Tuesday, May 4, 2021

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 278: Michael Zummo

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:Michael Zummo
Location:Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Day Job:I am a UX Strategist and Workflow specialist in a large corporation. In this role, I get to understand the mind of our target audience, empathize with their needs and struggles, observe how they approach solutions, and help my company create products and services to accommodate people. I've found in my professional UX career, my writing as a novelist, and a game designer the common thread is helping people enjoy life better--to take them on a journey. If that excursion helps them get a job done, or have a literary escape from life, or a fun time with family or friends--GREAT!
Designing:One to two years.
Blog:D'mok Revival Blog
BGG:Michael Zummo
Facebook:Michael Zummo
Find my games at:Amazon, BGG
Today's Interview is with:

Michael Zummo
Interviewed on: 4/28/2021

This week's interview is with Michael Zummo, a novelist and now game designer. His current game, HoverDome: Red Canyon Run, is set in the universe of his D'mok Revival novel series and is currently on Kickstarter! Read on to learn more about Michael and his current projects!

Some Basics
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 originally was a part of the video game industry. Someone once told me that you could model any future video game using board game prototyping techniques. I began exploring how to properly design board games by reading a number of books on the subject like Game Design Workshop, the Art of Game Design, Rules of Play, A Theory of Fun for Game Design, and others. I discovered board games are such different animals when it comes to physicality, gameplay, and experience. I also found that I loved the challenge and process of making one. My other incentive to design games came from an interest to play games with my (then 5-year old) son without being limited to classics like CandyLand, etc. So, he became my in-house game tester and, at times, co-creator.

What game or games are you currently working on?
HoverDome: Red Canyon Run is my first real step in releasing a game. This hoverbike racing concept is drawn from a popular sport in my scifi novel series D'mok Revival. The board game is a medium weight, strategic combat racer, for 2-6 people, ages 14 and up, and game times of 10 minutes per player. It features emergent strategies, hand management, twice-per-game abilities, take-that, catch-the-leader mechanics, and a dash of luck. May 21st is when it heads to Kickstarter. It's one of the original concepts originally created with my son so many years ago (he's now 14). However, a serious redesign and evolution phase started about two years ago. It's hard to believe how far it's come from the meager paper prototype that lived for so long.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Not that has been published to date.

What is your day job?
I am a UX Strategist and Workflow specialist in a large corporation. In this role, I get to understand the mind of our target audience, empathize with their needs and struggles, observe how they approach solutions, and help my company create products and services to accommodate people. I've found in my professional UX career, my writing as a novelist, and a game designer the common thread is helping people enjoy life better--to take them on a journey. If that excursion helps them get a job done, or have a literary escape from life, or a fun time with family or friends--GREAT!

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
I love long nights with my gamer friends at my home. We have a big table and can host up to eight people easily (we've done 10 before but it was a little cramped).

Who do you normally game with?
I have a group of friends that get together (before COVID) once a month for dinner and a long game night.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
We love games that can scale for our group size. We also love big theme games. Some we love playing are: Exploding kittens, Mysterium, Betrayal Legacy (LOVE THIS GAME), Scythe, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong (AMAZING), Rival Resturants. When it's just family in the house we love Everdell!

And what snacks would you eat?
MnMs of all kinds, ritz crackers and cheese, sometimes carrot and celery sticks when someone's on a health kick.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
If we can match a theme like scary or intense yes. Sometimes we've had pop hits low in the background. Otherwise we really enjoy the conversation and sometimes banter between plays.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Game Universe has two locations in my area. They've hosted playtesting sessions with us, and have been huge supporters!

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Everdell is a favorite right now and Betrayal Legacy! The least favorite that I still enjoy is tricky. Tokaido just because others don't get into it as much. It's an amazing game. Worst game ever was some zombie knock-off game but I can't recall the name.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love co-operative and semi-competitive games. Least favorite is take-that or stealing mechanics just because I think it causes bad feelings and arguments.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
With COVID we can't play the last round of Betrayal Legacy! That's been brutal not being able to complete the story.

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, Video Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
It really depends on the friends in the room. It's not a game you can play with anyone due to the subject matter.

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'm more about theme and then game play experience through mechanics.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Not yet. Hopefully soon!

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
James A. Wilson (Everdell), Rob Daviau (Pandemic, Betrayal games)

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I'm a science fiction writer working on my tenth work, all in the same literary universe. I have a great deal to draw from those books. That said, I used my life and world events to inspire my books, therefore informing board game concepts.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I'm a user experience professional, so I have great discipline in conducting usability studies. I try to keep it as straightforward for participants, just allowing them to read the instructions and play the game without assistance (unless I see frustration). I document each person's turn, sometimes time using a stopwatch, and notes on outcomes or issues. It provides a ton of data about turn time, round time, game time, problems to fix, items to smooth over. I highly recommend it to everyone!

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I love working with others. It's great to take an idea and build and evolve it with others.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Overthinking the design.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I think making a game within the Netflix version of Lost In Space would be great. I love science fiction and they did a great job evolving that IP.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
That I should make it more of a priority earlier in my life!

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Read about game design from those that came before you. They're experts with a great deal to share. It will jump start your own skills and insights.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: HoverDome: Red Canyon Run
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Villany - an asymmetric, co-op/competitive hybrid.
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Weun Academy: the shadow maker

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Game Maker's Lab, Board Game Design Lab community, Card & board game designers guid, Kickstarter Board games, etc.

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?
Trek (but Battlestar Galactica's 2000s reboot was amazing). Coke. VHS (honestly streaming these days)

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Video games, science fiction writing, karaoke, long walks

What is something you learned in the last week?
Understanding the types of additions needed in a game to appeal to harder core gamers on kickstarter.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Science fiction and Fantasy. Myst series of books, Brandon Sanderson books. The Marvel movies, Moulin Rouge.

What was the last book you read?
Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Do you play any musical instruments?

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
Back in 2007 I won a world wide video game competition involving 60,000 people led by David Perry. I was awarded the position of Director and Producer of 4 video games. My design, RockFree (think GuitarHero but online with 8 other people) reached 1.5 millon monthly active users on Facebook.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Left a corporate job to jump into the video game industry (after winning a contest).

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Saying hello to the person that I eventually married.

Who is your idol?
Hayao Miyazaki, Shigeru Miyamoto, Bill and Melinda Gates, Ken and Roberta Williams

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Go forward and see the future.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
They all have pretty horrific backstories! Who wouldn't want Bruce Wayne's money, Flash's speed, Superman's strength? Maybe a relative of Super Saiyan Songoku that wasn't there when their home world was blown up?

Have any pets?
A cat (named Bear by his original owner)

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?
Any game that brings people together with great joy (they will need it). The biggest thing I would love to be erased from humanity is the need for external validation. So many evils come from this one thing (both giving and receiving).

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):
Hey Netflix (Reed Hastings, Neil Hunt, Ted Sarandos) - you need a team to create board games for your big IPs! We should talk! Heh.

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

I love feedback on anything I do (books, games, etc.). Send it my way. I also love collaborating or sharing my experience. :)

This is really awesome! Thank you!

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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