Oct Meet the Maker: Sam Wander & Luke Stern, Creators of Game of Phones
In collaboration with Breaking Games, we were able to feature Game of Phones in our October box. This is the first game designed by creatives Sam Wander and Luke Stern. We love how this game is a combination of a card game and a mobile game, bringing in the laughter and TMIs with friends!
What are your backgrounds?
Sam: I'm from London originally, I came to New York to study design. Before that I was working at advertising agencies but I got restless, I didn't find the work particularly satisfying.
Luke: I'm from New York City. Before meeting Sam in grad school as my lifelong Game of Phones partner I tried to avoid becoming an artist by pursuing other creative fields like architecture and carpentry.
Have you always been interested in designing games? What else do you like to create?
This is the first game either of us have created. Although we both liked playing games, we never saw ourselves as game creators. We came to it because we liked solving problems, and thought we'd struck upon an interesting one (see next answer).
What led you to designing Game of Phones? Can you describe that path?
Sure. Believe it or not it actually started out as a class assignment. We were tasked with creating a product that could generate $1000 of profit before the class ended. It was surprisingly hard and led to an emotional few months. We decided to team up and went through some truly terrible ideas. At one point we were exploring a magnetic shelf that attaches to a MacBook. Yeah, we don't know what we were thinking either. Eventually one night, with time running out, we went to a bar and started chatting about the way everyone gets distracted by their phones while socializing, and the idea of creating a game that tried to harness that instead of fighting against it was born.
You accomplished waaaay past your kickstarter goal back in 2014. What was that like?
Surreal. The most distinct feeling we recall was one of responsibility. People were giving us money but we didn't yet have a product, so it felt like a great responsibility to make it good and follow through on what we had promised. And of course it was really exciting to have people be supportive of the idea.
Walk us through the process of designing the cards and packaging.
We had a first version that riffed more on classic playing card design, but in the end decided it wasn't working and went for something more modern. Our talented friend Francisco helped with the illustration and we decided to keep the card design super simple. The hardest part was coming up with the prompts, and testing them to prove they worked well. We recently updated the deck to Version 2.0 accounting for feedback and certain changes we were seeing in the apps people used vs a couple of years ago. We worked hard to make the game as accessible and timeless as possible because obviously things move fast with technology.
Which card(s) probably gets you most excited to enact when it’s drawn? Or which one do you find the funniest?
In the recent update we introduced a lot more creative cards, getting people to take photos, for example. We love seeing how people use those. The beauty of the game is that you have to appeal to the judge, so sometimes the funniest thing is to find something that particularly appeals to the judge's sense of humor. In a recent game someone pulled up an incredibly long and obnoxious social media post and proceeded to read the whole thing. A little mean maybe, but it was hilarious.
What’s the best reaction or response that happened while playing the game?
One of the best things is that it's a great ice breaker. When we were first testing the game we'd go to events and gather some attendees to play. Some of the cards involve texting the judge so you end up with people's phone numbers. We like to think we've kicked off some friendships and maybe even romantic relationships...
What are some upcoming trends in design and technology that you find most fascinating?
Phones are becoming the first mainstream 'Augmented Reality' devices. The idea of inserting digital things to what you're looking at is crazy interesting, and what was previously a little geeky or obscure is now popular with things like Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters. Would love to incorporate this into the game in the future.
What are you currently working on?
Expansion packs! We want to add some more niche or specific cards to the game.
To learn more about Game of Phones, you can find them here:
To learn more about Breaking Games, you can find them here: