Tabletop Deathmatch: Episode 1

When social media marketer Jasmine Davis and professional computer nerd Pete Butler first started dating three years ago, she had just gotten into game design while his ideas were sitting on the shelf. Now, they're about to get married and one of their gaming collaborations, Knight Shift, is Tabletop Deathmatch finalist.

"Jasmine inspired me to try my hand at this. I've been a gamer a lot longer than she has but she is somebody who likes to do, and if she's playing something, she's going to want to try her hand at making something. That pulled me along," said Butler.

Davis explained that their success is due to their complementary thought processes.

"I like to say that I'm our popcorn thinker and he's the slow burn thinker. I have like a million bajillion ideas. I'll write down five game ideas in the course of a week, but not all of them reach any kind of depth," she said.

This approach served them well for numerous game jams and personal projects. It also gave them the experience necessary to navigate the winding road to Knight Shift.

"It started as a breakfast-themed dot builder called Brekky Time because I loved this game called Tanto Cuore," said Davis. "It's this Japanese game where you're basically buying maids with your love. So I wanted to build something than was cute but less problematic."

Unfortunately, they discovered a similar game already existed, called Sushi Go. Davis and Butler scrambled to construct another entry for the competition and ended up entering.

"I submitted a game I'd been working on for a while called Abomination. It was about making creatures in a mad science laboratory," Butler said. "But the one we thought was the most fun was called Rocket Cats in Space. It's this goofy dexterity game where you're flicking aquarium stones all over a board.

"The game that ultimately became Knight Shift began as a sort of spin-off to Davis's previous game Cool Table,, a finalist in last year's Tabletop Deathmatch, while also salvaging some of Brekky Time's ideas. "I thought it would be cool to have a card game within the same universe where you were bringing lunch items to popular kids," said Davis.

High school kids serving their popular peers then became loyal squires serving brave knights.

"It was really last minute. We just had this bottle of wine and were like, this is really, really fun," Davis said.

Her and Butler's history together is what allowed them to overcome unexpected setbacks.

"We know where our own trouble spots are," Davis said. "I will get bogged down in minutiae like nobody's business, and having done this a few times, I know better working with Jasmine. She doesn't have that problem."

And with the feedback from Tabletop Deathmatch, Knight Shift just keeps improving.

"We got to talk to and hear from each judge personally. We could get to know them a little better," Davis said. "We got to work with a graphic designer, an artist named Adé Hogue, and he was amazing. We love Adé so much."

They've also been making mechanical changes as the game nears the finish line.

"Scoring used to be insanely difficult. People were not really engaged in the process and it felt clunky and clumsy. So we think we have something that's going to really feel a lot more lightweight and appropriate to the type of game it is," said Davis. "After the judges gave us some really outstanding advice we had sort of a "Eureka!" moment in the hot tub at the hotel.

"Other game plans, along with wedding plans, have put Knight Shift's exact release plans in flux. But Davis and Butler definitely foresee more games in their shared future. And as for reappearing on Tabletop Deathmatch, while a husband and wife head-to-head might be fun to watch for the reality TV crowd, Butler said, "I would absolutely want to enter a game that Jasmine and I had collaborated on."

Davis agreed. "It was totally fine and fun to do it by myself," she said. "I enjoyed getting to talk to the judges. I enjoyed getting to do my pitch on my own. But doing it with Pete was so much more fun. It was a cool thing to get to do together."

Knight Shift was interviewed by the lovely Jordan Minor. Catch him on Twitter as @JordanWMinor.

Meet the next finalist, Charm City Blues, in Episode 2.

Watch Episode 2