Elan Lee: The Ultimate Gamer

Game designer Elan Lee built Exploding Kittens, the most-backed Kickstarter project in history.

Do you enjoy dodgeball, edgy sloths, walking sharks, and explosive Mexican food? If so, Throw Throw Burrito is the game for you.

Throw Throw Burrito was created by Exploding Kittens, a company named after the card game of the same name, which was produced in 2015.

A “highly-strategic” game that features an all-seeing goat wizard, Exploding Kittens is the most funded project ever on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform for creative projects. More than 219,000 backers pledged nearly $8.8 million for the game’s creation and development.

“It took people away from screens and towards a table where they could play with friends and family,” Elan Lee told me during a recent visit to his Los Angeles studio. “It felt really beautiful.” Lee created the game with fellow designers Matthew Inman (a.k.a. “The Oatmeal”) and Shane Small.

Now the company has introduced a new game. Billed as “the world’s first dodgeball card game,” Throw Throw Burrito involves collecting cards and throwing things at your friends. It has raised more than $2.5 million on Kickstarter.


“Don’t be scared to start,” Lee tells Alula about designing games.


During my visit to Exploding Kittens, Lee walked me through the process of making a card game. I also got to do a mini apprenticeship with the gaming team.

Turning an idea into a physical product sold at toy and game stores involves several steps. “The most important part is the testing,” Lee said. “After that, it’s time to create art and packaging for the game. Next, it’s working with someone who can help you with the manufacturing.”

To get all of this done, the team needs experts in graphic design, financial management, and customer service, as well as people who can communicate with manufacturers and advertisers.



When I visited Exploding Kittens, it happened to be “Fun Friday.” The day involves ordering in lunch for the team (not burritos, but dim sum) and playing games.

I taught Lee how to play a game that I invented. It’s called Pyramid. I love to invent games, so I was happy to get his advice. “Don’t be scared to start,” he said. “And keep your materials everywhere you go, because you never know when you’re going to have a good idea.”


Top photo courtesy of Exploding Kittens; bottom photo courtesy of the author