Happy Mitten Magic – A Conversation With…Matt Worden and Jeff Large About Aether Magic

happy mitten3I’m joined this time by Jeff Large of Happy Mitten Games and Matt Worden, the designer of Happy Mitten’s very first game – Aether Magic. We discuss Happy Mitten’s evolution from a podcast to a game company, what Matt has been up lately, and what Aether Magic is all about.

Tom: Introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about you.

Jeff: Hello Tom. My name is Jeff Large and I’m ⅓ of the Happy Mitten Games team. We started the company in early 2013 by producing content like our blogs and podcast (happymittengames.com/itunes). In late 2013 we signed Matt’s game and have spent the past year in development. Finally we are ready to bring it to Kickstarter.

Otherwise, I was a teacher for 7 years and resigned to go full-time with my web/graphics/audio company (http://comealivecreative.com/). I’m married to my beautiful and ridiculous wife Leandra and we have 2 kids. I love to play guitar, volunteer, read, hang out with the family, board game, and more.

Matt: Thanks, Tom. My name is Matt Worden, and I’m a pretty typical mid-40s Minnesota suburban dad, living about 30 miles west of Minneapolis with my wife and two kids. I am a business systems analyst for my real job, and have been doing computer and tabletop game design and development on the side since high school. I like to watch or play just about any sort of game or sport, and enjoy getting out in nature — matt wordencamping, canoeing, fishing, etc. I’ve also coached youth sports and currently volunteer to teach religion classes for 7th-9th graders at my church.

Jeff: Matt forgot to mention he’s one of the nicest guys in the industry!

Matt: Jeff forgot to mention that he looks studly with a beard. (Easy, Lee — I know he’s taken!)

Tom: Wow, Matt we have things in common. I’m a fisherman too. Though I don’t get to do it very much. I used to teach kids at my former church as well.  Jeff, tell us about Happy Mitten.

Jeff: What specifically do you want to know? I gave you the overview in the intro. Anything you want me to focus on?

Tom: Who are the other 2/3’s of Happy Mitten? Where did the name come from?

Jeff: My partners are my wife Leandra and my cousin Kyle. Lee and I have been gaming for about the past 10 years- ever since our son was born. Probably 5 or 6 years ago Kyle started hanging out in our friend group more and began to game with us. All 3 of us have that “entrepreneurial spirit” and started throwing around business ideas and settled on starting a board game company. That’s how Happy Mitten was born.

Matt: But, Jeff … the name … where’d that come from?

Jeff: Naming things is difficult, especially a company but it will hopefully be around for a long time. We toyed around with a bunch of ideas. Most of them focused on locations Lee, Kyle, and I had in common. “Mitten” ended up being the favorite (Michigan looks like a Mitten).

From there, adjectives were thrown around until “Happy” was decided. Originally I thought it was stupid but it’s grown on me. It’s light-hearted, fun, and has a positive vibe to it.

Tom: Matt, you have been designing games for several years. Talk a bit about some of your games and Matt Worden Games.

Matt: While I started out programming computer games, I’ve been primarily just working on tabletop games for the past 5 years. My best known titles, so far, would be Castle Danger, Jump Gate, Space Mission and Dicey Curves. I’ve focused my efforts the last couple of years on print-on-demand publishing through TheGameCrafter.com, while pitching bigger, more complex games to other publishers … which is how Aether Magic is with Happy Mitten.

JG3_ShopAdI formalized my games-related activities under Matt Worden Games, LLC, back in 2010, when I self-published the second edition of Jump Gate. And I am currently ramping-up to a return to traditional publishing this year with my first title in the “Tales of Danger” series of games that I recently announced. I expect to continue publishing games in a print-and-distribute model for the Land of Danger and Jump Gate product lines over the coming years, while still developing and pitching my other designs to other publishers.

Question for Tom: From your experience in interviewing other small publishers in this niche gaming space … What are the best steps I can take to make sure my upcoming games get noticed? What’s the best way for me to be able to get them into FLGS’s?

Tom: Matt, to answer the ‘best steps’ question, get the game in front of people and build buzz. Gamers tend to take their friends’ advice about how good a game is over some random review. Solicit reviews from the top 5 reviewers. Get the game out there. As to the FLGS question, talk to the game distributors is my only suggestion here. Or contact several of the higher profile game stores and offer them copies to try.

Jeff: Tom, what do you think makes having the advice of reviews so important? It’s seems to be accepted that having “professional” reviews of your game on Kickstarter are a requirement. I wonder if it’s the reviews that are “necessary” or just evidence of social proof that you aren’t the only one who likes your game.

Tom: Jeff, that is an excellent point. I don’t think having a professional reviewer say great things about your game is so fantastic. You paid them to do so in essence. But reviews by us commoners I believe holds more weight. Your comment about social proof hits the nail on the head. We don’t want to take a chance on buying a crummy game. If some other people have vetted it so much the better.  What do you think Matt?

Matt: I really rely on the folks I follow to share their opinions on the games they try. Mainly, this is because I don’t get to play games as often as I would like. So, they let me learn vicariously through their experiences. On the other hand, I’m pretty open-minded and like a wide range of game styles. So, the buzz itself isn’t as important to me personally — I’ll still give things that seem interesting a closer look and form my own opinion on if it’s something I’ll like. But having that buzz is a good way for me to notice in the first place.

Tom: Matt, talk a little about your other games first, before we get to Aether Magic. And about your “Tales of Danger” series cause that has me very intrigued.

Matt: Following closely on the heels of Happy Mitten Kickstarting Aether Magic, I expect to launch my very own first Kickstarter campaign, in April or May, for Tales of Danger #1: Days of Discovery. Yeah, it’s a mouthful … but it’ll make sense as the series progresses. There will be 7 games in the series, each covering a different period along the timeline of my alt-historical “Land of Danger.” This first game will start in Portugal in 1290, with players looking to get sponsorship and carry out a voyage to discover the fabled land to the west. The second game will focus on the aether magic2settlement of villages along its coast. And so on. Along the way, you’ll find out why they called the land by this odd name and how it developed along its course that eventually has it disappearing from our history altogether.

Toward the end of the year, I plan on rebooting Jump Gate in a very high-end production with all new artwork — by a real artist this time.;-) Essentially, I want to do production-wise what Schmidt Spiele did with Space Mission, but without the simplifying rules changes. This will be the start of a full line of games set in that universe, including the 2 expansions to Jump Gate itself.

And, I have a handful of other games that aren’t part of either of these lines that I expect to be showing around to other publishers as I attend events throughout the year. For example, Abbottsville — a tile-laying game set in the early-1800s on the near-west prairies (and having nothing to do with punching pumas) — showed some potential at Protospiel last summer, and my heavy strategy opus, Magistrate, is getting very close to being ready now. There’s a few more on the back burner that may bubble up to the front again along the way.

Tom: I remember you talking about both Abbottsville and Magistrate. I also remember that people had very good things to say about them both. I’m glad to hear they are still being developed.

I’m really interested in the Tales of Danger series. I’m a pulp fan and that name drags me right in. I like alt-history too. So you’ve sold one copy already. I can’t wait to see it. If you need playtesters….

Matt: I will likely take you up on that offer! 😉

Tom: SWEET! Please do. I would really like to see it and help you out. Now let’s talk about Aether Magic. What’s it all about?

Jeff: Aether Magic is a fantasy-themed auction and set collection game. It’s for 3-6 players and plays in 45 minutes. In Aether Magic, you play as a Mage summoning Aether from the Portal, you trade with other Magi for the Elements and Runes you need to cast the spectacular Spells to earn points and win the title of Master Mage.

Tom: It sounds cool. What’s gameplay like?

Jeff: The game has a few specific qualities that we were really looking for to represent the Happy Mitten brand. For one, it’s highly social. We really like to play games where you are interacting with the other players. Everyone is aether magic 1involved in the auction process each turn and we encourage table-talk to get what you need. Second, players have plenty of opportunities to feel clever. As the game progresses, you acquire more resources and have chances to chain multiple spells together based on their effects. Last, I think the game is very approachable. We’ve tested it with many people and one complement we frequently get is that it’s easy to learn.

Matt, I know you really enjoy how the auction/ offering phase works differently than most games’ auction mechanic. Why don’t you comment on that and anything else I missed?

Tom: I like highly social games too. I also like to feel clever since I’m not particularly so. Yeah, I’d like to hear more about that auction mechanic.

Matt: The auction mechanic hangs on a couple of interconnected things. First, you are required on each turn to give something valuable away to another player. Second, each player has his/her own currency (these are the “Runes” Jeff mentioned) that is actually worth nothing to its original owner. However, if you combine 2 Runes that came from other players, they can be used as a wildcard Element when casting Spells.

On your turn, you’ll be putting some Aether up for auction, while letting the other Magi know what you’d like to see offered for it. The other Magi then bid with any combination of Runes and magical Elements that they wish, and you declare one of them the winner of the auction, trading the Aether for whatever it is he/she bid. This means that the value of each bid becomes subjective and a number of different things play into your decision of who wins your auction: Is someone offering a Rune you don’t have yet? Is someone offering that one Element you need to cast the Spell you want? Is there someone you simply *won’t* let win because they already seem too powerful? Do you owe someone a favor due to an early auction result?aether magic b

It ends up being an interesting play between practical mathematics and higher level meta-gaming politics. Best of all, this mechanic revealed itself as part of a weird dream I had a few years ago. It’s one of the more “woo-woo” moments in my design experience — I may actually need help from TC to explain it all properly. 😉

Tom: I really am intrigued by that auction. It is very unique for a non-party game. I think it is cool that you figured out how to make it work in a strategy game.

Matt, why did you choose to go with Happy Mitten for Aether Magic?

Matt: I started following Happy Mitten shortly after they started their website and podcasts in 2013. I was impressed by the quality of guests they were interviewing and the information coming out of those interviews. When Jeff announced that he would be at GenCon and was going to be looking for prototypes to test, we exchanged e-mails and agreed to meet and chat in-person for a bit.

I didn’t think the prototypes I had with me would be a fit for them, so I wasn’t even planning to hand off a game to him at first … I just wanted to make the contact and introduce myself. As we chatted, though, I really liked how open they were in their process and their approach of both learning from those with experience and sharing those conversations with the community via their podcast. I’m a big fan of folks stepping out and trying something new like they were doing.

And I had this quirky little game called “For Goods and Honor” with a cool social auction mechanic and an inadvertent over-abundance of glitter (actual, literal glitter) … but it was otherwise a produce-some-goods-and-score-like-Knizia type game. And it had a unique setting: Goodferd Valley, where the Goodferdians — good-humored, gnome-like creatures — were preoccupied with producing the most goods while also earning the most honor among their peers and trying to fend-off the debaucherous Nastigans that would visit from time-to-time from over the ridge. Yeah — “quirky.”

In any case, I asked Jeff to at least take a look at it and he politely added it to the growing stack of games he ended up taking home from the con. I’m kinda surprised it found its way to their table …

{throws the story to Jeff …}

Jeff: Ha! At that point of the process we already went through a ton of games. When we decided to sign a designer instead of creating our own game, we did open submissions via our website. Even with filtering the process, we played many games that were unrefined or didn’t fit our style.

Honestly, I’m kind of surprised Matt’s game made it to our table too! However, it was really fun. The best part was the social interaction during the auction phase. After a few more plays we started discussing what we wanted to do with the theme. Quirky may be funny but we didn’t think it’d be very marketable. After more discussion as a team and with Matt, the game was signed in Q4 of 2013. It’s been a lot of work getting to where we are now but we’re very happy with the current state of Aether Magic.

Tom: Ok. You have Jaqui Davis on art. Wow! She is SO busy. How did you get her?

Jeff: We asked her and she said yes. 🙂 Kyle handled reaching out to the artists so he’s a better person to ask. He discusses the process a bit on a guest blog from Boards & Barley here- http://boardsandbarley.com/2015/02/10/aether-magic-kickstarter-by-happy-mitten-games/.

Tom: I really want to play this game!aether magic3

Jeff:  We want you to play it too. 🙂

Matt: I think it’s important for every single human being on the planet to play it!

Tom: I will do my best to make that happen. Oh, idea “Tiny Epic Aether Magic”. What do you think? Guaranteed million plus seller.

Matt: Ha! Also, people should know that the entire magical competition has to do with keeping kittens from exploding, so …

Tom: HA! That’s great. Jeff, let’s spend a bit of time on your ‘day job’ – Come Alive Creative. Tell us about that.

Jeff: Gladly Tom! Come Alive Creative is our full service creative shop. I’ve put together a stellar team with diverse strengths we handle web design, audio production, graphic design, branding, and more. We serve clients who are ready to improve their businesses or ideas but don’t have the time or know how. For example, we took over producing Funding the Dream last November and lately the team has been helping Happy Mitten with the graphic design for Aether Magic and most of the photography and videography for the Kickstarter.

We also have a podcast, Come Alive Creator (https://comealivecreative.com/itunes), where we interview entrepreneurs and hear about their stories. In our last podcast we interviewed Jamey Stegmaier and discussed the business side of his journey.

So if any of your readers need help with creating a website or graphic design for a game, they should check us out- ComeAliveCreative.com.

Tom: Jamey is such an awesome guy isn’t he. CAC sounds like it could be a boon to the gaming community. I will do what I can to get you some press.

Jeff: Thanks Tom! We certainly have an inside scoop being part of the gaming industry.

Tom: Any last words?

Matt: It’s been a fun interview, Tom … thanks for having us on! Anyone interested in learning more about Aether Magic, or wanting to support Happy Mitten on their first project should definitely go checkout the Kickstarter page.

Jeff: Thank you for the time. It’s been such exciting journey and we’re grateful for all of the support from everyone along the way. We’re really excited to see how the Kickstarter does.

Tom: Where can people interact with you?

Matt: My website (http://mwgames.com) is the hub of everything I’m working on. I also have a Facebook page (http://facebook.com/MattWordenGames) where I post pictures and share links, and I jabber away at Twitter (http://twitter.com/MattWordenGame) on a regular basis.


For Happy Mitten-

Aether Magic Kickstarter: http://www.happymittengames.com/kickstarter

Website: http://www.happymittengames.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/happymitten

Podcast: http://www.happymittengames.com/itunes

As for me personally

Twitter: https://twitter.com/realjefflarge

Websites: https://comealivecreative.com/ or http://www.jefflarge.com/

That’s a lot of links! Thanks again!

Tom: Thanks guys! That was a fantastic interview. I’m excited for you and Aether Magic. It sounds very interesting and unique. I’m happy to help promote it and you. I’ll talk to you soon.

Readers, thank you once again for joining me and my guests. You can find out more about Happy Mitten and MWG at the links above. Here’s the link to the Aether Magic Kickstarter page. Please consider backing it. You will not be disappointed.

My Favorite Role Playing Games

As promised in one of this week’s posts here are my top seven role playing games.

6. Dogs In The Vineyard – I’ve played Dogs several times and it is pretty fun. You play a young Mormon lawman, one of God’s Watchdogs, in Deseret. You go from Dogs_in_the_Vineyard_cover_smalltown to town solving issues that range from domestic disputes to supernatural problems. It has an interesting conflict resolution system. It’s a poker / betting system using dice pools where those in the conflict set the stakes. It’s cool.

5. Psi-Run – I played an ashcan version of this and really liked it. I’ve since bought the published version. In Psi-Run players are amnesiacs who have powers. They have been held by some mysterious agency. They wake up after some sort of calamity that frees them. They are on the run from the agency but don’t know why or even who they are. Players fill out a player sheet that has questions that they will try to answer during the game. This hunt for answers to know who you are is what is cool about this game.

4. Cold City – This one is takes place in early post-WWII Berlin. The Allies have divided up the city. Players are members of a special unit that is hunting down the monsters and experiments left over from Nazi experiments. Each is a member of one of the Allied powers now controlling the city.

cold citydryh-220





3. Don’t Rest Your Head – DRYH is one of the most unique role playing games out there. And that’s saying a lot. I would do best to let the game’s website say it best – “Don’t Rest Your Head is a sleek, dangerous little game, where your players are all insomniac protagonists with superpowers, fighting — and using — exhaustion and madness to stay alive, and awake for just one more night, in a reality gone way wrong called the Mad City.” It has a very unique conflict / action system involving group dice pools and it is so very cool. This is one that I REALLY want to play more.

Fate Core Cover

2. FATE system – In second place is a system not a single game. FATE is a role playing engine involving dice d6’s with pluses, minuses, and blanks and Aspects. Characters don’t have attributes with certain strengths. They have Aspects. Aspects are descriptions of your character. Things like “Quick Draw” or “Dumb as a rock” or “Strong as an ox”. This Aspects give the character advantages in situations. But they can be used against them. FATE also has something called Fate Points. These are bonuses that players earn and can use to change the story. FATE games are very narrative driven and you always get good stories out of games. My three favorite settings for FATE are listed below.

  • Spirit of the Century – Spirit is a pulp lover’s heaven. Players are Centurions, people with special abilities or resources who are fighting for truth and justice. ‘Part of the setting is created in character generation; all characters have ten free-form aspects that have an effect on the game and on the world. Each sotc-220character gains two aspects from their background, two from what they did in the Great War, and a further two from the stories that would make up an imaginary novel about their life before the game started. They then get a further four aspects by guest starring in two of the other PCs’ novels for two aspects apiece.’ It is seeped in pulp atmosphere and is so very good.
  • Icons – This is the best superhero rpg I’ve played. It is very fun and really feels like you are playing a comic book.
  • The Day After Ragnorok – more pulpy goodness. This time it’s post-apocalyptic with a twist.”Mighty-thewed barbarians and grim mercenaries roam the desolate plains of Ohio. Giant snakes, and those who worship them, DAR_FATECore_Shopify_1_1024x1024prowl the ruins of St. Louis. Pirates battle the Japanese invaders in the South China Sea. Bold British agents, equipped with experimental bio-technology, thwart the insidious infiltration of Stalin’s humanzees. Sky-raiders strike from hidden bases in the Sahara, deros skulk in South American caverns, and the Texas Rangers fight electrical death worms to save Los Alamos.Kenneth Hite (Adventures into DarknessTrail of Cthulhu) presents a world of savage swords and rocket men, of were-serpents and war-apes, from Australia’s battered Empire to the proud city-state of Chicago.And across it all lies the trillion-ton corpse of the Midgard Serpent, killed by Truman’s atomic fire but still poisoning the Earth with every night that passes. Welcome to the world at the end of the world. Welcome to… THE DAY AFTER RAGNAROK.”
     My rpg group is currently in the midst of a campaign in this setting. It’s really, really good.

1. It’s a tie. Fiasco & Dread.

I can’t decide between these two. Each is SO VERY GOOD. And so different from each other. First is Fiasco.web_fiasco

Fiasco is a GM-less game by Jason Morningstar. Jason is a super fantastic designer who thinks outside the box. In Fiasco, players build relationships between each other using dice and playsets. Playsets are scenario suggestions and helps for building game. Fiasco is very open. Players can go where ever they and the game take them. This leads to some VERY interesting and often hilarious games. Fiasco is described as ‘making your own Cohen Brothers movie’.

Now Dread. The one with the Jenga tower. Yeah. It uses a Jenga tower for conflict resolution. Awesome. Dread is a horror role playing game. The GM gives the players questionnaires, set in scenarios, to answer about their characters. The answers inform the GM about those characters so that he can tailor the story to them. Scenarios range from Alien-like space horror to The Walking Dead types. Dread coverAnd anything a GM can think of. The game teaches the GM how to build scenarios and run them to great effect. Back to the Jenga tower and conflict resolution. When ever a character has a decision or a choice, he and the GM set the stakes and the player pulls a block. If the tower does not fall, the character succeeds. If it falls, the character is ‘written’ out of the game. Dread is the perfect horror rpg. Horror games should be filled with tension and, well, dread. The Jenga tower does this perfectly. This game is dripping with tension created by that tower. Dread games are nerve-wracking. It is so good.

That’s it – my top rpgs. I hope you will look into each of them. And tell me about your favorites below in the comments section.

And while I’m excited to let you know about one more game. It’s Don’t Turn Your Back. This is Evil Hat Productions’ board game / deck building game set in the Don’t Rest Your Head universe. It looks fantastic. It is currently on Kickstarter. Check it out here.

Come on back in a few days. I have an interview with Jeff of Happy Mitten Games and Matt Worden of MWG about their game – Aether Magic.

Between Three Guests, A Conversation With…Ben Rosset, Matt O’Malley, and Jamey Stegmaier About Between Two Cities

Today I’m joined by the guys behind Stonemaier Games next project – Between Two Cities. Ben Rosset, Matt O’Malley, and Stonemaier’s Jamey Stegmaier. Let’s get to it.

Tom: Hi guys. Why not introduce yourselves first.

Ben: I’m from Chicago but have lived in Washington, DC since 2003. I’ve been a gamer since about 2006 and a game designer since about 2008. Just recently I’ve moved into the gaming industry full time as a Project Manager with Panda Game Manufacturing, which I’m incredibly excited about. I’ll still be designing my own games during my free time, as well.

Matthew: I live just outside DC with my wonderful wife and two great kids. I played all sorts of games as a kid (D&D, Othello, Backgammon, Dungeon, Warrior Knights, Diplomacy) leading up to Avalon Hill’s Civilization in college. Then I went through a bit of a dark age, but a friend reintroduced me to games through Acquire, Modern Art, and Settlers. My day job is developing nonprofit web sites with my wife at Grand Junction Design (our company), but my evenings are dedicated to games and music with family and friends.

Tom: D&D and rpg’s lead me back to board gaming. I still love playing them. Just don’t get to that often. Jamey, we are pretty familiar with your games. Ben, tell us about your games.


Ben’s Brew Crafters from Dice Hate Me Games

Ben: As a designer, sometimes my inspiration for a new game comes in the form of a theme, and sometimes as a mechanic. My first published game was Mars Needs Mechanics, released in 2013. It’s a medium weight Economic game with a unique system for controlling the prices of goods, called the “Sales Order Line.” My next two published games, Brew Crafters and Brew Crafters: The Travel Card Game, were released at the end of 2014/beginning of 2015 from Dice Hate Me Games. As I write this, they are still being delivered to overseas kickstarter backers, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the games becoming generally available in stores soon. Theme was definitely my inspiration for both of those games. I got the original idea for Brew Crafters while taking a tour of Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. Between Two Cities will be my fourth published game.

Tom: Mars is fun. I enjoyed it. I’ve seen you and Chris (Kirkman) play Brew Crafters when you were honing it but have yet to play (*ahem* Chris!). It looked like a game I would enjoy. I have just received Brew Crafters: TTCG and am looking forward to playing it. Your turn Matthew.


Matt’s Diner from Dice Hate Me Games

Matt: My first published game was actually an iOS puzzle game, Celtic Knots, that I designed and published myself. However, after that experience (and having a day job creating web sites) I really wanted to create something physical, which is what led me to board games. I’d been designing games in my head for years, but attending Unpub in 2013 was what drove me to try to get some of my designs published. Soon after that, I signed The Princess Bride: A Battle of Wits (which will be released by Game Salute in the summer of 2015), followed by Diner (public release in early 2015 by Dice Hate Me Games).

A Battle of Wits is a nice, light, auction and deduction card game to the death. Diner is a fast-paced almost-real-time game with a lot of energy. Between Two Cities will be my third published game.

Tom: Diner is so good. I ‘playtested’ it for the 54 Card Challenge and it stood out as amazing. Somebody please tell us about Between Two Cities.


This is the mock-up of the box cover for Between Two Cities.

Ben: Between Two Cities is a tile drafting and placement game about building iconic world cities for 3-7 players (with 1 and 2 player variants) that plays in about 20 minutes at all player counts. It has a unique double partnership mechanic where each player works with the player to their right to build one city together, and with the player to their left to build a different city. At the end of the game, each city gets scored, but each player only receives the points for their lowest scoring city. This forces players to put equal amounts of effort into both of their partnerships. Because of the double partnership mechanic, there is no “screw your neighbor” feeling in Between Two Cities. You have every incentive to help both the player to your right and your left. But in the end, it’s a strictly competitive game with only one winner.

Tom: That sounds really fun. I am very interested in seeing it in action soon. Where did the idea of the game come from?

Ben: The original idea that we had was the double partnership mechanic. We thought it would be really interesting if each player had to split their effort, attention and resources equally between 2 partnerships with 2 different players. The rest of the game came alive from there.

Matthew: Originally, the players were all gardeners designing Roman gardens. We had this great mechanic, but it didn’t really flow until we changed the theme to city-building. I think it was the melding of the mechanic with the theme that really brought it to life, as Ben said.

Tom: How is it working with a design partner?

Ben: For me, it’s been amazing. Matthew is an incredibly talented designer and has also become a good friend. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect design partner. We are just enough the same and just enough different to make the partnership work well. We’ve got other ideas in the hopper and I look forward to designing more games with Matthew for a long time to come!

Matthew: Working with a partner is invaluable in keeping a project moving forward. It really helps to have someone else to keep pushing, to bounce ideas off of, and to take something from good to great. Working with Ben has been fantastic. He’s right that we do have a good mix of similarities and differences, especially in what we focus on in a design. I couldn’t be happier about the response we’ve gotten to Between Two Cities, and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing to bring more games to life.

Tom: Jamey, what was it about Between Two Cities that made you say, “I have to sign this game!”?

Jamey: This past year at Gen Con, I heard that Ben had a new prototype he was testing out. I had hung out with Ben at Geekway to the West in St. Louis the previous year and hold him in high regards, so I asked him if he would show this new game to me.

I sat down and played a quick 3-player game with Ben and Matthew, who I met for the first time for that game. As I played, I realized that I was feeling something I had never fully experienced from the beginning of a game to the end: I had that positive feeling you get from working together with people to solve a puzzle in a cooperative game, but I was working towards my own clever individual victory as one does in a competitive game. The game was somehow fully cooperative (with your neighbors) and fully competitive, and it felt…awesome.

I immediately called over 4 friends, as I wanted to see if I felt that same way after playing with 7 players. I also bt2c3wanted to see how much time it added or if it seemed like a different game. Nope. Same game with 7 players as it was with 3. It scaled beautifully. And again it felt awesome.

I make big decisions together with my business partner, Alan, who was busy having a baby with his wife that weekend. But as I walked away from that second game, I turned to my friends and said, “That’s the game, isn’t it? That’s the one we’ve been looking for.” They all agreed. In fact, I think they essentially said, “You’re an idiot if you don’t try to sign that game.” So we did. 🙂

Tom: When are you going to launch the Kickstarter campaign?

Jamey: Between Two Cities will go live on Kickstarter on February 25.

Tom: So close. What sort of stretch goals are you thinking about?

Jamey: We’ve tried to include a complete game in the box from day one, but after launch day we’re going to explore some fun stretch goals that will enhance the game in subtle ways. One of the “fun” stretch goals will be a set of cards that determine player order. We’re going to crowdsource ideas for those cards during the campaign.

Tom: You are all about the crowdsourcing. That’s a neat idea. Give the people what they want sort of thing. Who is doing the art for the game? The graphic design?

Matthew: The art is by Beth Sobel, graphic design by Christine Santana. This is the first project I’ve worked with them on, but they’ve been fantastic. I love the work they’ve done for Between Two Cities. I think they’ve worked with you before, right Jamey?

Jamey: That’s correct! Beth did the art for Viticulture and Tuscany, and Christine has been our graphic designer tuscanyfrom the beginning. I should point out that Matthew’s graphic design skills have also been a HUGE help for Between Two Cities.

Tom: Neat. It kind of keeps a Stonemaier “brand” if you will to have the art for different games done by the same artist.

Wow, there are so many graphic designers that are game designers. Matthew, Daniel Solis, Darrell Louder, Chris Kirkman, on and on. What’s up with that?

Matthew: I’m not a pro like those guys – I care about layout and expressing information visually, but I just do it for the rough passes and playtesting. Daniel, Darrell and Chris make the final product beautiful as well. I think it helps them a lot in their development process because it makes their games easier to play and doesn’t detract from the experience when the graphic design is done well.

Tom: What’s the best bit of advice you would give new game designers?

Jamey: Play a lot of games and absorb content (videos, podcasts(like The Geek All Stars), reviews, blogs, etc) about the games you don’t have the opportunity to play. I’ve learned so much from other designers that way.

Ben: Two things: First, design for yourself. Be a fan of the types of games you create. If you aren’t a deck-building fan, don’t make that your first design. You’re going to have to playtest your own games scores if not hundreds of times. You might as well enjoy the game! Second, don’t be afraid of getting your designs stolen. Your games won’t be any good if you don’t openly share them with as many strangers as possible to get honest feedback.

Matthew: Not only that, but try to playtest other designers’ games. There are so many events available for this now – Protospiels, Unpub events, Metatopia, and the playtest halls at big cons. Get other people to play your games, but also play a lot of other people’s games. It will give you a lot of insight into how other designers work, and may help you build up a good network of people to help you in your process.

Tom: Awesome advice. I really need to get University Labs and Tourist Traps in front of some other people soon. Unpub Mini here in April so that’s the goal. Lastly, where can people find you?

Jamey: People can find us at the following links:





Ben: You can find me on Twitter @BenRosset or on BGG as rosset37

Matthew: The best way to reach me is on Twitter @BlackOakGames.

Tom: Any final words from any of you?

Jamey: I’m just really excited to be back on Kickstarter! It’s been too long (since July). I’ve been engaging consistently with backers from previous Kickstarters, but there’s nothing quite like the collective enthusiasm and energy generated by a live project.

Ben: Thanks for the interview Tom, it was fun!

Matthew: Thanks! Hope to talk to you again soon.

Tom: Where can we find out more about Between Two Cities?

Jamey: The page on our website is here, and it’s on BGG here.


 Do you want to know when I’ve posted a new interview or article? You can subscribe to Go Forth And Game at the right. Or you can follow my tweets on Twitter by clicking the button there on the right. I’m @goforthandgame or @tomgurg. I’m boffotom on BGG. Sometime I have something to say there too. I very much appreciate your reading by little blog.


This Man Is On A Mission! – A Conversation With… Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games

I’m extremely excited to have Stephen Buonocore the main man at Stronghold Games as my guest this time. Stephen is the busiest man in gaming, having put out ten games in the last four months of 2014. And he has a Kickstarter campaign burning up the internet. Amazing! He graciously took some time to talk to me about what’s going on at Stronghold.

Tom: Hi Stephen. To start how was BGGcon?pic2322793_md

Stephen: BGG.con is my single favorite convention of the year.  Besides it being the END of the very long, exhausting convention season, it’s a convention where I can really RELAX in the evenings and spend time with all the Geeks.  It is also simply an amazingly run convention.  Jeff Andersen, who is the Chairperson, does a spectacular job getting it done with all those volunteers.  Huge kudos to Jeff and his team, who pull off a bigger and better convention each year.  Geeks out there who are reading this:  GO TO BGG.CON!  It is really, really worth it!

Tom: I will have to save my $$ to see if I can make it this year.What was the game of the con for you?

diamonds 1

Diamonds, my new trick-taking card game by Mike Fitzgerald, is just hitting it out of the ballpark.

Well… that can be answered in many ways, as in Stronghold Games’ best selling game at the Con or the game that I enjoyed playing the most.  So, I’ll just go with the former:  It was DIAMONDS!  Not only did I bring more Diamonds than any other game, it sold out the fastest.  Diamonds, my new trick-taking card game by Mike Fitzgerald, is just hitting it out of the ballpark.  Gamers are loving it’s very innovative take on the trick-taking genre.  Families are playing it, as they are rediscovering this type of games from the classics they have played in the past like Hearts and Spades and Euchre.  Really great game with awesome components.  I have to give a shout out to Kanban, which came in a respectable second in the best-selling contest at BGG.CON.  It’s being called Heavy Eurogame of the Year 2014, and for a reason.  Fantastic dead on thematic Euro!

Tom: We will talk about each a bit later. Any surprises?

Stephen: Hmmm… BGG.con feels like “home” to me now, so not too many things surprise me there.  Oh, but wait!  This past BGG.con I participated in the “Scotch Crawl” in the hotel.  What’s that you say?  Well for lovers of single malt scotches, the “Scotch Test Dummies” run this unofficial event each year.  About 5 or so rooms in the hotel are made destinations, and about 10-15 people donate a bottle of fine single malt.  The result:  ahhhhh…. It’s a very social experience where you get to hang around with other lovers of malt for 2 hours, sipping and discussing scotch.  Fun!

Tom: What a great event! It sounds like you had a blast and really relaxed. That’s great. Panamax is doing fantastic. I’ve played it once and it was in my top 11 of 2014. I liked it a lot. Talk a bit about it.

Stephen: Panamax was released a bit earlier than Kanban, which is the only reason that is sold less at BGG.con.  Many people had it already and were playing it all over the convention!  Panamax is an economic game of shipping through the Panama Canal, where you are trying to maximize your wealth by the end of the game.  Innovative, chain reaction  “pushing” mechanics and action dice selection are the hallmarks of this great game.  Panamax has also been selected by some as their game of the year.  Panamax-SG-box-top-1022x1024

This is a good point to mention that I released TEN new titles between late August and mid-November, which is just an insane number, I know — but it was a perfect storm.  Five of the games were base games, and 5 were expansions.  All 5 base games sold out, either before their retail Street Date even occurred (this is called being “allocated” into Distribution — demand is greater than supply, so all the distributors can’t get the amount they want), or were sold out within a few month.  This is a “good problem”, but a problem nonetheless.  I am in the process of reprint all, and both Panamax and Kanban are back in stock already.

Tom: Man oh man you are really rockin’ it. Ten games in what, three months. That’s insane. You are insane. Let’s talk about Diamonds. I have played it and oh, man is it hot! It seems to have been the game of the con of GenCon. It is so accessible. How did you wrangle it into the Stronghold family?

Stephen: It’s a funny thing… sometimes you have a game, and you know it’s good even greadiamonds-box-top-for-BGG-2-769x1024t, but you are just not sure if it will make it in the market.  With all my releases, I was actually most worried about Diamonds.  Why?  Because it’s “just” a trick-taking card game.  I mean, there are many out there, and this means that the market may not stand to have another one.  I am happy to say that I was very wrong!!  As stated above, this was one of the 5 “base games” that I released, and it is sold out.  It has taken some extra time to get this one back in stores, as I was hoping to get a partner on board in the EU.  Instead, I have a Chinese partner who is also doing Diamonds with us.  I anticipate that Diamonds will be back in stores by May.

Tom: You have several game lines. One of the most successful is The Space Cadets family. It is expanding. Why? What’s next?

Stephen: Space Cadets is now my biggest line of games.  It has:

  •  Space Cadets (2012) — This is the original base game, cooperative and in real-time.  Man a bridge station on a starship, and play various real-time mini-games to achieve your missions.  This was expanded by:
  • Space Cadets: Resistance Is Mostly Futile (2014): We added a Science Officer, enabling you to play from 2 to 7 players, and Experimental Equipment…which may or may not work right.
  • Space Cadets: Dice Duel — The second game in the line.  And the tagline for this says it all: “The Team vs. Team, Real-Time, Dice-Rolling Game of Starship Combat”. Nothing on the market competes with this game.  This was expanded by:
  • Space Cadets: Dice Duel – Die Fighter — Adds to the insanity by enabling games from 2 through 10 players, plus 3 different modes of play.  And cool Experimental Equipment cards that you can draft in the beginning of the game to customize your ships.


Tom: And then there is Space Cadets: Away Missions. Man! Does it look great! Minis galore! Stronghold is always pushing the envelope, going the extra mile. And the game play sounds really fun too. Tell us more about it and why you decided to change your game plan a bit and Kickstart it.

Tell us about how Away Missions plays.

Stephen: In Space Cadets: Away Missions, you are a member of The Rocket Patrol.  Thematically, mankind is just started traveling around the solar system (this is a prequel to the original Space Cadets games, btw).  And when they get out there to the solar system, they find that there has been an alien invasion!  Humans are being captured, turned into Thralls, and there are many different types of aliens on various ships, that must be destroyed!

You go on missions (20 come in the game), with your crew of 1 to 6 characters (players), each with their own specialties, of course.  As you explore the location, aliens are swarming you, so you must deal with these hordes as you attempt to achieve the mission objective.  

away missions1

The Overkill System™ is the most brilliant mechanic I have seen in a while.  When you roll for success on d10s, anything above 1 success is called an “Overkill”.  You can then use the Overkill option of your weapon, of your character, or of the alien to do all types of heroic feats.  This ends up creating a thematic narrative, and an experience in a game that you will talk about for days and weeks after the game.

Tom: That sounds a lot like a role playing game mechanic. The game itself has a very rpg feel which I like a lot. Very cool. I can see how that would lend itself to narrative and memorable games.

And now — *NOW* it’s on Kickstarter.  “Away Missions” is, by far, the most ambitious project undertaken by Stronghold Games, which is why we put it on Kickstater.  This is a $100 MSRP game with 100 plastic miniatures in the box, as well as 20 Scenarios/Missions.  The Kickstarter has been very successful.  We are at about $110,000 as I type this, and since I am an uber geek and I wanted everything that I had envisioned in the box, I unlocked all away missions2the Stretch Goals today!  The solicited demand from the Distributors for the game post-Kickstarter is very good, so we determined we have made enough money to mitigate the risk of printing this insanely big game, so we just “put it all in the box”!  Everything we had thought of, and more, and we’re giving it to the backers.  

With gorgeous retro-Sci Fi art, this game features very innovative cooperative, tactical game play, and will be outstanding looking on the table as well as a wonderful play experience.  It is a very exciting project, and we hope that people go take a look at this!

Tom: It looks absolutely gorgeous.  I’m a huge pulp fan and this game smacks me right in the face. I SO want this game! I’m really excited for you. I love the look and the overkill mechanic sounds really cool.  Man, I wish I had $99 to drop on it. What’s next from Stronghold that has you the most excited?

Stephen: Well, we just announced STRONGHOLD – 2nd EDITION!  This is an amazing IP, and we are co-publishing this with Portal Games, one of the premiere hobby games company.  Ignacy from Portal Games is not only a good friend, but he’s a genius game designer.  He’s taken Portal Games to great heights with games like Robinson Crusoe and Neuroshima Hex.  I am so proud that he asked us to join him for the printing of Stronghold – 2nd Edition.stronghold1

The obvious branding implications are fantastic.  It’s been a “grail game” for me to publish since 2009 when the game was announced, and Stronghold Games was just starting up.  With a new 2nd Edition, we think that this is going to be a big seller for us.  Fantastic game.

Tom: I saw this announcement and thought it was a perfect marriage. Portal and Stronghold are the two hottest, most respected publishers right now in my opinion. I’m glad you were able to work things out.

I won Medina in your recent BGG contest. First, thank you very much! Medina is a reprint. Reprints are one of the ways Stronghold got started. Are you planning any more?

Stephen: Medina is an amazing game, and was out of print for a while.  White Goblin Games loves working with Stronghold Games, so they sought me out to do this game. It was a no-brainer to pick it up… as long as the game was done with AT LEAST as good components at the original.  And we creamed it!  The game is simply beautiful to behold on the table with its 200 pieces of wood.  When you finish playing Medina, you have BUILT A CITY from scratch right in front of you with the pieces in the game.  Gorgeous and great game play…Medina-Stronghold-Games-Box-Top-1024x749

…but I didn’t answer your question.  There are no current plans for a reprint of another game.  The well is drying up for games that need a reprint.  I am sure they are out there, but they are fewer and farther between now.

Tom: I can see that. And it’s a tougher market these days.

Talk a bit about Knights of the Stronghold? Who’s running it? How does it work? What are some benefits? Should I get involved?

Stephen: The Knights Of The Stronghold!  Great name, huh?  Who doesn’t want to be a KNIGHT! 🙂

The Knights of the Stronghold is my demo/presentation team.  I used the name loosely for a couple of year already, but at the end of 2014, a company approached me, and told me about a program that they were creating called Envoy.  Envoy is brand new, but run by some people that I have known for many years.  They run the biggest conventions in the greater NYC area (NJ specifically).  Very very organized group, and the always get the job done that they seek to do, which is why I put my confidence in Envoy.

The Envoy program signed up about 30 companies prior to it’s official launch on 1/1/2015, with Stronghold Games being one of them.  The program works like this:

  •  Gamers sign up for the program.  They can select any one (or more) of the companies in the program that they want to represent to conventions, game stores, meetup groups, etc. Of course, I hope they choose to be a The Knights Of The Stronghold!
  • Envoy ensures that the person can present themselves well (since they are representing the company that they chose), and they ask them to show how they would demo their chosen game(s).
  • If all goes well, they become a The Knights Of The Stronghold (or a Ranger of R&R Games, etc. – whatever they choose).
  • The Knights Of The Stronghold go forth and do demos and earn points that they can then exchange for goodies (games and such, of course), and they can get these things from any of the participating companies in Envoy.

The Knights Of The Stronghold are giving cool T-shirts and their first game immediately upon getting into the program.  

If anyone is interested, they can start by going here to find more information on The Knights Of The Stronghold:   


Tom: It sounds really interesting. I know it will do well for you. The Geek Allstars played Kanban for the most recent episode. I got to Dan’s late and was not able to actually play. But I watched most of the game. It looks great and I think I would like it. Talk some about it.

Stephen: Kanban is a thematic Euro.  I don’t think there is a eurogame that marries theme and mechanics better.  Why?  Because the interesting thing about Eurogames is that they are doing “Kanban”.  Kanban is a “Process Management System”, know for its “J.I.T” (Just-In-Time)  methods.  The flow of the goods/pieces in the system is all about efficiency and doing things with the right timing.  Sounds familiar?  You have Eurogame.

Kanban, the board game, is specifically about “J.I.T” manufacturing in the Automobile Industry.  In fact, both Toyota and Honda during the 1990s used the Kanban methodology to become the preeminent car companies in the world, proving the Kanban system.  Many other manufacturers of cars and other goods now use Kanban.Kanban-Box-Top-final

In my board game, Kanban, you are a factory manager, an up-and-comer. You must efficiently produce cars, by getting projects, getting parts, upgrading parts, producing the cars, and all the while ensuring that your boss, Sandra, is pleased with your work in the various departments.  And don’t forget the Board of Directors that you must report to at times.  Efficiency is everything in Kanban!

Tom: You are so right. The theme and mechanics are so intertwined. The game really makes you feel like you are working in the automotive industry.

You just announced that you will be bringing La Granja to the U.S.A. That is sweet. I hear lots of good things about it. Can you talk a bit about it?

Stephen: La Granja was a bit hit this past Essen.  The game was published then by Spielworxx, a small German publisher that does very small print runs of their games.  They always sell out at Essen or in their preorders.  Uli Blennanman of Spielworxx is a good friend, and we decided to create a strategic partnership, whereby I would do La Granja and other games in the future, bringing his fantastic games to a worldwide audience with Stronghold Games global distribution.  

This is a very exciting project in particular, as it continues down the line for me with another great Eurogame.  In this case, however, it is a very approachable one, unlike the heavyweight champs of Kanban and Panamax.  La Granja is a solid medium weight game that almost any gamer, especially those who like Euros, will really relish.  “Bah, a farming game!”, you say?  You play La Granja and then tell me how great “farming” can be!

la granjaTom: Farming theme shouldn’t be an issue. Look at Agricola. As you mentioned you are working with some European publishers to bring these game to America. Tell us what you can about how you established those relationships.

Stephen: It’s all about the beer, man!  No, seriously, it is all about just reaching out, and establishing good relationships with EVERYONE.  And I mean everyone!  I would like to think that if you asked anyone in the industry, on both sides of the Atlantic, that they would say very nice things about Stephen Buonocore.  I treat people well at all times. Then, when there is an opportunity to work together, we all know each other, and we all want to work together.  Essen is the big opportunity for me to establish these relationships.

Tom: Everyone I talk to has very good things to say about you. I can’t wait to meet you. I want to talk about your 2015 release schedule. Tell me about Dark Moon first.

Stephen: Dark Moon is the “Game Formerly Known as BSG Express”, which was the most downloaded print-and-play game on BGG.  When we decided to do the game, we needed to strip the “BSG” out of it, as that IP is owned of course in game form by FFG.  So, we ended up with Dark Moon.

dark moonOn Dark Moon, you are a miner on Titan, known as the dark moon, of Saturn.  One or more players are infected and are trying to destroy the base, while the uninfected human players are simply trying to survive.  No one knows for sure who is on their team (neither the good humans or the bad infected players), but the infected players can reveal themselves at some point in game. The really innovative part of the game comes from the dice rolling mechanic.  When attempting to achieve tasks and missions, dice are rolled behind the player’s screen, and then the player submits a die OPENLY to the die pool.  However, these are custom dice and weighted to have more negative values than positive values.  So, a good player might have to submit a negative die roll to a task that they want to have succeed, whereby all players are going to start point, screaming, cursing that this player is actually an infected player.

And best of all, unlike in the game “Battlestar Galactica”, which is a 3 to 4 hour extravaganza, Dark Moon plays in 60-75 minutes.  And you can play from 3 to 7 players, which is a great player count!

Tom: This sounds fantastic. I’ve avoided the BSG game because of the time commitment. Dark Moon sounds like it will be just right. Now Pictomania. Tell us about it cause it sounds fun.

Stephen: Pictomania is a gamer’s party game, a drawing game, by the great designer Vlaada Chvatil.  Vlaada has more games in the top 100 on BGG than any other designer.  In fact he has 6 games in the top 105 (approximately) on BGG.  That’s some track record!Pictomania-Box-Front-Stronghold-Games-edition

In Pictomania, it’s not about how well you draw, it is about making very quick doodles only, and making fast guesses at other people’s doodles.  If you can draw a car differently than you would draw a giraffe, for instance, then you are fine for this game!  Small doodles and quick guesses of the other players doodles are going to be rewarded.  THis is another game by Vlaada that simply sets a new standard in a genre!

Tom: You are the busiest man in game publishing right now I think. How do you top Away Missions?

Stephen: Funny thing, I was just pitched an idea that makes “Space Cadets: Away Missions” look like a small game.  Really, I am not kidding.  But I can’t tell you any more about this.  We’ll see if it comes to fruition…

Tom: Whoa! I’m very intrigued! I can’t wait to see it.

Stephen, thank you very much for being my guest. I really appreciate you taking time out to talk with me. Stronghold is going gangbusters and I’m extremely happy for you. And for us gamers because Stronghold puts out such fantastic games. Thank you for that.

Readers, go right now and back Space Cadets: Away Missions right here. You don’t have much time. There’s many more interviews on the way – Happy Mitten Games & Matt Worden, Masquerade Games, the guys behind Between Two Cities (Stonemaier’s next game), just to name a few. Come on back.


Doctors and Dudes – A Conversation With….Dan Letzring From Letiman Games

I’m glad to have Dan from Letiman Games on the ‘show’ today.  Letiman Games has one published game, PhD and one on the way, Dino Dude Ranch. We talk about both and some more stuff. Here we go…


Letiman Games


Tom: Hi Dan, thanks for being my guest on Go Forth.

Dan: Hey Tom, Thank YOU for doing this with me, I am very excited and look forward to it.

Tom: Online, you are located at  http://letimangames.com

Dan: That’s correct!

Tom: First, tell us a bit about yourself.

Dan: I live in Rochester, NY with my wife and daughters.  I have been designing games for a few years but only really got into it seriously about 2 years ago.  These past few years have been an amazing learning process and I look forward working hard to develop my skills more each and every day.

Tom: Now talk about your games. Let’s start with PhD.

Dan: This started as a joke.  Many people share very similar stories of what a nightmare going to grad school can be regardless of the field the degree is in.  I thought it would be fun to joke about the situation in the form of a card game.  Although it was targeted to a very narrow audience, it is what got me to seriously consider designing games.

Tom: That’s a neat story. I went through that myself many years ago.

Dan: I am so sorry for you.  What is your degree in? 9099414

Tom: I have an M.S. in Molecular Biology. I need to make a game from this somehow. PhD. successfully funded in February of 2014. What’s going on with it?

Dan: Very cool, my degree was in Biophysics but my research was mostly Molecular Biology focused.  Have you seen the games being put out by Got Genius Games: Linkage and Peptide?  Those are probably right down your alley!  In regard to Ph. D. The Game, I continue to sell copies regularly but it is more in a casual sense. I have not seriously pursued the widespread distribution of the game as of yet because  I am focusing more on games that reach a broader audience.

Tom: I’ve seen neither of those games nor have I heard of Got Genius Games. I need to check those out. What was your research topic?

Dan: You do need to check them out, the games deal with transcription and translation!  My research (not that anyone cares!) was focused on how synonymous codons could have effects on translation even though they are resulting in the same polypeptide sequence.   Check me out on PubMed!

Tom: Ph.D. is currently available at The Game C rafter correct? (In fact it’s right here.)

Dan: That is correct, as well as on Amazon.  Print on Demand has been fantastic for Ph. D. The Game thus far, but I would like to move away from that format with Dino Dude Ranch.

Tom: So talk about Dino Dude Ranch, your next game. Describe it for us.

Dan: Dino Dude Ranch is a Set Collection/Resource Management game designed for Ages 8+.  My goal in mind was a fun family game that was a 20-30 minute casual game night filler.

Tom: Talk about the game play. What goes on in Dino Dude Ranch?Cover Cropped

Dan: The main idea of the game is that players roll dice to collect resources (meat, fish, and leaves) that are in turn used to capture dinosaurs to place on their ranches.  Cards can be purchased as well using any combination of two resources and they make purchasing easier or add a light take that mechanism to attack other players.  All players have hidden bonuses that are revealed in the end in order to gain additional scoring and whoever has the most points/most valuable ranch wins!

Tom: Cool. We play a lot of ‘family’ games at my house so I’m pretty interested in DDR. When will you launch it on Kickstarter?

Dan: That is great!  I think it is extremely important for families to sit around the table and interact face to face.  What are some of your favorite games to play with your family?  Dino Dude Ranch launches Feb 25th!

Tom: Right now Takenoko and The Little Prince are the hot games. We like Ticket To Ride, Viva Java: The Dice Game, DC Deck Building. And Mob Town probably got played the most in 2014. That is such a good, good game. What are the pledge levels?  

Dan: A $1 reward level, $34 for the complete game with all stretch goals, and a reward tier to design your own custom Dino Dude Rancher with a name and look of your choosing to go on a Player Board.

Tom:I hear custom rewards can be a nightmare. Why are you putting that on yourself?

Dan: I decided to do it for a couple of reasons.  First, I did them in my first campaign and they came out really well.  The artist for Ph. D. The Game also does caricatures, so he nailed the custom images perfectly for the Custom Lab Member Cards.  Second, I know it is a reward that I would want myself so I am willing to put in the extra work to make it happen.  I have been planning how to move forward with it so that it is easier when I get to that stage.  Lastly, it just seemed to make sense for this game.  I was back and forth between a special edition of the game or the custom rancher and logistically it just worked out better to move forward with the custom rancher.  Thanks for your concern though!

Tom: What are some of your stretch goals?

Dan: Almost all of the stretch goals include upgrading components: Custom engraved dice, a component tray for the box, cardstock upgrade, components to increase from 2-4p up to 2-5p.  One of my favorites is upgrading the food tokens from 1.5mm chipboard to custom cut wooden tokens.  The resources are handled a lot and I think the tokens will be a nice touch.  I also have some other ideas in the works, but you will just have to wait and see what comes up! I’m also working on adding an additional dinosaur with a new buying mechanic.

Tom: Food meeples? That would be cool. I like the art of the game. It’s very family friendly and quirky. Who’s the artist?

Dan: Yeah well in my first printed prototype the food was made out of cardstock so handling them was a complete nightmare and I decided that if the pricing was reasonable, I would upgrade to wooden tokens.  Hopefully we hit that stretch goal.  The art of the game is done by Jesse Labbe.  He does some amazing work in graphic novels and has one All togetherboard game that he not only did the artwork for but he designed as well called Cross Hares (published by 1A Games).  We spoke on the phone and he had sketches ready for me that were so in sync with what I was looking for that I decided that I absolutely had to work with him.  The ranchers that are pictured are not by him and I look forward to working with him to redesign the ranchers in his style.

Tom: What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?

Dan: Do not rush it!  It is very easy to want to get the game out of the gates as quickly as possible and launch it on Kickstarter or sell it online as soon as possible.  Wait.  Get it play-tested and refined.  Do your research both on the design end and the business end.  If you are planning a Kickstarter, plan it many months in advance, do your research, talk to people who can help and TAKE YOUR TIME.

Tom: That’s very good advice. It is easy for your passion for a design to cause you to rush it or bring it out half baked. The business end of the process is very intimidating to me. I have no desire at all to deal with that. Why did you decide to start a game company?

Dan: I actually enjoy the business and marketing end of it all.  I think part of my motivation was that I really felt like it was something I could do and I wanted to give it a try.  It has been working out so far and I hope to develop, get better at what I do, and watch the company grow!

Tom: Cool. What is the best part of owning a game company?

Dan: I can spend all of my free time doing game related activities.  Play-testing, research (a.k.a. playing games all night long), and game design.  I love it all!

Tom: Living the dream. If you need a play-tester, I know an experienced one who has a great set of gamer friends. :>  Any plans to publish games from other designers?  

Dan: I would love to!  My goal has been to publish a few titles of my own first in order to establish myself and then move into publishing others’ games as well.

Tom: That’s good to hear because I’m working on these games…..;). What is your current favorite game mechanic?

Dan: If you’re serious and Dino Dude Ranch does well enough, we can talk! I guess if I had to pick a favorite mechanic right now, I would have to say deck/pool building.  My wife and I have been playing a lot of Dominion and King’s Forge lately.

Tom: I play-tested King’s Forge. It’s pretty good. Just different enough. What’s in the queue after Dino Dude Ranch?

Dan: I have a few games I have been working on and I have been talking with another designer about a possible collaboration. Not a whole lot has progressed yet though because I have been pouring all of my energy into Dino Dude Ranch right now and sidelining everything else.  My current project deserves my entire devotion until it gets completed.635481231053198696

Tom: But of course. But not even a teaser?  How can people contact you?  

Dan: Nothing is at the stage that I am excited enough about to talk about it but you will be the first person that I contact when it’s ready!  I can be contacted on twitter (@LetimanGames), facebook (Letiman Games), and by email (contact.letimangames@gmail.com).

Tom: Any final words?

Dan: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to talk games with you!  If you or any readers have questions about Dino Dude Ranch or even just want to talk, please feel free to contact me!  I love talking games.

Readers, please check out Dan’s games at the links above. Keep watch for Dino Dude Ranch on Kickstarter. And leave me some feedback on this or other interviews below.

Thanks for reading!


Letiman Games

Tourist Traps Update

Tourist Traps is the game I’m working on the most lately. Players are the owners of rival roadside attraction shops on Route 66 circa 1960. They are competing for customers by advertising their exhibits and drawing them into their store.
It started with players bidding on exhibits. This worked ok but it didn’t sparkle. I worked on some different auction and exhibit movement mechanics. It was better but it was missing something.
Then I took it to a meeting of the Game Designers of Carolina. And it turned that corner.south of the border
I has always thought that the game should be about customers but I went in the wrong direction with it. The guys in the group immediately saw a new way to work that theme in and it vastly improved the game.
Now the auction is for the customers and feels and does what I originally intended it to be.
Now, players compete to attract customers by actually bidding on those customers. Imagine that.
Players get a hand of exhibits. They choose one to start their shop. Exhibits come in three varieties – curiosities, oddities, & relics. Relics trump oddities which trump curiosities. Each exhibit has a ad value, used as a bid in the auction, and an income value.
Customers come in many types too and they want to see certain types of exhibits. The customers are in a queue. The queue is set up for the current round and the next. So players can see what is coming up and do a bit of planning, what type of customer do they need to match up with their exhibits.
Players bid on customers by ‘advertising’ using the exhibits in their hand. The auction winner gets the first customer in line. Second place takes the second, etc.. The bid exhibit goes into the player’s shop and the customer goes onto the preceding exhibit.
A lot of the strategy of the game now involves planning your bidding so that you get the customers that match your exhibits so you can score bonus points. Now players are trying to get into each other’s minds to second guess which customers the other guys want in addition to which exhibits to play when.

There’s potentially some set collection action, special powers for shop owners, and there’s drawing stuff from a bag.
The game is coming along pretty good right now. I have bits on the way from MeepleSource and basic prototype cards made. Just need to get the rules written down and do some playtesting.

Game Nine from Empyrean – A Conversation With… Ivan Turner and Doug Levandowski of Nine Kingdoms Publications

This time I’ve got the guys from Nine Kingdoms Publications – Ivan Turner and Doug Levandowski. Nine Kingdoms is an up and coming game publisher that has some interesting games on the way. Here we go.

9K Text Logo

Tom: First let’s talk about who you are and your gamer cred.

Ivan: Hi.  Thanks for having us on.  My name is Ivan Turner.  Over the years, I’ve kind of hit the whole spectrum of gaming.  I got started back in the late 70s and early 80s with D&D and some of the old Avalon Hill games.  In my mid twenties, I bought a stake in a comic book and game store and that’s when things really exploded.  I discovered Warhammer and CCGs, among a variety of other board games.  When you own a store, you demo all kinds of games.  It was a really great time, because I got to see the industry from all different sides.

Doug: Again, thanks for having us on. I talked to you about Gothic Doctor a while back and enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to talking with you again! I’m Doug Levandowski, English teacher by day. I started playing D&D with guys from my Boy Scout troop, probably around 1990 and played through high school. I sort of fell out of gaming after that, but I got back into it pretty heavily about 5 years ago with the explosion of board gaming – Pandemic, Settlers, all that stuff. So, I wouldn’t say I have the highest gamer cred, but I dig that the community is really accepting of all-comers.

Tom: Ivan, are you still into comics? If so which ones? Doug, do you read any?

Ivan: I love the comic book medium but I don’t read very many and I’m not really into superheroes anymore.  Every 6 months, I pick up the new Walking Dead TPB (I’m sure that’s a big surprise).  Since comics have gone digital, I’ve been dipping into my past and rereading some of the books that got me interested.  At the top of that list is the Dark Horse Aliens books.

Doug: Right now, I’m reading two on-going titles: Fraction’s run on Hawkeye and Young’s work on Rocket Raccoon.

Tom: I read Fraction’s first run on Hawkeye and it’s good. I’m seriously considering a Marvel digital subscription. Sure, books may be late but access to the entire Marvel library makes up for that.

Are you watching Agents of Shield or The Flash? But I’m a huge Justice Society fan.

Ivan: I was honestly never a big Marvel fan, at least not of their heavy hitters.  Back in the 90s, I enjoyed a few of their lesser titles like Darkhawk and the New Warriors.  I loved Doug Moench’s Moon Knight in the early 80s.  I got to meet him once, when he was busy breaking Batman in Knightfall.  I was working for Jim Hanley’s Universe at the time and Doug Moench and Kelley Jones were doing a signing.  We spent the entire night talking about Moon Knight.  It was awesome.


Bill Sienkiewicz’s cover for Moon Knight #24


Bill Sienkiewicz’s cover for Moon Knight #29 You NEED to read this series.

Tom: OH, man that sounds great. I really like Moon Knight. I started in the ‘80’s on the classic run. It was a HUGE influence on my comic art. My friend and I did a comic strip in college for the college paper. I modeled some of my art for it off of Sienkiewicz. We even wrote a Moon Knight story and pitched it to Marvel. We got a nice rejection letter.

Ivan: I love the Flash, but I haven’t watched the show.  Like I said, I’ve lost my taste for superheroes right now.  With me, everything is cyclical, though.  One day, I’m going to wake up and feel the need to inhale a whole bunch of superhero television.  Good thing there’s Netflix.

Doug: Oh man. In high school, I spent easily $10 a week on comics for about four years before I fell completely out of love with the genre. I started reading around when they split the X-titles, and I read those for a while, until Multiple Man “died” for the second or fifth time in, like, 3 years. After that, I said, “Screw this. This is lazy storytelling.” The only one I actually kept up with after that was Jeff Smith’s Bone.

But then in college, a buddy of mine told me, “You need to read Grant Morrison’s run on X-Men,” which I did. Amazing. Since then, I’ve read pretty selectively. Preacher trades, Morrison’s original run on Animal Man, Whedon’s run on X-Men.

And yes, I’ve been watching Agents since it started. The first season was rough, but after the Cap tie in, it’s been great. I told myself I’d watch Arrow on Netflix, but only when I’m running at the gym. So, in the past six months, I’ve seen three episodes. But if I ever start exercising again, I definitely want to get caught up on that and then get into Flash, too. I’ve heard great things.


Jeff Smith’s Bone. A classic comic you should read.

Tom: I’m reading Bone to my son. We’re getting the collected editions that are in color. It is such a good story. I spent about $25/week on comics back in the ‘80’s when I was in college. I have, I don’t know, five to ten thousand comics in my attic. I got out when they went up to $3 apiece. Way too rich for me. I pick up trades at the library now. Double odd because I have a good friend who is a pretty popular writer for DC, Marvel, and Dynamite.

Agents is just fantastic. It was a long time building but worth it. And I appreciate them taking the time needed to do it right, not rushing.

Let’s start out with you telling us about 9 Kingdoms.

Ivan: 9 Kingdoms was originally the name of a miniatures game system that I was working on.  When I started working on ApocalypZe, I was working with one of the guys (Pete Spano) who’d helped me develop the miniatures system and we agreed we liked that name for the company.  The evolution of the company is very much tied in with the evolution of ApocalypZe.  Right away, we needed to bring on an artist.  We met Chris Hanson, who drew most of the images for the game, and became a critical member of the design team.  When it came time to incorporate and Kickstart the game, we brought on Neil Hoffman.  Neil had been a partner of mine in the comic book store.  He possesses all of the business and financial skills that we creative types can’t seem to muster.

Tom: I’ve not heard of the Nine Kingdoms minis game. What’s its status?

Ivan: Sadly, it’s not in our pipeline.  The game was extremely complex and required web support in order to play it.  I had written a site that allowed you to create and update characters for the game (it’s a skirmish game).  You could build squads and keep track of your characters online while playing.  There were some very unique and fresh elements to the system that people loved, but I think its complexity pushed it out of the marketplace.  That’s not to say I’ve given up on it.  Over the past several months, in my limited free time, I’m working on adapting the system so that it works with cards instead of the web site.  I’ll probably be testing that at conventions in 2015, just as a preliminary step in order to gauge interest.

Tom: Your first game was ApocalypZe. Tell me what it is about.

Ivan: ApocalypZe (pronounced apocalypse) is a card game where each player constructs his or her own 60 card deck.  The box comes with 4 preconstructed decks and a pack of 64 additonal cards.  The decks are composed of a variety of cards that help you scavenge for supplies and attack your opponent.  Each player starts with a stronghold.  This card goes right onto the table and it’s your job to protect it.  At its core, ApocalypZe is a game of survival and apocalypze1resource management over combat.  In the original version of the game, the winner was the last man standing.  In a revised version (rules available online), your survivors can take a more proactive role by scavenging a stockpile of supplies.  You can win the game by building that stockpile up to a certain level.

I could actually go on about Apocalypze forever.  Pete, Chris, and I worked so hard on it for so long and were really happy with the results.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t make some mistakes when it came to final product, but overall ApocalypZe was pretty successful and a great launch for our company.

Tom: So when the second edition comes out, what will you improve?

Ivan: The first thing we need to improve is the rulebook.  The general consensus about our rulebook was that it was poorly constructed.  I’ve revised it 3 or 4 times since the game came out and posted the revised rulebook on the website.  I will continue to revise it as feedback comes in and then send it out for editing when the time comes.

The next thing I wanted to change was the card design, and I’ve done that.  People can see the new cards on the ApocalypZe or 9 Kingdoms facebook pages.  I didn’t make any tremendously overt changes, but there were a few things that bothered me.  I was able to enlarge the text and take out the gradient coloring that made some of the words difficult to read.  I’m pretty happy with the new design.

Because of the nature of this kind of game, players will always find loopholes and break cards.  We tested the stuffing out of ApocalypZe and still there were a few cards that came up broken.  We’ve released some errata to help ease the pain (it’s only a handful of cards).  Some of those cards won’t be reprinted.  Others that are will include the apocalypze2corrections.

The biggest change to the game will be the ability to win through scavenging.  In the original rules set, a player can scavenge cards back from his or her discard pile in order to stay alive.  Chris, Pete, and I have been working on making scavenging a more crucial part of the game.  The rule has been added to the current edition of the rulebook, but I would consider it to be in the beta stage.  I want to get more feedback from players over the course of the next several months before I commit to it.

Tom: This genre is pretty saturated. Why did you choose to do another zombie game?

Ivan: Fads are like plagues.  Somehow, everyone seems to be doing the same thing at the same time until it boils over.  When we started working on ApocalypZe, there was no Walking Dead TV series, there was no Zombicide, and there was no Zpocalypse.  We chose the genre because we love the genre.  I’ve been into it for years, painting dozens of zombies for my undead army in Warhammer.  I’ve even authored an ebook series called Zombies! which ran monthly for two years and became very popular.  Chris and I are both huge fans of Night of the Living Dead and there’s so much of that movie’s influence in the game.

By the time ApocalypZe was ready for reviewers, we found ourselves in competition with a horde (pun intended) of other zombie games.  We talked about changing the theme and altering the rules, but the truth is that we didn’t want to.  As we explored the market, we found that ApocalypZe really does stand apart from the other games just by dint of the fact that it’s not about stomping all over zombies.  You don’t even have to use zombies if you don’t want to.  There are other post apocalyptic nasties in the game such as gang members and cultists.apocalypze3

Our early reviews helped us to spread the word about this.  The first reviews went up on Carboard Jungle and Not Just Another Gaming Podcast and both of them highlighted the fact that ApocalypZe was very different from other games of the genre.  The game is very thematic and has its own back story.  We published a couple of those stories in ebook format and distributed three others to our kickstarter backers.  I’ve actually written (I think) seven of them.  One of these days, I’ll actually tie them all together and wrap them up into a novel.

Tom: Plagues is a nice choice of words. Ok, we need links to Zombies! and a bit more info on it.  I’m convinced that ApocalypZe is unique. The fact that you don’t have to have zombies does that in and of itself. Can you expand on those differences? You need to get that ebook together.

Ivan: If you get me started talking about Zombies!, I will go on forever.  You’ve been warned.

The home of Zombies! is Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/25202).  Smashwords is the premiere site for self publishing ebooks.  They sell your stuff on their site and distribute your books to Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and all of the other ebook sellers (except Amazon, who has their own self-publishing site).  Zombies! is not related to ApocalypZe in any way and I was very careful to make sure there are actually no crossover references (no matter how often Pete told me I should link them).

When I sat down to make ApocalypZe, I started thinking about what life would really be like for the survivor of a zombie apocalypse.  It’s well represented in the best of the literature and I wanted to get that feel into the game.  The primary goal is always survival.  You need to hunker down, fortify your stronghold, and scavenge for supplies.  Those are the elements I wanted to put into the game.  In addition, without government and law, you’re going to wind up fighting more than the undead.  You’re going to fight each other.  This is the oldest concept in the genre.  If you watch Night of the Living Dead, it’s really about the breakdown of the interaction between the survivors.  We represented this in the game by making Gang and Cult raider groups, character cards that could only be used for attacking your opponents.  In the future, we’ll expand on this by making raider versions of some of the survivor characters as well as survivor versions of some of the raider characters.  This will allow players to have all of their survivors and raiders interacting on the table.

Tom: There are several other games listed on your website. Talk a bit about each of those.

Ivan: After ApocalypZe, we started to expand our thinking.  If we wanted to be a legitimate game company, we needed to turn out more than just one game, or even one type of game.  Starting in the more recent past, this is where Doug Levandowski comes in.  Doug and I became friends when he was running his first Kickstarter attempt with his game, Gothic Doctor. Doug is a completely different kind of gamer and designer than I am.  Though his first attempt with Gothic Doctor didn’t fund, he chalked it up to a learning experience and absolutely crushed his funding goal on the second attempt.  He and I talked about doing something together here and there until, ultimately, we invited him to join the company.  Doug is currently responsible for Krampus, which is available through Gamecrafter.  He’s also introduced two more games into our pipeline and has been helping to develop the games that were already there.

Keep Calm is a party game that we’ve all been working on together.  It plays in the tradition of many of the best party games, but its originality is in the cards.  It’s still in early tests, but it’s generally received with howling laughter.

Our primary project right now, though, is Titans of Empyrean.  I introduced this game to Neil shortly before ApocalypZe went to retail.  It was pretty rough, but he liked it and thought it was worth pursuing.  It’s a cross between a board game and a card game with its major draw being that it’s almost entirely strategic.  There are no dice rolls.titanslogo

Each player commands a squad of 4 mythical flying creatures (dragons, pegasi, manticores, griffons).  In addition to maneuvering your titans around a hex board in order to gain the advantage and attack, each unique titan has its own stack of maneuver cards.  These cards serve as both the titan’s special abilities and its health.  Titans of Empyrean is a combat game.  The object is to destroy your opponent.  But with the use of the maneuver cards, players are forced to make careful tactical decisions and manage those dwindling resources as the game progresses.

We’ve been building Titans for about a year now.  All in all, Titans is just about ready to go.  The rules are solid.  It’s not difficult to learn.  The game plays in about 30 minutes and will come with a board, hex tokens, and over 200 maneuver cards.  The artwork isn’t complete yet, but the pieces are coming in regularly.  All in all, Titans of Empyrean will be ready to go to the printers by the time we launch our Kickstarter campaign on February 17th.

Tom: February 17th isn’t that far away. Cool. Let’s hear more about Krampus.

Doug: Krampus is a re-skinning of a game that’s been remade almost as much as zombie games – Werewolf. Unlike Ivan with ApocalypZe, though, I was really late to this game. For my holiday party last year, my wife suggested making a Christmas version of Werewolf involving those delightful Christmas demons, the Krampusz. (I found out that’s how the Austrians pluralize it during my little bit of research into the game.) So, basically, there are little children playing innocently, but they can tattle on other players to see if they’re a Krampus or not – and each night, the Krampus carry one child off. Andrea and I also dug into some of the Christmas stories to come up with the special roles for characters like Santa, who can protect a player with milk and cookies, or the Elf, who can sit on a shelf and find out one players role each night.

We really liked how it turned out, so in September, we commissioned some work from Ruth Ducko, originally just to have for ourselves and to give to friends, but we loved her work so much that I talked to Nine Kingdoms and said, “Guys, I need to put this out!” We agreed that, with the pipeline as stuffed as it is and how time-sensitive a holiday-themed game is, The Game Crafter made the most sense, so it went up there in late November.

I’ve also run two Facebook-based games of it. The second one came to a close a few weeks ago, and it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Tom: Now let’s talk about Keep Calm. We’ll leave Titans until last.

Ivan: Ever since the beginning, Neil’s been on my case about making a party game.  Party games are fun and appeal to a much more diverse crowd of people and he’s felt, and rightly so, that 9 Kingdoms should have one (or more) on its resume.  I have found that party games follow the same general formula so I didn’t want to deviate from that too much.  Like so many others, the game is in the cards.titans of empryrean4

Keep Calm offers players a variety of situations ranging from the fairly regular to the surreal.  Once a situation is presented each player has to play a card that says what he or she would do in that situation.

For example, a situation might read, “What would you do if the snowman you just built comes to life…and it has teeth?”

Players might play cards that say:

“Keep calm and back away slowly.”

“Keep calm and find your happy place.”

“Keep calm and cry to mommy.”

Doug: Don’t forget the really weird ones, like, “Keep calm and f—k a small badger.”

Ivan: This card has turned out to be a fan favorite. You get the picture. Whichever Keep Calm card the judge picks gets the point and the opportunity to be the next judge. The game also comes with PANIC cards, which a person might play if he or she just cannot keep calm during that particular situation.  A PANIC card will have an effect on all players for that round. Keep Calm is an adults only game so some of the cards can be profane or raunchy or moderately offensive to regular human beings.

Tom: That sounds pretty fun. It will be a hit at cons I bet. Now more about Titans please.

Ivan: Titans of Empyrean is an idea I had for a simple card game where players could throw mythological creatures at each other in a duel to the death.  I started working on a layout pattern for the cards and some different ideas for which cards could attack and when.  It was all looking too much like games that are already out there so I scrapped the layout idea and put the whole game on a board.

In Titans, each player takes a squad of 4 creatures.  There are 4 factions to choose from, including dragons, pegasi, manticores, and griffons.  Each titan has a card which outlines its abilities.  There are some basic stats for each of them and then some card text that makes it special.  Each titan also has a corresponding token, which gets placed onto the gameboard.titans of empyrean1

What makes the game interesting is the maneuver cards.  On the surface, a maneuver card has some text on it that lets you do something special with your titan during its turn, however, they serve a much larger purpose during the game.  Each titan will get its own stack of maneuvers.  The number of maneuvers in the stack depends on the titan.  Each player will also have some extra maneuvers in a reserve stack.  During a titan’s turn (the game goes from titan to titan rather than player to player), a titan can play the top maneuver off of its stack.  Some of them stay in play and some of them have an immediate effect and go to the burned (discard) pile.  You can later replenish these from your reserve stack.  As your titan gets damaged, you will be forced to burn (discard) maneuvers in order to heal up.  If you can’t burn maneuvers, your titan will die.  So, as a result, resource management is as much a factor in the game as combat tactics.

The thing that makes Titans of Empyrean special, in my view, is that is completely customizable and extremely strategic and tactical.  There are no dice rolls.  The entire battle comes down to how you move your titans and use your maneuvers.  Depending on how you set up the game, you can remove every bit of randomness.  We’ve played games where we shuffled up our deck of maneuvers and dealt them out to our titans and games where we’ve picked and chosen the maneuvers for each titan and placed them in the order we wanted them.  This variety of gameplay really excites players.  We ran the game several dozen times at Gencon and the only guy who walked away with a frown was the guy who enjoyed the game right up until the point when he started to lose.

Tom: That’s does sound unique. I’m interested in the mechanics. What type of maneuvers are there? How is all works together? Give us an idea of how the game actually works.

Ivan: Each Titan has a unique initiative number.  During a round, the titans will take their turns in order from highest initiative to lowest initiative (rather than player to player).  During its turn, a titan may, in any order, do any of the following 4 things:

  • Move (movement is actually mandatory)
  • Attack
  • Play the top maneuver from its stack or the reserve stack
  • Replenish by moving the top maneuver from the reserve stack to the bottom of its own maneuver stack.

Obviously, there are rules for how movement and attacks are conducted, but they’re relatively simple mechanically speaking.  The fact that you can do them in any order is what makes the tactics so interesting.  If you’re out of range, you can move first and then attack.  On the flip side, if your move (which is mandatory) will take you out of range, then you can attack first.  You can play a maneuver early to enhance your attack or late to ensure your escape.titans of empryrean3

There are 2 types of maneuvers.  Active maneuvers stay in play (unless replaced or discarded).  Burn maneuvers have an immediate effect and are then discarded.  An example of an active maneuver is the Strength card, which gives a titan +1 strength.  An example of a burn maneuver is Out of the Smoke, which allows a titan to attack any other titan anywhere on the board.  Once again, when (if) you choose to play your maneuvers is tactically critical during the course of the game. Since you can play either the top one off of the titan’s stack or the top one off of the reserve stack, you always have 2 choices.  Under certain conditions, you can replenish first, which changes the top of the reserve stack and gives you an alternate option.

When titans are attacked, they receive damage tokens.  The damage doesn’t mean anything right away.  After all of the titans have taken their turns, players move into the Resolution Phase.  During this phase, each titan needs to remove the damage tokens by burning maneuvers.  There are 3 ways to do this, but if a titan can’t burn enough to remove excess damage, that titan is dead.

Tom Do you have anything else in the works?

Ivan: Right now we’re focused on Titans and Keep Calm.  Each of those is going to require a Kickstarter campaign.  Long range, we have a card game called You’re Fired that Doug designed.  It’s done very well in play tests and we think it’s just about ready to go.  Beyond that, there are several design ideas that we’ve been kicking around and we hope to eventually broaden our horizons by publishing games from other designers.  We’ve talked to a couple, but I can’t say more about that right now.

Tom: Do you have any questions for me?

Ivan: I’m sure you play lots of games in order to keep yourself well rounded, but what’s your game (or type of game) of choice?

Tom: Right now there are several – Takenoko, Sentinels, and Hive. I’m a big Stefan Feld fan so my all-time favorites are Macao and The Speicherstadt. I also really enjoy The Manhattan Project, Memoir ‘44, and DC Deck-building. I really like rpg’s when I can get them.

Doug: What games pleasantly surprised you this past year?

Tom: The biggest surprise was Mob Town from 5th Street Games. It’s not out yet but it’s really fantastic. We have played A LOT of it. Practically worn out my prototype copy. You can learn more about it here. Both of you, other than the usual ‘playtest the heck out of your game’, what one piece of advice would you give a new game designer?

Ivan: We do a lot of conventions and we meet aspiring game designers all the time.  It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since I was the guy asking everyone for advice (that may be because I still am), but if I had to sum it up, I would put it like this:  Know what you’re getting into.  Once you get past the thrill of expressing your creativity, you have to deal with setbacks and criticism.  Ultimately, money will become an issue as well.  Unless you have disposable cash to throw at your game and you don’t care about being in the red, you need to keep track of every one of your costs.  Making a game is fun.  Publishing it is business.

Tom: Excellent advice that many people do not think about. Game designing is very romanticized by those who are not actually doing it. It takes a lot of time and money, sweat and tears.

Doug: Yeah, I’d second all of that – and add that the better your prototypes can look, the better they’ll do at conventions. When I was doing Gothic Doctor, we had the mechanics nailed down but not the art, and people were saying, “It’s good. Yeah. It’s pretty good.” Then a few weeks later, we got the decks with the art completely printed and with the same mechanics, people were like, “Can I buy this now? This is great!”

gothic doctor1

Gothic Doctor – available for retail soon

Tom: GD is a pretty good game. Thanks for letting me playtest/review it. My son and I enjoyed it.

Doug: Thanks! I’m glad you guys enjoyed it! It should be out in a few months for people to buy – once we fulfill to Kickstarter backers, of course. Just approved the proof sheets recently. It’s very exciting!!

Tom: Any final words or comments?

Ivan: I just want to say thanks, once again, for doing this.  I did want to let people know that our kickstarter preview page is up at this link:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/9kpublications/512892480?token=4cdd4aef.  I hope everyone will go and have a look and leave some feedback.

Tom: Thanks guys. That was a fun interview. Talk to you soon.


I appreciate Doug and Ivan being my guests. Titans of Empyrean looks like a lot of fun. Be sure to watch for it on Kickstarter soon.

You can learn more about Nine Kingdoms Publications right here. Zip on over and tell ’em Tom sent you. Here is the BGG entry for Titans of Empyrean.

I’m A Roling Stone.

Roling as in role playing. I know. ‘Roling’ is not a word. But it works for a cool title. The post is talking about role playing games, rpg’s from now on.

8b02195eabe464825eb9022c971db41cI like role playing games. I’ve dabbled with them for many years starting back in the early ’80’s with the Purple Box Dungeons & Dragons. I still have it. It’s battered and well used. And I’ve started using it again. I’ve introduced my 12 year old son to it last week. We rolled up some characters and I started him out with B1 – In Search of The Unknown, the first official D&D module. My plan is to run him through the whole series of modules from that time period. I own many of them from way back. Most can be purchased inexpensively from DriveThruRPG.com.

The return to D&D started me thinking about my rpg life. As I said I started with that red book. I didn’t have anyone to play the game with at the time I bought it. But the idea of creating my own fantasy world and stories. And people playing characters in that world / story was really cool. So I bought that Purple Box and got started. I found out that my cousin Michael had similar interests so I had a player. I built dungeons and more dungeons. I bought modules. I bought Dungeon magazine. I GM’ed for him. It was fun.

D&D was pretty much it for us. Michael did buy Car Wars and we played that some. It was cool. It still is. I need to get the most recent version. But D&D was the one. Mostly because we didn’t know there were more out there. Our local ‘game’ store was a hobby shop that had a very small game section consisting mostly of wargaming steve-jackson-toonsupplies.

Flash forward to college. My D&D playing had pretty much stopped but I continued to build my world. And link my dungeons into a campaign. But I was itching to do some playing. I discovered a local gaming group and joined them a couple of times as a player. It was ok and fun. But the biggest thing I got out of it was the discovery of other rpgs. There was Rolemaster, some sci-fi games that I don’t remember well, and Toon. Toon was a revelation to me. Here was an rpg that was not fantasy. It was different and hit my love of cartoons. I enjoyed it a lot.

After college I stopped playing for a long time. But I kept building my world and campaign. It was a creative outlet for me. Then I found out some friends on mine from church played rpgs! Sweet! We got together and started a regular game session. I was the GM and we started the campaign I had been working on for so long. We used a Rolemaster heavy system (that’s what they were used to). It was super awesome.

As we all grew and kids came along, our sessions dwindled and disappeared. We still kept in touch and had an occasional game but nothing regular. At some point during this time I somehow discovered the indie rpg community. This was the next revelation in rpgs for me. Here was a whole new world with some exceptionally cool games and ideas. I dove in and found out that I was living in a hot bed of indie rpg activity. This was centered around Jason Morningstar and Andy Kitowski. Jason is the designer of several award winning indie rpgs – The Shab Al-Hiri Roach, Grey Ranks, and most notably Fiasco. Andy is the founder of Story Games, THE indie rpg forum / online community web_fiascoafter The Forge. I met Andy and he introduced me to Jason and their group. They and all that community are very welcoming to new gamers. I was able to find new games like Psi-Run, a fantastic game where you play amnesiac superheroes being pursued by a mysterious agency. 3:16 – Carnage Among The Stars in which you play space marines. Dogs In The Vineyard that takes place in the late 1800’s and you are a religious sect’s lawman. There were so many and all so different. Different in theme. Different in style. Different in mechanics. So many. So cool. This was an awesome community to be involved in.

And inspiring. I starting thinking about designing games of my own. This community is very supportive and helpful to fledgling designers. Story Games was a place where you can ask questions and post new idea and get good feedback. I started interacting with some other designers and doing some playtesting. Jason in particular was / is extremely helpful and supportive. I was able to playtest Fiasco throughout its development as well as a couple of his other designs. That was a lot of fun.

During this time I discovered board games. And my role playing was overtaken by board gaming. I found the board gaming community equally as welcoming and fun. I have found that it is  equally wonderfully varied. I’ve found that I can be a game designer here also with the same amount of support. I love it and am here to stay.

This article started out to be just a listing of some of my favorite role playing games. I’ll post that in a follow up post because there are some super awesome games. But it turned into my gaming history. That’s fine. It was fun to write and I hope at least somewhat interesting to read. Perhaps you had a similar journey. Or one that was very different. I’d like to hear about it. Post something below.


The Burning Question AND Its Burning Answer About…Playtesting

This article has been a long time coming. I asked the question -“How do I become a better playtester?” some time ago. I got back some excellent comments from various designer, publishers, and gamers. But one reply was exactly what I was looking for. It was an article / forum post on BGG by Eric Jome. And it answered the Burning Question so well that I didn’t feel like I needed to post an answer to The Burning Question. It stole my thunder. Or rather I didn’t feel like I could add anything to it. It was all there. Most of what those who replied was in this article. And its comments. I couldn’t do any better. So I tabled my post. Until now. With UnPub5 going on right now, I decided that I should give Eric Jome’s article some press. So here is the link to this very good article. If you have any interest in being a playtester or becoming a better one, please go read it. It answers the question – “How do I become a better playtester?”