Jabuka: A Word Game with a Twist

“Jabuka” is a portable new and award-winning word game by Martin Russocki that is suitable for people of all ages.

“Jabuka” is a portable new and award-winning word game that is suitable for people of all ages. Guaranteed to give your brain a boost, Jabuka operates via a patented “twistable” design that enables players to rediscover the alphabet. Each peg is shaped like a coffee bean and contains a single letter. Plays can twist the letters to “morph” them into new ones and then rearrange them to make new words. Focused on celebrating creativity, imagination, problem-solving skills and words, “Jabuka” has its own YouTube channel (accessible HERE) and a humorous rap song by inventor Martin (which can be found HERE).

Martin Russocki is the designer, artist and established game inventor behind “Jabuka.” Martin is passionate about face-to-face play and, as an architecture graduate from the University of Toronto, he imagined a game with no set up, uniquely shaped pieces, spontaneous and dynamic game play that required out of the box thinking. The game enables players to break free from rules thus turning the gameplay into a flexible and free-form style that is exciting and prompts innovative thinking.

Martin came up with the idea for this specific game whilst in Starbucks so it is befitting that the pieces are shaped like coffee beans. When not working at Jabuka Games Inc., Martin works as an artist who creates commissioned portraits, large-scale interactive art installations, children’s book illustrations and traditional watercolor architectural renderings. He is currently working on his first children’s adventure book as an author/illustrator.

Martin recently discussed his career and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you decide to become a game designer and does inspiration typically hit in random places, such as Starbucks?

Martin Russocki (MR): In 2008, I was on a trans-Atlantic flight to Europe. As I often do when travelling, I was thinking of designing my life with the help of a popular venn diagram using three intersecting circles which represent things I am good at, what I love to do, and what can be lucrative. The intersection point, or “sweet spot,” I came up with was inventing a game. The first theme that inspired me was the senses, a topic I hadn’t seen commercialized. I worked hard and a year or so later “Perfect Sense” was licensed and published to Patch Products. The game won an industry award and became a Wendy’s kid’s meal. The process of creating this game – writing 2000 rhyming riddles, was so enjoyable, I instantly became hooked and began thinking of my next game, SenseAbility. Inspiration can hit anywhere and anytime. The key is to always keep an open mind and to maximize activities that yield more ideas such as the theta brain wave state one can be in when taking a shower, meditating, working, waking up and falling asleep.

MM: How did you recognize the versatility of words and what classics did you draw on to design this game?

MR: Being a visual artist, I am accustomed to the useful technique of viewing my work from a distance, in the mirror, from various angles, in different lights and upside down. After deciding to try out a word game on coffee bean shaped pieces, I painted a few letters on clay beans which I baked in my home oven and looked at them from various angles. I had an epiphany when I twisted the letter “m” sideways and upside down “Amazingly it turned into an E and an “M”! Other than looking at things differently I now realize that I also needed to be open to giving up limiting definitions in favor of discovering something new.

MM: How long did it take you to design “JABUKA” and how different did the prototype look from the final?

MR: If we define “design” to include the process of writing the instructions, testing and refining them and producing a final prototype, then it took me two years. Recognizing I could benefit from strategic collaboration, I chose to partner with Jabuka Games Co-Founder, Warren Kotler who has decades of experience in sourcing and manufacturing.

MM: What has been some of the coolest comments and feedbacks you’ve gotten about JABUKA?

MR: It’s the cool moments that have made this experience so worthwhile!

  • Cool moment 1: Early on, when I was still play testing the game with friends in New York City coffee shops, a man named David told me how much he loved it because months earlier, he had had a car accident which had left him with some brain damage. As part of his therapy, he was encouraged to play word games. He told me that he felt Jabuka was having a noticeable positive effect (where other word games did not) on his brain for which he was very grateful. This made my day.
  • Cool moment 2: Launching the game at the NYC toy fair in 2019 to great acclaim. Toy Fair launch was amazing. We had an awesome team. I designed and built our booth in the basement of a church in soho, along with a giant Jabuka game. Feeling inspired to express Jabuka’s creative versatility and bad ass irreverence of linguistic rules, I wrote and performed a Jabuka rap that we all performed at the show. We sold 1000 games, attracted the attention of major players in the industry such as Spin Master, Walmart and a main competitor, Bananagrams. Hearing about the buzz at our booth, the CEO of Bananagrams, personally came to our booth to congratulate us and ask if she could have her photo taken with us.
  • Cool moment 3: Hearing from people who love the game and why has been the best part of this journey; a French teacher told me she uses it regularly with her students, a company called Dabble Sack, that creates activity boxes for seniors with Alzheimer’s and Dementia is a regular customer, an old friend in Australia, wrote me to say she walked into a shop, saw and purchased Jabuka. It’s so cool and rewarding to know that people are now playing the game in Korea, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, U.S.A and Canada.
  • Cool moment 4: The moment I realized that the act of rediscovering a letter of the alphabet, to redefine it in a new way, is an enormously powerful process which can be applied to anything. When we define something, it helps us to understand it but it also limits our understanding of all of its possibilities. I was thrilled to discover that the game can serve as a helpful reminder that “U” can be anything: u twists to become a “c” and an “n”.
  • Cool moment 5: When I discovered, serendipitously that there is an island in the Adriatic Sea that has an island with a magnetic stone that twists the compasses of ships as they sail by. I had no idea the island existed when I named the game Jabuka. I chose the name as a fanciful meaningless word to secure a more powerful trademark and to evoke a sense of ancestral and mystical tribal origins, much as games such as Jumamji and Jenga do.
  • Cool moment 6: Getting a call from my partner, Warren, and hearing we received an order for 60,000 games.

JabukaMM: What other games have you created?

MR: Perfect Sense, SenseAbility, Quinsa (unpublished), Mayan (a pyramid game), Gotcha (an unpublished card game) and Jabuka Dice which is coming out this Christmas!

MM: Are you currently working on any other initiatives that you’re especially excited about and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

MR: A few projects I’m working on

  • Jabuka Dice
  • Writing and illustrating an older kids book adventure which explores the laws of the universe at the intersection of mindfulness and quantum physics.
  • A series of large-scale paintings on the same theme
  • Designing a large scale interactive, experiencial, team building art piece that will leave participants with tools for living life more powerfully in the present moment.