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
Phil Vestal is another fairly local game designer. Unfortunately we haven't crossed paths in real life yet, only online, but hopefully someday we'll have the chance to playtest each other's games. Phil has been working on a pretty awesome miniatures game called Wanted Earth. Be sure to check it out and watch for a Kickstarter for it coming next year.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
How long have you been designing tabletop games?
One to two years.
Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I have always loved playing games from monopoly and risk as a little kid to Catan, Werewolf, and Stone Age today. My game partner (Eddie) and I each recently had children and our lifestyles were kind of forced to change (in a good way but also a way that impacted how we could play games). We had to rethink the types of games we can play due to time constraints. We realized that there were games we couldn't easily play anymore and wondered if we could come up with something that was like the games we loved, just as epic and immersive, but wasn't as complicated and time consuming.
What game or games are you currently working on?
It's called Wanted Earth. It's a miniatures board game. RPG Strategy.
Have you designed any games that have been published?
What is your day job?
Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.
Where do you prefer to play games?
Usually at people's houses or on vacation.
Who do you normally game with?
Closest friends and family
If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Werewolf, Catan, Mysterium, and always new games friends have discovered
And what snacks would you eat?
Dr. Pepper, chips, homemade cookies (our wives make great cookies), pizza
Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Probably some sort of EDM but usually I am so focused I don’t hear what is playing!
What’s your favorite FLGS?
Grapple Games in New Lenox, IL
What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Love Carcassonne. Least favorite I still enjoy-probably Ticket to Ride. Overplayed it and now I still enjoy it but it has fallen slightly out of favor in the family. Worst game-A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Perilous Parlor Game. Played it because we found it buried in storage. Interesting but not very good.
What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Favorite-Hidden Identities such as Werewolf. I love spinning tales and trying to confuse people and figure out who they are. Least favorite-Backstabbing. It's a ton of fun in theory but when an ally turns on me, ouch. I am always nervous people will gang up on me, haha.
What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Monopoly. Most people won't sit down and play it because of how long it takes and the other great games out there that people would rather try out. Favorite game of mine as a child but just can't find a way to get it out anymore.
What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games, Video Games
Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games
OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Yes, depending on the group
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?
For our game, my partner Eddie came up with the original theme and mechanics and they really started out together and fit well, but as time has gone on some of the mechanics have changed and improved while the theme has stayed pretty consistent.
Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Have really enjoyed Matt Leacock games recently.
Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
All the time! My partner came up with the original concept for the game because he's an extremely creative guy and we just keep meeting, talking about it, texting, waking up in the middle of the night with ideas, and talking to people. Just living in the universe constantly and trying to get as much feedback as possible.
How do you go about playtesting your games?
Friends and family, soon we will go to board game stores and other groups of gamers, and then keep fanning out through networking from there.
Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
Team for sure! I have always thought that ideas are better when they are challenged and enlarged as different people wrestle with them. For Wanted Earth, our team has been key and we are lucky to be able to work with a couple of groups of artists that are amazing. They have not only helped bring our vision to life but have improved upon it.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Trying to keep fresh eyes on the project. We find that it's very difficult to stay objective about our own work. Some days I love it and some days I hate it and it's hard to tell what's realistic sometimes without having a neutral, outside perspective. We think something will or won't work and we can debate endlessly with ourselves until we just get someone else to take a look at it. We want to make something people will love, will have a blast with other people playing, and for me it's been hardest to see the game from an outsider perspective because you get too close. Balancing the game and making sure a character isn't too OP and making sure there aren't any ways to hack the game is a big challenge as well.
If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
If you mean something that has IP already and that I would like to use? Characters from skits and such. We would love to make a character based upon Scott Sterling (from Studio C). We have a hilarious and fun idea but I don't think we can get the rights. We have considered other similar character type IP stuff. Not sure if that's what you were looking for! [GJJ Games] Exactly! Thanks!
What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
How much fun it is and how great the community is. I would have started a long time ago.
What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Create a game you love because it's going to kick your butt in the process! If you don't love it then you will give up. So start with something you find to be out of this world fun and be ready to make changes. Don't white knuckle anything too tightly because it's probably going to change.
Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Games that will soon be published are: Wanted Earth-not through a publisher but hopefully publish it ourselves with funding through Kickstarter
I'm planning to crowdfund: Wanted Earth-the plan is to go to Kickstarter in early 2017
Games that I'm playtesting are: We are currently Playtesting Wanted Earth! If you live within a few hours of the Chicago area and want to check out it, feel free to shoot me an email! We’d love to get something set up. firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Lots of them. Card and Board Game Designers Guild is one, plus a number of others.
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 all the way. Pepsi. It used to be Coke but I spent a few months in Israel and they only sold Pepsi and I got hooked. VHS-I just love when all the tape comes streaming out and you have to try to unhook it from the inside of the player.
What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I love playing and watching sports. There are no words to express how great fantasy sports are.
What is something you learned in the last week?
That problems have solutions. Give it time and keep thinking about it. It's probably not as bad as it seems on the surface. Also, that a CEO can really kill a stock price even if they are running a good company.
Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Love the Marvel movies. Adventure books are a lot of fun. I tend to read a ton of non-fiction because I like to learn, but books that are not connected in any way to reality and take a character on an epic journey serve as a great relief.
What was the last book you read?
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. A couple of Navy Seals share about what they have learned about leadership and growing as individuals. It should be a must read for everyone. It changed a lot for me.
Do you play any musical instruments?
No. And I think the world is a better place because I don't.
Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
That I’m a pastor. It often has all kinds of stereotypes that go along with it and that makes me sad! I like to pride myself on being an open-minded and loving person. I hope that people I meet come away feeling that!
Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I lived in Africa and had a spitting Cobra in my house. Instead of running away I pulled out my video camera and filmed it. Made for a sweet story.
Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
One night I was in Amman, Jordan and some friends and I lost track of time and got stuck at a Starbucks (lame that we were at a Starbucks but we missed things from home). We didn't realize that getting a taxi was going to be nearly impossible. When we were there, the state department had warned that you shouldn't be out at night because of kidnappings of westerners. Oops. Well, after like 30-40 minutes we actually started getting a little nervous that we weren't going to get back to the hotel. A couple of teens came up to us and asked what we were doing. We explained the situation and the fact that we had no idea where our hotel was. They spoke English and Arabic so they helped get us a taxi, and then rode with us as they spoke on the phone with other friends getting directions. We finally made it to the hotel and when I asked what the fare was, they told us that it was on them. When they were in the US, we could pay their cab fare. Dang. That changed the way I viewed people and the world as a whole. Bad decision that changed my life for the better.
Who is your idol?
Jocko Willink. The guy who wrote the book I discussed above. He has a podcast as well and the guy should seriously run for president. He's a great leader and he has helped me as a person from my parenting to my leadership and work ethic.
What would you do if you had a time machine?
I would definitely go to the future. The way technology is changing, I would love to know what people in 200 years are capable of.
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Iron Man. The guy is not only smart but has enough resources to make a major difference in the world. Not that people without money can't make a difference because they absolutely can, but the sheer possibility of what he could do to make people's lives better is astounding. Plus, he is a brilliant inventor and has a superhero suit. Crazy.
Have any pets?
2 cats but they think they are people.
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-A deck of cards (so many possibilities), Pokemon (what a great game in all it's manifestations), football and basketball (have to stay in shape), and Werewolf (it's a big party game). I'm sure I would like more games but I won't be greedy. I wouldn't mind if 5 Crowns was taken. I'm not a big fan of the go in a circle and collect random groupings of cards games. But if it survived I'm sure someone could convince me to play it.
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):
Erin and Anneke, my wife and my game partners wife, for putting up with our constant board game and fantasy sports talk.
Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?
Thanks for letting us be a part of the community!
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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