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: 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: 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.
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 wanted 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 from 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?
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