Tuesday, October 5, 2021

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 302: Evan Johnson

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:Evan Johnson
Location:Utah, USA
Day Job:I'm a software account manager full-time.
Designing:One to two years.
Facebook:Saratoga Toy & Game Co.
Today's Interview is with:

Evan Johnson
Interviewed on: 9/23/2021

Have you ever played the video game Zoo Tycoon? Have you ever wished you could play Zoo Tycoon as a tabletop game? This week’s interview is with Evan Johnson, the designer of Zoo King, the tabletop card game that was inspired by Zoo Tycoon. It launched on Kickstarter today and is available until November 4. Read on to learn more about Evan and Zoo King, and don’t forget to back the game today!

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've always been creative and I wanted to start a project that would allow me to learn and grow, while being creative. Designing and self-publishing has been a graduate course so far! Plus, the game I wanted to play didn't exist, so I had to do it myself!

What game or games are you currently working on?
Zoo King, a strategic zoo-building card game launched on Kickstarter today,October 5th! The vision for this project was to create a card game version of the popular Zoo Tycoon PC game and to really capture the nostalgia of a day at the zoo. It has a large and beautiful cast of animals, staff, and facilities and the interplay between cards is unique from game to game. However, it is a game that can be played in 30 minutes, so it's perfect for those who want a thematic and strategic game but only have a little bit of time at the end of the day.

Website: saratogatoy.com
Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zookinggame/zoo-king
Stella's Short & Sweet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek_LIdkVOrs

What is your day job?
I'm a software account manager full-time.

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

Where do you prefer to play games?
Kitchen table or family room floor

Who do you normally game with?
Wife, cousins, visiting friends, neighbors

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
7 Wonders, Machi Koro, Zoo King, Skull King

And what snacks would you eat?
Anything that doesn't get your hands messy! Peanut M&Ms are a solid choice.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Nope. As a hobby musician I have to be all in on one or the other.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
They're all so fun! I'll give a shout out to Game Grid in Lehi, UT and Gamers Inn in American Fork, UT.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
I'm a sucker for Pan Am. The theme, the pieces, the MAP. Not too intense but plenty of unique ideas and mechanics in there. Monopoly Deal has had its time in the sun. I feel like a lot of people went through a Monopoly Deal phase. Still perfect with the right group but doesn't get played as much anymore. I don't know that I've played a "worst" game. I'm pretty selective when it comes to games, but Rivals for Catan didn't seem to have a great payoff and still haven't really played a game of Kill Dr. Lucky.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love set collecting. Maybe because I love collecting things in general and adding to my trove. I really don't care for Take That unless there is a way for it to be mitigated sufficiently.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Wingspan. It's really just the fact that with two little ones and two jobs now (account manager & game designer/publisher), we are lucky if we have even 30 minutes a week. When we play games they are usually dedicated to learning new games and doing research, versus playing an hour-long favorite.

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?
I'm very theme-oriented. A game for me is an escape, so you really need to feel like you are a part of that world and it needs to influence all the components and mechanics. I want it to inspire a sense of nostalgia.

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

Do you have a current favorite game designer?
I really dig Phil Walker-Harding's stuff. Uwe Rosenberg and also the team at Prospero Hall are some others that come to mind.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Anytime I do or go somewhere fun in real life, I think that is a great idea to try and capture in a game. Sometimes it just can't be replicated too well. If you try to gamify life sometimes it can help you enjoy things more and find where an idea can really lead to a design.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I start by testing the design with myself and my wife endlessly. When I feel happy with a "first draft" so to speak, then I will play it with some neighbors and friends. We'll take all of their feedback and some more of my own ideas and create a second draft and play it with them again. Then we'll start sending the game out to blind testers, be it those in the community or extended family and friends. We'll keep refining for a while and then we'll take it to a con, at which point the feedback is mostly positive and the tweaks are minimal.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I'm someone that goes to do it alone, put my head down and churn things out at the start. Then I need some help from others to really pick it apart, tell me where I totally missed an opportunity, etc., then go back to the drawing board and repeat.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Time. As a new designer, there is still so much to learn and being able to carve out the time to do so, while still staying open to creative inspiration can be exhausting.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Toy Story, NFL, NBA, General Mills, Six Flags, Real-life airlines or retail chains

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Maybe just some advice about how daunting it would be to design a game AND self-publish. At first it seemed like running a Kickstarter for yourself is just what you do, but now I have so much respect for those that just want to focus on the design and creative part. I wanted to do the self-publishing route so I could learn the business side too, but it definitely takes a lot more time and money than I anticipated.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Build something memorable and make it a game you want to play over and over. Play the game by yourself a lot and see if you ever get sick of it. If it is something that you yourself could enjoy playing for the rest of your life then it will be worth making! Chances are if you love it that much and you add memorable, high-quality production then it will be a game others enjoy too!

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: Zoo King
Games that I'm playtesting are: Name TBD: A Crazy Carnival Card Game with Cotton Candy Currency
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Dice Arcade

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Board Game Design Lab

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?
This will get me killed but I'll pass on all. How about Toy Story, Guaraná, and a Playstation?

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Playing and watching sports, music and recording music

What is something you learned in the last week?
I always thought every remedy for getting rid of hiccups was some old wive's tale but I guess if you drink water while turning your head way back or way forward then it gets rid of them. Worked for me!

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I love soft rock and hip-hop, historical non-fiction, and documentaries

What was the last book you read?
Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Do you play any musical instruments?
Guitar, bass, and a little bit of drums/piano

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
My last name originates in Sweden, but I'm actually more Indian and Chinese than I am Swedish.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Recorded a full-length rap album

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
The Big Bang

Who is your idol or hero?
This has always been a tough question...I don't have one single person as a guide, but I do look up to my dad, Jesus, and Conan O'Brien.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Maybe go back and help prevent the extinction of the Dodo bird or invest in some companies early on.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
I think I lean introvert.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be and why?
Batman. He's a true underdog in that he doesn't have superpowers, but he's tough and resourceful.

Have any pets?
Only when I was younger, but surprise, the designer of Zoo King is allergic to animals!

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 in-person gaming survives the ages and that social media will find its way to the exit. Meeting and getting to know people in person is what builds relationships and being force-fed people's loudest, most divisive opinions from a distance is what tears the world apart.

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):
Shout out to all the conservationists and professional zoo workers across the world who are sacrificing to protect the beautiful animals that not only inspire us but keep our ecosystem flourishing.

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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