A Conversation With…Jason Kotarski, designer of The Great Heartland Hauling Company

This time I’m joined by Jason Kotarski.  Jason’s an awesome guest and the designer of The Great Heartland Hauling Company, coming soon from Dice Hate Me Games.

Tom: First remind us about yourself.  We all know that outside of a few ‘game rock stars’, everyone else has a day job.  What do you do to fuel your gaming habit?

Jason:  Sure. I live in Flint, Michigan and I’m the pastor of a new church my family and some friends started called Dwellings. Before this I was an assistant pastor at another church in the area for a few years and before that I was the shipping/receiving manager for a college bookstore for almost 10 years. I have a wife who teaches kids with Autism and a 3-1/2 year-old daughter who both love games. We’re about to have our second child in a few weeks so I’m looking forward to both growing our church and expanding our little family of gamers.

Tom: First, congratulations on the second one.  You know it is four times more difficult, not just two.  But Eight+ times more rewarding.  And you are a pastor.  That is one tough profession.  I commend you for following the call.  And I’m praying for you both.  (Pastors wives have just as hard row to hoe.)  Back to games, what was the catalyst game?  What game got all this started?

Jason: I really appreciate it. It’s  been a pretty wild year for us so we need all the help we can get. My entry into the game world was pretty standard. I had just left my punk rock band after spending a lot of weekends on the road and evenings away so I could be closer to home and my wife found a copy of Settlers of Catan at a mall kiosk on Christmas. She had played in college and told me we HAD to get it. After that I did some googling and came across Board Games with Scott and then started perusing the shelves of a local hobby shop where a friend pointed me towards BoardGameGeek.com. I was all-in after that!

Tom: Wow.  That’s the second ‘Christmas kiosk’ story I’ve heard in the last few months.  Now for The Great Heartland Hauling Company.  Tell us all about it, what is it about, how do you play?

Jason: Heartland Hauling is my first design that is being published by Dice Hate Me Games. It’s a game where each player is a truck driver trying to pick-up-and-deliver goods to earn cash. It’s essentially an exercise in balancing risk and reward, but fun! The game has a modular board made of cards that represent different location in the heartland. Each location specializes in a native good and has two other good in demand. Truckers fuel cards to move around the heartland to different locations. At each location players can discard Freight Bill cards to pick up Cargo Crate Cubes or the native good or play cards matching the in-demand goods to drop them off in exchange for cash (victory points). It plays with 2-4 players and last between 30 and 45 minutes. It’s a game that offers enough options and strategy to engage a gamer while being quick and easy enough to teach to the more casual gaming types. It also comes in a small, portable package so it’s perfect for taking on the road!

Tom: Dice Hate Me Games is publishing GHHC.  How did you guys get together?

Jason: Well, after doing really well at a regional event that was a part of the Rio Grande Game Design Contest, I decided to shop the game around and eventually signed with Cambridge Games Factory. I was helping out at their booth at Origins Game Fair this year and meeting lots of great people, including Chris and Monkey from Dice Hate Me. My game had been delayed and I was starting to wonder if I should consider looking for some other options to getting the game out there. I showed the game to Chris and Monkey and they gave me some great feedback and we talked briefly about self-publishing through Game Salute since they didn’t feel like they were in a position to pick up another game at that point. But they were a huge encouragement to me so I decided to go for it and I asked for the rights back from CGF. CGF was awesome about it and wished me luck in getting the game out. When I got home from the Con, I got a phone call from Dice Hate Me saying they changed their mind and wanted to release the game and move to the top of the queue since it was the only window they had available. They have been awesome to work with. For such a small company they are a class act and I couldn’t be happier to have had the chance to work with them.

Tom: I am friends with Chris and Cherilyn and remember them talking excitedly about the game when they got back.  I could see that gleam in Chris’ eye that says he wanted GHHC to be a DHMG game.  Where did the idea for GHHC come from?

Jason: Right, you have to watch out when Chris gets that gleam! As far as where the idea came from, I spent a lot of time working as a shipping/receiving manager unloading trucks and chatting with truck drivers so the theme was pretty familiar to me. It all clicked when a trucker brought some food to my old church. He wasn’t getting paid very well to bring this particular shipment to us but said it was worth it since he could drive across the state to pick up a load to haul South that paid really well. As he was telling me this story, I knew there was a game in there so I went home and made one.

Tom: Did anything change from initial concept to final product?

Jason: Well, when Chris and Monkey picked up the game they said they were especially interested in the game since it played like a finished game. But we spent quite a bit of time playtesting and tweaking the rules. We developed the Truck Stop Upgrades expansion that will come in the box as well as a Kickstarter exclusive expansion called Badlands. Chris reworked the art to feel more “Heartland” than the prototype art that felt a little more “Detroit”. He took the basic concepts and changed the feel of the game with the art. I think his touch really opened the game up quite a bit. For me the toughest part was balancing the costs of the goods and the card distributions. That took some fiddling but I just tried to follow ideas that were presented to me by the theme and it worked out pretty well.

Tom: This is a ‘pick up and deliver’ game.  What is unique about it?  What sets it apart from those other ‘pick up and deliver’ games?

Jason: I really don’t have a lot of experience with pick-up-and-deliver games so it’s tough for me to say how it’s different. From what I have heard from others, I seemed to have managed to boil it down to a simple, streamlined mechanic. It’s also not about trains…so that’s different. For me the uniqueness of the game comes from how much game is crammed into such a small package. With the modular board, cards, and variants included there is a lot of replayability in the box.

Tom: I think you hit it on the head. You’ve winnowed the ‘pick up and deliver’ genre down to its basics.  It’s a really fun, lightly strategic p.u.& d. that plays in 30 minutes.  That’s pretty unique.  Why are you Kickstarting it?  What are some of your supporter rewards and stretch goal bonuses?

Jason: Since Dice Hate Me is a such a small company it’s really the only way to get such a big project in production. Kickstarter both helps get the resources together to produce the game and it gets the people directly involved in the process of bringing the game to life. Having seen Chris and Monkey in action with their other Kickstarted games, Carnival and VivaJava, I knew I was  working people who knew what they were doing. They simple connected some ideas to their tribe and brought this thing to life. They communicated with backers every step of the way and offered some great stretch goals to encourage people to keep spreading the word. We started simple offering just a few tiers of rewards; the game with domestic shipping, the game with global shipping, and a couple of package deals that included their other games. From there we ended up adding an expansion in the box, upgraded components (wooden truckmeeples!) and another expansion adding a 5th player to the game.

Tom: The art is really nice.  Tell me a little about the artist and how you joined forces.

Jason: Thanks so much! I am in love with the look and feel of the art. My friend Brian Buckley helped with the original concept. He used to be a graphic designer building newspaper ads. and I approached him about working on getting the game ready for the Rio Grande contest I mentioned. He seemed to think it sounded found so we went to work. Then, once I signed with Dice Hate Me, Chris Kirkman took the reigns and reworked the style to better represent the heartland theme we were going for. Since, Chris owns the company he wasn’t too hard to get on board!

Tom: Have you had any problems with the game?

Jason: The only problem I can think of is my sore index finger. I spent a lot of time refreshing that Kickstarter page watching to see how things were going!

Tom: Who is producing the game?  Where are the bits coming from?

Jason: The production is being done by a company in Florida called Quality Playing Cards. It’s the same company Dice Hate Me used to print Carnival so we know they do great work. Since Heartland will come in the same size box as Carnival we were able to used a lot of the same specs so that has helped move the process along a little faster.

Tom: Ok.  Carnival was pretty nicely produced so that’s a good sign.  When do you hope it will be released to Kickstarter supporters?

Jason: The game should arrive by January of 2013!

Tom: What is next for you?  What else is in the que?

Jason: I actually just signed on with White Goblin Games in the Netherlands for my next project. I can’t share details yet but it should be out by the end of 2013! I’ve also got a few other ideas in the works but nothing really ready for playtesting at this point.

Tom: Standard GFG question time: First, what do you think makes a game great?

Jason: I think something that makes a game great is it’s ability to bring people together for a face-to-face experience that is engaging, fun, and memorable. For me, games are all about connecting with people and stretching our brains together a little. Any game that can do that is pretty great in my book.

Tom: Next, what are the aspects of a good player?

Jason: I like to play with people who don’t care about winning as much as they do about simply enjoying the people they are with and the experience itself. That must make me a great player since I rarely win!

Tom: Lastly, what is your favorite game mechanism?

Jason: I really dig card games so I’d probably say hand management. I like to see all the interesting ways people use cards and having to learn to work with what I’ve got in my hand…as long as the card don’t have too many words. Ha!

Tom: I like card games a lot too.  Hand management is in my top 5 mechanics I think.  Though I stink at it most of the time.  I read your interview with Theology of Games.  Star Wars? Really?

Jason: Oh yeah. I’ve got the tattoo to prove it.

Tom: The crowd is screaming for a picture if appropriate.

Jason: Haha. I’m afraid it’s too ugly, even for the small screen. It’s the Imperial symbol. It needs some bad guys added to it eventually. Maybe when all this game design dough starts rolling in!

Tom: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

Jason: I just I want to say thanks for taking the time to do the interview and share my game with your readers. I have been blown away by the generosity and community surrounding the board game community. So, thanks, to you and everyone else who has given me a little space in their worlds!

Tom: Yeah, the community is so super fantastic and supportive, for the most part.  How can people contact you?  Are there any links you would like folks to visit?

Jason: I occasionally blog about a hodge podge of stuff at www.thegreencouch.wordpress.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @jasonkotarski.

Tom: Want to come back to talk about that White Goblin game when you are able?  And btw, I’m available for playtesting for a very small fee. 😉

Jason:I’d love to come chat with you again. This has been fun!  Thanks again.

Thanks you Jason.  I had a great time talking with you.  I’ve played The Great Heartland Hauling Company and I look forward to getting it in my hands. I’ll keep checking back with you on what you have in the que.

Readers, I appreciate you joining me again for another conversation.  I’m interested to hear what you have to say about this interview or any other post here at Go Forth And Game.

Thanks and come back soon,

Tom G

After a hard day of fighting the forces of EVIL!, La Máscara Azul y Rojo relaxes with a rousing game of GHHC.


Under The Microscope – Dungeon Heroes by Crash Games

Under The Microscope – Dungeon Heroes

Designed by Michael Coe
Published by Crash Games

Abstract:  Dungeon Heroes is a two player dungeon crawl with a bit of strategy.  The Heroes, each with a unique ability, are attempting to capture three treasures.  The Dungeon Lord, using traps and monsters, is trying to kill the Heroes.  It’s fun and best of all, lasts about 30 minutes.

Materials & Methods: Components
This is a preview copy of a game that is currently in a Kickstarter campaign.  The components are not what they will be when the game is released.
That being said I’ll go over them as they currently stand.
The game is made up of a game board with two-sided, a Heroes side and a Dungeon Lord’s side.  Between them is a grid of squares.
There are 4 Heroes – the Warrior, the Wizard, the Cleric/Healer, the Rogue.  The Warrior is the only Hero that can kill monsters.  He does this by moving onto a space containing a monster.  The Wizard has two abilities.  He can move diagonally and he can flip/reveal any tile on the board.  The Healer heals any adjacent Hero or herself by two hit points.  The Rogue disarms traps.  Each is represented by a die that represents the Hero’s hit points.  Warrior is a d10.  The Rogue is a d6.  The Healer is a d8.  The Wizard is a d4.
There are tiles that the Dungeon Lord places each turn.  These are a mix of traps and monsters.

There are two phases to the game – the Passive and Aggressive.  The Passive phase occurs first.  Each turn the Dungeon Lord places four tiles and the Heroes take four actions.  The game begins with the Dungeon Lord placing four tiles face down anywhere he likes.  The Heroes then take a turn made up of four actions.   A Hero may only take two actions per turn.  These actions can be a mix of movement or abilities. These turns continue until the Dungeon Lord has placed all the tiles.  Then the Aggressive Phase begins. The monster tiles are replaced with tokens and are now moved by the Dungeon Lord.  The monsters will attack the Heroes when able.  Play proceeds until all the treasures are captured by the Heroes or they are all dead.

The first thing I will say about Dungeon Heroes is that it lives up to its tagline “The Lunch Time Dungeon Crawl”.  The game is teachable in 5 minutes.  It lasts less than 45 minutes, more often than not less than 30 minutes. In that thirty minutes you get the feel of its bigger, more labor intensive dungeon crawl cousins.  The Hero player gets to kill monsters, cast spells, and find treasures.  The Dungeon Lord gets to ‘build’ the dungeon and prevent the Heroes from stealing his stuff. It is accessible to a wide age range.  While the current version of the rules need refinement (it is a playtest version), they are easily understood and I’m sure that the final version will be smooth.  Having said that, my 10-year-old son loves this game.  He has already started creating hacks and maps for the game for different dungeon styles.  One aspect of the game that is not mentioned in the rules is that it can be played solo.  All you have to do is shuffle the Dungeon Lord tiles face down and place them that way.  The dungeon remains a mystery until a tile is revealed.  This is how I played the first time and it is enjoyable. The Kickstarter campaign is up and running.  You can find it here.  The backer incentives are pretty nice.  There are two planned expansions that will include new heroes and/or monsters.  Stretch goals include meeples/tokens for the heroes and monsters.  The entry-level price is $25.  This is a reasonable price for what I’m anticipating in the final game.  For $40 you will get the two expansions, The Dragon & The Damsel and Lords of The Undead.  Not too bad.

Results – Final thoughts on Dungeon Heroes.
I like this game quite a bit.  It is a good dungeon crawl for when you don’t have 2-3 hours to devote to the game.  It’s a good filler game for two people.  You will get a good flavor of a fantasy rpg without the huge investment of time.

I give Dungeon Heroes 4 microscopes for replayability. The different tiles can be arranged in so many ways you don’t have to play the same game twice.
I can’t comment on the production of the final game as it is not available yet.

I give the game 2.5 microscopes for depth.  The game is relatively light but does have some strategy and tactics as each player has to try to figure out what the other is planning.

I give Dungeon Heroes 2.5 microscopes for ‘Haunt Factor’.  I enjoyed the game and wanted to play it again immediately (and did).  But it didn’t follow me around for very long.

Finally I give the game 4 microscopes for ‘Fun-density’. As I mentioned, the game takes 5 minutes to teach and 30 minutes or less to play.  It gives a solid dungeon crawl experience on top of that. The amount of enjoyment in proportion to the time investment is high.

Special visiting scientist’s comments and rating:

My son says ‘It is a quick, fun little game.  I give it a 3 out of 5.’

Microscope Rating:

13 out of 20 Microscopes

Question of the Month – Where are all the new game mechanisms?

This month’s question is a follow up to last’s month’s “What is your favorite game mechanism?”.  This question has been floating around the gamerverse for a couple of years.  You heard a lot of people saying that there are no new mechanisms, that all the new games are just retreading of old ones.  The underbuzz is that designers are not giving us anything new.

We are seeing a lot of new games being released (or not) thanks to Kickstarter and an increase in the general awareness of games.  But there has been talk in the gaming community that there really isn’t anything NEW.  Many games are old games with a new theme.  Or that have been updated to fix known issues.  New games are just mixing old mechanisms together to make a new game.  The feeling is that there are no truly new, innovative games/mechanisms being made.

What do you think?  Is this true?  Or is it just morning mist?  Or are we just seeing the same old tricks in new skins?  Is there anything new under the sun?

So, where are the new game mechanics/mechanisms?
Let me know what you think.  I’ll compile the answers and post them in November.


Tom G

Question of the Month – September 2012 – What Is Your Favorite Game Mechanism?

I began the Question of the Month in September with this question – What’s Your Favorite Game Mechanism?
I received many responses and I’m happy to share them with you now.

Bully Pulpit Games and Amusements Manufacturing and Company
Jason Morningstar, designer of Fiasco, Durance, Grey Ranks, & The Shab-al-Hiri Roach –
Right now my favorite game mechanism is the productive, leading question.
“There’s a human head tied to the monster’s belt. It’s someone important to you. Who?”

Steve Segedy of Bully Pulpit Games
I think my favorite mechanic is a bit of a classic in our circles- the Keys from Shadows of Yesterday. I love the self-rewarding motivations that put the mechanics in the hands of players and telegraphs what they want their interested in to everyone else.
I’m also very fond of one of the mechanics in Fiasco, and since I didn’t design the game, I can gush about it- the “last die is wild” mechanic is a great bit that was born out of play-testing and never fails to get an “ah-hah” reaction when I’m explaining it to new players.

Daniel Solis, designer of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, Happy Birthday! Robot!, and soon to be published Belle of the Ball
For me, a good game mechanic is all about moderating feedback loops. How do you keep one optimal strategy from creating a runaway winner every game? How do you spread attention across multiple paths to victory?
Few mechanics do this better than Knizia’s set-collection mechanic: During the game, you’ll collect resources A, B, and C. Your final score is based on how many complete sets of A, B, and C you collect by the end of the game.
Simple, elegant and loaded with deep strategic potential. That’s my favorite game mechanism.

Stephen M. Buonocore of Stronghold Games
My favorite game mechanic is… Hidden Traitor!
Hidden Traitor is the most “social” of all mechanics, and I play games to be social.  When a group is cooperating toward a single goal, but all of a sudden someone is found (or thought) to be working against them, the accusations, curing, finger-pointing, back-stabbing, hilarity, and general mayhem ensues!  This is the best part of gaming… 🙂
And this is why, of all of the games that I have in print, PANIC STATION is my favorite game!  🙂

Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games
My favorite game mechanism is probably:
“Player influenced game timers.  That is to say that players through their actions have the capability to bring the game to a faster completion if they so choose.  I like this mechanic because it allows me to speed the game up if I have determined that I am winning or to slow the game down if I know that I need more time.  This is especially good when there are at least 2 distinct strategic paths where one is a quick VP obtaining path at the sacrifice of long-term regular point scoring as well as a path where you sacrifice early points in order to build a better VP engine.”
If you include my quote, please link to @tastyminstrel on Twitter.

Dan Yarrington of Game Salute and Myriad Games –
I love games with varied character roles – see Citadels, Sunrise City, Arkham Horror, etc. Anything that adds flavor to the character.

Doug Bass, designer of Garden Dice and owner of Meridae Games
I like many different mechanisms, but the auction is the one I like most.  Power Grid and Chicago Express are my two favorite games, but there are others: Goa, Princes of Florence, and Tinners’ Trail. I like auctions because they foster intense player interaction and present delightful mental and psychological challenges, not to mention the physiological responses they can produce, at least in me.

Michael Harrison of GeekDad and The Dice Section –
In my opinion, specific mechanics only work as well as their integration with the game’s other systems and its theme. Taken at face value, though, I think that social mechanics like auctions or voting are my favorites. Whether it’s a secret bid, like in Ra, or public debate and vote, like in Werewolf or The Resistance, I just love the build-up and release of the social anxiety, and the hidden (or partial, depending on your friends’ tells) information suddenly revealed.

Chris Norwood of Exploring Games with GamerChris
Geezaloo; that’s hard!  It could also be a little up in the air to define what exactly is a mechanic. But since it’s listed as a mechanic in the “Advanced Search” on BGG, I’m going to go with…Cooperative Play!  The single element or mechanic that I like best in games is when players have to work together. Whether in a fully-cooperative game like Pandemic (my favorite game) or as part of a team working against one or more others (like in Letters from Whitechapel), I just love it when a game brings the players together and forces them to work towards a common goal.

FarmerLenny of the I Slay The Dragon gaming blog
My favorite mechanism is the auction. I like it because it allows the players to set the value of the pieces in the game. Auctions are ripe ground for head games with opponents, bluffing, and even negotiation. They highlight the risk/reward balance present in games and (for me, at least) automatically invest a game with tension.

Seth Jaffee of Tasty Minstrel Games and designer of Eminent Domain –
My favorite mechanism? I don’t know if this counts as a “mechanism” or if it’s more like a “game dynamic,” but I find that I really enjoy games with Multiple Paths to Victory. My go-to example of this dynamic is shipping vs. building in Puerto Rico. I really enjoy when there are various different strategic paths, and even better when players can pursue each to varying degrees, and the player who does the best job at the combination he chooses will end up winning. The key being that many different combinations of “shipping and building” can be viable.
This dynamic is one of the things I like about Kennerspiel Des Jahres winner Village [link: http://bgg.cc/boardgame/104006/village%5D. In Village, there are 5 major sources of points. Specializing in just one probably won’t win you the game, but if you spread yourself too thin you probably won’t score well either. So you have to pursue some combination of 2 or 3 of them and do a good job of it to win the game. There is a similar dynamic in the upcoming Noblemen from TMG and Pegasus, and I am enjoying that game quite a bit!
I have tried to use this dynamic in Eminent Domain as well. In EmDo there are 3 sources of points: Planets, Trading, and high level Research. Every player will need to flip a couple of planets, but depending on your strategy you might transition to Production/Trade, or you might concentrate on Research. Most strategies will benefit from some Level 1 or a Level 2 tech card, but you’ll only score really well off of Research if you really concentrate on it. I feel like this makes for a very replayable game, as you can try different combinations and strategies.

Jason Kotarski, designer of The Great Heartland Hauling Company

I really dig card games so I’d probably say hand management. I like to see all the interesting ways people use cards and having to learn to work with what I’ve got in my hand…as long as the card don’t have too many words. Ha!

So did you see your favorite in the list?  The most ‘popular’ mechanism from the list above was the ‘social’ game where players have to interact with each other in some fashion.  Whether that is in an auction, a cooperative game, something like voting or drafting, that idea of having some sort of interaction with the other players at the table seems to be the favorite.
Surprises to me: I really like Jason’s answer.  For a role playing game a leading question can often lead to gold.  It too touches on that ‘social’ part, as role playing games better have a lot of social interaction.  That is an awesome answer.
I was also surprised at Michael Mindes answer as I had not thought of that mechanism before.  I agree with him that this mechanism creates interesting decisions in a game.
Another surprise was some things that didn’t get mentioned: no worker placement, no deck building, no action point allocation.  This surprised me.  I really expected to see at least one of these.

My favorite: I have a hard time deciding.  Looking at my top three games, Macao, Pandemic, and The Princes of Florence, the thing I see in common in all these games is a social aspect.  Whether an auction (Princes), co-op (Pandemic), or card draft of Macao, each has a mechanism that requires players to interact.  And I think any mechanism that fosters player interaction is a good one.

There you have it.

What is your favorite?  Why not let us know by leaving a comment below?

The October Question of the Month will be up soon.  Come on back to check it out.



A Conversation With…Jamey Stegmaier about Viticultue, The Strategic Game of Winemaking

Today I am joined by Jamey Stegmaier.  Jamey is the lead designer of Viticulture, The Strategic Game of Winemaking.  Viticulture is currently on Kickstarter but the campaign will be ending soon.  The game is more than 200% funded and I hear very good things about it.

Tom: First tell us about yourself.

This is Jamey.

Jamey: I’m Jamey Stegmaier, a native Virginian now in St. Louis. I’ve been designing board games since I was 8 years old (they were all about knights and castles back then).

Tom: That’s a pretty long history of game design.  Why?  Why have you been designing games for so long?  

Jamey: That’s a good question, but it’s really hard to think back to my mindset as an 8-year-old. I think there’s something in all people that makes us either want to consume or create, depending on the medium. Some people look at a book and think, “I want to write a novel,” while that thought doesn’t occur to others (but they want to read it). I love playing games, but there’s something in me that wants to create them too.

Tom: I in the creative camp.  I enjoy creating.  That’s one reason I like to game master when role playing.  Many of us gamers are working on a game design of some sort.  I have three or four in progress myself.  Now for your first game, Viticulture.  Tell us all about it, what is it about, how do you play?

Jamey: I have a short, visual video that explains all about the game and its nuances–that’s the best way to learn more if you want details. But if you just want a brief overview, Viticulture is a worker-placement game for 2-6 players that puts each player in the position of a vineyard owner in rustic Tuscany.  It shares elements with Stone Age, Fresco, and Agricola.

Tom: I haven’t played Agricola yet both like Stone Age very much and Fresco to a lesser extent.  So you have my interest.  Now, you have a co-designer on this one.  How did you guys get together to form Stonemaier Games?

Jamey: Alan’s been a friend of mine for about 8 years. We discovered Euro games through different groups of people around that time, and when he learned that I was designing a game, he joined forces with me to make Viticulture what it is today (he also shares my passion for game design). We officially formed the company two months ago using our two last names: Stone and Stegmaier.

Tom: Where did you get the idea for Viticulture?

Jamey: It came from a mesh of mechanics I wanted to use and the idea that I wanted to create a vineyard in a box. I love the romanticism behind running a vineyard, and I love how nuanced and complex viticulture (the art and science of making wine) is. Those two

aspects came together to form the initial concept.

Tom: So you researched viticulture and we should expect the game to be faithful to that?

Jamey: I started with research, yes. I researched all the various nuances of making wine–the soil, the topography, the types of grapes, the production process, etc. There are so many choices and variables when it comes to making wine that it’s truly a fascinating experience to encapsulate into a game. I couldn’t incorporate all of those factors into the base game, but I’m hoping to find ways to incorporate them into future expansions.

Tom: Did anything change from initial concept to final product?

Jamey: Oh yes, absolutely. The original version of the game didn’t have a board–just cards and a player mat. The idea of worker placement was there, but for a while there were no actual workers, just options you could take (having physical workers to place makes a game much easier to understand). Early versions of the game also had dice that you rolled for random weather/economic situations. It was a thematic concept, but it was also extremely frustrating for players.

Tom: Yeah, though I like the idea of weather and economic stresses in a game, I can see how the randomness of dice could create havoc to a well planned strategy that seems to be needed for the game.  That would drive hard-core Euro gamers nuts.  Now, there have been several ‘vineyard’ themed games in recent years.  What is unique about Viticulture?  What sets it apart from those games?

Jamey: I think the most well-known are probably Vinhos and Grand Cru. Both are great, complex games. I would say that my 12 tenets of gaming that I incorporated into Viticulture separate it from those games in a number of ways. Also, all due respect to those games, but neither of them really captures the romanticism of owning a vineyard for me.

Tom: I don’t know these 12 tenets.  There is a link above but could you list them for us. And being a vintner is romantic?  How so?  

Jamey: Sure. These are tenets I created. I’ll paste them below:

  1. Quick setup/easy to learn.
  2. Balances, not checks for close games.
  3. Conflict, not hostility.
  4. Choices, not luck.
  5. Scalability.
  6. Unique production/creation.
  7. Variable turn order.
  8. Fast pace/smooth flow.
  9. Multiple paths to victory.
  10. Point-based end-game trigger.
  11. Reasonable duration.
  12. Replayability.

Tom: Those are excellent points for any game designer to remember.  I need to print them out and keep them where I can see them when I’m working on a game.  Back to Viticulture, I can see how wine lovers will like the theme but I’m not a wine person.  Why would I like Viticulture?

Jamey: I think the wine theme enhances the game for wine drinkers, but I think that gamers will enjoy all of the mechanics and balances (and the excitement of the draw). I could have made the game about wizards harvesting potions instead of wine, and the game would be very similar.

Tom: This is kind of an obvious questions but why are you Kickstarting it?  What are some of your supporter rewards and stretch goal bonuses?

Jamey: I’m Kickstarting it because the minimum print run plus basic art and design for a game like this costs a lot of money–over $25,000. I don’t have that kind of money lying around, and I wanted to gauge interest in the game before going all-in.

A number of the limited rewards are taken–I think they’re really cool, but they’re not available, so I won’t say much about them. Most of the remaining rewards involve a copy of the game or multiple copies of the game with other components to enhance the experience, like wine glasses etched with the Viticulture name.

The stretch goals have been really fun. I had some in mind before the project, but I’ve learned a lot about what I can offer during the campaign. Our next stretch goals are 6 custom tokens for every copy of the game (750 backers needed for that one) and alternative art for the back of the board ($55k in funding–we’re just over $50k now).((Actually as of this post Viticulture is at 202% of funding with 790 backers!))

Tom: The art is really nice.  Tell me a little about the artist and how you joined forces.

Jamey: There are actually a couple of artists. The first–the one who did the board–is a former coworker and friend. The second is Beth Sobel, who I discovered through the recommendation of a backer. And I recently added two more artists so we can keep the game on schedule with all the art we’re adding.

Tom: Have you had any problems with the game?

Jamey: I’ll say this: I can’t imagine a game designer ever thinking his/her game is perfect. (I write fiction too, and I’ve heard that about novelists–there’s always something you feel like you could improve). So while there haven’t been any big problems, there have been tiny tweaks here and there. I think the key for any game is that you have people try to break the game at every step of the way. Once you get to the point that it can’t be broken, you’re golden.

Tom: Who is producing the game?

Jamey: Our manufacturer is Panda Games. It’s been a pleasure to work with them–highly, highly recommended for indie companies/designers.

Tom: I’ve heard only good things about Panda.  I really need to interview them.  At present there are 3 days to go and you are at 202% of your goal.  That is so awesome!  How does that feel?

Jamey: Tom, it feels incredible! I am so thankful for my backers–they’ve truly been incredible throughout this process. I had no idea that I’d reach my goal, much less surpass it. I’m adding more stretch goals for the end of the project and am now able to order more copies of the game in the initial print run, which is really exciting.

Tom: When do you hope it will be released to Kickstarter supporters?  Will it be released to the general public/distributors/game stores?

Jamey:  May is the month that I’ve stated as the date of receipt for the backers. However, as I mentioned above, I’m doing everything I can to stay on and beat the schedule. I won’t be completely happy unless I can get the game to the backers earlier than I said.

I’ll ship the game to people who pre-order through the Stonemaier Games website after I send out all the Kickstarter copies. So the game should be on the shelves in game stores and wineries in June 2013.

Tom: What is next for you?  What else is in the queue?

Jamey: Well, part of it depends on whether or not we hit our $75k stretch goal. If we do, I’ll be working intensely on that. If not, I’ll still be designing it, but less intensely. I also have two really cool mechanics I want to try out on new games. Also, I have a YA utopian novel I wrote this past spring that I need to revise before sending it out to agents.

Tom: It looks like you will be busy with those stretch goals.  That is fantastic.  I’m really interested in these two cool NEW mechanics.  Any hints?  

Jamey: Both have to do with managing time. I’m fascinated by time right now, especially in terms of games. How and when you choose to spend your time are integral to the new mechanics. I need to test them extensively, of course. I think I’m more interested in time than normal because of the choices I’ve had to make about time during the Kickstarter campaign. I have a day job, but I’ve probably spent about 60 hours a week in addition to that working on Kickstarter. I’ve made some tough choices about sleep, and I’ve seen how that affects me. I’m currently my own one-man worker placement game, and so I want to see how those choices play out when applied to a game like Viticulture.

Tom: A YA utopian novel?  That’s kinda against the grain right now.  Kinda brave.  But very cool.  Talk about that a bit.  And vampires do not sparkle, folks.

Jamey: Thanks for being curious about this! Writing fiction is my other passion. YA dystopian fiction is hot right now (and really, there have been a number of great, bestselling YA dystopian novels over the last 30 years), but how about a book where the future actually turns out well? In fact, not just good, but really good? What would have to change to make that happen, and what sacrifices need to be in place to ensure it stays that way? I’ll give you a hint: It involves one-way time travel. Only one way.

If you’re intrigued, you can sign up to learn more and stay informed about if/when the book is published here.

Tom: I’m a sucker for a good time travel story.  All You Zombies by Heinlein and Winters Tale by Mark Helprin are two of the best.  Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

Jamey: In all of these interviews, I don’t think I’ve been asked that before! In real life when I’m stumped in conversation, I usually resort to turning things back around. So I’ll ask you and your readers (you can reply in the comments): (a) What is your favorite board game right now, (b) what is the last truly innovative game mechanic you heard about, and (c) what is the most memorable thing you’ve ever seen a project creator do for a Kickstarter campaign?

Tom: Aren’t you sneaky?!  Ok, right now I’m a big fan of two games – Garden Dice and Belfort.  I recently met Doug Bass and he taught me Garden Dice.  It’s a very well designed game that has a strong theme and mechanisms that I like.  I’ve recently revisited Belfort because I realized that I owe Michael Mindes (TMG) a review.  It is such a smooth game.  Quick but deep and simple enough that my 10-year-old can hold his own against me.  There will be reviews of each forthcoming on GFG.  Next question: I’ll reserve my answer as that is October’s Question of The Month on Go Forth And Game (GFG).  Last question is hard because I’m so focused on games with KS.  Not following through with a project or canceling a project really surprised me.  A couple of projects I was looking at cancelled for different reasons.  So that was a bit of a shock.  I think your ‘money back guarantee’ is pretty bold.  No one else has had that to my knowledge.  Want to discuss that some? (Hey! I feel like I was set up for some reason.)

Jamey: I read your Garden Dice interview the other day–great stuff. I haven’t played Belfort, but I’m really intrigued by it. I love games where you’re building something (there’s a nice sense of accomplishment that comes with that). Like you, I’m surprised by some of the cancellations, but perhaps there’s a method to that choice. I’d have to talk to those creators to learn more.

Ha ha…no setup there–I was genuinely curious about your answers (and I’ll stay tuned to your blog to learn more). The idea behind the money-back guarantee is that all of these people are trusting me to deliver a great product. They’re enabling me to manufacture the game. So I want to reciprocate that trust on the back-end–if they play the game a few times, don’t like it, and return it within the first month, I’ll give them their money back.

Tom:  Ok, I’ve read some of your blog and it’s pretty interesting.  Talk a bit about the ‘My Greatest Fear’ series of posts.  How did you come up with that?

Jamey:  That series–which I think I started a few years ago, not thinking that it would become a series–has really picked up over the last year as I realized how many small, laughable fears I have. The goal of my blog is to generate conversation, and I’ve found that everyone has irrational fears that make for great discussion.

Tom: Hmmm, I wonder what my irrational fears are?  I should think about that.  Oh, I know one.  Leaving something on when I leave home.  Or not locking the door.  I’ve started out down the street only to turn around a few houses down to see if I locked the door.  Drives my wife insane.  

Point us to the Viticulture Kickstarter again.  And to Stonemaier Games.  

Sure! Here’s the Viticulture Kickstarter project page, here’s the Stonemaier Games website, and here’s our Facebook page.

Thank you so much for this opportunity! Keep up the great work on your blog.
Tom: Thank you Jamey.  This was a fantastic interview and I’m looking forward reviewing and seeing Viticulture in my FLGS in the coming years.  It was a ton of fun talking to you.

And once again thank you for visiting Go Forth And Game.  I hope you enjoyed the interview with Jamey and that you will support Viticulture on Kickstarter.  You only have about 36 hours left to be a part of this game.  Please leave a comment below to let me know what you liked about this interview.