Game design
Project Overview
Seize your sword in Katana, a two-player card game in which you battle to become shogun of Japan. The objective was to create an interactive system that that relates historical culture to emergent player experiences.
(1) Abstract historical research into meaningful game mechanics and systems that relay cultural history.

(2) Develop a visual design that embraces the historical source material for a modern audience.

(3) Produce print-ready components for manufacture overseas at volume.

(4) Construct a direct-to-consumer sales website.

(5) Promote the game's release through paid and earned marketing activities.


A comprehensive survey of medieval Japanese culture and history was undertaken that prioritized primary sources in art, literature, and material culture such as armor and weaponry. Tense, turn-based card play corresponds to the careful strategic nature of samurai close-quarters combat. Aspects of Shinto and Buddhist culture are manifest in the mechanics of purification cards essential to unleashing the power of divinities called kami.

Research also informed the game’s visual design from the embrace of wabi-sabi (侘寂) aesthetics and Buddhist-inspired ink painting to the use of logo-like insignia called mon (紋) based on a sixteenth century scroll of samurai heraldry called the O-umajirushi (大馬印).

Culturally Relevant Gameplay

Katana is designed so that players must engage with the cultural mechanics to win; it is not possible to succeed through brute force alone. For example, players must contend with the negative effects of ritual pollution, which hampers their combat abilities whenever blood is shed. The resulting gameplay is akin to a balancing act, as players must purify themselves of crippling pollution with every assault on their opponent.

Achieving this blend of mechanics was the fruit of frequent play testing. Initially, this was limited to a small group of close friends. Blind play testing, in which a production-quality boxed copy is sent to testers who do not receive any help with playing, was the last step before sending the files to the printer.


A limited budget required strategizing the most effective use of time and money to generate sales. My marketing strategy consisted of four components: (1) a dedicated website for direct-to-consumer sales, (2) an advertising campaign timed with the retail release, (3) social media activity, and (4) targeted media outreach.

Reviews heap praise on the game’s strategic play and eye-catching artwork, but what stands out from critical assessments of the game is appreciation for the thematic design. Katana holds an aggregate user rating of 8.0 on BoardGameGeek.com, the world’s largest community site for table top gaming.


"This a a great two player game that feels highly reminiscent of games like Unmatched or Air, Land and Sea."


"If you love playing two-player games with fast and exciting gameplay, you should definitely check this one out."


"A good, pure 2-player game that is quick to learn, easy to teach, and fun to play. Beautiful art and the theme is spot on."