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Twogether Studios Wants to Make Role-Playing Games Even Your Dad Can Play

The company’s breakthrough game, “Illimat,” a collaboration with the Decemberists, was a huge hit.

Founder: Keith Baker and Jenn Ellis

Year launched: 2014

Game type: Card games, role-playing games

Flagship game: Illimat, a witchy card game envisioning Colin Meloy playing bridge with the Angel of Death.

In 2015, after five years in town, Keith Baker received his Portland baptismal: an invitation to collaborate with a member of the Decemberists.

It came in the form of a Facebook message from guitarist Chris Funk, offering free concert tickets in exchange for a tutorial on Gloom, a card game Baker created a decade before. Eventually, it would lead the band to ask Baker and his wife, Jenn Ellis, if they'd like to work together on a whole new game.

"When we tell people the origin story of Illimat and we're not in Portland," Ellis says, "we say, 'When you're in Portland, you get assigned a Decemberist and they're a creative guide for your time there.'"

The band handed over a 2-by-2-foot wooden game board—an old prop from a photo shoot—and asked if they could turn it into something. The result, Illimat, combined occult themes with elements of classic card games. It was weird but accessible, and that made it a hit: more than 30,000 copies sold, without big-box store distribution.

"I've been making games for a long time," says Baker, "but with Illimat, that was the first game I've been involved with where I felt like I could play this with my dad."

Twogether Studios' newest project, The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance, is inspired by similar familial bonding—it's a spinoff of a popular podcast in which comedians the McElroy brothers play a Dungeons & Dragons-style role-playing game with their own father. Despite the "turdnado" of a year, as Ellis puts it, pre-orders finally went out, and the hope is that its simplified gameplay will attract an audience similar to that of Illimat—people who love games but don't want to learn a whole new skill just to play.

"There's a lot of different people who enjoy gaming," Ellis says. "We really wanted to explore that as designers: How do you help people unplug and play?"

What game are you really into right now? "We try to stick to more classic games because it's a little mind-clearing rather than always looking at something and thinking, 'How much did this component cost them?' We've probably played cribbage almost every night. If you ever play Illimat, you see where a couple tiny things stuck in there."

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