Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers. Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before. If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.
Interviewed on: 8/23/2016
For the initial episode of People Behind the Meeples I am putting myself under the microscope. So you'll get to learn a bit more about me and in future installments you'll learn about all sorts of other awesome game designers, and maybe a few others in the industry!
Have something else you'd like to ask that I didn't cover here? Go ahead and comment on this post. I'll ask the designers interviewed to answer any questions!
Tell me a bit about yourself.
How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.
Why did you start designing tabletop games?
In early 2014 I had just rediscovered board games when my sons finally became interested in Junior Catan. While looking for other games for our sons my wife found one that looked interesting, but it was only a single player puzzle type of game. We really wanted something they could play together, but liked the concept of that game. She said to me "You could make something better, I'm sure." That was all it took! I has tweaked games before, even making an entire Oort Cloud expansion for Solar Quest when I was in high school, but thinking about a game design completely from scratch was something new, and I loved it! That first game wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible either, and now I can't stop coming up with new designs!
What game or games are you currently working on?
Right now I'm working on a number of games: Looting MiniSkull Castle, MiniSkull Quests, Gemotion, and Race for the Moons are my latest projects (as of answering this - it'll probably change by the time I post this).
Have you designed any games that have been published?
Not yet, but I'm hopeful! I have self-published a few on The Game Crafter and Drive Thru Cards, but that's it for now.
What is your day job?
I'm a Production Manager for a web development team.
Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.
Where do you prefer to play games?
I'll play games anywhere I can find others willing to play. Usually that's at The Gaming Goat (my FLGS), my house, or a friend's house.
Who do you normally game with?
My family, my friend Tony and his family, Rick and his family, and several regulars that come out to the game nights I host at The Gaming Goat (Kevin, Chase, Tyler, etc.).
If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Scythe, Above and Below, Hyperborea, and probably a game or two of 8 Seconds.
And what snacks would you eat?
Probably chips and fruit, like grapes.
Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I'm indifferent, but my wife prefers no music or classical, so if she's playing that's what we'll have on.
What’s your favorite FLGS?
The Gaming Goat in DeKalb, IL! We have three game stores in town and the Goat is the one I frequent most! Props to Phil for running a great shop, plus at 30% off MSRP all the time, it's the best place to buy from!
What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
I'm loving Scythe, Grifters and Above and Below right now. I enjoy almost any game, but one that seems to make it to the table quite a bit that I enjoy, but wouldn't pull out on my own is the Minecraft Card Game. My son loves it! Worst I ever played would have to go to either League of Pirates or Worst Case Scenario: The Survival Game, but I think Worst Case Scenario takes the cake on this, but just barely. I've reviewed both on my site =)
What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I think my favorite game mechanic is worker placement. I've really become smitten with all the varieties of ways to use that. I also like WP's close cousin, Action Selection... I think my least favorite mechanic is bidding, especially when combined with bluffing. I'm not a fan of poker.
What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Probably Hyperborea. I also love Kemet and only play that rarely. I loved Lewis & Clark and Tzolk'in but have only managed to get those to the table once.
What styles of games do you play?
I play Board Games and Card Games.
Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I design Board Games and Card Games, too.
OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
No, I'm not a fan of Cards Against Humanity.
You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.
When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
It varies. Occasionally I come up with an entire game before I have a good theme. Sometimes I have an idea for a theme and then work on the mechanics. Most of the time though, I come up with a main mechanic and the theme I want to work with nearly simultaneously and then add in more mechanics and refine the theme as I go.
Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I love entering BGG design competitions. I've entered about a dozen different games into six or seven different contests. I've even won or placed in a few! I've also entered a few publisher contests and currently have one game being evaluated in the finals for one!
Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I've been really impressed by the games that Scott Almes and Ryan Luakat's games lately!
Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Honestly, I come up with most of my initial ideas while taking a shower at 2am. I'm a night owl and am often up really late, and too often as I'm finally getting ready for bed inspiration hits and then I spend another hour jotting down ideas and rules...
How do you go about playtesting your games?
Initially I'll run through a game solo a few times and work out kinks as best as I can. Then I'll introduce the game to my family and close gamer friends. I also host a monthly game design and playtesting meetup and go to a number of Protospiel events where I playtest my games. I also try to release pnp versions and get feedback from people in various forums, but I don't often get a lot of feedback that way.
Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I'd love to have a team to work with, but I generally work alone on my projects, except for my playtesters.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Having the time to properly develop my bigger game ideas. I'm able to get my smaller ideas to the component and playtesting stages, but many of my bigger games that have a lot of components and take longer to play are sitting there, just waiting to be constructed and played extensively.
If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I'd love to create a game set in the Coyote universe from author Allen Steele. I've got a few ideas even!
What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
I wish someone had told me a long time ago what my wife told me in 2014. I absolutely love designing games and wish I had gotten into the hobby a long time ago. Maybe I'd have a bunch of games published by now!
What advice would you like to share about designing games?
When designing games, remember, choice is king. Giving players choices and options at every possible step keeps them engaged and thinking. They don't have to be presented with unlimited options, but the less you can have randomness that strictly dictates what can be done the more engaging the experience will be. Usually. There are always exceptions to every rule.
Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: On The Game Crafter or Drive Thru Cards: Les Petits Pirates, ChromaWerks, Snowball Fight, and 4th Grade Confidential.
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Tanuki in the Garden, Les Petits Pirates, 8 Seconds
Games I feel are in the final development and final tweaking stage are: Looting MiniSkull Castle, Polter-Heist (and expansions), To Reign Supreme
Games that I'm playtesting are: Gemotion, MiniSkull Quests, MiniSkull Caverns, Exploring Argadnel: Quest for the Orb of Mystery, Fundraising Wars, Heroes and Rogues - Out for Gold, Peacekeeprs of Jar-Zabonia
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Vim, Ultimate Bull Run, Race to the Moons, The Great Flood
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Knight Owl vs The Depressor (based on Batman and The Joker), Interstellar, King's Favor, Villainous, Construction Wars, World Walkers, and many more...
Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Yes, pretty much all of them! And I try to be active in all of them, too, especially Game Maker's Lab.
And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!
Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Stargate! (and Star Trek, and Star Wars, and pretty much all sci-fi). RC for cola but Mountain Dew, lemonade, or just water. Betamax was the superior format, too bad it was poorly managed.
What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I'm a Cubmaster for my sons' Cub Scout Pack and I'm having as much fun as they are. When I'm not doing game stuff I'm likely doing Scout stuff, including adult training and stuff, too! I also enjoy reading, geocaching, hiking, canoeing, painting, building stuff, and a ton more, but find I have less time for all that than I used to.
What is something you learned in the last week?
I've been reading some articles and learning a bit about the Voynich Manuscript. Fascinating, and I'm sure there's a game in there somewhere!
Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I enjoy a lot of different music, but mostly Americana, Folk, Roots Rock, and Alternative/Classic Country. Although I have plenty of Classic Rock, Alternative Rock, Metal, Progressive, and Pop in my collection as well... My book preferences are hard sci-fi, fantasy, and action/adventure, although I find my free time filled up with game designing more than reading lately. I've been trying to find more time to read.
What was the last book you read?
Currently making my way through The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. Last novel I read was The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, although I started that and put it down for quite a while. During the break with that I read the three Breakthrough books by Michael C. Grumley.
Do you play any musical instruments?
My whole family is very musical. My wife plays piano, violin, dulcimer, cello, and dabbles in other instruments like recorder and guitar. My oldest son plays piano and Spanish guitar and wants to someday learn French horn and/or tuba. My youngest plays piano and is thinking about what he wants his second instrument to be; he likes violin right now. Then there's me. I play the radio. =(
Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
Most people are surprised when they learn that I don't drink alcohol. I've never even had a sip, even throughout college, although I definitely attended plenty of parties. I always chose a bottle (or ten) of Mountain Dew (and Surge when it was available), so by the end of the night my friends were all passed out and I was hyper and ready to stay up for another six hours. I guess this makes me a teetotaler, although I had never heard that term before about a year ago...
Two other surprising things, or interesting facts about me: I was in gymnastics as a boy for a number of years and actually won first place in the Illinois State Meet in 1988 for Class 3 Pummel Horse. And once, I think in 1989 or 1990, I was actually in a rodeo - the Moab, Utah 4-H Rodeo celebrating Pioneer Days. Everyone else showed up in their boots and cowboy hats and I was an Illinois kid there in my gym shoes and t-shirt. But since I was in gymnastics I had some pretty awesome upper body strength back then and won the Calf Riding (Bull Riding for kids)! I have a golden belt buckle to prove it!
Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I do crazy stuff all the time... In high school and college I had a habit of climbing onto the roofs of various buildings, sometimes scaling the side of the building several stories. During track meets in high school I used to find my way to the roof of whatever school we were at many times. I also used to climb up into the rafters of gymnasiums. In my high school I found a way to get into the locked basement by climbing up into the gym rafters, scaling the wall around to the air conditioning access area, and then down an access hatch into a locked room that had stairs leading to the basement. Fun times... =)
Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Maybe not the biggest accident, but the first that comes to mind... Once in college my friend Nick and I went out for a late night drive through rural Illinois. We were cruising along roads, not paying attention to where we were going, just turning when we felt like it, usually onto the smaller roads when we came across them while we chatted about school, girls, computers, etc. As I was flying along at about 65mph in the dark I suddenly saw a RR crossing sign and slowed up just a tad, probably to 55 or 60. Little did I know that the railroad was elevated about 5 feet above the main road and the incline up to the tracks was pretty steep. It's the only time I've ever piloted an airborne vehicle! For what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a second, the car sailed through the air, a la Dukes of Hazzard. Our conversation stopped, jaws dropped, we hit the ground, bounced a little, and kept on rolling to loud whoops of laughter and adrenaline! I've always wanted to try that again, but never quite got up the courage. But it was definitely awesome!
Who is your idol?
I have to say my Dad. I've looked up to him since the day I was born and admire everything he does. He's been my inspiration as a parent and in life in general!
What would you do if you had a time machine?
I'd do a lot of crazy stuff, probably with my friend Neal. In fact, you can read all about the crazy stuff that we can do with a time machine here: http://george-and-neal-are-awesome.info
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
A bit of both. I'm not a fan of crowds or big groups, but among friends and smaller groups I'm very social.
If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
I think Iron Man. Nearly infinite wealth, awesome gadgets, and without the deep brooding emotional attitude of the Bat.
Have any pets?
A 250 pound Landseer Newfoundland named Pirate Oberon the Wookie King (yes, my son was 3 when we named him). But he responds to an affectionate "Pea Brain" just as well as he does to Pirate.
When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
I hope a lot of modern games survive, or at least the will and desire to create games that are engaging and entertaining. Games are such an awesome pastime that really brings people together. I also hope Boy Scouts and Geocaching survive into the future. They're also great pastimes that bring people together and teach important skills and lessons. Underneath that asteroid can be boy bands, texting shorthand, corrupt politicians, and anyone who would do something to purposely hurt another human being. I have to take several different youth protection courses for the various activities I volunteer for (like Scouts, etc.) and the things they warn about are stomach turning. I can't believe there are people that would do anything even remotely like what the programs warn about and it makes me sad and angry. Everyone, especially kids, should be able to feel safe wherever they are. (Soapbox, dismount.)
If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
I'd love to send a shout out to Eric Jome, Peter and Stephen Dast, Vicki and Gary Dickson, Carl Klutzke, JT Smith, Andrew Voigt, Scot Eaton, Keith Matejka, Kirk Dennison, Gary Dahl, Don Eskridge, Heather and Will Newton, Dave Fulton, James Mathe, Alex Yeager, Steve Kaftanski, Kane Klenko, Andrew Hansen, Andy Clark, Mike Wokasch and all the other people at Protospiels in the midwest that have played my games, provided great feedback, and welcomed me into their game design clique!
Also want to thank my local playtest regulars, Tony Kafka, Rick Ford, Kevin Whichell, and their sons. And a HUGE thank you to Phil Henrickson, owner of The Gaming Goat, DeKalb, IL for giving me a space to play games and organize design meetups. Also thanks to all my online game design and game review buddies, like Dane Trimble, James Reid, Jr., Nathan Wright, Tim Blackburn, Scott Brady, Ryan Camick, and all the members of the design groups I belong to. Many of them you'll see spotlighted in this interview series!
Last, but not least, a huge thank you to my wife and sons for putting up with all my game design insanity! I love that you guys love games, too!
Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?
Thank you to all my readers, playtesters, friends, and family for being a part of this crazy journey I'm on!
Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html
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