I’m honored to have Michael Fox on Go Forth this time. Michael is an extraordinary interviewer and the mind behind The Little Metal Dog Show. This is an excellent gaming podcast and you should all listen to it. Michale is also one half of Sprocket Games who publish Fox & Chicken, Keep Running, and FrogFlip. We talk about a lot of interesting things not just the show. Enjoy.
Tom: Hi Michael. I’m extremely pleased and excited to have you as a guest on Go Forth And Game. WooHoo!
Michael: Cheers dude! I feel a bit odd being on the answering side, but I’ll do my best to entertain!
Tom: First, give a really quick rundown of your gamer credentials.
Michael: Well… I’ve been playing stuff for years, of course. I’d probably say my first memorable experience was getting a copy of MB’s HeroQuest which showed me that gaming didn’t just have to be about extended Monopoly sessions. Now I had the chance to explore a dank dungeon, looking for treasure and beating up monsters (which for a short-sighted fat kid is always an appealing thing). I’d spend hours on it, playing by my own screwed up solo rules that I’d made because I didn’t really live near any of my school friends. After that I dabbled a bit in Games Workshop stuff, again building adventures in Advanced HeroQuest, messing around with cars in Dark Future, putting together Blood Bowl squads – never really got into the whole painting and hanging around the stores things though. I think I liked my own company too much…
Of course, music and girls got in the way when I went to University, but I got back into games around 2005-2006 when a little game store opened in a nearby town. After wandering by for a few days I finally went in to check out the range of stuff that was on offer and how much the hobby had progressed, then walked out with a copy of Ticket To Ride about twenty minutes later. Never looked back since!
Tom: Ticket is one of my favorites. Let’s start off talking about your latest Sprocket Games game, Of Mice & Lemmings.
Michael: Sure! It’s currently on Kickstarter, plays between five and eight people, and is just the right mix of bluffing, deduction and barefaced lies that I like. That’s why we’re putting it out 😉
Tom: I’ve watched the KS video and the game sounds sweet. A 5+ player secret role/deduction game! Nice. Tell me more.
Michael: Well, the idea is that these mice are living on the side of a riverbank, then one day a cheese factory opens on the opposite side. Naturally, they’re delighted, so decide to work together in order to build bridges so they can cross the river – and they pressgang a bunch of local lemmings into helping them. Of course, the lemmings think that they’re essentially building diving platforms, so don’t want these bridges to be entirely up to code.
Gameplay wise, you’re looking at playing numbered cards over the course of a round in order to hit a certain target that depends on how many people are playing – so in an eight player game, you’d need to hit 35 or more. Once per round, one player alone MUST reveal what side they’re on, and doing it at the right time is the key to winning the game. Mice must try to cross the river, lemmings have to try to leap into the water, but there’s a second thing to consider: as well as being out for yourself, you’re also working as part of a team and need to try to force your opponents into NOT doing what they should.
As always, I’ve explained a game terribly. It’s way better than how I’ve described it. WAY better.
Tom: No, actually it sounds fun. It sounds a lot deeper than I would have thought. The combination of a co-op aspect in addition to being out for yourself is really cool. The whole social aspect will punch some of my group squarely in the face. They will love that. This one is by super hot game designer Scott Almes, right? He has like 40 games coming out or on Kickstarter this month. How did you wrangle OM&L into the Sprocket fold?
Michael: Actually it was all Scott! He came to us having seen the artwork on our other games. I put a shout out on Twitter asking if anyone had any games that they thought might fit into our line and Scott got in touch. He sent us over a copy of the game which we played to death, but we had a couple of things in the pipeline that we needed to get sorted out first.
Scott’s a fantastic designer and we’re delighted that he’s come on board with some relative noobs like us. I mean, Tiny Epic Kingdoms just got about a million backers on Kickstarter, I’m still amazed that we’re doing Of Mice And Lemmings.
Tom: Having a Scott Almes game in the Sprocket line is awesome. And I’ll have Scott on Go Forth very soon. Now let’s talk some about Sprocket in general. Who’s involved? What other games are in the catalog? What else is coming up?
Michael: It’s me and my wife Steph. That’s it. We have our day jobs and then do the Sprocket Games stuff outside of that. She’s responsible for the art and graphical layout (which I’m utterly incompetent at). I’m responsible for pretty much everything else. Whether it’s working with the designers, packing and collating all the copies of the games, even traipsing them down to the post office to send out, that’s me.
Man, I wish I could get an intern. One day! Reach for the stars!
Tom: If I lived over there you would have one. The art for OML is really cute. It will appeal to a wide audience. Sprocket has published FrogFlip, Keep Running!, and Fox & Chicken so far. Fox & Chicken has been picked up by
Michael: We’ve got a few things planned after OMAL, of course. First up, I can happily announce that we’re going to be doing a new version of Tony Boydell’s fantastic (and silly) game, Bloody Legacy (or, in its native German, Das Blutige Erbe). The game’s been out of print since the dawn of time and Tony asked us at Essen 2013 if we’d be up for doing a new reprint. Who are we to say no?! Tony’s great, and not just because he designed Snowdonia.
Tom: That’s fantastic news. And I get an exclusive! I’ve heard lots of good things about Snowdonia. And spurred by your mention am at the Bloody Legacy site on BGG. It looks pretty fun.
Michael: I have a couple of designs that are either good to go or still in development. Once’s a space game called Pocket Universe that I’ve been working on for a couple of years now, and I think that it’s finally perfect. Another is a hot-air balloon racing game that’s got an interesting card mechanism. Oh, and there’s also a dungeon delving game that comes with more dice than you can possibly carry.
Tom: I like space themed games and interesting mechanisms. You have a relatively new game industry job also. Would you like to talk about that?
Michael: Sure! I work for Game Salute, the US company who help get a lot of Kickstarter games to market, either publishing them ourselves or helping other companies do so. We also distribute a LOT more, so the fingers of Game Salute are actually in a lot more gamey pies than folks may realise. My role is… well, lots of stuff. I handle media elements, organising review copies for folks, corresponding with backers on campaigns and afterwards to make sure that stuff is going OK. Also, with me being in the UK, I’ve recently been up working with our new partners over at Spiral Galaxy who’ll be handling our British and European distribution. There’s a lot of work to do every day, but we’re striving to build up our reputation and I know we’re getting there.
Tom: You’ve done a fantastic job at it so far. I’ve seen how you have handled some of the ‘complaining’ about Game Salute. You were gracious, courteous, and still got your message across well. You’ve been very responsive to questions and inquiries. I’ve seen more frequent info about GS games lately also.
Michael: Pffft. A lot of it’s common sense. We’re changing the way we do a few things and it seems to be working!
Tom: Well, as my wife would say, common sense is very uncommon these days. I’d like to talk about The Little Metal Dog Show. First, it’s awesome. I think you are hands down the best interviewer in the gaming realm. You put your guests at ease quickly and you ask fantastic questions. You are very responsive and thoughtful also. You’re my interview hero. What’s your secret?
Michael: There’s no secret at all, but thank you for being so kind about it. Really, I just like talking to people about the stuff they’re passionate about. It doesn’t matter if they’re designers, artists, publishers, whatever – if they love what they do, then that shines through when they come on the show. Even after doing over seventy-five episodes, I still feel like a complete newbie every time I put a new one out. I’m really self-critical and want everything to be the best it can be, but often I just have to say “that’s enough” and put the shows out. One piece of advice I’d definitely give though – don’t write a script of questions. Let things flow naturally, it’ll make for something that’s much more comfortable for the listener.
Tom: Got it. If I ever get to audio let the conversation flow. Don’t write a script. I’ll start right now………
That’s kind of what I try to do here. Make the best ‘conversation’ possible. It can be difficult considering we aren’t actually talking in real time. But I think it works ok. Any special guests coming up?
Michael: Man, every guest is special! You can’t ask that! You’re more than welcome to come on any time though, if you reckon you’re special enough!
Tom: Well, shucks. I ain’t nuttin’ special. But I would like to ‘visit’ at some point when I earn my wings. 🙂 How about answering … The Big Question: “How can I be a better playtester?”
Michael: Honesty, dude if something is working poorly, let the designer know. On the same token, if something works really well, you should talk about that too. Play the game you’ve been entrusted with in as many iterations as you can – if it goes from two to four, play it with different sized groups, as often something can get missed if you’re just playing in one set-up. Oh, and ask questions. A good designer will happily clarify anything that you may ask. Just make sure you read the rules first!
Tom: The ‘many iterations’ idea is great. That often gets missed and I don’t think that anyone has mentioned that yet. Speaking of playtesting, if you need a playtester/reviewer for any other games….
Michael: You’re on the list, man! Let’s get OMAL funded and you can have the first review copy, OK?
Tom: Cool. I’d love a copy. Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Michael: Just thank you for the chance to talk! I mean, I don’t need an excuse most of the time, but it’s great to have the opportunity to discuss the game as well as all the odd stuff I do. And seriously, come on the show some time!
Tom: Well, if you think I would be an interesting guest I’m game for it. Let’s plan that.
It was so fantastic talking to Michael. I think he THE best interviewer in the game industry. You really should listen to The Little Metal Dog Show. And you need to support Of Mice & Lemmings. It looks like a very fun game. As I said I’ll have the designer Scott Almes on in the next few weeks. Join me then. In the meantime leave some words below.