Tuesday, July 6, 2021

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 288: James Emmerson

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:James Emmerson
Location:North East England
Day Job:I'm a secondary maths teacher.
Designing:Two to five years.
Facebook:James Emmerson Games/
Find my games at:https://boardgamehub.co.uk/ and hopefully Tranquility will find its way to your FLGS. You can also check out Tranquility on Board Game Arena and Tabletopia
Today's Interview is with:

James Emmerson
Interviewed on: 5/31/2021

This week's interview is with James Emmerson, the designer of last year's successfully Kickstarted Tranquility. This year he has the standalone sequel, Tranquility: Ascent, on Kickstarter right now! James is a promising new designer with a bunch of other games that he's working on, so read on to learn more about him and his projects.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
Boredom perhaps? Or curiosity? Which sounds more professional? Either way I was on holiday and so had some time on my hands. I was messing around with a simple solo variant of an old card game and thought 'this would be more interesting if....' and so Tranquility began.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Wait, wait.. is this the bit where I do the plug???? (Sorry) Tranquility: The Ascent is currently live on Kickstarter. It's a standalone sequel to my first game Tranquility. Like its predecessor, it's a silent co-operative family card game but this time players are working together to build/scale the mountain. The art is again done by the visual magician that is Tristam Rossin and is every bit as stunning as the original. Ok now that's out of the way. I have several other games in the works all of which are firmly on the lighter end of the gaming spectrum so I guess this is becoming my 'thing' as a designer. They vary from simultaneous card play to set collection/push your luck and even an area control built around string. I'm happy that they're all going somewhere but it's not always easy to know when a design is 'finished'. Every time I think I'm ready to knock up some more professional prototypes I have a playtest which leads to a bunch of changes. Anyway, watch this space. Hopefully, something will come to fruition soon.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Tranquility is my most successful game to date and was published by Board Game Hub in 2020 after a successful Kickstarter. This year it is seeing a much wider release curtesy of Lucky Duck Games and White Goblin Games.

Lilypads was a lockdown print and play project which was successfully kickstarted and published last year during the height of the pandemic, again by Board Game Hub. It's a little solo/2 player puzzle game which get the old grey matter working. You can still purchase the files from the Board Game Hub website if it sounds appealing.

Tranquility : The Ascent will be my third published game if it successfully funds.

What is your day job?
I'm a secondary maths teacher.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
I do most of my gaming at home, though I love a good convention.

Who do you normally game with?
My family. (Though they're not always as enthusiastic about it as I am).

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
I love the family weight classics. Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Hanabi (are you spotting the spiel des jahres theme here?). Don't get me wrong, I like things with more weight too, I just don't have enough gamer friends to play them with.

And what snacks would you eat?
Crisps, every time!

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
oooh no not really. I love music but I love games for the social interaction they generate and I guess music would distract from that.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
My local one is Beanie games in Stockton-On-Tees. They're a super friendly bunch, I just wish I got down there more often.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Favourite game is Ticket to Ride Europe. It is everything that a family game should be and my family are who I play with the most.

Least favourite that I still enjoyed... ooh tough. Fast Forward FLEE by Friedman Freise. We loved it until we lost (twice) and were supposed to restart the puzzle right from the beginning again. That's a little frustrating.

Worst game I've ever played - Bad people. A game about making your friends feel bad about themselves. It genuinely doesn't get any worse. If I could rewind time.....

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Favourite is perhaps route building, or deck building. Worst? Well ignoring the obvious roll and move problems I'd say I've never yet found a worker placement game I really loved.

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, 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?
For me it's almost always mechanics first.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Nope (never entered)

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Bruno Cathala is a master of making super streamlined games with meaningful decisions. That's what I aim for.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Reading about games, discussing mechanics with friends and sometimes just by sitting and experimenting.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I get all my thoughts in order first, make a prototype and then play it with my parents. They are my development team. They know how I work, they know what they like and don't like and they know how to tell me without crushing all my self-esteem!

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I need someone to bounce ideas off often and to test new concepts. This is always my folks but recently I've brought in a new person to help me develop one project from it's early stages. I'm enjoying the new collaboration so we'll see where that goes. Otherwise artwork and stress testing etc is all usually sorted after I've signed with a publisher. I can't draw for toffee.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Staying on track. I have a tendency to flip between ideas too quickly and sometimes I wonder if I lack the perseverance some of my games need. I also get way too nervous about what others think about my designs at times.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Probably Harry Potter. The book of my childhood.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Oh I don't know. That you can't make a good game until you've got the foundation mechanics right?

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
(see above) But also, just get on and do it. If you've had a good idea make a rough prototype because until you have a prototype to work with you don't really have anything.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Tranquility (2020)
Lilypads (2020)

Games that will soon be published are: Tranquility: The Ascent (2021)
Tessera (Still under contract so fingers crossed)

This is what I have currently crowdfunding: Tranquility: The Ascent
Currently looking for a publisher I have: Cunning Crocodiles (Children's memory game)
Anything from the Middle/Final development sections really. I just struggle to call a project 'finished'.

Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Predators (simultaneous card game)
Games that I'm playtesting are: High Tide (Set collection/Push your luck) Proximity (Set collection/Area control-with string)
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: A whole host of shelved projects sit in the Alpha/Beta phase.

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
A few. But I'm not hugely active on Facebook

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, Coke and VHS.. easy!

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I suppose video games and music come next....

What is something you learned in the last week?
No idea....

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Hmm Music is fairly eclectic but I guess it leans to indie rock? Books is a little easier I like adventure and crime and anything that makes me think. Again, I'm fairly openminded. Movies is probably even more eclectic than the other two. I enjoy most genres in truth.

What was the last book you read?
The Porpoise by Mark Haddon. An excellent read, though it was a little grim.

Do you play any musical instruments?
Saxophone, though not nearly as much as I used to.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I was a fencing coach for several years. That's not a very common sport (at least around here).

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
This question makes my life feel horribly mundane....

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Oh heck. I'm not convinced any of my accidents have turned out awesome... they're usually frustrating and stressful....

Who is your idol?
We'll stick to games for now. Bruno Cathala is my idol from a design perspective.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Can history be rewritten?

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
More extrovert I guess? But traits from both.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Well telepathy would be really convenient....

Have any pets?
A cat - Spyro (named after Spyro the dragon).

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?
Bloomin heck! Well, let’s keep the board game hobby, else this interview has been a total waste of time!

A little deep for the question maybe but can we take out nuclear weapons please? That's an anxiety nobody really needs in their life.... and under-ripe avocado's. You just never know until you open them and it's too late....

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):
My parents - I'd have achieved nothing without them and my publisher Peter Hazlewood from Board Game Hub (he might actually read this!)

Thanks for answering all my crazy questions!

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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