Karst Games brings gaming to the streets.
John Fandrey

I had the pleasure of growing up in Jefferson City.

I earned an engineering degree from Mizzou, and then I went to law school in Minnesota and practiced law in the Twin Cities. But in 2018, I moved back to Jefferson City with my wife to be closer to family, and the move gave me an excellent opportunity to change careers, and I enrolled in an online app development course.

My inspiration to go into app development came after my wife and I went to Seattle to visit a friend. We did our first escape room and had such a great time we decided to do two more.  It was a lot of fun, but the two of us spent about $200 to have those three experiences. I realized what we really enjoyed wasn’t trying to escape from a locked room, but doing something collaborative and challenging with our friends. I started thinking of a way I could provide another collaborative puzzle solving experience to people for less money and thought of a scavenger hunt, a puzzle solving experience using things that exist out in the real world. Instead of building a room with props and devices to provide puzzles for players, I wanted to create puzzles out of landmarks and places around Jefferson City. So I built games by combining the puzzles together in a series with a story and delivered the game using the smartphones in everyone’s pockets through my company, Karst Games. 

Playing the Game

Ultimately the games are a combination of three things: A book of puzzles, a smartphone, and an app that runs on the cloud. Players send text messages or make phone calls to a number that we provide. These texts and calls are how players submit their answers to the puzzles and request additional information if they get stuck. Through these texts and calls, the app can determine if players have solved the puzzle or if they need a clue. Creating games where the app is running on the cloud gives the games universal compatibility. It doesn’t matter if users have an iPhone or Android. Any smartphone will work.

Putting the Pieces Together 

Building a game is a six-step process. 

1. Pick the location

For example, our first game, “Atropine,” takes players around the streets of downtown Jefferson City.

2. Create a story

Atropine’s story is that an accident at a laboratory has released a deadly nerve agent into the air around Jefferson City.

3. Develop the puzzles

These puzzles are created by using landmarks and features of the locations that the games take place in. Once we’ve identified an interesting or unique feature in the area, we incorporate the landmark into the puzzle. These can be a statue or a plaque on a building, and the game will guide players to different locations. Once players are in those locations, they can solve the puzzle by combining clues provided by the game with their surroundings. When we have the number of puzzles we want, we put them into publishing software and start laying out our puzzle booklet for printing.

4. Write the code

Our games are built so that they require no participation or intervention from Karst Games personnel for players to start, play, and complete the game. This level of automation in a game requires a lot of anticipation. We try to think of all the things that can go wrong and put measures in place to eliminate those risks. When we’re happy with the code, we push it to the cloud, where it runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

5. Test. Test. Test.

The central part of our testing process is having people that weren’t involved in the game’s development play through the game and provide feedback. These outside perspectives really help us get the game ready for release. 

6. Print the booklets

As soon as we get the booklets back from the printer, we distribute them to our outlets: Downtown Book & Toy and Cork & Board.

“If you stick with it, you’ll be glad you did.”

— John Fandrey

We’ve built our company up by being patient and keeping our overhead low. We’re lucky that Karst Games requires no physical infrastructure. This keeps costs down and allows us to be patient. Having time to build our business is really important to us when we’re providing something that’s new and unique. This means we have to do a lot of explaining and educating, which we need time for. 

In the future, we would like to build another outdoor game, but take players out into nature. Binder Park and similar places are on the company’s radar. We also plan to offer some games this winter that can be played at home or in a Jefferson City establishment like Cork & Board.

We’re really lucky to have gotten our start in Jefferson City. We’ve found people receptive to what we’re doing and open to working with us. Working with other businesses and developing mutually beneficial partnerships is going to keep us growing.

For those who are interested in going into app development, I would recommend taking an online course. There are a lot of options out there for learning app development online and plenty of reviews to help you pick a good course. My other recommendation is that people going into app development be prepared to be persistent. It’s really difficult to get technology to work exactly the way you want it to. It takes a lot of persistence to push through all the challenges and make something that will be great for your users. Just don’t get discouraged. If you stick with it, you’ll be glad you did.

Ready for Adventure?

Find out how to play City Unlocked now!

John Fandrey grew up in Jefferson City and graduated from the University of Missouri. He attended law school and practiced law in the Twin Cities before moving back to Jefferson City with his wife so they could be closer to family. In 2018, he started learning how to develop apps and started Karst Games LLC. When he’s not developing apps, he enjoys reading and spending time with his wife.