This time on A Conversation With… I’m joined by John Clowdus of Small Box Games. Small Box Games specializes in small print run games, mostly card games. John is the owner and lead designer at Small Box.
John: We’re a small game company based out of Atlanta. It’s me and my wife Britt. We started Small Box back in 2007 to publish Politico. I really have her to thank for that, as she was the one that pushed us to start doing this. Since then, we’ve published over 30 games.
Tom: Small Box Games has a unique business model. Can you tell us about it and why you chose it?
John: We started doing small run stuff before it was really the thing to do. It just seemed like a more viable business model for us. As it works now, we have preorders open for a two week window every month, often times adding new titles to those currently available. When preorders close, we get the games printed, and send them out to customers. It’s worked for us. As it is now, we aren’t in distribution or retail, and we’re not sure if that’s ever going to change. If there was ever a game we did that would go against that model, it would be Omen. That’d be the one we tested things with, and if that went well, I’m sure more would follow.
Tom: You have a couple of new games, Cartouche and Omen: A Reign Of War. Tell us about them.
John: Cartouche is a deck building game that’s somewhat different from the other deckbuilding games that are out there. It’s set in ancient Egypt, and it’s textless. It has a good bit of player conflict, which is something that most deckbuilders don’t have, or at least, didn’t have at the time of its design last year. It’s a weird game, and there aren’t a lot of mixed feelings about it:people seem to either really, really like it, or not like it at all.
Omen’s our newest game, and it’s a text heavy card game set in a fantasy ancient Greece, with players commanding a variety of units to attempt to please the gods to assure their rule over the Greek Isles. Reviews have been pretty solid, and we hope the buzz continues with the game. People seem to like it a good bit so far, so that’s a good thing. We thought it was the right game at the right time, and we hope we were right.
Tom: Though I haven’t had the chance to play or review them yet, your games sound fun, especially Potlatch, Agoniste, and Irondale. Tell us a bit about a couple more of your games.
John: Irondale’s a city building game, that’s sort of a mix between a card game and a tile laying game. Each card represents a building, and each building has a special ability and point value based
on the buildings it is built next to. It’s pretty combo heavy, but it’s a pretty solid game, and has been our top selling game for the past year. There’s the base game, and two expansions, which are both modular, and add additional buildings and variants, which players can tailor to their or their play group’s liking.
A Lone Banner is a quick little dice-based conquest game. If you like dice games with a lot of player interaction, this would probably be a good fit. It’s a neat little game in a neat little package.
Tom: Playtesting. Some designers find this a daunting part of designing. How about you? How do you handle playtesting?
John: Playtesting is just part of the process. We’ve got a small group of playtesters, and they’ve done a great job for us for the most part. I usually run through the game several times solo to make sure there are no gaping holes anywhere before anyone else ever sees it. I guess playtesting really varies though depending on the type of game you’re designing. Often times, you end up with something totally different than what you started with. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometime it’s a bad thing.
Tom: Have you had any issues with production?
John: There are always issues. I think it just comes with doing things on the scale we do them. We’ve come up with various ways of doing things that work for us. Sometimes things take longer than they should to get printed, and sometimes, numbers are off.
Tom: What’s the coolest part of being a game designer/company owner?
John: It’s just cool to own your own business, and run it the way you want it to be run. I like having my hands on everything. As far as being a designer goes, it’s always difficult to explain the game design thing to people who aren’t in the hobby. On the flip side to that, it’s an awesome feeling to take something that was once just an idea and mechanics in my head to a finished product, and ship that product to customers all over the world.
Tom: Whose work in the industry do you admire the most?
John: Colby Dauch over at Plaid Hat Games is doing a fantastic job. Zev at Z-Man seems to have a great eye for picking unique games, and always seems to have something good coming from his company.
Tom: I actually have an interview with Colby coming up soon. With regard to board & card games, what are some aspects of a good player?
John: As long as they don’t cheat or whine, and actually have a desire to play a game, they’re good players in my book.
Tom: What makes a great game? What aspects are essential for you to enjoy a game?
John: I tend to play a lot of card games. I generally like games with cards in them and some form of player interaction. It doesn’t have to be a knockdown drag out war kind of game, but I like to be able to affect other players, even if it’s just blocking a space on a board so they can’t get it. I generally don’t like games that last longer than an hour.
Tom: What are you currently playing?
John: I’m in Magic mode. I go through cycles where I’m playing M:TG heavily, and times when I’m not. I have a group of non-Magic friends I game with here in Atlanta when I can, and that gaming tends to run a super random gamut of obscure games and the latest and greatest. I’ll play pretty much anything at least once.
Tom: What is next for you? Can you give us some hints or exclusive announcements?
John: Right now, we’re focusing on keeping the interest in Omen up. I’ve always got something bouncing around in my head, and have a few designs down that I need to flesh out, but right now, the focus is really on Omen.
Tom: Are there any links or sites you want to direct us to?
John: www.smallboxgames.com. Check out our games if you haven’t already. We’ve got a pretty wide array of titles available for preordering, for different tastes and players.
Tom: This was a fun interview John. I’m glad I was able to learn more about Small Box Games. You have some very cool games and I look forward to playing Irondale and Cartouche soon.
Please visit Small Box Games and try out a couple of their games.
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