Jonathan Bobrow is the Founder of Blinks, the world’s first smart tabletop game system – built with AI-powered intelligent game pieces that respond to your touch, communicate with each other, and think for themselves. Every piece knows its own game and can learn new games. Blinks are completely modular, so the more Blinks you have, the bigger games and experiences you can create.
You earned a degree in Playful Systems at MIT. Could you talk about this degree, what was involved and what did you learn?
Believe it or not, that is a real degree 😊 I was invited to the lab to work on games about large scale cooperation. When I arrived at the lab, I was asked to build a game that felt like “the best and worst of democracy in 60 seconds a day.” Other than the incredible people I got to work with, there are two classes that stand out to me. “How to Make (Almost) Anything” and “Biologically Inspired Multi-Agent Systems”. In one, I learned, well, how to make almost anything 😊. Which really means learning a bajillion tools and rapid prototyping of hardware and software. The other exposed me to the magic of emergent behavior in the natural world such as the way termites or bees cooperate, and then taught me how to simulate those phenomena with computers. Most importantly, I learned the value of community, both inside the lab and out. The art, design, tech, and games communities in Boston were the perfect place to incubate a futuristic tabletop platform.
What are Blinks exactly?
**Blinks** is the world’s first smart tabletop game system with pieces that respond to touch, communicate with neighbors, and think for themselves! Just grab your Blink, choose your game, and connect them together to get started in seconds. Each game is easy to learn, fun to play, and can be taken anywhere. New games are constantly being released and the modular nature of Blinks means games can start small and grow with the players.
Could you share with us the genesis story behind Blinks?
For my masters thesis in Playful Systems, I designed and built AutomaTiles – magnetic, hexagonal programmable tiles. While sharing a demo of AutomaTiles at Harvard, a game design professor, Celia Pearce, asked if she and her game design students could make a game for them. I invited them to our lab to teach them the platform and design a game. The first game was made in just 3 hours and we couldn’t stop playing. When I was getting invited over to friends dinners and being asked to bring my thesis project with me, I knew we were onto something. In public, people would ask what those “blinky thingies” were, I decided to simply call them “Blinks.” In 2018, we Kickstarted Blinks, bringing the first 1100+ supporters and raising over $137K to make them a reality. In 2020, we released the next 6 games and raised more than $200K, growing the library and the community.
In a world that is becoming more digital, how important are hands-on games?
I know the moments I share with others, I will remember for my lifetime. Hand-on games provide these moments. Screens are dominating our lives in so many ways and Blinks is designed to offer connection by disconnecting and spending time with one another. Blinks bring a splash of the digital world while inspiring hands-on, face-to-face fun.
Blinks core set comes with 6 games. What are some of these games?
The Core Set was designed as an introduction to Blinks and included are 6 original games. We recommend starting with WHAM, which is an oddly challenging and satisfying version of Whack-a-Mole. Then trying to solve one of a seemingly infinite number puzzles in Puzzle101. When you’ve mastered the basics, Mortals is a real-time strategy game in which players steal life from each other to be the final survivor. Too intense? Berry is a chess-like strategy game without the board or complicated rules.
There’s also an expansion set as well as a community set. What can players expect from these additional games?
The expansion set brings even more fun to the table. You can race a friend in Speed Racer, or launch into outer space and try to complete your missions fastest in Astro. Like shuffleboard? Try your hand at FlicFlop where timing and dexterity reward you for the perfect slide. Honey and Zen Flow make meditation fun at your desk. Widgets to create your own games. Not only does the expansion bring new games to the table, they expand the Core Set games to play bigger and better.
We’ve also just released the Community Set of games with 6 more games that push gameplay in new ways.
Do you have a personal favorite Blinks game?
Ooooh, how to pick just one? Mortals continues to bring out a competitive edge in me.
Darkball is my favorite newer game and designed by a dear friend, Che-Wei Wang. With 27 Games on the system we’ve released and more in development, its hard to pick.
Developers are given the opportunity to build their own games with Blinks. Could you discuss how developers can get involved?
Blinks is set apart by its open source coding platform, community support, and revenue share with the goal of supporting the gaming ecosystem.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Blinks?
This Kickstarter is the perfect time to get into Blinks. We have an amazing deal to get started with Blinks—a premium reissue of 9 original games in a single pack. We’re also launching 6 amazing new games in the Blinks: Epic Adventure Expansion Set, including a collaboration with the team at Big Potato Games. Be the first to get the new games starting on October 20th and visiting move38.com/kickstarter.
Thank you for the interview, and the best of luck with the KickStarter campaign.