Make Agile Fun Again with Release!: An Interview with Alex Papadimoulis


Alex Papadimoulis, the creator of Release!, an agile-based card game, sat down to talk about how gaming can strengthen a company's work culture and bring teams together, how Release! features industry practitioners and thought leaders, and the best conference swag he has ever gotten. 


Alex Papadimoulis, the creator of Release!, an agile based card game, sat down to talk about how gaming can strengthen a company's work culture and bring teams together, how Release! features industry practitioners and thought leaders, and the best conference swag he has ever gotten. 


Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Today we have Alex Papadimoulis, and he'll be speaking to us today about his new game. Alex, can you start us off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Alex Papadimoulis: Yeah, sure. My background is in software development. Been developing software for as long as I can remember. It's fifteen years or so. Founded the company Inedo, that's what my day job is these days, but gaming has always been a hobby of mine which is what inspired us to make this game.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: You're a huge advocate of gaming bringing teams together so when we are talking about gaming, are we talking about board games like Settlers of Catan, or are we talking video games like MMORPGs? What are we talking about here?

Alex Papadimoulis: I think board games are where it's at. To clarify gaming, I should say I'm more of a board game, card game, those sorts of things. Video games, they might work, but they're usually focusing on a computer instead of person to person interaction. I think what's so great about board games is it brings folks literally together. To the same table, looking at the same thing.

Some games can be lightly competitive, some of them are what you would call a little bit of group solitaire. Other ones can be even cooperative too. Depending on the dynamics of the team, you have a whole bunch of variety of games available to bring them together. What is does, I found it helps people see how others think. You mentioned Settlers of Catan, it shows how they start thinking about resource allocation and management. It shows how they interact with trading and things like that. Ultimately, when you know how people work together, you can work more effectively with them.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: You think it's very important to company culture?

Alex Papadimoulis: Yeah, I think it's a pretty important aspect. I know for larger organizations, you know, the banks, the classic big corporate places, it's hard to pull that off. At lunch breaks, why not have a board game or two at a spare conference room? I think it's a great part of company culture.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: You don't see big banking firms playing Monopoly at lunch?

Alex Papadimoulis: Oh, that would be a really long lunch.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Yeah.

Alex Papadimoulis: Actually you would be surprised even at those big cultures what you can do with just small changes. Honestly, bring a card game in. If you have a cafeteria, usually the big banks do, pull it out in the cafeteria and you'll start finding people will be interested in what you'll do. You'll make new friends, and from a work standpoint, that's networking. You are meeting more people.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Absolutely. Is there a particular game that's really popular at Inedo?

Alex Papadimoulis: We do a bunch of them and we're always rotating the different games. Right now our current fun one is The Pandemic Expansion. That one is a cooperative play, but we do, gosh, so many of them. Stone Age is another really fun one. One that I was making fun of for a very long time because the theme is preposterous. The theme of the game is the 700 year old Bavarian glass making tradition, called Glass Road. Sounds terrible, actually it's a very fun game. We do a variety of games like that.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: You created a game. What led you to creating this game, and really not only thinking of the idea, but then going through and creating The Kickstarter and getting it funded?

Alex Papadimoulis: It's always been something I've wanted to do. Making games, start a game, and been tossing for years different ideas of how to make it happen. Then Kickstarter came out, and you see a lot of people successfully making games, and I thought, this is a good opportunity to just put something out there, see what happens, and how it turns out. It actually worked out pretty well.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Fantastic. The game is themed around agile software delivery. Why is that?

Alex Papadimoulis: The agile software delivery is what we as a company do. Inedo. I know it's not the most exciting game theme as far as board games or card games go, but I think that this is a good way to introduce gaming or games into different groups. If nothing else, educate them about the importance and ideas of agile software delivery.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Okay. The game consists of several suits to the deck. Those suits are birds, doors and fruit. They sound a little bit to me like operating systems. What's the basis for these suits?

Alex Papadimoulis: As you guessed, it's definitely the operating systems. We tried to take a fun look at those. We picked those as suits because to make the game a little different than your average trick/trade game like Euchre or something like that. We removed one of the suits from play. We could have kept them like club, spades, hearts, whatever, but thought, "We have to make a suit, let's make something themed." When it comes down to it, those seem to be the three big operating systems, and what better way than have them all intermixing together in the same game.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: You guys have a nod to current tech culture in that extent, but also I noticed that on some of your cards you have a nod to other culture that you could say is technologically based. I noticed one of the cards has The Monarch on it from The Venture Bros. That was amazing. I liked that. That was really cool.

Alex Papadimoulis: Yeah. Of course, as you mentioned the face cards, they'll feature these practitioners and thought leaders in the industry. We wanted to figure out a good way to portray these different folks in a fun way. So, Dan North, we picked The Monarch for portrayal mostly because it's a fun image and a fun way to do it. I know upcoming, we're going to see Kent Beck. He's going to come as a steam punk Victorian guy leading a charge of horses. You know, a charge.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Right.

Alex Papadimoulis: Steam punk. We're trying to do fun themes like that as well.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Keeping with the theme, you have plug-ins and extensions. Those are expansion packs for the game. Can you talk a little bit about those?

Alex Papadimoulis: Yeah, that was something that we wanted to really think about from the start. A lot of these games have a lot of fun. What's great about a lot of different board games, card games, there's that initial factor of a novelty. You'll get that with this. You'll play, and be, "Oh, this is cute, I get the game play." Five, ten rounds later, you'll be, "Okay, I see how this game works." And you'll start coming up with different strategies to do it. About thirty of fifty rounds in, it's now coming down to who's a better player of the game. It can start to wear out a little bit.

Plug ins and expansions add variety that will throw off any well defined strategy. That was from a game standpoint one of the reasons that we really wanted to put that in, to make it that much more interesting of a game. It's also a good way for us to feature and show some of the cool folks in the game. The people that we have making some of the plug-ins for example, we Astah, who does an Agile and UML modeling tool. Decided to have them on board. Red Gate, as an example, they're also sponsoring another plug-in. They make data based tools and things like that. It's a cool way to feature some of these other companies, and basically make a better game for everyone.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: You talked about making a better game, and this isn't actually your guy's first game. You guys have had a game before, and that's CodeMash 2010: the Game. As an attendee of several conferences and software conferences, I can really respect and really enjoy the premise of the game. Can you tell us a little bit about the premise of the game?

Alex Papadimoulis: Yeah, CodeMash was one of our early conferences that we attended, and we wanted to have a piece of swag that really really stood out from everyone else. That's where the idea of the game came from. Actually, I have a copy here, sitting right on the desk. It came like this, in a box, it had a deck of cards, had play pieces and things like that. It actually is a pretty fun game. It features lots of funny illustrations of really fun swags. That to us, it was a meta joke, a swag game that is about swag and collecting swag at conferences.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: You talked a little about the motive of the game behind it, but I'd like to just read a little excerpt that you guys have on the description of the game.

That's, "In CodeMash 2010: the Game, you will navigate the twisting labyrinth of the Vintners Hall to assemble the finest sets of swag this side of the Atlantic. Play alone, or compete with up to four players in this fast paced game of memory and skill. Remember at the conference, your only ally is your mind." That's one of the best descriptions for a game (Laughter). It's so accurate to me. A lot of times you are trying to get the best swag. You go in there with a great mindset to learn, but at the same time you see shirts, you see people handing out stuff. You're like "I've got to get that, I've got to get that." I thought that was really great. With that being said, can you tell us some of the best swag you've gotten?

Alex Papadimoulis: I have to say the CodeMash: the Game was probably the best swag I've ever seen, but I might be a little biased with that. Gosh, I always have a hard time picking the favorite swag. I used to be really into collecting it and finding different ones, but I find the most useful ones are usually those little tool kits that have, whatever little tools you have. USB sticks, you use those a lot and throw them away. I don't know how effective all of those are, to be honest, in drawing folks in, but yeah, they're sure a heck of a lot of fun.

I will say from the swag standpoint, I think most people tend to remember ... If it's a really expensive fun piece of swag, they usually remember the item, not the company that gave it away. One company though that I remember that I think had the best fit for a swag at any conference was a company called Sauce Labs. I don't know if you've heard about them, they do automated selenium testing. They gave away little bottles of hot sauce with their company brand. Thinking about it, that's probably the best piece of swag I've seen in recent years.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: That's pretty awesome. I wouldn't mind having a bottle of that myself. You've also, in addition to founding Inedo, you've also started a site. The Daily WTF. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Alex Papadimoulis: Yeah, so Daily WTF, I see that has a how not to guide for building software. It's been a great project over the years and features bad code, bad interviews, all technical, and management gone wrong, software project disasters. It's a fun way to read the site and realize that what your company is doing and what your job is, isn't that bad after all.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: (Laughter). Okay.

Alex Papadimoulis: If this makes it onto The Daily WTF, we'll at least let you write it up and feature it as a post on the site.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: It's probably fair to say that the WTF acronym stands for what you think it would mean?

Alex Papadimoulis: Yes, that's right. It stands for Worse Than Failure.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Oh, okay.

Alex Papadimoulis: Yeah, yeah, because that's what these are, worse than a failure I guess.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: You're also a speaker and writer. Can you tell us a little bit about the topics you enjoy speaking and writing about and what's rewarding about those two?

Alex Papadimoulis: Yeah, in the past couple years I've been focusing a lot of this concept of agile software delivery. Whether calling it DevOps or you're calling it Lean, or Continuous Delivery. It's a pretty exciting time I think for the industry because we've had agile, and agile has really proven itself. I see these years companies that say, "Oh, we do not even believe in Agile," yet they're running two week iteration. They're doing all the agile processing.

This actual delivery is the next step I think as an industry that we need to move towards. That's something I've been talking about, and the other thing is software quality. I tend to not talk too much about very specific technologies. More fundamentals. I think a lot of folks jump right on the next cool tool that they hear, and ultimately end up building a bad software, bad systems. Ultimately I think that good software is a lot more than just code, and part of what I like to speak and write about are all the other things, other than code, that go into making good software.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Okay, fantastic. This is the same game, you have writing, you have speakings out there. Can we expect more innovative, entertaining and really clever things, not necessarily games, from you guys in the future?

Alex Papadimoulis: I say I love building software for Inedo, it's a lot of fun, it's a great company, and we have a great team building software. I've got to say making games is pretty fun too, so definitely keep your eye out. We do have some other fun projects in the work that have nothing to do with software, but we're going to try to put them out anyway as we have time.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Okay. That wraps up our interview for today. If you haven't already checked out his game, check it out on the link below. The Kickstarter campaign will end on July 19th, so please go check it out. That wraps up our interview with Alex Papadimoulis.

Alex Papadimoulis: Great, thank you so much.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Thank you so much.


alex papAlex Papadimoulis has been developing software for fifteen years and has worked at companies of all shapes and sizes in a variety of industries. In addition to founding Inedo, Alex started the The Daily WTF, a fun site dedicated to building software the wrong way. He's also a speaker at software developer conferences.

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