Thursday, October 13, 2016

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 14: Keith Matejka

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 and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.

Name:Keith Matejka
Location:Madison, WI USA
Day Job:Producer / Project Manager at Raven Software (video game developer)
Designing:Two to five years.
Other:I'm on BGDF, Tabletop Generation and Indie Game Alliance under either Thunderworks or Keith Matejka. I'm easy to find. :)
Find my games at:Your FLGS, Online Game Shops, BGG, Tabletopia, and my webpage.
Today's Interview is with:

Keith Matejka
Interviewed on: 08/24/16

I first met Keith at my very first Protospiel up in Madison, WI in October 2014. It was my very first time meeting any other game designers (I had only been designing for a few months), and I had a great time there. We played someone else's 4x dice game about exploring space with ships that were formed from D4 dice exploring hex tiles that had planets and some interesting mechanics for area control. Since then Keith and I have communicated quite a bit online and, a year later, I played a prototype of Keith's game Roll Player and reviewed it and later reviewed Scot Eaton's game Blend Off, which Keith published. We've crossed paths at a number of Protospiels now, and of course a lot online. Keith is a great guy, always willing to help out and give advice, and it's great advice because he's designed some great games (Bullfrogs was on my top ten games list for last year). Just a tidbit of information that I found fascinating and adorable, he named his publishing company, Thunderworks Games, after what his son used to call fireworks! How awesome is that?!

Some Basics
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?
I started getting serious about it in 2013.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I have a couple ideas I'm tinkering on. The one closest to production is an expansion for my game "Roll Player".

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Bullfrogs and Roll Player

What is your day job?
Producer / Project Manager at Raven Software (video game developer)

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
My local game store: I'm Board Games and Family Fun

Who do you normally game with?
Friends and strangers. I do a mix of playtesting and playing published games.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

And what snacks would you eat?
Sweet Hawaiian Onion Krunchers. They're amazing.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Nah. I honestly don't think it adds much to the experience. It's all about friends and interesting decisions. I think music is usually more of a distraction.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
I'm Board Games and Family Fun in Middleton, WI

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Best: War of the Ring. Least but still play: Spendor? Worst: Red Dragon Inn

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Favorite: Dice manipulation. Least: Take-that card play.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Last Night on Earth

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, RPG Games, Video Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play 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?
Depends on the game. With Bullfrogs, I designed it mechanics first and then matched a theme to it. With Roll Player, the theme came first and that dictated much of the mechanics. It can go either way, and sometimes they develop together. There's no hard fast rule here.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I've never entered a contest. Some people really get into the restrictions of the contest and enjoy designing around them. I tend to just focus on finding and developing good ideas. They develop at their own pace. And component restrictions don't really help me think through design challenges.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Martin Wallace is my favorite designer.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I usually get my best ideas my just throwing components on a table and going through motions to find something that physically feels interesting to do. This focuses on the player experience first, then the mechanics and theme. In the end, I play games to have fun. So for me, it often starts physically.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I have a regular group of friends/coworkers that I playtest over my lunch hour at my day job. I then have a regular gaming group that is pretty tolerant of playing my broken games. And then, within my home town, there are quite a few talented (and published) game designers. We often get together and play each others' games. Madison has a really strong gaming community, especially in the design space. When I'm close on finishing a title, I often will solicit blind playtesters and mail copies to people to test. I follow up via email with questions and ask that they take pictures. It's a pretty organic process, to be honest.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I'm basically a one-man shop. I design, and publish my own stuff. I've been starting to pick up other games from other designers, which I'd like to do more of. I hire the artists. I do the art direction. I run the Kickstarters. I work with the manufacturers. I work with the fulfillment and distribution house. It's tiring, but I like having input at every stage of the process. At the end of the day, my goal is to publish one game per year, as I think doing much more than that would be too much to balance with my day job. I have never worked in a real co-designer situation. It is important to me that there's one clear gatekeeper for decisions, and I prefer that to be me. :)

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Finding that next great idea.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
The Dark Tower - Stephen King

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Start small, but don't make your game so small that there's nothing interesting about them. Many people try to make super small games, but often, people want more than a deck of cards with great art. Other people start with massive designs with tons of minis and an outrageous number of bits, but those games are hard to publish unless you land a deal with a huge publisher.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Get your idea playable as fast as possible. Don't noodle on it in your head. Get some blank cards, and a sharpie and make it physical as soon as you can. Within 2 turns of trying to make your game work, you'll be making improvements you never would have thought of otherwise.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Bullfrogs, Roll Player
Games that will soon be published are: Herbaceous (Solo Variant)
I'm planning to crowdfund: Roll Player: Monsters Expansion
Games that I'm playtesting are: Unnamed Mech Combat Game
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Deep Sea Diver Worker Placement Game

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
I think I'm in all the groups. :)

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?
Star Wars FTW. I'm a Pepsi guy. When I was in college, I did a lot of work on beta -- editing video etc... But, for watching stuff, my household was a very early VHS adopter. Be kind, rewind. :)

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Video Games. Music. Model Building.

What is something you learned in the last week?
Reconnecting to family members is actually quite easy. You just need to make an effort, and spend some time together.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Music: Metal (Most sub genres), Books: Suspense, Horror, Fantasy. Movies: Fantasy

What was the last book you read?
Stephen King: Mr. Mercedes

Do you play any musical instruments?
Bass Guitar, Guitar, Piano

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I don't like coffee, yet I don't need as much sleep as most people. It's pretty common that I get 5 hours of sleep a night for months on end.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I'm pretty boring, I think. :)

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
When I was in college, I ran into an old classmate from grade school. I was super surprised to bump into her. I mentioned I was kind of looking for a girlfriend. She set me up with a girl she met in one of her classes. We've now been married 14 years.

Who is your idol?
My 5 year old son. I want to be like him when I grow up.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Start playing board games again A LOT earlier. And probably go back to past Keith and tell him to not worry so much about getting good grades in school.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
I'm an extrovert in smaller crowds, but when a group becomes a certain size (5+ people), I tend to let other people step in and take leadership.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Batman, because I want to have an awesome cave, and I'd like his bankroll.

Have any pets?
2 cats. Arwen and Pico.

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?
Survive: Role-playing and boardgaming, for sure. Destroy: The fanaticism with professional sports teams.

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):
Shout out to George Jaros for being awesome. [GJJ Games] Right back atcha Keith!

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions!

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:

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