Interview Fu – A Chat with Cookie Fu Designer Brian Kowalski
There are inquiring minds here at Dice Hate Me, and whenever there’s a chance to pick a designer’s brain, you can bet the opportunity won’t be missed. Intrigued by the background of Cookie Fu, I sent a few probing questions to Brian Kowalski — the very personable man behind the dice, and founder of game publishing company Blue Kabuto.
How did you come about the idea for Cookie Fu?
Cookie Fu was actually the result of another game I was working on at the time called “Ramen Raiders”. The game (quest for the ULTIMATE bowl of ramen) was originally planned as a dice game with cards, tokens, and a few other additional components… I set my first game aspirations very high. Needless to say the champagne tastes with a beer budget just wasn’t going to be practical for me as a fledgling game designer. I really liked the combat system of Ramen Raiders and was kicking around a few ideas for it, initially going with the idea of “Fight Dice” – a small series of dice games that could be used together to simulate different fighting styles such as Kung Fu, Street Fighting, Karate, Army Bootcamp, Boxing, etc. I was having dinner one night while working on the first Fight Dice design (Kung Fu) with egg roll in hand and fortune cookie in the other, and an idea hit me! Kung Fu and take-out, “Kung Fu Take-out”… nah, too long. “Kung Fu Cookie” was too tacky. “Cookie Fu” – Bingo. And the rest is history.
You mentioned to me that you have an affinity for Japanese culture. Why choose Kung Fu over Ninjutsu or Karate? Was it simply a thematic choice?
I think it was thematic choice. I was looking for something with impact. I originally hadn’t planned to include the fortune cookie in the box – not at least one with Cookie Fu moves in it. However, the idea of Cookie Fu came together really quick – within a weekend at least. It was rough, but the foundations were there.
I would have loved to have put out a Japanese themed game, but I don’t think it would have had as much impact as it does now.
Can you tell me more about how you went about publishing Cookie Fu?
There was a point (after gaming for so many years) in 2000, that I said to myself, “you know, I could do that…” and I started creating and writing different ideas for games. Sure, I was already doing that as a GM for many games I ran, but I had always wanted to do something myself – to prove that I had it in me.
I actually did self-publishing from the start. I created 300 prototypes and had a friend sell them for me at his booth at Gen Con in 2002. The game wasn’t collectible from the start. A buyer from Wizards of the Coast just happen to stumble upon it and gave me a call – he wanted to sell it in their Gamekeeper stores throughout the US. I was contracted out as a vendor for them and I moved a metric ton of it in early 2003 (about 30,000 units). The game enjoyed good success during its initial release and was out selling some of the top boardgames at the time (Cranium, to name one). Regrettably, shortly thereafter, Wizards closed all their retail locations and since they were my biggest paying customer, Cookie Fu was no longer financially viable for me to produce. The game had to go on the back burner, while my life continued.
I always planned on putting the game out commercially again, but I had to bide my time. Sure, there were a lot of talk from investors and such, but it was always the same – a lot of talk and not much else. Over the years I’ve kept in contact with the fans and kept track of all the feedback and revised the rules to incorporate them. Even put the game out in a PDF format a couple of years back.
It wasn’t until this past year when I was finally able to reinvest into the game that I had started so many years prior. What you are looking at is a culmination of all feedback, revisions, and new ideas into the game the fans have alway loved. In essence, this version is really like “Cookie Fu 2.0.” — everything folks have come to love about the game, but bigger, better, and “crunchier” than before.
What are your gaming inspirations – what sort of games do you like, what are some of your favorites and least favorites?
[Laughs] Wow that’s a tough one. I’ve been a gamer most of my life, having started down this path around 1981. Like many of my ilk, I cut my teeth on Earl Otus Red Box D&D and haven’t looked back. I’ve played and game mastered most everything under the sun.
- Basic Dungeons & Dragons
- Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1 and 2)
- Castles & Crusades (I am their web guy)
- Usagi Yojimbo RPG
- Doctor Who (Adventures in Time and Space)
- Legend of the Five Rings
- Oriental Adventures (AD&D)
- Gamma World (1E)
- Ars Magica (1-3rd ED)
- Anything OLD TSR – Gamma World, Star Frontiers, TOP SECRET, etc.
- Dechiper’s LOTR RPG
- Chill (1E)
- Feng Shui
- Call of Cthulhu
- Tenra Bansho (Japanese)
- M.A.G.I.U.S. (Japanese)
- Dragon Age RPG
- Dragon Dice
- Star Trek Collectible Dice Game
- Dicemaster (MERP DIce Game)
- Clan War
- Heavy Gear
- Chainmail (new)
- Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition
- Vampire, Exalted, Werewolf, Changeling… basically anything by White Wolf.
- Warhammer Fantasy Battles / Warhammer Space Battles
- D&D Miniatures
- Star Fleet Battles
- Battlestar Galactica
- Warhammer RPG 3E
- Gamma World (D&D 4e version)
- Star Wars RPG
As you can see, I am a big fan of “Old School” games. I’ve pretty much tried every game put before me, so I think I’ve got a good handle on system mechanics and such. I could certainly go with this list, but I think you get the drift.