Wednesday, June 28, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 76: Stephen Avery

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:Stephen Avery
Location:Atlanta, GA
Day Job:This is my 22nd year teaching art. I was a fine artist for a few years before that and missed the social interaction (and steady paycheck!) It’s a wonderfully rewarding job.
Designing:Five to ten years.
Facebook:Stephen Avery and SteveAveryGames
Find my games at:Game Salute, Cmon, and Tabletopia(Metal Dawn)..Or look me up at a convention
Today's Interview is with:

Stephen Avery
Interviewed on: 6/8/2017

Steve Avery is a designer you may be familiar with, and if not, you probably will be soon. His first published game was the hit, Nothing Personal, and he recently had Metal Dawn funded on Kickstarter. He also designed Ta-Da, published by Cool Mini or Not. With a whole slew of other game designs in the works, Steve is a designer to keep an eye on. To learn more about Steve and the projects he's working on, read on!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Five to ten years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I was inspired by my friend and mentor Richard Launius. I had help playtest and develop his early designs and was fascinated that he altered *everything* to suit his idea of what the game experience should be. It got me tinkering on my designs and altering some of my favorite games to see how changes impacted the game experience.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I have a big game that I'm sworn to secrecy about but other games are in the works. Many of them are co designs because I love working with other people. Over the years I've made many designs and this year I'm steeling myself to hold off from new projects until I can get the other designs sold or shelve them. Some of the designs I'm refining are:
Crash and Burn- a mad max card game
Pulp Adventures- an adventure game in a comic book format
Possessed - a hidden traitor ghost story game
Who's the Master? - a kung fu card game with powers
Strike Force Z- A game that uses rubber band guns

Have you designed any games that have been published?
My first game was Nothing Personal. I loved the production quality on it and brutal gameplay. Last year CMON published Ta-Da! a frantic party dice game with crazy stunts. Right now Metal Dawn will be published (knock on wood) with Everything Epic Games. It successfully funded on Kickstarter on June 22. Metal Dawn is a cooperative game where players defend Washington DC against an awakened AI and its forces.

What is your day job?
This is my 22nd year teaching art. I was a fine artist for a few years before that and missed the social interaction (and steady paycheck!) It’s a wonderfully rewarding job.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
I like going over to friend's houses. Although I go to a lot of conventions, the best gaming is with a few close friends.

Who do you normally game with?
The person who got me into board games is Frank Branham. He is a veteran alpha gamer with the taste for the eclectic and bizarre. 15-20 years ago I introduced myself to him to recruit him into a role playing game and he got me hooked on board games.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
My favorite games are co ops, dice games and light ameritrash (or adventure) and negotiation games. Some of my favorites are Thunder Road, Star Wars Epic Duels, Decent, I'm the Boss, and Betrayal in the house on the Hill.

And what snacks would you eat?
Yeah- unfortunately I eat everything. When gaming it’s easy to chain snacks non stop without even thinking about it. However, lately I've been bringing wasabi peas to game nights. It’s almost like I'm eating healthy.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I like to play music to fit the game. So spooky music if you're playing a Mansions of Madness.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
I don't really visit FLGS. I spend most of my time working on game design or spending time with my family. However my kids are getting older and I can foresee a time when I may visit FLGS more.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Masmora is my latest favorite. My game room is at capacity so I really have to love something to buy it because something else has to go to make room. Least favorite? I've cut so many games I still like from my collection- I'll go with Scotland Yard. It’s not that it’s bad but I would rather play Shadow Ops. (Big Shout out to Emmerson!!) Worst game. I discovered early on that games you hate, someone else will adore...I hate playing Ricochet Robot. It’s a logic puzzle with no interaction. You just stare at the board and announce. I can do it in 7 actions. I can do it in 5 actions. OMG torture.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I'm not really about game mechanics. I'm all about theme and how to best convey an experience. That said, I am always attracted to Dice allocation games.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
War on Terror (by TerrorBull Games.) It’s a crazy negation game with cardplay, a spinner, and the Balaclava of EVIL!

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

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG 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?
It’s always always about the theme. I won't ever be the guy that comes up with a unique mechanism...but I will definitely capture the flavor of the game and really give the players and experience.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I haven't entered many. I did get semi finalist at Spring 2015 Hasbro design competition.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I worship the holy trinity of Launius, Daviau and Lang.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Other games...when I think they should deliver a certain experience. Sometimes movies as well. You wonder, "How would this translate into a board game?"

How do you go about playtesting your games?
That is my Achilles heel. I don not have a group of people near me that enjoy play testing games. I have resolved to go outside my normal channels to find some but so far I've not had much luck.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I love co designing. Conversation spurs ideas and motivates me. I can get a lot done quickly if I'm excited and have someone to bounce ideas off of. It also gives me a good excuse to call and spend time with my friends. So far I've co designed games with Richard Launius, Robert Burke, Pete Shirey, Chris Bartarlis, Tom Vasel, and most recently Alan Gerding.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Play testing by far. Many of my designs would be so much better with more input.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Indiana Jones ..especially once they reboot the franchise. Avengers would be my second.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
You don't have a game until it is sitting on the shelf. There are so many things that can happen between signing and it being published. Roll with the punches. There are a lot of them.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Try to be as receptive as possible to input. If you hear something more than once, it probably needs to be looked at.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Nothing Personal and expansions. Ta-Da!
Games that will soon be published are: Metal Dawn, All Hail Caesar, Smash City, Oni , (Project X- withheld NDA)
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: Metal Dawn
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Pulp Adventures ,Hollywood Dice, Bouncin' Dice, Micro Arena, Flip Heroes, Gotham
I'm planning to crowdfund: All Hail Caesar (Fall 2017), Oni (no date set), Possibly Crash n' Burn (spring 2018)
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Strike Force Z, Crash n' Burn
Games that I'm playtesting are: Kung Fu Action Theater
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Possessed, Un named RPG with Jellybean Games
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: I'm purposely keeping from starting new projects until I wrap up an refine some old ones.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
I am but I don't keep track of them.

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?
Both! though if I could only have one I'd go with Star wars. In Atlanta Coke is king. Lastly..I'll just stream Netflix.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I love making art and have a well equipped studio. Also hiking, and gardening.

What is something you learned in the last week?
The definition of Sologamy

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
some of my favorite bands: OkGo, Matt&Kim, the Gorillaz. I love comic books, Sci Fy and Fantasy. I am a superhero movie junky.

What was the last book you read?
Shotgun Arcana by R.S. Blecher. A great read with a weird west setting.

Do you play any musical instruments?
When I as a kid I played trumpet...Until I got braces. That ended my budding music career :D

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I can drink my weight in rum. Though most people wouldn't be surprised by that.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I have the reputation of being somewhat of a party animal. I (redacted) at GenCon. I've also super glued my tongue.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
That sometimes happens with art. I once had a bronze casting where the flashing (leaked bronze)

Who is your idol?
Billy Idol...I mean it’s part of his name. Or Indiana Jones ...Indiana Idol

What would you do if you had a time machine?
I would go back and play pranks on myself...Though maybe that's actually happening

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Extrovert BAYBEE...

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
The Punisher. I also love Daredevil and other highly acrobatic heroes- probably because I'm so clumsy.

Have any pets?
Two Pugs: Frank and Carly. They're the best dogs ever!

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 say let’s just have a clean slate. We've had a good run.

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 am thankful to have many friends in the game industry. If you're my friend, you already know it...If you're not, come hang with me. You'll probably be mystified why anyone would want to associate with me. :D

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Please come say Hi if we're ever at an event together. I love meeting new people

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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