Month: March 2015

The League of Extraordinary Gamers – A Conversation With…Matt Holden of The Indie Game Alliance


I’m pleased to have Matt Holden of The Indie Game Alliance on Go Forth And Game this time. I asked him to be my guest because I wanted to learn more about IGA. IGA is a very interesting idea but I’ll let Matt tell you about it.

Tom: Hi Matt, tell us about you.

Matt: I’ve been trying to get into the game industry full time since I was about 8. Amazingly, Capcom and Konami weren’t really interested in my design documents, no matter how carefully I colored the pictures. When I got old enough to realize there were actual skills involved in pulling this off, I went to Full Sail University and got my degree in game design and development.

Finding work difficult to get in gaming here in Florida, and being unable to leave the state due to family matters, I’ve spent most of the last ten years at marketing and programming day jobs. I live near Tampa.

Tom: All right. Indie Game Alliance. What is it and where did the idea come from?

Matt: When I was a marketing director in the corporate world, some of our clients were co-ops: groups of similar small companies that joined together to buy in bulk to get better prices. I remember one was something like 300 independent bicycle shops, and we gave them a discount because there were so many locations.

Looking for something I could do in games from Florida, I found a couple of larger publishers that had volunteer demo programs, and joined one. I found the act of demoing the games to be a blast, but ultimately found that there was too much red tape where I was and it wasn’t working out.

I reached out to Brotherwise Games in March 2014 about launching a program for them, based on the good and the bad I’d learned at the first gig. While they were willing to work with me, the stumbling blocks were expense — travel and giving away that many free games can be costly — and incentives. If a volunteer demoed Boss Monster for 200 hours, she could rack up a ton of reward points and use them to buy… more copies of Boss Monster, because that’s all Brotherwise had to sell.

Then, that bike co-op light bulb hit to me. If there were more than one studio in the program, then each could help recruit their biggest fans as volunteers. Each could contribute games to the catalog, and each could contribute funds to the convention booths and the travel, creating a megaphone for the collective that was greater than the sum of its parts. Brotherwise, Meltdown Games and Portal Games joined in the first week, and it was off to the races. We’re at over 150 member designers and publishers now with no sign of slowing down.

Tom: I’ve been to the website and you have an impressive list of member game companies. Could you name a few of the Allies?

Matt: Our members range from large indie publishers like Asmadi Games, Portal Games, Level 99 Games and Tasty Minstrel, to teams with one or two solid hits, like Brotherwise, and down to folks working on their first titles, like Kinsoul Studio, Medieval Man Studio, and so many more.  We were especially thrilled to have Gamelyn Games, creators of the Tiny Epic series, join us halfway through the Tiny Epic Galaxies Kickstarter campaign.

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Tom: There are several others involved besides you. Who are they and what do they do?

Matt: Credit first must go to our 120-person strong team of Minions, volunteer men and women based all over the globe. We absolutely could not do what we do without them. They’re the ones out there hitting the small conventions, the game stores, introducing people to our game catalog each and every day. I wish I could list them all, because they’re all indie gaming superheroes in my book.

We’ve had a couple Minions who have been huge helps in the development of our new website: Billy McCann, Forrest Evans and Ken Grazier come to mind. We’re thrilled that one of our closest friends, Daylina Miller, is moving back to Florida and has taken over much of our social media activity and writing duties.

Tom: It’s a very good idea. Congratulations on the success you’ve had. If someone wanted to become a Minion, what do they need to do?

Matt: The only qualifications needed are good communication skills and a love of games. Anyone interested in signing up can fill out the quick and easy join form at www.indiegamealliance.com/minions.

Tom: If I’m a designer / company, what can you do for me?

Matt: We do our best to be a one stop game designer incubator. We provide the demo reps, which naturally fed into retail distribution, which naturally fed into convention sales and demos. Since we are already at conventions, organized play became a great thing to add. We also do game design and Kickstarter consulting, artist and publisher matchmaking, and so on. We offer services like manual copy editing and are working on a translations department.

Broadly, we try to use economy of scale amongst our 150 member studios collectively in order to offer the same kinds of promotion, sales and development resources that a huge single company would have, whether that be preferential treatment from manufacturers, larger convention booths, or space on retail shelves.

Tom: I’m quite interested in this. I’m heading over there right now. I’m back. You might see my name there soon.

Matt: We’d love to have you.

Tom: I’m back. Any future plans for expanding your influence? Publishing? Game Design?

Matt: We’re pushing into distribution in another month or two, and we’re hoping to massively ramp up the number of conventions we’re at in 2015. Our new website is almost finished, and when it’s done, it’ll unlock a bunch of new and exciting features to make it easier and more rewarding to be a Minion, and put a lot more power and information in the hands of our member designers and publishers.

Tom: Distribution? That seems to be a trend. I know Greater Than Games has started this. What is your reasoning for doing this?

Matt: We found that lots of our members were struggling to get into retail. Many don’t have the quantities, or the name recognition, to entice traditional distributors to pick them up. We do small quantity distribution on consignment. This eliminates our risk and allows us to take any and all games. Plus, once we have stock on hand, it also becomes easier for us to fulfil requests for games from our Minions and take games to conventions to sell.

Our Minions will already be in game stores running demos, and we will give them commissions in reward credits for encouraging FLGS owners to carry out member games. We realized it would be a pain for store owners to have to track down 150 different ordering mechanisms introduced by a single IGA rep, so a centralized ordering apparatus for IGA games became kind of a no-brainer service to offer.

Tom: New website sounds great. I can’t wait to see what’s those cool new things are.

Matt: We’re working hard to secure partnerships to get our members discounts on printing services, opportunities to interview with sites like yours, and any other advantage we can find for them.

We’ve considered publishing, but ultimately decided we don’t want to get into a situation where we’re competing with our members. We’d rather refer great game to publishers that have similar visions, and let things flourish that way.I personally have two games in very, very early development, but you likely won’t see much of them in 2015 as I’m completely focused on the Alliance right now. We’re also looking at creating a content-driven news site that wouldn’t be limited to just Alliance members, but instead cover the tabletop industry as a whole.

Tom: That make sense. It really sounds like a win / win situation for a game company. You guys help out with the marketing end and networking. The minions program is a real boon. IGA takes on some of the roles for that company. You take some of the work off the game designer / company. Is that what you’re shooting for?

Matt: Basically. Our team has experience at things like marketing, manufacturing, team building and logistics. Most independent designers don’t, and that shouldn’t be a handicap to them. They have day jobs just like us, but they are cops and teachers, artists and programmers, and the most important full time job title you can have, parents. Big game companies can hire people to do that stuff for them. My hope is that IGA affords smaller, mom and pop designers that same opportunity on a level playing field.

We try to give them the tools they need to realize their dreams and put more great game options out there for families and friends looking to spend some social time with each other again and put down the smartphones for a bit.

Tom: Anything else you would like to talk about?

Matt: More than anything, I just want to emphasize what a great community IGA is becoming, and necessarily must be for it to work. The Minions work their butts off for the love of the game, studios pitch in what they can in terms of time and treasure, and everyone helps spread the word. We’ve seen members publish other members, and designers offer Minions a couch to surf during a convention. We have pictures of minions holding publisher’s babies. It truly has become an alliance, as opposed to a company with employees and customers. I can’t stress enough how awesome a feeling, and how awesome a responsibility, it has been to have planted and cultivated that seed.minion1

I couldn’t be prouder of every Minion who matches a player to her new favorite game, every designer who funds on Kickstarter the first time, and every artist whose talents make a designer’s lifelong dream come to life before their eyes. The alliance and the community at large could not thrive as it has without them all, and my respect, gratitude and admiration for them knows no bounds.

Tom: Were can people interact with you?

Matt: You can find us at indiegamealliance.com. We are on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/IndieGameAlliance and on Twitter as @IndieGameAllies.

Tom: I’m planning on attending Origins this year. Will I see you there?

Matt: I sure hope so. We are still finalizing our convention schedule for 2015. I know we are vending and demoing at Gen Con. Our Minions are already lining up events at Origins and several other shows, and we will attend as many as we can in person to support them.

Tom: Thanks Matt for your time and the information about Indie Game Alliance. It’s a really cool idea and I’m glad you are out there helping the independent game designer.

Here are a few of IGA’s members:

Nine Kingdoms  Asmadi Games  Black Oak Games  Devious Weasel Games  Foxtrot Games  Gamelyn Games  Grey Gnome Games  HABA USA  Letiman Games   Matt Worden Games   Pandasaurus Games   Robert Burke Games   Tasty Minstrel Games   Van Ryder Games

That’s just a small portion of the memebers of IGA. Please visit their website to find out more about Indie Game Alliance.

Lucky Numbers – A Conversation With…Jason Tagmire, the designer of Seven7’s


Tom: Hi Jason, remind us about Jason Tagmire.

Jason: Hey, I’ve designed some quirky games like Pixel Lincoln, Maximum Throwdown, the Storyteller Cards dpixelecks, and I was co-set designer on Quarriors: Quest of the Qladiator.

Tom: First, update us on Storyteller Cards. I sadly missed both KS so I want to know more.

Jason: Storyteller Cards are playing cards designed to inspire creativity. It’s essentially a pocket toolkit for writer’s block, creative gaming and general storytelling no matter which medium you choose. Cards have an illustration loaded with story elements (character, item, action, location… and in the fantasy set we added race, class and weapon). Along the corners of the cards are gaming elements (card rank/suit, emotions, seasons, coins, dice, etc..). You can use these to do anything you want, and we’ve put together a bunch of games and exercises to get people started. It’s all very open-ended.storyteller cards

Tom: You have two hot games right now. The first is Pretense, which just finished a successful Kickstarter campaign. Give us the elevator pitch for the game.

Jason: Pretense is a game night social metagame that players before, during and after other games. Each player assumes a secret role and has the entire night to achieve their special goal. Except, roles are like “The Glutton: If another player hands you food or drink, you may take their role card” or “The Maid: If you are the only player to clean up a game, you may take any other player’s role card”. Fun stuff that plays on game night behavior.

The next game has just launched on Kickstarter. It’s Seven7’s and Eagle & Gryphon is publishing it.

Seven7s is a card game where players use the powers of seven famous sevens (7 wonders, 7 deadly sins, etc..) to try and build the most powerful hand for endgame scoring. The sevens do all kinds of things from swapping cards to gaining knowledge to disabling specific card values. It plays in about 20 minutes, at which time you’ll hopefully want to shuffle up and play again.

Tom: What’s the story behind Seven7’s? Where did the idea come from?seven7e

Jason: Seven7s came from a pitch tag session with Alex Strang and Kevin Kulp. If you aren’t familiar with Pitch Tag, it’s a little exercise created by Daniel Solis and Fred Hicks where someone comes up with a title and you create the game. We play it via email / Facebook messaging all the time and I’ve noticed that I am best when I come up with the title.

So I suggested Seven Suits. And while waiting for the others to reply, I had my own idea which was pretty close to the end product:

A 49-card game where you are trying to be the first to get a complete set of 7 cards (a full suit) Each card has a discard ability when you play it, based off if it’s suit and the seven suits play very, very differently. The suits are 7 colors of the rainbow, 7 wonders of the world, 7 seas, 7 days of the week, 7 deadly sins (plus 2 more)

The big difference is that now you aren’t trying to get a set. You are trying to end with the highest hand value. But 4 out of those 5 suits made it into the final game.

Tom: What was the most challenging part of designing Seven7’s?

Jason: Coming up with 7 unique card powers that each had a different feel. The game space is pretty small, so there aren’t a lot of components to work with. You have your hands, the columns of cards, the deck, and an area for point cards. It’s a little tight, but the theme was awesome and gave me a ton of flexibility. Examples: How does a Wonder work? Well “wonder” is about the unknown and gaining knowledge, so  I made it about seeing other players cards. Deadly Sins hurt people. Ages of Man speed up the game clock. Seas move cards around. Once I got to that point, the game opened up quite a bit.

Tom: How did you land it with Eagle & Gryphon?

Jason: I brought it to Unpub 4 and was lucky enough to have Ralph Anderson in on one of the early tests. He was pretty excited about it and played a few times. Then somehow he started demoing it at my table while I was off playing other games. I must have had the 7 Lucky Gods on my side, because it worked out very well.

Tom: I’m really looking forward to seeing Seven7’s. It looks like my kind of game. Now for some general game design questions. What is the least fun part of designing a game?

Jason: I always said writing rules, but I think I’ve embraced it recently. But what that being said, it’s still totally boring. It gets even worse when you are doing the graphic design for rules and the entire layout needs to shift about 100 times. I’m not a fan of rules.seven7a

Tom: I write protocols at work all the time. I’m pretty good at it. I should be good at writing rules. Now, what is the best piece of feedback you’ve received from a playtester?

Jason: Comments like “this game is broken” are pretty impactful, but to me the best feedback is the feedback that confirms your suspicions. When something feels off and the players confirm it. It’s also very helpful when common trends show through multiple play groups. It’s sometimes tough to nail things down when one player has a bad experience, but when multiples do it’s a huge eye opener.

Tom: What makes designing games so fun?

Jason: It’s very fulfilling. Which is not to be confused with Kickstarter fulfillment. That isn’t fun at all. But designing games has a very quick idea to implementation time period. I can think up a concept, print it and test it within the same day if things go very well. I love shooting out ideas and seeing where they end up. Designing games allows me to do that in a way that involves interacting with other people, unlike most other creative mediums that are created then absorbed by other people. Board games are two-way and I love that about designing them.

Tom: Are you a ‘pare down’ or ‘add to’ designer?

Jason: I would say “add to” as I always start small and build up from there. My games usually start as little nuggets that leave me with the question “what else does this need?”. I rarely have a huge game that needs to be cut down due to mechanics, but on the other hand I always have big stupid ideas that are completely unfeasible and unplayable. I try to whittle them down and they often lose what makes them special. Pretense was one that started out as a goal to make a game that plays during other games, but one that was too silly to even work. As soon as I explored the meta side of things, it all clicked. But there are a whole bunch of others that didn’t click that are absolutely terrible.

Tom: Do you have a really big game inside trying to get out?

Jason: There are a few big ideas that are bouncing around, and there’s one that’s going to be published soon. I don’t play a lot of huge games, so I naturally don’t make a lot of huge games. But I do have some that I’ve been tinkering with. The other side of it is that I usually design to my resources and limitations. 54 cards can go a long way so I start there a lot of times.

Tom: Mechanics or theme first? Which is most important?seven7b

Jason: I personally bounce back and forth and can’t tell if either is more important as a starting point. I believe they are equally important by the end, and should be as seamlessly integrated as possible. Sometimes part of a game just doesn’t make sense thematically and you need to take a step back and see if there’s a better way to do it that will keep everyone wrapped into the theme.

Tom: Tell us about a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Was there a moment when you went ‘Yeah, this is a game.’?

Jason: For Seven7s it was when I added the Seven Ages of Man. The game plays pretty straight, you are playing cards for their powers and trying to get the highest valued cards in hand. At the end of the game, the highest hand wins. Well, the Ages of Man’s power goes two ways. During the game, Ages of Man cards are played in any column with no effect, but speed up the game clock, inching closer and closer to the end. If you are sitting on a good hand, you might want to end it ASAP. The second thing they do is kill of high number values. So if they are played in their own column, they will make the highest value cards in play become 0’s. High value starts with 7 and works its way down to 1. As each Ages of Man card comes out, your high valued hand is looking worse and worse.

Tom: That is a really cool mechanic. I like how you worked a game clock in. The decreasing value idea is neat and I can see how it can really change the game. Neat. What designers do you admire?

Jason: There are so many. I watch and learn from every one that I interact with and every new game that I play. A few to note would be Rob Daviau (Risk Legacy still blows my mind, even 3 years later), Daniel Solis (he has better games in one tweet that I’ll have in 3 months) and Scott Almes/Seiji Kanai (as they both cram a lot of game into a little package).

Tom: Daniel is local and a friend. You are right. He is really an under-appreciated designer. If he had more exposure he would really hit it off I think. You should see him playtesting. Wow. Scott is a machine. I’m working on an interview with him right now. He credits his output to a strict discipline of working on game design a minimum of 1.5 hours a day. I need to do this.

So Jason, have you been rejected by a publisher? Is so, how did you handle it?

Jason: I have and it can go two ways. You can be rejected with no additional info, which just leaves you confused as you have no clue what to improve. You can also be rejected with an explanation of why it doesn’t work, or why it doesn’t work for them. I’ve always picked up and tried to improve the game, but it’s a lot more helpful when you know what went wrong.

Tom: In that interview with Scott he mentions, regarding Kickstarter that “a lot of publishers are not looking for filler-style games.  They are looking for something more flashy, I guess.  I  have a hard time imagining a company putting up Coloretto on kickstarter, because it’s not that flashy.” I think he may be onto something here. I’m taking publishers in his quote to mean the larger companies – Asmodee, FFG, Rio, Queen, etc.. I get the feeling that they are more interested in larger games, the Queen Big Boxes for example. It’s the smaller companies (Dice Hate Me, Green Couch, Gamelyn, etc.)  that are doing the ‘filler’ games. It seems kind of appropriate in a sense as a smaller company puts a lot more on the line if they go after a large game. TMG and Stronghold would be exceptions I think. What do you think?

Jason: I think there’s a tough middleground. The big games sell very well, and the tiny micros make a solid dent, especially for their size and price point. But smallbox Coloretto sized games are tough. They need a very competitive price point and some sort of hook or they will get lost in the shuffle.

Tom: I absolutely agree with that. The price point is really something that we are seeing as a defining factor in a campaign. The smallbox games above $20 are a hard sell in my opinion. If you can do one for $15 that’s a sweet spot. People will spend that on a game even if they don’t know the company or designer. The bigger games are getting very expensive too though. Averaging $60 I believe. What do you think is driving up the prices, other than normal production costs?seven7c

Jason: I’m not 100%, but I think there are a few things that are Kickstarter-centered that will drive up the costs. Shipping is always brutal. So some of that money should be wrapped into the onslaught of shipping costs. Stretch goals are generally given away for free but planned from the start so creators may be upping their price a few bucks in anticipation of having to cover for stretch goals. I think the biggest thing is that were looking at small-ish companies that need to charge higher prices because they are ordering small quantities. They are often making some amazing quality games, which are not cheap. And since the production cost needs to come from a reasonable amount of backers that are within their reach, the retail price will hover on the high-end.

Tom:What are some things that you have learned about playtesting?

Jason: Testing takes a lot of time. Not only in just playing the game over and over, but in scheduling and traveling back and forth and prepping a new prototype for the next test. It’s definitely the “hard work” part of designing games and can be grueling at times. But at other times it’s magical and awesome. It all depends on the game, the state of it, the group and the setting. There are so many factors.

Tom: What has been the hardest lesson for you to learn as a game designer?

Jason: How to juggle a lot of roles on a handful of projects at one time. In the past few months, I’ve probably spent 40 hours a week working on games. On top of working 45 hours a week at my day job. It can be a small hobby or it can be all-consuming. I’m very happy that it’s all consuming, but my real life could have been a little more prepared for it.

Tom: After Seven7’s what’s next for you?

Jason: I’m just wrapping up a game with the creators of the webcomic Homestuck. It’s designed by me and Jeff Quick and it’s a 2p head to head fighter and it’s going to be awesome. After that I have 60 Seconds To Save The World coming out from a publisher who hasn’t announced it yet, and on the Button Shy front I have a handful of little things in the works. Some are my designs, some are others.

Tom: Button Shy is your recently launched game company. Why jump into the publishing pool?

Jason: I started out doing small-time self-publishing years ago. It’s something that I love. I’ve run my own businesses before and it can be incredibly fulfilling when you see it grow. For games, it allows me to involve myself in all of the different areas of the industry. By publishing a game, I can be a better designer in the terms of working buttonshywith publishers and understanding what makes them work. I can spot issues with a publisher from past experience. I can offer my assistance on certain parts of the development or publishing cycle that may not have been possible before. I also work on other games that aren’t my own. And for the company, it allows me to make some games that are outside of the norm with a quick release schedule.

Tom: What do you look for in a game?

Jason: I like to play games and experience something I’ve never experienced before. It doesn’t need to be a new mechanic, but that’s always awesome. I’m so excited when it brings out a new feeling or new outlook on gaming. Most importantly, I want to be moved by the game.

Tom: What are some of your favorite games?

Jason: Looking at my gaming shelves, I’d say Risk Legacy, Cosmic Encounter, Survive, Smash Up… but the truth it’s always the last prototype I’ve played. I love playing games by my designer friends or new designers. I’d almost always prefer to make a game than play an existing one, and it could be as simple as rolling word dice and making up movie titles with them.

Tom: If you have a favorite cartoon what is it?

Jason: It’s interesting because I don’t watch a lot of cartoons. I don’t watch a lot of anything, but for some reason cartoons are at the bottom of my list. I wish I could pinpoint the reason, but I think I just don’t connect in the same way I connect to something like the IT Crowd or Curb Your Enthusiasm. But just recently my family has broken that tradition and gotten me really into Bob’s Burgers. That, and South Park. I will always adore South Park.

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Jason, thank you very much for joining me and talking about Seven7’s and other cool stuff. It was a blast.

Readers, you can find the Seven7’s Kickstarter right here. The game is very inexpensive at $9 + shipping. You really should support it because it looks like a fast, fun game. There are only a couple of days left.

Button Shy’s site is here. You can get Storyteller Cards there as well as Pretense and Movie Plotz.

You can contact Jason via Twitter – @jtagmire. You can see him regularly on Something From Nothing every other Sunday night at 8pm.