everyone at Endless Games – will continue to put out the best games and puzzles possible! For fans of gameshows, we already offer “Jeopardy!,” “Wheel of Fortune,” “Password” and “Card Sharks” is being released soon. All of those games are high quality stand outs that play perfectly, just like the Tv shows. Fans love em and actually some people get into watching the TV version as a result of playing the home game, not just vice versa. You can see what’s new and exciting by checking us out at www.endlessgames.com

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Endless Games have many fun titles in their catalogue including The Floor Is Lava GameTraffic CopSleepover Party GameRed Light Green Light 1-2-3 Card GameJeopardy! Junior Card Game, and Wheel of Fortune Junior Card Game. For additional information, visit www.endlessgames.com and interact with the company on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram and YouTube.