Tom: Welcome again to Go Forth And Game. This time Matthew Duhan of Gozer Games. Gozer is an up and coming company that has a couple of games under its belt. So Matthew, tell us about yourself.
Matthew: I have been a big fan of board games for years. I got my start playing the more serious games while an undergrad at Harvard University. I can recall playing all night variants of Cosmic Encounters and getting into Magic: the Gathering back in beta. I also got my start designing games then, and created several games while still an undergrad. Fortunately, I also found a wonderful wife who also enjoys playing board games, and we are able to play together and I can bounce ideas off her.
I’m a big geek in general. By day I’m a Manager for a Web Applications team. I also attend several SF and gaming conventions throughout the year, and am involved in the local Chicago SF and board gaming communities.
Tom: Magic is one thing I’ve never gotten into. I knew it was too addictive. I’m a big Science Fiction fan too. I love the older movies in particular. I just watched Robinson Crusoe On Mars a few weeks ago. It is so good. Ok, so now for Gozer Games. How did it come about?
Matthew: I had designed a game, Collateral Damage: The Anime Board Game, while an undergraduate in college. I had been slowly improving it over the years, until it was at a point where it was very solid. We would pull out the game with some of our friends who had played it with us over the years, but not much besides that. Finally, in 2007 I decided to try publishing it myself. I created the LLC and that was Gozer Games’ first game.
Tom: I guessed where the actual name came from but not the chinchilla. Chinchilla. That’s a different pet. How did you end up with a chinchilla?
Matthew: My wife is very allergic to cats, and we couldn’t have a dog in the apartment where we were living at the time. We wanted a pet that was soft and cuddly. She had been thinking about getting hamsters, but was concerned about their relatively short life span. After doing some research, we looked into chinchillas, since they are very cute, are relatively non-allergenic, and can have a life span on par with cats, 12-15 years.
Tom: While I’m not really an anime fan, I’ve looked at Collateral Damage on BGG. It looks interesting. Why did you choose to self-publish?
Matthew: After looking into the various options for publishing through another company vs. self-publishing, I decided to self-publish. I knew that Collateral Damage was a niche market game, and if I wanted to see it published I’d have to do it myself. I also
preferred to retain control over the game design. I had (and still have) ideas and plans for more games, so creating my own company seemed to make sense. In 2007 I had the drive and the extra capital needed, so it seemed like a good fit.
Tom: More Games to come! Excellent. You currently have 3 published games – Collateral Damage: The Anime Board Game, Vampire Werewolf Fairies, and Zombie Ninja Pirates. Tell me about them. What are they about?
Matthew: * Collateral Damage is the only Anime themed board game on the market, as far as I know. It is an area control game with a twist. You play a gang boss, controlling a gang of characters, inspired from popular anime series. You move them around the board in order to fight each other and take over cities in order to win the game. Along the way though, characters can fall in love, and may then ignore your orders to follow their love interest. It’s a great game with solid mechanics and a silly theme, and supports 2 to 6 players.
* Zombie Ninja Pirates and Vampire Werewolf Fairies are both fun quick “take that” card games for 2 to 6 players. You are trying to become as many different types of creatures as possible, so in these games you
can be a combo creature like a Zombie Werewolf. You also want to collect objects which give you additional points, depending on what types you are at the end of the game. Both games play in about 20-30 minutes, or they can be combined together and play 2 to 10 players in about 45 minutes.
Tom: What about any of your games changed from initial concept to final product?
Matthew: Collateral Damage changed quite significantly since initial concept, and was redesigned a couple of times. The initial rule set, which my roommate at the time first came up with, used dice as a multiplier for damage. I knew that it had to be reworked when we had to stop our first playtest game because someone was rolling 48 dice for damage.
Since then, I had redesigned the game to give it a flexible board layout, and reworked several mechanics. The design of the cards and board also went through several iterations until it got to a point that I was happy to publish.
Zombie Ninja Pirates, on the other hand, popped into my head nearly fully formed. There were a few things that got thrown out along the way, but if you look at the first prototype deck and the final game, they are very similar.
Tom: What is unique about Vampire Werewolf Fairies, your latest game?
Matthew: Vampire Werewolf Fairies is a “take that” style of game. There are a few on the market like that, but in this game you get to play multiple types of creatures. So instead of only getting to play a vampire, for example, you can be a Vampire Werewolf Fairy, a fairy who was attacked by a werewolf, and then bitten by a vampire. The more combinations of creature you are, the better your
It also can be played separately, or together with Zombie Ninja Pirates. The games were designed so that they could be integrated.
Tom: How do you go about designing a game? What comes first, mechanic(s) or theme?
Matthew: That’s a great question, and I think that it depends on the game. For me, the idea or theme usually comes first, then the mechanics build up around that. That’s how it happened with my existing games, and one currently in development. For another in development, the mechanic came first.
I tend to design holistically. I’ll get an idea, and run with building up around that idea. Usually, I have a pretty good sense for theme, mechanics, and how the game will play out before I’ve even set anything to paper. It’s a lot of thought beforehand, but that’s just how my mind works. For example, with Zombie Ninja Pirates the game came to me nearly fully formed.
Tom: While we are on game design, what part of designing a game is the most difficult?
Matthew: For me, it’s the rules writing, and paring things down. There needs to be enough rules to make it clear how to play the game and address questions and nuances, but not so much information that people don’t want to read them. It’s a balance.
Tom: Balance is an elusive, fragile thing I think. It’s like trying to catch a spider web without breaking it. Most elegant games have caught the spider’s web. Now for play testing. How do you handle playtesting? What is your playtesting nightmare? Do you have a regular group that you playtest with?
Matthew: I have several groups who I playtest with regularly. I am a member of the Chicago Board Game Designer’s Workshop, and we meet every other week to playtest games which the members created. I also have another group of friends who I can rely on to be honest about virtues and flaws in a game, even to the point of snarkiness sometimes. I also have a few remote people who I can call on to playtest, for blind playtesting.
I don’t think that I have yet had a playtesting nightmare. Every session, something can be learned. I have had to cut a few games short when it was clear they were not working, but even that was a learning experience.
Tom: A design group is really valuable. Many of the folks I’ve interviewed are members of one. We recently formed one in my area and I’m excited to have people to test my designs and contribute to honing some games. I’m available for blind testing by the way. Who’s work in the industry do you admire the most?
Matthew: Oh wow, there’s so many to list. I’m a big fan of James Ernest. And of course there’s Klaus Teuber, creator of Settlers of Catan. Mayfair is a great company, and I’ve enjoyed many of their games. I like Alien Frontiers and am excited to see what else Tory Niemann comes up with.
Tom: Wow. James Ernest. Thanks for mentioning him. What a great designer. I really have been impressed with his work. He’s so prolific. What are you currently playing?
Matthew: I’ve recently become a fan of Alien Frontiers. I’ve also been playing a lot of Show Manager lately. The game I’ve been playing the most though is our next game to produce, code-named Mogul.
Tom: I’ve only been able to play Alien Frontiers once but it’s second on my want list. It is a fun game and I’m a sucker for the theme. I’m sure you were too. Talk a bit about production. Who is your producer? What problems, if any, have you had with production?
Matthew: I’ve had several interesting experiences with manufacturers, both positive and negative. I’d rather not go into specifics. However most of the manufacturers who I have worked with have been very professional.
Tom: Fair enough and very professional of you. So let talk about art. Talk to me about the art of your games.
Matthew: Art is something that is so important for a game. I am very fortunate to have worked with some very talented artists. Our primary artist, Neko Pilarcik, is fantastic to work with. She and I are very often on a similar wavelength when it comes to what I’d like to see in the game, and it’s great working with her. Being able to get some of my favorite artists for Vampire Werewolf Fairies – John Kovalic, Phil Foglio, Terry Moore, and Randy Milholland – was just priceless.
Tom: I really like Phil Foglio’s work. And Terry Moore. So are you a comic book geek too?
Matthew: I am indeed. I have several webcomics which I read regularly (though not as many as I used to read) and subscribe to several comic book series, mostly independents. Speaking of Terry Moore, I’ve just started his new series, Rachel Rising, and so far I’m really loving it.
Tom: You should check out ‘Bucko’. Jeff Parker is one of my oldest friends and I’m really proud of what he is doing these days. Agents of Atlas was such a fantastic series. And Thunderbolts is shaping up to be as good. And buy ‘The Interman’. You will not regret it. What is next for you? Tell us about your current or future projects.
Matthew: The next project that I’m working on is a game code-named Mogul . It’s actually the first game which Gozer Games has licensed, which was created by someone else, Brian Lewis. I was fortunate to see him demo this at Origins this year, and really wanted to add it to the Gozer Games line. It is a worker placement eurogame, set in the 1930’s, where each player is buying factories and businesses, in order to produce and sell goods to gain points. The artwork is being created now, and I’m planning to launch a KickStarter for it in the near future.
Tom: The theme is interesting to me and I like a good worker placement game. Sounds cool. I’ll look for the Kickstarter and promote it when the time comes. Are there any links or sites you want to direct us to?
Matthew: Well of course there’s our site, http://www.gozergames.com
There’s also a lot of great projects on KickStarter (www.kickstarter.com) and of course Board Game Geek (www.boardgamegeek.com).
We are also on Facebook as Gozer Games and Twitter @gozergames
I also need to plug my wife’s metal opera band, Silent Nightmare (www.silent-nightmare.com) which has a sound akin to Evanescence.
Well that’s it for another conversation. I’d like to thank Matthew for joining me this time. Please visit the Gozer Games site and its game sites on BGG. And keep your eyes open for that Kickstarter project. Please a comment below to let me know what you think about this or anything else on Go Forth And Game.
Thanks and Go Forth And Game!