Tuesday, August 11, 2020

People Behind the Meeples- Episode 239: Jon Vallerand

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. Support me on Patreon!

Name:Jon Vallerand
Location:Montreal, Canada
Day Job:I work as a department coordinator in an IT consultancy firm.
Designing:Five to ten years.
Facebook:Subsurface Games
Find my games at:subsurfacegames.ca
Today's Interview is with:

Jon Vallerand
Interviewed on: 7/16/2020

In this interview we meet Jon Vallerand, designer of With a Smile & a Gun, which is currently funded on Kickstarter and reaching for a few stretch goals before the campaign wraps up at the end of this week. Read on to learn more about Jon and his many other projects.

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've always turned every hobby I got into in a creative endeavour: I've tried writing fantasy stories, then poetry, than graphic novels, then movies, then standup, then making an RPG. With board games, it felt more like I was in the right place, like it's the kind of things my brain just groks.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a coop dice drafting game about superheroes trying to gain the public's appreciation; a trick taking game about running a PR firm; a set collection card game about journalism; and a worker placement/time track game about running an art gallery.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
My game With a Smile & a Gun is currently on Kickstarter (up to August 14)!

What is your day job?
I work as a department coordinator in an IT consultancy firm.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
In my basement!

Who do you normally game with?
I have two game groups which, pre-Covid, used to meet weekly, and I play a weekly game of Arkham Horror LCG with my brother.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
These days I really want to play Power Grid! It's one of the best games that doesn't have a satisfying online version, and I haven't played it in too long!

And what snacks would you eat?
I'm not much of a snacker during game time, but I'd definitely be drinking a LOT of coffee.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I don't. I don't mind instrumental music, but to be honest, I'd rather be in a quiet room. I feel like they encourage discussion, and also make it easier to focus.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
It's called Imaginius. They organize a lot of cool events to grow the local community and do a great job of it!

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
My favorite is Arkham Horror LCG, which is interesting because it's so far out of the type of games I usually enjoy. My least favorite game that I'd still play is Wazabi. It's a sushi-themed game with a Scrabble-like tile laying mechanism. I don't like it much, but my partner does!

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
My favorite mechanism is engine building, especially card based stuff. I love the feeling of going from "I'll take 2 coins and a point" to "I'll take 8 coins, which gives me 6 wood, which I can then turn into a castle...". My least favorite mechanism is probably rolling for success. I hate the feeling of building up to your action, and potentially coming up empty because you were unlucky. I don't mind randomness changing my plans, but I mind it when it means I do nothing on my turn.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Power Struggle. It's an awesome area majority game with a brilliant bribery mechanism, but it really requires a very specific type of people to enjoy it.

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?
I am usually inspired by mechanisms, but my designs are then driven by moments. Whether I come from theme or mechanisms, I try to ask myself "what intense, memorable moments can arise from this", and then design towards those.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I've entered a few, and the feedback I got was worth its weight in gold.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I really look up to Phil Walker Harding, who keeps on making games with simple rulesets, yet which can be played and enjoyed at many different levels of expertise.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
By playing other games, by reading about other fields or creative disciplines.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
There are a few local design groups I like to take part in, and I am also fortunate enough to have several dedicated playtesters around me.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I like both. My first finished design was a co-design, and I would never have gotten past the early stages without a co-designer for that added accountability. That being said, I feel like co-designs have both a higher ceiling and a lower floor: working in a team that's a poor fit is terrible. That being said, even on solo designs, I usually try and get one of my playtesters into a special "lead" role, get them to an expert level at the game so I have someone to bounce ideas off of as well. As part of self-publishing With a Smile & a Gun, I've worked with multiple people --artist, graphic designer, rules editor, solo designer--, and it's been a blast to share that project with others.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Lack of time? Between family and work, there isn't a lot of time, or more accurately a lot of energy, left for design.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Fast and Furious. I want to make a game that captures both the progression from TV thief to superhero, and the ridiculously over-the-top physics breaking action.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
To ensure the core engine of the game works before spending time on creating more content for it.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Network. Talk to other designers, to other gamers, get your game out there. If you go to a convention, don't just schedule pitch meetings and go to your room in between them: hang out, talk to people. Not only will it make your design career go so much faster, but the people are the best reason to get into board games.

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: Cartographia (working title)
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: With a Smile & a Gun, a 2-player dice drafting, area majority game set in a noir Prohibition era
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Art Traders, a one-way street worker placement game about running an art gallery Off the Record, a set collection card game about being a beat journalist
Games that I'm playtesting are: SuPR (working title), a game about superheroes who want the public to like them
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: An old PR trick (working title), a trick taking game about a PR firm
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.)
Most 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?
Firefly, Perrier, Netflix

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
There are other hobbies? I love NBA basketball and reading about psychology, especially behavioural science.

What is something you learned in the last week?
That you can add emojis on PC by pressing Wn + .

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
90s rock, YA fantasy, and the Fast and Furious franchise, after they became superheroes

What was the last book you read?
A Conjuring of Light, the 3rd book in the Darker Shade of Magic series

Do you play any musical instruments?
No! I once took a music class where I was demoted to clapping, and asked not to do it loud enough that others would hear.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I don't remember colours. Unless someone says it, in which case I remember the word, my memory doesn't store that information for some reason!

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I quit my stable teaching job for an entry-level position in IT, a field in which I had zero experience and even less training.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
I broke my ankle and had to stop playing football. While not awesome, I'm not sure I would have gotten through college while playing.

Who is your idol?
My partner. She has this desire to help others, and the ability to emotionally separate her stuff from theirs.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Probably go back and tell young me that what they think matters doesn't, and that some stuff they don't think of does.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
I think I'm a semi-extrovert. If there's no extrovert in a group, I'll take that mantle, but if somebody else is enjoying the spotlight, I'm okay letting them have it.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Nightcrawler. I think teleportation is the most useful superpower there is.

Have any pets?
2 cats

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 the Fast and Furious movies survive, except for Tokyo Drift. That one can be forgotten.

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):
Sure! I'd like to tell the person who is currently reading this -- yes, you!--, that they rock!

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

Black lives matter. Trans lives matter. The planet is dying. Wear a mask.

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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