A Conversation With…AJ Porifino of Van Ryder Games-UPDATED!


Today AJ Porfirio, Owner and Chief Game Designer of Van Ryder Games joins me to talk about his company and games, Organized Chaos and If I’m Going Down…

Tom: So AJ welcome.  What would you like to tell us about yourself?

AJ: Well, let’s see I am a hard-working guy with an entrepreneurial spirit. I absolutely love Halloween and everything that goes with it. Grew up a gamer and have always played games of some sort. A few facts about me people might be interested to know:

    1. Played in the 2002 College World Series for the Rice Owls

    2. Had a short Minor League career with the Toronto Blue Jays

    3. Hold an MBA from Lipscomb University

    4. Father of 2 boys (2 and 3.5) and husband to a loving wife

    5. Van Ryder” is derived from the middle names of my boys (not sure what I will do if we have a third…)

Tom: That’s a pretty impressive list. Two young boys must surely keep you busy. How in the world did you have time to start-up a game company?

AJ: I recently got back into board gaming and joined a fantastic board game group which rekindled my spirit for the subject. The timing was such that another business venture was ending and I thought to myself, I am pretty creative, I bet I could make a fun game or two. So I just started researching everything I could on board game design, publishing, etc. etc.

Tom: Ok, give us the run down on Organized Chaos.

AJ: Van Ryder Games first release! Where do I begin? Well, I like to call Organized Chaos (OC) a “deck destroying” game. (If that term ever becomes as common place as “deck building” I will be a happy man haha). Anyway, the game is a casual but strategic game for 2-4 players. Each player starts with a deck of 40 cards which all have the same makeup. The object of the game is to be the last one to have any cards left in your draw pile.

The game makes use of dual sided cards so that you have to decide on which side of the card you will use when you play it. Typically, one side of the card will have an offensive ability – something that makes your opponents lose cards, and the other side will have a defensive ability, something that lets you preserve or protect your own cards. For example one of the most common card types is “Burn/Refresh.” If you played a “Burn” card you would choose an opponent and that opponent would flip the number of card specified straight from their draw pile into their discard pile with no effect. You would hear something like “Tom, burn 5.” The other side of the card “Refresh” allows you to take the specified number of cards from your discard pile and place them back underneath your draw pile in any order. How you decide to order the cards could come back into play sooner or later.

There are other special cards that can really cause havoc and change the game. For example, there is a card that let’s you Switch your entire deck including cards in hand with another player. People always ask ‘well can’t you just gang up on one player?’ The answer is yes, but that can quickly backfire with one ‘Switch.’ There are other cards as well that add levels of strategy to the game. For example, and this is my personal favorite, Reset/Restart gives you the choice to either: “Place your entire discard pile back underneath your draw pile (Restart)” or “Force an opponent to permanently remove their entire discard pile from the game (Reset)” Reset/Restart is an amazingly powerful card and there are all sorts of strategies of not only how to play it, but also how to get it back into your hand. One thing I might not have made clear yet is that there are many ways to get cards from your discard pile back into your hand. This makes Reset a strong option especially if an opponent has a good volume of cards in their discard pile or a number of strong cards. The value of Restart is a bit more obvious, if you are low on cards and have a bunch in your discard pile, well you can play Restart to essentially bring your deck back to full.

What you get in the box.

Each deck has one “Organized” card and one “Chaos” card. These are the only cards that remain in play and you are forced to play them immediately upon drawing one. Separately they have different individual abilities, but together they form the most powerful combination in the game allowing you to win if you run out of cards (this would normally make you lose) and giving you immunity against “Switch.” The catch is only one of each card may be in play at anytime. So your opponents must alter their strategy to try to get one of their copies in play, forcing you to discard yours.

The last thing worth mentioning that I really love about the game is that it can have a very intriguing meta-game. It really gets interesting when players start to try to convince others what they should do, who they should go after, or not go after etc. It is all part of the game and if you can verbally manipulate others, more power to you.

OC is a really fun game and one of the things I still find myself amazes at is the frequency at which the game literally comes down to the last card. You are really never out of the game until your last card is gone.

Tom: I can feel your enthusiasm for OC. You’ve put a lot of time into it. I can see from your description how the Chaos part came in. ‘Deck destroying game’ – interesting. I’ve not come across that before. How much did the game change from inception to production?

AJ: You know I tell people this and they think I am not giving myself enough credit, but I really think I got quite luck with how the game works. I honestly did not make a ton of major changes. I tried to find the holes in the game and plug them. The biggest change was after the very first play test. I originally had it so that you were trying to burn your own cards and be the first one to run out of cards. It was a total bust and did not work at all. Once I changed it to preserving your own cards and burning everyone else’s it worked much better.

Another change I made, was adding card abilities to prevent someone from simply holding a Switch card the entire game as insurance if they got low. Redirect – your typical bounce back and Replace – Forces all opponents to discard their hand, work perfectly to accomplish that end.

Other than that it was making sure the right mix of Burn/Refresh and special cards was there. I knew the Burn numbers had to be higher on average than the Refresh numbers otherwise the game could go on forever or at least a very long time.

Tom: I listen to a lot of gaming podcasts. That’s how I find out about many of my guests. How important have podcasts and/or BGG been to Van Ryder?

AJ: These marketing channels are very important to Van Ryder. I have supplied a lot of information on BGG and a few other websites. The game is very new (and the company for that matter), so we are doing all we can in the available time we have to get the word out and get exposure for our games. A good friend was kind enough to take OC to Balticon and demo the game. It also could be making an appearance at a smaller con in Austin,Texas in August.

Playing Organized Chaos

So far OC has not been discussed on any podcasts that I am aware of, but I am excited at the prospect of a review by Chris aka DiceHateMe on his website dicehateme.com and/or his podcast. Chris has been very supportive and I really admire his and Monkey’s approach and willingness to help out others in the industry.

Tom: Chris and Monkey are friends and we game together as much as possible. They have a fantastic podcast. From the video (link below) I see that this is a pretty substantial game. Four decks of cards, tokens. What problems, if any, have you had with production?

AJ: No major ones. Currently, we use The Game Crafter to print the games. We then repackage in a tuck box and ship them ourselves. What few printing issues we have had have been quickly corrected by the fine staff at TGC. Ultimately, we’d love get to a point where we feel there is enough demand for a 500-1000 copy print run of the game.

Four decks, four tokens, one box

Tom: So here come the standard questions. What do you think is the hardest part of designing a game?

AJ: Honestly, for me it is balancing the time I spend on it. I am so heavily engrossed in this now that I easily spend full nights working on my designs. I work tirelessly and harder than you could imagine to create great and unique games. I have had to recognize when a break is needed not just for myself, but for making time for my family as well.

Tom: How do you handle play testing a game?

AJ: I tend to play test in my head constantly. I am pretty good at thinking about the possible situations and how things will be affected. For example, when OC was play tested the core rules and mechanics held up very well through the first round of play testing. So much so, that (to my astonishment) only handful of minor tweaks were needed from then through final play testing (again I chalk this up mostly to luck).

I have a great group of family and friends from my game group that are really great at helping me to play test my creations. I also spend a lot of time just self testing and “playing” for each “player.”

Our upcoming title “If I’m Going Down…” (more on this in a minute) has a solitaire option so I have been able to test that part on my own quite a bit.

Tom: What’s the coolest part of being a game designer?

AJ: For me it is the freedom. You are only really limited by your imagination. I love that I can create something, anything, put a theme and a set of rules to it and create a source of entertainment.

Tom: I’m interested in learning what gamers think makes a good player. What do you think?

AJ: To me, a good player is someone who is patient, does not take game events personally, but still has a desire to win. I am the kind of guy that will try anything once. You never can tell about something until you have at least tried it. And I am all for being competitive, but in my opinion it is senseless to get angry over a board game. I was surprised after one play test session to hear OC described as “cutthroat” because to me the actions of the game are not malicious. I have heard the cutthroat comment a few times since and now understand why some folks think that, but the way I look at things I just didn’t see it as such from my own reference point.

Tom: There are SO many games out now. So many different mechanics, themes, etc. In your opinion, what do it take to make a game good?

AJ: Above all else what makes a great game is that it is fun! Well maybe I should say that it invokes emotion from the players. If a game makes you laugh out loud that is a great emotion and I’d say the game did its job. If it scares the crap out of you, keeps you on the edge of your seat in suspense, or makes you not want to quit until you’ve “got it”, it is a good game.

Balance is also a key. I love both simple and complicated games, but it is a major buzz kill to me when a game is “broken” mechanically. In a recent session of a game it seemed our team did everything right only to face an impossible task at the end of the game due to circumstance. As much fun as I had playing the game it stunk that the end came down to that.

Finally, I like rules and events in games to somewhat realistically mirror what might happen (relatively speaking). It is a quality that I think really shows that the designer thought about what is realistic and what isn’t. The example popping in my head is the backpack in D&D. I don’t know about you, but back when I played it was amazing how many weapons, items, and gold pieces my backpack could hold.

In fairness, the trump card is fun. I would rather have an unrealistic mechanic or rule and it be fun than a realistic one that isn’t or breaks the game. A good example of this is hit points or life points found in many games. A lot of games wouldn’t be nearly as fun if a gunshot, for example, killed you right away.

Tom: With so many games out there, whose work in the industry do you admire the most?

AJ: I greatly admire the big name publishers that kick out so many excellent games each year. But even more than that I admire the independent designers out there and the small time publishers trying to make a name for themselves. I admire the crowd funding sites like Kickstarter that are evening out the playing field between the two by giving gamers the power to choose what games they want to see come to life.

 Tom: Kickstarter is indeed a game changer, pardon the pun. I see good and bad potential for it.

What do you think of crowd funding efforts like Kickstarter and Springboard?  Boon or bane for the game industry?

AJ: Absolutely, unequivocally think that crowd funding is nothing but positive for the industry. In fact, our upcoming title “If I’m Going Down…” will be showing up on Kickstarter sometime in the next few months. You can sign up to be notified of the launch on the Van Ryder website.

Now that the plug is out of the way 😉 No in all seriousness, I think that crowd funding allows creative folks that would not traditionally have the resources to produce a game. It is amazing and I follow the offerings on KickStarter daily. This gives the gaming community, the players, more power than they have ever had before to choose what games they’d like to see before they are ever produced! It is really amazing. And for the independent designers out there, it evens the playing field a bit. Just great! I look forward to seeing, backing, and pimping  more games on KickStarter and Springboard in the future!

Tom: What makes your current games unique?  What makes it stand out?

The Dying Card Game logo

What makes Organized Chaos unique I think is the dual sided cards, the juxtaposition and relation between the draw and discard piles, and the fact that you literally never out of the game until your last card is gone. I have played many rounds of the game and am still astounded how frequently the game comes down to the last card. That is what I love most about the game/

Without giving too much away about “If I’m Going Down…”, it is clearly unique in that it is the only zombie card game that I am aware of where surviving is not the goal. In fact, it is a Dying Card Game (TM) so your character(s) ARE going to die! It is a certainty. There are quite a few other things about the game that I believe make it unique, but I’m not quite ready to share that at this point. Keep an eye out for this game, you are going to love it.

Tom: I agree with you about Kickstarter will absolutely allow some very good games to see the light of day. I was listening to The State of Games podcast about Kickstarter and was reminded of what Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games has said about Kickstarter. To paraphrase he said ‘the cream will rise’ and I really agree. Your description of OC’s unique aspects is interesting. The fact that you are in the game until the very end is a great aspect. And IIGD is fun.  What are you currently playing?

AJ: Anything I can get my hands on! I am playing (play testing really) a LOT of “If I’m Going Down…” (more on this coming, I promise ), Trade Fleet a simple but brilliant little resource card game by independent IcePack Games, Forbidden Island, Last Night on Earth, and Small World to name a few. I just want that list to get a lot bigger. I love playing games!

Tom: Tell us about your other projects. Anything in the pipeline you’d like to talk about?

AJ: Oh yes! Ok so I have been referring to “If I’m Going Down…” (IIGD) in some previous answers. Let me tell you about this game which I am really passionate about. I believe IIGD has the potential to be the best Zombie game on the market! We are currently planning to launch a KickStarter campaign to help fund the game once it nears completion.

 IIGD is the very first Dying Card Game™ or DCG, which is a game in which your character(s) WILL die by the end of the game. Most if not all zombie games in pretty much any genre are about surviving. That is your character’s goal too, but what you know that your character does not, is that their situation (like in many zombie infested worlds) has become hopeless. The goal has changed from surviving to taking down as many as the abominations as possible.

Zombie!

 IIGD has a tower defense like mechanic where your character is stationary and the zombies just keep coming. You can search for and find weapons and resources that will help you dispose of the vile things, but eventually, if you are lucky enough to survive that long, the resources will run out. In the end, it is about how many zombies were you able to kill and were you able to complete any other actions that gave you bonus points. I am also toying with some other ideas that add another layer into the game as far as your objective goes.

 One of the things that makes IIGD different than any other zombie game is that the zombie illustrations have character and detail that you won’t find elsewhere. This is one reason why I decided to use cards even though you might think it makes more since to use miniatures. I want players to see the zombie card and wonder, ‘what was her story?’ ‘What happened to him?’ ‘I wonder how the zombies finally got them?’ I can promise you that you will be amazed at the zombie art in this game.

 The last thing I would say about IIGD is that it will be created to give some level of creative control to the player(s). You can develop your own scenarios to play.

We also have another game in the works called “Componegotiate™” which is an interesting game where each player is trying to collect a different set of components. While there are general ways to acquire the components, the game will have an important negotiating aspect to it that gives the best negotiator (or perhaps the worst depending on your viewpoint) the best chance to win.

 The other games are too far away to mention at this point but I promise you I have some other great ideas in my head.

 Tom: I’m happy to see that there are more games on the way from Van Ryder. Are there any links or sites you want to direct us to?

AJ: The Van Ryder Games website is  www.vanrydergames.com and our shop www.shop.vanrydergames.com. Here is the link to the videos describing Organized Chaos… http://www.vanrydergames.com/html/oc_videos.html

Find our games at Game Crafter as well. www.thegamecrafter.com.
Twitter:
http://twitter.com/VanRyderGames

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Van-Ryder-Games/125210427555009

Lastly here is the link to the Kickstarter page for If I’m Going Down… http://www.vanrydergames.com/html/if_i_m_going_down.html

Thanks a bunch for talking to me A.J.  And Componegotiate™ sounds fun. Please stay in touch.

Well guys and gals that’s it for another Go Forth And Game interview. Leave a comment below. Please visit Van Ryder Games, check out their games.

It’s Indie-pendence Day!


Dogs In The Vineyard - one of the classic indie games.

Fiasco - chock full of awesome

I’m having some friends over to play role playing games today. The theme today is independently published games. Lined up for play – Spirit of The Century, Icons, The Shab Al-Hiri Roach, Counting To Infinity, Spirit of The Shattered Earth, maybe Dread, Fiasco, and…Dogs In The Vineyard. I’ll report back on how it went in a couple of days.

They're really playing Spirit of The Revolution.

A Conversation With … Gavan Brown, Designer of JAB – Real Time Boxing


I’m joined this time by Gavan Brown, the designer of Jab – Real Time Boxing.  Jab is soon to be released by Tasty Minstrel Games.

Welcome to Go Forth And Game Gavan.

Tom: Well Gavan, tell me a bit about yourself.

Gavan: I’m a 31 year old Canadian parent of 4 amazing kids. I’m a graphic designer and web developer by trade,  but my true passion is for game design.   I’ve been designing board games for 5 years now, but playing games all my life.  The majority of my gaming experience is in the video game world (with a focus on real-time strategy games), which is apparent in some of my game designs.  I’m also fortunate enough to be a part of the amazing organization: Game Artisans of Canada.   

Tom: Organized game design groups is a fantastic idea. Several of the designers I have interviewed belong to one and find them extremely helpful. I wish I had one in my area. (Maybe I should float that idea to my local crowd. Guys?)

Tasty Minstrel is publishing your game, JAB – tell us all about it.  Where did the idea come from?

Gavan: JAB is a real-time boxing card game.  Where players play punch cards to their opponent’s boxer in real-time.  As in real boxing, there are 2 paths to victory:  winning 3 of the 5 possible rounds, or knocking your opponent out, resulting in an instant win.  The game is very different than traditional real-time board/card games because the game focuses on tactical play, and is not simply a measure of pure physical and pattern recognition speed.  The idea spawned from one of the my main goals in the field of board game design, which is to bring some of the meta game concepts and psychology of real-time strategy (RTS) video games to the board game world.  In JAB’s case, the game was inspired by one of the best fighting games I’ve ever played:  Fight Night Round 2.  Generally, I’m not much of a sports gamer, but I assure you, Fight Night is no ordinary sports game.  It is extremely tactical and intense to the point where I would consider it an RTS game, rather than a sports game.

But it wasn’t the mechanisms of Fight Night that I wanted to emulate with JAB.  What interested me was the emotions that a real-time strategy system generated in me as a player.  The feeling of urgency when you are trying to knockout your opponent.  The feeling of sheer panic when you are in danger of being knocked out, fighting to stay on your feet until the round is over.  A feeling of cleverness when you plan a series of maneuvers in real-time and they happen to work out perfectly.   Feelings of urgency and panic are emotions that are really amplified in a real-time system.  These emotions were the player psychology I wanted to tap into with JAB, and I’m extremely satisfied with the results.

Tom: I have to say, when I first heard the JAB was a boxing game I didn’t think much about it. I’m not into boxing. But after reading some early press and hearing you describe it, I’m very interested. The mechanics sound really fun. How did you hook up with Tasty Minstrel?

Gavan: Originally I wanted to publish JAB myself.  Being a graphic designer, I have ample experience in the print industry, along with my many years experience being self-employed, which made the decision easy.  I started heavily researching what was involved in getting a game produced.  I sourced out a factory in China, got quotes on shipping, talked to distributors… everything was good to go. 
I’d been on #bgdf_chat (Board Game Designers Forum) talking with Seth Jaffee, and he requested a prototype.  I had informed him that I was publishing it myself, but I would gladly welcome his opinion of the game.  I sent him a prototype and him and Michael Mindes played it at BGG.con in 2009.  Michael played it for many hours that night.  Michael absolutely loved it and asked if I would let TMG publish it.  At first I rejected him and kept pursuing my own publishing route.   

I found (and still find) Michael to be very supportive, and a great person all around.  In December 2009, Michael made me a final offer to publish the game.  With a new baby at my house and working a full time job, I really had to think about what was best for the game, and what was best for my future in game design.  Michael and I struck a deal, and it’s been an extremely positive experience.  TMG is a great publisher that really thinks out of the box.  Their focus on grass-roots / community marketing (such as BGG), is a core value that I share.

Tom: What a cool story. I admire you for wanting to go it on your own. But to impress Michael so much that he pursued you is very impressive. I want to play this game even more now. How much ‘influence’ did Seth and Michael have?  What about JAB changed from its initial inception?

Gavan: Fortunately, JAB was nearly ready for publication when TMG took the wheel.  But JAB has gone through countless iterations and changes.  In fact, the earliest versions of the game didn’t even function.  I was getting feedback like “maybe some things are just not meant to be made into games”.    A few prototypes later, there was a eureka moment, and the game started functioning… not only functioning, but functioning better than I thought possible.  After this miracle moment, the game then came together fairly quickly, but I spent an additional year streamlining and balancing the system.  One of the biggest changes over that year of streamlining, was the introduction of a tug-of-war health system, which determines how close you are being knocked out.

Tom: It can be so hard to get to those eureka moments. What is the hardest part of designing a game? What part of the process do you dread?

Gavan: That’s an easy one for me: challenging failure. The question is not “will I fail?” but rather, “how many more times will I fail before I succeed”.   Remaining confident that you will eventually succeed while facing failure after failure is I think the hardest part for a lot game designers.  But the moments I have succeeded with a design are some of the best moments I’ve ever experienced in my life, and has made every failure worth it.  I try to remember that each failure represents a lesson.  If something doesn’t work, you now know it doesn’t work and you’ve increased your knowledge of game design.  Learning something is never a waste of time.

Jab in action

Tom: That is the truth. I like how you phrased it – ‘“how many more times will I fail before I succeed”.   Remaining confident that you will eventually succeed while facing failure after failure is I think the hardest part for a lot game designers’. Oh, man is that great advice. Once you get the game to a point that you are comfortable with you go to playtesting. What is the hardest part of playtesting a game?

Gavan: Dealing with a train-wreck.  All game designers have them.  The session starts out with confidently, but gameplay slows down and eventually just turns into a discussion, and a feeling of devastation to the designer.  I’ve discovered the best thing to do in this situation is just let it happen.  I regularly ask during a session if people are still enjoying themselves, and if they WANT to continue.  There is no reason to force your playtesters to sit through a session they aren’t enjoying.  I’m extremely lucky in that I am able to playtest my early stage prototypes with other game designers.  I’ve discovered that the closer a game gets to being finished, the quieter everyone becomes.  

Tom: Thanks for sharing that. I like to ask these next two questions of all my guests.  First, what are some aspects of a good player?

Gavan: A good player is someone who adds to your game group’s game session experience.  This can be through humour, competition, or just plain old positive energy.   Any combination of these traits are people who I enjoy playing games with.  

Tom: Second, what makes a good game?  

Gavan: This is a great question, and one that I’m sure everyone answers differently.  In my opinion, a good game contains not one, but all of the following criteria:  innovation, replayability (depth) and elegance.  Theme and visual design, while I feel are important components to a game, I feel are secondary.   But an ideal game is one that fires on all cylinders.

More Jab Action!

Tom: Who’s work in the industry do you admire the most?

Gavan: Martin Wallace.   This may sound weird from a guy who’s first game design is real-time boxing game.  I am a Brass player through and through.  Martin Wallace games generally do not focus on mechanism innovation, but rather on meta game innovation.  Recommending someone play Brass, is like recommending they watch The Godfather.  While I feel Brass is one of the greatest boardgames ever created, I would not recommend it lightly, just as I wouldn’t recommend The Godfather to just anyone.  Playing Brass for the first time can be painful, but playing Brass for the 20th, 50th or 100th time, is extremely rewarding.  There is an enormous level of depth to be explored in Martin Wallace’s designs and he is truly an inspiration to me.

Tom: You’re right. Wallace is known as designing deep games that take a couple of plays to grasp. And they can be brutal on first play. Of your games, which is your favorite?

Gavan: This a very Sophie’s Choice style question.:D  Well, if I had to choose right now, I’d say Hooch.  Hooch is a heavy economic euro-style game where players take on the role of one of the Five Families of New York City during the Prohibition Era.  I’ve been working on it for the last six months.  It’s probably my current favorite because I’ve put all the best of the ideas I’ve had over the last few years into the system.  The game features two completely new mechanisms that I’ve designed, and also evolves some mechanisms, using them in new ways.  I am very happy with the game so far.

Tom: This is one of the best parts of these interviews – learning about new games. Hooch sounds like a game I will enjoy. New mechanics, I can’t wait to play it. What are you currently playing?

Gavan: These days, most of my game time is spent playing prototypes of my fellow game designers, which I love doing as much or more than playing published games.  However I still play a lot of Brass online, Yomi, and a plethera of euros.

Tom: What’s the coolest part of being a game designer?

Gavan: The coolest part is being surrounded by a sea of extremely talented, intelligent individuals.  

Tom: Tell us about your current projects.

Gavan: Hooch is my main focus right now.  I also have another real-time game called YUM: Realtime Icecream, which is currently one of the 8 finalists of the Canadian Game Design of the Year Award.  I have others that are a bit to raw to mention at this point.

Tom: A finalist! Very cool. Are there any links or sites you want to direct us to?

Gavan: Game Artisans of Canada: www.gameartisans.ca– an organization of Canadian game designers who have been instrumental in me not jumping off a bridge in frustration.  They are all amazingly talented designers and I’m extremely fortunate to be a part of the group.

Tom: Well Gavan it’s been a lot of fun talking to you about your games. I’m excited to see that JAB will be out soon. I think it is going to be a big winner. Hooch also sounds like a lot of fun. Keep me posted on it. Thanks very much for being my guest on Go Forth And Game.


You can purchase Jab – Real Time Boxing here or at your local game store soon.  And thank you for visiting Go Forth. Please leave a comment for Gavan or myself.  Ask a question or tell us how you liked the interview.

Go Forth And Game,

tomg

A Conversation With … Micah Harris, comic book writer and creator of Lorna, Relic Wrangler


This time on Go Forth And Game I am very pleased to have my good friend, Micah Harris with me today.  Micah and I met back in college, around 1982, I believe.  In Science Fiction class.  We found that we had common interests like Dr. Who and stop motion animation.  Micah reintroduced me to comics and the comic book store.  Throughout college we collaborated on a couple of comic strips, Discoman, Orpheus (volumes 1 & 2), and El Espectro, for The East Carolinian – the college paper.  We also worked on some comic book ideas that never saw publication.  That Moon Knight story is still a favorite of mine.  Micah has continued as a writer publishing comics, graphic novels, stories, and articles.  His most recent work is “Lorna, Relic Wrangler” published by Image Comics. 



Tom: Micah, welcome to Go Forth And Game, so what got you into comics? What is your geek cred?

Micah: My geek cred? It’s the accumulation of over forty years of intense effort. One of my earliest memories can be dated to the age of four b/c that’s the publication date inside Creepy no. 5. I couldn’t even read but it made such an indelible impression on me that I recall the country store it came from. My brother who is eleven years older than I got a horror comic magazine so I had to have one. This issue has a sinister Frazetta vampire brooding over the cover. The Reed Crandell/Archie Goodwin adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “The Judge’s House” shook me up so much that I purged our mobile home of both my magazine and my brothers! I finally got to pay homage to “The Judge’s House” and Creepy in my story “Slouching Toward Camulodunum” (pt. one) in the latest Tales of the Shadowmen anthology (“Femmes Fatales”) published by Black Coat Press.

Tales of The Shadowmen

Tom: How about giving us a rundown of your work?

Micah: I got my big break at the tender age of 42 when Image Comics published my graphic novel with Michael Gaydos, “Heaven’s War.” We began collaborating on your “Discoman” and then our “Orpheus” strip for The East Carolinian back in the mid-80s, so I had been honing my craft and sticking with it for about fifteen years with little encouragement. The Watchnuts gag panel with Jeff Parker and then my and Jeff’s adaptation of Wilde’s “The Happy Prince” for Nathan Massengill’s “Poets Prosper” anthology were my only hits during that time.

Who Watches The Watchnuts by Micah & Jeff Parker, with a bit of help from me.

I’ve put more prose into print in the time between Heaven’s War and Lorna, Relic Wrangler. There were three Lorna short comics stories here and there, but I began contributing regularly to J.M. L’Officier’s Tales of the Shadowmen annual anthology whose most authors include Kim Newman, Terrance Dicks, Brian Stableford and Michael Moorcock as well as J.M. and Randi L’Officier themselves. I self-published “The Eldritch New

Becky Sharp's Eldritch Adventures by Micah and Loston

Adventures of Becky Sharp” which, like the “Shadowmen” stuff, is a ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” proposition. And Ron Fortier’s Airship 27 published my novella last year “On the Periphery of Legend” in the second volume of “Jim Anthony, Super Detective.” It’s my homage to the original King Kong and scathing critique of the Peter Jackson remake. All of these are on Amazon by the way, as well as through the publishers’ websites.

 Tom: I really enjoyed ‘Heaven’s War’. It is seeped in history and lore of the period. I appreciated the work you put into it. Becky is fun. I need to read the Shadowmen and the Super Detective stuff. “Lorna: Relic Wrangler” is your latest endeavor. Where did the idea of a Southern ‘belle’ who battles the forces of evil originate?

Micah: The idea for Lorna goes back to a novel I started writing in the mid-90s where she was the girlfriend of the main character. Then she started taking center stage in a couple of other books I wrote learning to be a novelist. In the last one, she started breaking into temples and holy places, swiping relics. You never saw that, but the characters talked about it. And, in the Lorna-prose universe, there was a millionaire named Vernon who had a stigmatic daughter and who you found out at the end was Lorna’s secret husband! Keep in mind, that’s an alternate universe to the comic book Lorna, but how much is the same and how much is different will only be revealed if Lorna’s comics career is able to continue.

   My friend Arthur Congleton who was one of Lorna’s first fans suggested I make the transition to comics with the character. It seemed to me the action adventuress facet of the character was best suited for the medium.

   The reason she’s set in rural North Carolina, specifically Washington N.C. (a.k.a. Tar Forks), is that I like the quirky small town milieu that you saw in Twin Peaks where the bizarre and other worldly casually collide with day to day life. That’s where two of the novels were set there, and Vernon and his daughter were already there.

Lorna cover by Darwyn Cooke

   As for where the story is going . . . there’s an end in mind and it’s leading somewhere. Future stories would be contained adventures but the back story would be filled in bit by bit along the way, and then it would come to the front at the end of the mini-series.

   There are already seeds planted in the Image comics that’s out now: of course, you see Verne now has the capstone of the Washington monument in his possession and he has a use for it in Tar Forks. Let’s say it’s fated for a purpose the founding fathers wouldn’t approve.

    But if you look closely, there are some dots to connect for the sharp eyed. In the last story, “Doo-Buddy,” mention is made of a poltergeist named Lucifer Vesuvius haunting Lorna’s mobile home. If you look at the fullest version of Verne’s name in the short story with April, Verne’s daughter, it’s “L. Vernon Demurge.” So, there’s Lucifer Vesuvius’s initials an also, if you go Roman-school, the initial L and the V make “LU”. So, there’s a connection there that I’m not going to say what it is, but it goes way back to the early days of Tar Forks.

A sample of Loston's work in Lorna

 Tom: The artist on Lorna is Loston Wallace. I love his art. How did I find Loston?

Micah: I owe meeting Loston, at least partially, to  some middle aged lady alleging Issac Asimov once thought she was a hottie (presumably when she was much younger and he was alive), and her deciding Mark Schultz needed to know this story. He was a guest at Durham’s Trini-Con back in 2003. I’ve been fortunate to be friends with Mark since ’89, but I rarely get to see him and hang out. So every moment is precious. And this gal won’t stop talking. The only anecdote I remember is her alleged brush with greatness. That’s what she’s claiming, and, of course, Issac isn’t there to give his point of view, so maybe she’s just tilting at the windmills of her mind. After all, can anybody there prove it didn’t happen? (Yep, Ed Wood/Criswell logic ruled the day, that’s how screwy the scene was). And Mark, the consummate professional, grins politely as he is regaled by her with this story.

   Loston also knows Mark, and he also is having to wait patiently. He brought a piece of art he’d done as a commission, and I commented on the authenticity of the Victorian Lady’s boots he’d drawn. And neither of us could have foreseen that it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and a dream of a collaborative relationship. He’s one of those friends you just fall in step with very quickly and it’s like you’ve always known them. And he’s one of those artists that someone with my aesthetic sense dreams of working with, because not only does he have the same aesthetic, he can actually draw like that!

 Tom: Lorna is a very fun read. As a Southern gentleman, I like the in-jokes and references to places and practices with which I grew up. Ok, if you had your pick of projects, what would it be?

Micah: My dream project — actually there are several I’ve talked with Loston about. I want to do a horror anthology comic book (see, now we’re coming back to Creepy in 1964) and I have a novel idea we’d plot together, I’d write it and he’d do these beautiful illustrations, black and white Joseph Clement Cole illustrations and then painted plates like Dean Cornwell or Lydecker or Wyeth. And there’s the big pulp project we’ve been working on off and on since 2004 and I’m really trying to make that happen right now. Neither of us is getting younger and I just turned 50.

    As far as existing properties . . . boy, there’re so many. I have a Hulk-Dr. Doom thing Loston and I have talked about. I’d love to do that:  when I started seriously collecting comics for the first time when I was ten, the book to have was The Hulk and he was pitted against Dr. Doom in the first couple of issues I bought. I have a take on “Dark Shadows” I’d like a chance to do. I’d love to play in the Edgar Rice Burroughs universe. I’d like to do something with Marvel’s “The Defenders” because that was a big favorite of mine in its early issues by Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema. Had a major crush on the Valkyrie –hot-cha! And there’s a Star Wars novel or comic I’d love to write with some of the bad guys as the central characters — but not so much Darth Vader, and no Fett.

Also, as a kid, I was a major Man-Thing fan. I’ve just hit on an idea for Man-Thing that would be a fresh take but at the same time bring him back to his, uhm, roots.

 Tom: I think you would be excellent for a horror anthology. I think ‘The Defenders’ would be a good property for you too. And the ERB and Star Wars ideas sound pretty cool. I know you have an interest in the occult and things weird. Your knowledge in this area is pretty impressive as witnessed by Heaven’s War in particular. It is an excellent mix of horror, history, occult, and Christian ideas.  How did you develop this knowledge?

Micah: My interest in the occult developed I guess because if you’re a kid into horror and fantasy, you get a taste for this sort of thing: monsters, and demons, and the Van Helsing types pitted against him. When you’re a bookish ten year old, and Van Helsing is embodied in Peter Cushing – bookish but also a bit of swasbuckling athletics in there as need be, and the one guy who knows what’s going on – he becomes your hero.

My appreciation for Cushing’s Van Helsing has grown as I’ve become an adult. My friend Rod Bennett pointed out the “purity” Cushing has as Van Helsing. “Purity” is usually seen as vulnerable, weak, and naïve, but that doesn’t describe Van Helsing: purity is adamantine in him and the guy has seen what evil can do, so out goes naiveté. He’s totally uncompromising and doesn’t mess around when it comes to getting the job done. Watch his seriousness as he stakes the mother vampirised by her own son in “Brides of Dracula.” Nobody conveys the serious business of a hammer going down on a stake than Cushing under Terrance Dicks’ direction. It’s like spiritual amputation without anaesthesia needed to save a soul.

And I believe in God and the devil and the supernatural world and that there’s a hidden, on-going war behind everyday life that sometimes tangibly intersects with everyday life.

 Tom: You hit it right on the head for me. Growing up watching Harryhausen movies, the Universal monsters, and the films from Hammer had such a big influence on me. Cushing’s Van Helsing is quintessential.  Speaking of heroes, who is your ‘hero’?

Micah: Whose work do I admire? I’m a lot more critical about his work in more recent years, but Alan Moore. I look forward to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen whenever it comes out, and I’m excited about his long prose novel ‘Jerusalem’ that he’s been working on. From Hell to me is an incredible work, my favorite graphic novel. I know if I went back and re-read it, I’d get so much more out of it than the first time because I’ve grown enough in the intervening years to get where Moore was back in the early ‘90s. We’d differ on a lot of things, but he’s still one of my literary heroes and — here’s something I’ve bet no one’s ever said to him about Watchmen — reading Watchman got me through D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love.” Thanks Alan! You taught me about literature.

 I’m also a big admirer of Mark Helprin and his novel “Winter’s Tale.” I wrote my master’s thesis on it. I learned so much from it and just thinking about it almost makes me tear up, like the poignancy of classical music it can heighten your sense of existence. C.S. Lewis is probably the most influential writer in my life in a personal way, but Ray Bradbury is, in terms of a literary aesthetic, the most important writer in my development. He was the perfect transition writer from ‘juvenile’ to ‘adult’ reader. It was “Dandelion Wine” which I read in the 9th grade, that brought the music of language to me. I didn’t understand the craft behind it at 15, but that made it all the more effective.

 

Tom: I love ‘Winter’s Tale’. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Thank you for introducing it to me. And Bradbury is one of my favorites. You are a voracious reader as I remember what are you currently reading?

Micah: Right now I’m reading “Drood” by Dan Simmons. It’s incredible!

 Tom: What’s coming up from Micah Harris?

Micah: As for future projects, I’m still trying to polish up my big, literary novel that I’ve been working on, off and on, for nearly six years. I’ve got the go-ahead to write an article for a film journal on one of the great, never made movies in the post- Star Wars boom. I’ve already interviewed the director and some effects people who would have been involved. I’m also slated to do a couple more novels for Ron Fortier, including “Ravenwood,” an old pulp occult investigator who has the whole ‘Dr. Strange’ – ‘Ancient One’ thing going about thirty years before Marvel comics. It’ll be about one of the great unsolved mysteries of Hollywood. I pitched a Dracula idea to Ron and he liked it, so that looks like a go.

In comics, Loston and I have already got enough material in story ideas to fill a trade paperback of “Lorna, Relic Wrangler.” It’s just a question of economics. Unfortunately, because it says ‘one-shot,’ some folks may have gotten the idea that the one book is all that was intended. Nothing could be further than the truth. The one-shot was always intended to test the waters and introduce our cast. Like I said, enough stories are already conceived that could fill a trade easily.

Lorna in action!

   “Lorna” fans include some sharp, intelligent folks. Cute, good girl art is the order of the day, but that’s only one level. For example, Loston drew Lorna’s stretch in panel one, page one to mimic the shape of a Masonic compass. So, its cheesecake, but it’s not exactly gratuitous because it establishes the theme and motif.

   Also, practically every Washington D.C. background in the story is real. Loston was keen that the story be rooted in reality. It’s a very Carl Barks thing, putting these cartoony characters in researched real settings. One panel, an aerial view of a pentagram forming over D.C., took him seven and a half hours to draw. He didn’t photoshop it. That was a day’s work. One panel. Seven and a half hours. And no Daisy Duke shorts in sight.

   So, any of the critics who have been blind to these values but have made their disdaining pronouncements of how this is some kind of sexist T and A book, have really just demonstrated how vapid are their own perceptions – which does not become you if you’re calling yourself a critic.

   But let me be quick to add there are critics who enjoyed Lorna and were simpatico to the character and responded to her warmth and charm. And Dan Cole at Broken Frontier (http://www.brokenfrontier.com/reviews/p/detail/lorna-relic-wrangler) was a perceptive critic who quickly got beneath the surface of things with Lorna and had a real appreciation. Be sure and scroll down to read the letter from the Englishman I ticked off for insulting his country. I didn’t exactly make American Southern men look good either, and I’m one of ‘em. I’m an Anglophile, too. Those parts of the story were just a lark!

(And now I’d like to apologize ahead of time to all the larks out there for implying they are nothing more than teases. The lark (FAMILY: ALAUDIDAE) is, after all, a respected and valued member of our environmental ecology and I intended no disrespect).

There are readers who’ve told us the story MUST go on, they’ve got to find out more about these characters. As I said, it’s a question of economics. All you Lorna fans, talk her up on the Image board, plug her on your blogs and websites — or when you’re just hanging out at your local comics store. Spread the word and get everyone who will to have their comic shop re-order.

 Tom: I am looking forward to reading your novel.  I am also very interested in that film journal article about the never made movie . Please let me know when it comes out. Are there any ‘recollections’ of a certain Marvel writer that you would like to share?

Micah: My past collaborations with Jeff Parker? Do you mean when we discovered bread mold had medicinal purposes or unveiled the DNA double helix? Oh — the East Carolina University paper comics page? Tom, you were there! I just came across some old photos you took, you young whippersnapper — well, we all were in those photos — of you and me and Jeff doing comics work at our table in the student center (actually, I’m pretending to proof something). It was a blast under Jeff’s regime as comics page editor since everything was comic book friendly. When we met, he was doing “Undercover Cats” and I remember how excited I was to see his original art for this Batman parody he’d done at the paper offices. I hadn’t met him yet, but he liked my articles and we discovered we were members in the same mutual admiration society. 

    So we finally met and started collaborating on a funny-animal story (back in the 80s, there was an adult market for such things). Good times — sleeping on his floor at his apartment . . . plotting out stories. Then he’d drive over to my mom’s where I was living, and we’d put “Plan Nine from Outer Space” on while he drew.

   I don’t know if you knew Jeff’s late mom was singled out from her fiction writing class by the great Manly Wade Wellman as being the one with real talent. That’s quite an honor, and her promise has been allowed to be fully realized in Jeff. He was always a natural storyteller and he was a good pal to grow up with creatively.  

Tom: I remember those days fondly. Going to Bojangle’s at midnight with the crew from The East Carolinian for ‘brain food’ was always fun. I remember Jeff ghosting my Orpheus so I could make deadlines. That was a lot of fun.

The first El Espectro strip circa 1983

Thanks for the interview Micah. It was fun catching up and remembering the ‘good ole days’ at ECU. Lorna is a fun story and I can’t wait to read more. So all you Lorna fans, buy multiple copies of the book and write Image so we can have more adventures.

Readers, keep checking back here at Go Forth And Game for future announcements from Micah and Lorna.

A Conversation With…Dan Yarrington of Myriad Games


This time on Go Forth And Game I’m talking to Dan Yarrington of Myriad Games! Myriad Games is one of the premier game stores in the world, in my opinion. And Dan is a big part of that.

Tom: So Dan, tell us about yourself and your store.

Dan: Myriad Games has been in business since 1999 and I’ve been in the industry since 1996. Our stores provide a massive selection of tabletop games and Friendly Professional service from our Game Guides. We love games and we love sharing them with new folks every day!

Tom: What is the most important thing you believe a retailer can do to encourage or serve their customers?

Dan: Listen to what customers are looking for and then proactively provide the best service possible. We not only strive to provide the finest selection of games and accessories that folks know they want, but also introduce them to other great titles that they’ll enjoy, based on their personal preferences.

Tom: Myriad Games is very active in the gaming community.  You have  podcasts (Myriad Games Presentations), two brick and mortar stores, and a successful online store.  Why so much?

Dan: We’re driven by a passion for games and we want to share that with as many people as possible. That’s what drives all our actions. This includes our retail store locations, which serve as flagships for supporting existing gamers and creating new gamers.  This includes Myriad Games Presentations which serve to better inform our customers and gamers all around the world. We do ship all over the world, but we take a different approach from most. We actually don’t maintain our own online store any longer as the cost to maintain a comprehensive online

A part of the Pulp Gamer Podcasting Network

catalog overwhelms the benefits for our individual store locations. We now use the Free Local Pickup catalog powered by GameSalute.com (Shop.GameSalute.com). Game Salute does all the work of maintaining the product listing, updating the details, and simply refers sales directly to local stores around the world (including Myriad Games).

Tom: You also volunteer advice and help to people opening or thinking of opening game stores.  Again, why?  And how ‘successful’ has this been?

Dan: I provide mentorship and advice for a variety of reasons. We’re better served as an industry if we have solid, profitable, professional retail locations to represent games and gaming to the public. That’s how we grow and attract new folks. We work with stores to give them advice on what they need to succeed and help expand the number of stores all around the world, and improve the quality of those stores. We get lots of great feedback and ideas from these discussions that allow us to improve our operations as well, so I find it very successful. We’re always looking for ways to innovate in the industry and constant communication with other like-minded individuals is the way we keep that flow of innovation going.

Tom:  I really appreciate your work helping the gaming community grow and flourish.  Mentoring ‘the competition’ is something you do not see in other industries.  ‘Keep moving forward’ is a good motto.  What is one thing you would like to see game companies do to support you better?

That's a LOT of games. And this is only one part of the store!

Tom: What professional organizations does Myriad belong to or support?  Tell about those.

Dan: We’re a charter member of the Professional Game Store Association (www.ProGameStores.org) and I serve as the Treasurer for the organization.

We’re also a proud supporter of Game Salute (www.GameSalute.com), which provides tools and services for the industry. We’re involved in beta-testing many of their Store Support Services.

Tom: Do you host game nights?  If so, how do you handle them?

Dan: We host game nights, tournaments, and celebrations every month. We find folks who are passionate about games and then let them guide the format of the events. We provide the venue and support they need to help us create awesome events for the local gaming community. 

“We don’t sell games.  We don’t push games.  We don’t support games.  We don’t carry games.
We celebrate games.” – quoted from ‘Get Into The Game’ on ICv2(http://www.icv2.com/articles/columns/20220.html)

Tom: Many stores have store copies/demo copies of games and demo days.  How important, in your opinion, are these types of programs?  Tell us about any other special programs you run at your store?

Dan: We have an extensive Game Library with hundreds of games (new ones arriving every week!). Folks can play these games in-store through the Board Game Arcade™ or at home through GameShare™ Both of these are services that are powered by GameSalute.com for local stores like ours.

Supporting Extra Life at the Manchester store

Tom: You participate in the Extra Life event. I’m not sure everyone knows about that. Could you tell us about it?

Dan: Extra Life is a celebration of games – a 24 hour game day that raises money to help heal sick kids. Playing games and helping kids. These are things we can all get behind! We participated last year as part of Team GameSalute.com and altogether the team was able to raise over $5,000 to donate to local Children’s Miracle Network hospitals! (Visit www.Extra-Life.org to sign up for this year). You can join us at our event, run an event at your favorite local store, run one at your house, or just donate to someone who is doing the marathon of gaming. This year’s event is October 15th, so be sure to sign up today!

Tom: Do you participate in Free RPG day?  If so, has it been valuable to you?

Dan: We participate in Free RPG Day every year and find it very valuable for supporting our customers, introducing them to new games they’ll enjoy, and introducing folks who have not played RPGs regularly to the genre. We look forward to more events like this to support and celebrate gaming all year long!

Tom: Tell us about GameSalute.com.  I’ve been following it since day one and am quite impressed with the content.

Dan: I serve as the CEO for Game Salute, which works to improve the industry by providing Store Support Services and Publisher Support Services. Our pledge is as follows:

Game Salute is dedicated to serving the tabletop games industry through professional news coverage,  independent coverage of games, information services, and promotional tools to help make game businesses more fun and profitable. We work with game professionals  including gaming media partners, retail stores, publishers, and game ambassadors worldwide. Members pledge to work together to provide better service and a brighter future for the entire game community.”

After a year providing news coverage and reviews through GameSalute.com, we’ve begun rolling out our Store Support Services and Publisher Support Services. Details are available at www.GameSalute.com. We especially encourage all stores to sign-up as Game Salute Select Stores through the form on GameSalute.com under Select Stores. This gets stores listed in our new Store Locator and qualifies them to participate in our free beta-tests of our Store Support Services this year.  It also gains stores access to our Game Salute Select Stores Exclusive products including: Alien Frontiers, Yomi, Puzzle Strike, Flash Duel, and the forthcoming Leprechaun’s Castle

Tom: I think Game Salute is an excellent resource for gaming. I’m fortunate to have been accepted as a contributor on Game Salute. It has been very beneficial to Go Forth And Game. It is good to see Game Salute expanding into store support. I think that stores banding together can lead to good thing for the industry. What makes a good player in your opinion?

Dan: Someone who is willing to share games with new players. Someone who is polite and a good sport. Someone who has fun playing and beams that enthusiasm out to the whole world around them.

Tom: I think you hit on something there. Enthusiasm is contagious. And someone who will teach new games is essential. We are fortunate to have a group where most people are comfortable with that. Because new games are what’s hot. What is your current hot game?

Dan: We’ve been fortunate enough to receive a special preview copy of Leprechaun’s Castle from new publisher True to Life Games.

Check this out on Springboard

We’ve been playing that a lot recently and it’s exciting to see it moving toward publication. Folks can pledge their support to the Springboard campaign to product Leprechaun’s Castle at www.GameSalute.com/Springboard.  I’ve also very much enjoyed the recent release from WizKids: Star Trek Expeditions, designed by Reiner Knizia.

Tom: Leprechaun’s Castle sounds fun. Crowd sourcing seems to be the way to go to get games published. You’re support of Springboard speaks to your feelings about this route of publishing. Could you give us your thoughts about it?

Dan: This is definitely one of the ways designers can get their games published and it really helps players find games that are going to be great for them. They can get involved from the ground floor in being a part of bringing that game to market – making an idea a reality. That’s the power of crowd sourcing. Springboard just focuses that attention on tabletop games and provides supplemental resources (like Featured Fulfillment) to help make potential games successful. Even established publishers are using crowd sourcing to create new games, since the involvement from the public is so important. Springboard takes that a step further by getting gamers and stores involved in helping make a game the greatest it can be.

Tom: Anything else you would like to tell everyone?

Dan: Just to remind everyone of how awesome it is to sit around a table with friends and family and play games face to face. We’re so plugged in these days that it’s tough to focus on the actual person to person interactions that really matter. Tabletop games are a great conduit for building and strengthening relationships and a great way to have fun!

Tom: I absolutely agree with you.  Playing games with friends and new friends is one of my favorite things.  The gaming community is fantastic.  Going unplugged is very rewarding.  Are there any links you would like to share?

Dan: You can sign up for our Facebook Free Games Fridays™ contest by clicking “Like” at www.Facebook.com/MyriadGames

You can follow all the latest news at www.GameSalute.com

You can email me through www.MyriadGames.com and send me suggestions for improving the industry.

If you’re interested in a bit more behind the scenes industry prognostication and

pondering, you can read my Get In The Game columns at ICv2 (www.ICv2.com/articles/columns/ – look for the Get In The Game)

Dan, that was an awesome and interesting interview.  I really enjoyed this.  I think you’ve some really great ideas and have done a lot for the community.  I liked learning about Myriad and Game Salute.  I look forward to talking to you in the future.

And, dear readers, please visit Myriad Games, Game Salute (leave a comment on my articles), and check out Springboard too.    Leave a comment below and let everyone know what you think about this interview.

Go Forth And Game,

tomg