Buffalo Games’ John Bell on bringing the Tetris game to the tabletop

John Bell – Director of Inventor Relations and Preliminary Design at Buffalo Games – on why creating Tetris board games has been something of a dream collaboration.

John, you recently got a promotion at Buffalo Games! Congratulations.
Thank you, Deej! I truly appreciate it.

So what’s your title now? And what does it entail?
Insert drumroll… Director of Inventor Relations and Preliminary Design. It’s an exciting opportunity to really lean into collaborating with inventors and creatives around the world, exploring white space, and building up great game and play experiences for Buffalo Games, Gamewright, and Brainwright.

Big remit!
It is! It’s part ideation safari, playing with others in out of this world sandboxes, and creating a vision for play – and it all begins with the question… “what if?”

One of my favourite phrases! Now, we spoke last year about Buffalo’s Tetris strategy game… How’s that been going?
Fantastic! It is one of Buffalo Games’ most popular items. It’s been wonderful to collaborate with the amazing Tetris team, and work to create something in the Tetris family. It’s been a dream really.

John Bell, Buffalo Games, Tetris, Toys & Games, Video Games

Wow. High praise. What’s made it so successful, do you think?
Tetris is such an iconic global brand… When you’re able to leverage that, and its inherent promise, then marry that with play that resonates – well – then you really have something.

And in terms of taking it to other territories, what are you looking to do next?
Bring the current game to our international friends so they have a chance to enjoy the game as well. So more to come!

How did your creative relationship with Tetris start, John? And grow?
We all grew up with and are fans of Tetris and brought our own notions and ideas of what the game should feel like. But it was important to learn from the Tetris team to understand the DNA of the brand and its audience to calibrate our thinking to create something that fans and new gamers would enjoy. The Tetris team is a passionate and dedicated bunch. They were so welcoming as they invited us into their universe to play and dream.

John Bell, Buffalo Games, Tetris, Toys & Games, Video Games

When working with SUCH a well-established brand, what additional considerations do you have when developing ideas?
What could we bring to a Tetris tabletop experience that would be unique, rewarding and echo the spirit of the digital games? We identified a few core tenets… It needed to be authentic and tap into what players connected with in the original game – beyond the iconic Tetriminos. We also wanted a multiplayer experience where players were plugged in on every turn, and also pitted players against each other to see how they stack up – and even quite literally.

The game is about choices, and we wanted to really dig into that so players would have their own Matrix tower. That, of course, led to the tactile experience of holding, turning, and dropping those pieces. It had to feel and sound satisfying as the pieces fell into place.

It has to sound satisfying. That’s not something that would necessarily occur to people… Interesting. And I’m curious to know: when you were going through the different iterations, how did you know when the idea was ready? How did you know when it was just right?
We were working with the inventor, Phil Walker-Harding. As you know, he’s WONDERFUL! It was such a joy working with him and seeing his passion for Tetris in action. On a gut level, feeling is believing when iterating. Of course, there are boxes you want to check, but it still needs to hit those emotional checkpoints. Phil infused some innovative bells and whistles to the play to elevate the game for tabletop.

Can you give me an example of that?
When we first played with the bonus icons on the towers, the game started to hum. It was familiar play with an innovative twist… It preserves the play and game tension of the original, but promoted the multiplayer experience on how each player is dropping their Tetriminos.

John Bell, Buffalo Games, Tetris, Toys & Games, Video Games

Good answer. And more generally speaking, John, what process do you tend to go through with inventor ideas? How hands on or off are you with people when you don’t know them as well as you know Phil?
Our business of play is about relationships. The sharing of concepts is the perfect icebreaker to meet new creators. I’m very hands on in reviewing concepts, but believe in the dialogue that you build, and what it could lead to. That’s our secret sauce. The conversation may start out small, but all big things start small, right?

Absolutely right! Thanks, John; interesting insights – as always!

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