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: 8/24/2016 14:57:48
Jonathan Leistiko is a very prolific designer with several published games, including The Island of Doctor Necreaux, which will have the 2nd Edition on Kickstarter early next year. Jonathan is pretty active on a number of different game design groups on Facebook and has a wealth of experience and information to share. He is also a part of the prolific Austin Texas area game designers and is also the coordinator for Protospiel South, held in Austin every Memorial Day weekend. Read on to find out more about what makes Jonathan tick!
Tell me a bit about yourself.
How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Over ten years!
Why did you start designing tabletop games?
When I was a kid (7 years old) it was because I didn't have people to play games with, so I made up solo-play games. When I was a teenager, it was a natural extension of making up AD&D adventures. As an adult, I did it to drive traffic to my fledgling game company website.
What game or games are you currently working on?
I've been super-busy on The Island of Doctor Necreaux (Second Edition), so I haven't had a lot of time to do design lately. Even so, I have Tiny Juggernauts (a customizable card game that you can play as a shufflebuilder), Spinnerstellar (an "open universe" exploration game), and The 13th Sign (a new take on the children's classic Memory game) in the pipeline.
Have you designed any games that have been published?
Yes, four games. One self-published (Inevitable - the first successful board game on Kickstarter), and three published by other companies (Pressure Matrix and The Isle of Doctor Necreaux = AEG; Blank White Dice = WizKids). I also have one iOS game (Tumblewords = Minicore Studios).
What is your day job?
Info & Web Designer (read as: Webmaster) for TexVet.org
Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.
Where do you prefer to play games?
Home / friends' houses.
Who do you normally game with?
My fiancée & friends.
If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Wow, that's tricky. Hanabi, Orleans, Catacombs, Alien Frontiers, Dungeon Fighter...
And what snacks would you eat?
Chopped veggies, chips & hummus...
Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
We generally keep music off. If we have it, it'll be light classical or jazz.
What’s your favorite FLGS?
Wonko's Toys & Games, then Emerald Tavern
What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
1) Orleans 2) Islebound 3) Oh gee, that's rough. I think I've blotted it out of my memory.
What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
1) Bag-building. 2) Hyper-accurate simulation (Advanced Squad Leader)
What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
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, RPG Games
OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
So tired of it! Still can be fun with *just* the right people.
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?
I've designed over 140 games to completion. Both are valid starts, but there are so many other options.
Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I've entered a few casual ones on the Board Game Designers' Forum. I think I've won one or two of those...
Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
For a long time, it was Matt Leacock. I also keep an eye on what Andrew Looney's doing.
Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
By talking with friends, observing the way the world works, and by deconstructing the fundamental components of games.
How do you go about playtesting your games?
Make the bare minumum game. Write the rules and prototype it. Get together with friends. Briefly explain it, then give 'em the rules and watch 'em figure it out. Play it. Take notes. Make changes. Repeat until it's playable and I'm satisfied.
Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I work faster alone, but my best work always comes from collaborations.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Doing everything that isn't just game design: Marketing & promotion, graphic design, negotiating with printers and publishers, making Kickstarter videos... Ugh!
If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Fallen London: http://fallenlondon.storynexus.com/
What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Don't isolate yourself from playing other designers' games for fear of plagiarizing. Play as many games as you can!
What advice would you like to share about designing games?
If you want to get your game published, >persistence< and >follow-through< are more important than anything else. There are plenty of "bad" published games, and lots of fantastic games that'll only be seen by a small handful of people and die in obscurity.
Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: 120+ self-published web-published games at: http://stonesoupentertainments.com/?q=play • Three out-of print games (Inevitable, Pressure Matrix, and The Isle of Doctor Necreaux - you can find them on BGG). Blank White Dice (Also on BGG - just about to enter the distribution chain from WizKids!)
Games that will soon be published are: The Island of Doctor Necreaux: Second Edition - http://stonesoupentertainments.com/?q=content/island-doctor-necreaux-second-edition and https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/186808/island-doctor-necreaux-second-edition (Self-published)
Currently looking for a publisher I have: I have a portfolio of about 40 publisher-ready games, but I'm so busy with Necreaux 2nd ed that I just don't have time to shop them around.
I'm planning to crowdfund: The Island of Doctor Necreaux: Second Edition, The 13th Sign
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Juggernauts (free beta print-and-play at: http://stonesoupentertainments.com/?q=content/juggernauts ), Spinnerstellar, and the sequel to The Island of Doctor Necreaux (Second Edition).
Games that I'm playtesting are: (*shrug*) Space Monster? (Print-and-play beta at: http://stonesoupentertainments.com/?q=content/space-monster ), Alakazam (P-n-p beta at: http://stonesoupentertainments.com/?q=content/alakazam ). Many others.
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Too many to list.
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Too many to list.
Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
I'm on a bundle of James Mathe's Facebook 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?
1) Trek. More optimistic. 2) I don't drink soda, but I like the "young" vibe Pepsi has. 3) Betamax was the superior format.
What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Origami. Bread-and-cheese making. Baritone uke. Soldering and making stuff with a laser cutter.
What is something you learned in the last week?
How to make a good vegan mozzarella.
Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
1) Dubstep. 2) Nonfiction about places (countries, buildings, etc.). 3) "Creepy" horror, like Stranger Things.
What was the last book you read?
The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses - https://www.amazon.com/Art-Game-Design-book-lenses/dp/0123694965 [GJJ Games] This is what I’m currently reading, too! Great book! The first half is best for board game design and later it shifts more towards video game related topics, but it’s all fascinating and a great read.
Do you play any musical instruments?
Baritone uke. Harmonica.
Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I'm pro-life, but I support each person's right to choose.
Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Went skydiving (Twice). Dumped 30 pounds of dry ice in a diving pool to see it sublimate. Got my nipples pierced.
Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Starting a game store in State College, PA in September of 1994. That started a fantastic four-year time in my life.
Who is your idol?
What would you do if you had a time machine?
Go back to when my friend said we should invest in Apple (the stock was at its absolute dirt-lowest then) and tell me to do it. (Yeah, I know it's self-focused, but attempting to stop any major disaster would just get me locked up. I know my past self would listen to me if I showed up and gave me advice.)
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
That's a tough one. I know the powers I'd like to have (I'm a fan of teleportation, Bags of Holding, and longevity.), but a specific superhero? Um... Scarlet Witch (probability/reality control, flight, hex bolts)? Yeah, I'll run with that one.
Have any pets?
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?
1) Rock-scissors-paper will survive. Storytelling will survive. 2) I'd like to think that greed would get quashed, but (sadly) an asteroid won't solve that problem.
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):
Andy Van Zandt, Dan Manfredini, Shawn Storie, Ian Cooper, Zev, Desirée Ward. Woot!
Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?
I sincerely believe that we can change the world by being the change we want to see in the world. Make games that carry the messages you want to share and spread.
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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