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.

Rice, Rice Baby – A Conversation With…Philip duBarry and Kevin Brusky about Spirits of the Rice Paddy


I’m joined this time by Kevin Brusky of APE Games and Philip duBarry, the designer of Spirits of the Rice Paddy. Rice Paddy has just completed a very successful Kickstarter campaign so I thought I would talk to these guys about this very interesting game.

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Tom: First, remind everyone who you are.

Philip: I’m Philip duBarry, designer of Revolution!, Courtier, and several other games.rrrrrr

Tom:Kevin, talk a minute about Ape Games. What it is? Who you are? What are your games?

Kevin: I’m the president of APE Games, publisher of such games as duck! duck! GO!, Order of the Stick, Kill the Overlord, Island Siege and RARRR!! It appears I like games with exclamation points in the title. I’ll need to rein that in some. I’ve been publishing games since 1997.

Tom: Now let’s talk about Rice Paddy. Philip, where did the idea come from?

Philip: I got the idea as I was reading through a Malcolm Gladwell (I think) book. He described the meticulous processes involved in creating and maintaining a rice paddy, activities that inform the work and life experiences of millions of people throughout the world. I love the idea of farming as a game theme (I’m a big Agricola fan), so I immediately tried to explore ways to make rice farming into a heavier eurogame.

Tom: Talk about the game itself. How does it play? What kind of feedback you have gotten?

Philip: The goal of the game is to produce the most rice over the seven rounds with a little help from the spirit world. The game features two card drafts (to get your six spirit cards with special abilities), and each round requires successful allocation of workers (not really worker-placement). Players will also usually have livestock (oxen for heavy-lifting and ducks for eating pests and fertilizing) to allocate. In addition to this, players must manage the flow of water (based on a Rain Card each round) from rice paddy1the first player (determined by spirit card number) to the last player.

Your rice paddies need to be flooded when they get planted and when they grow. However, they need the water to be released for weed-pulling, pest-eating, fertilizing, and harvesting. The bigger paddies you have, the bigger yield, but the harder it is to manage properly. The winner is the player who best manages access to water with finding good spirit cards that harmonize and allow for grabbing achievement tiles and producing lots of rice by the end.

Tom: It sounds like my kind of game. The worker allocation part intrigues me since you say it’s not worker placement. Is it more like action selection? How would you describe it?

Philip: It’s more like spending action points. You start with 10 workers and get more as the game progresses. Building a wall takes 3, pulling weeds is 1 per hex, planting is 1, harvesting is 2. Working that puzzle is a big part of the game. Often you just can’t quite do everything you need to do (which is how a game should be).

Tom: I’m gonna like this game! Action points is what I was thinking. Kevin, what made you want to sign Rice Paddy? How is it unique?

Kevin: One of my developers, Shawn, found the game at a con through a friend, back in 2012. We played one of our Friday night sessions at the local pizza restaurant, and I loved it immediately. My hunch was right – after playing with 2-3 other groups that loved the game, I decided to sign it.rice paddy2

It’s definitely the heaviest strategy game that I’ve ever signed, and my first Euro-style game. So what attracted me to it? I love the balance between Spirit card power and turn order. Turn order is so critically important in the game, yet the powerful Spirit cards are SOO nice. Unfortunately, the more powerful the Spirit card, the later you end up in turn order, and the later you are in turn order, the higher the chance you won’t get water.

Tom: The Kickstarter campaign went super great. Talk a bit about it.

Philip: I figured out that this is the seventh Kickstarter I’ve been involved with. This one has done the best, beating the previous high pledge amount of just under $40K (Fidelitas). I continue to be surprised by how excited people are about the game. My wife is just floored by it–she doesn’t enjoy heavier games, particularly obscure ones about farming!paddy1

Tom: I’m a Fidelitas backer. It’s a really fun game. Thanks! Wow, seven Kickstarters. You’re a KS vet then.

Philip: It’s been pretty crazy. I’ve not really had to do most of the work (except on Skyway Robbery), but it’s still been a bit stressful at times. The Fidelitas and Spirits campaigns are so much more fun than the ones you have to drag over the line (or the ones that just don’t make it).

Tom: Kevin, speaking of the Kickstarter campaign, you have an add-on of another game, Arcadia. It’s an amusement park building / management game. It reminds me of Roller Coaster Tycoon which I like a lot. And thank you for sending me the rules and for the review copy that’s on the way.  I’m VERY interested in it. So talk about Arcadia.

Kevin: Arcadia was designed by Phil Chase and Greg Bush. They showed it to me years ago at Gen Con as a fantasy fairy village building game. From there we re-themed it to a game of Mars colonization. Since this game definitely has potential as a family game, I wanted to theme to be more attractive to family audiences, hence the theme park. arcadia1

Keeping with the desire to make the game family-friendly, I contracted Kim Smith (tuckedaway.com), a children’s book illustrator. Her art was absolutely perfect for the game.

Arcadia is a game of collecting symbols from different Jobs cards and trading them in to build theme park attractions in four different categories – rides, midway, shows and food. There are four levels for each type of attraction, and players must build the previous level before building the next on top of it. Attractions provide victory points, but many also provide some abilities.

The game is played over four seasons. At the end, the player with the most victory points wins!

Tom: Daniel Solis is a friend of mine. How did you decide on him as the graphic designer on Rice Paddy?

Kevin: Good question! I don’t actually remember how I found Daniel, but he’s an absolutely brilliant graphic designer, a well as a pretty decent game designer. And if that’s not enough to keep him busy, he runs a fantastic design and graphic design blog at smartplaygames.blogspot.com.

Tom: What else would you like to say about Spirits of the Rice Paddy?

Kevin: The pre-production version of the game has reviewed really well, and the Kickstarter was extremely successful. I knew it was a special game, and I’m glad that others are having the same experience with it.

Tom: Philip, what’s next from you?

Philip: In just a few more weeks, my next Kickstarter will be launching. This time it will be with Tasty Minstrel as we seek to fund my new customizable micro-game, Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers.

Tom: Yes, I remember you mentioning it on our last interview. We’re gonna talk about Battlecruisers pretty soon.

Philip: No problem!

Tom: Kevin, what is APE Games working on?

Kevin: Man, I’m so busy. I’ve got Mr. Cuddington working on art for my next TWO games – a pirate game by Andrew Federspiel (Knee Jerk), and a game about paleontology during the Bone Wars in the late 1800’s by Scott Almes (Tiny Epic Galaxies).

I’m also finishing up a hilarious card game called “This Game is S.T.U.P.I.D.” STUPID stands for Space Time Universal Police Investigation Division. This game was a finalist in the 2014 ION Awards, submitted by a group of students calling themselves Marshmallow Canoe.

And honestly, that’s the tip of the iceberg.

 Talk to me in another month or so, and I’ll give you details on some or all of these titles.

Tom: I would  definitely talk to you about all those games. And if you need any playtesters, I’m available. Any final words from you all?

 Kevin & Philip: Thanks for the interview – it’s been a lot of fun!

Tom: Thank you both for being my guests. Philip, I’ll send you some questions about Battlecruisers real soon. Kevin, let’s do an interview about Arcadia when you are ready. I am very interested in it.

Thank you once again readers. I hope you are having as much fun reading these interviews as we had doing them. There are more on the way – Scott Almes talking about Best Treehouse Ever, Grant Rodiek and Joshua Buergel about Hocus Poker and a few more. Leave a comment below if you don’t mind.

 

Behind The Masq – A Conversation With…Chris Kreuter & Chris Gosselin of Masquerade Games


I have Chris Kreuter and Chris Gosselin of Masquerade Games with me this time. The Chrises talk about how Masquerade came about, their games, and where they are going. Let’s get started.

MasqueradeGames_Logo_Websit

Tom: Ok, first tell us your gamer cred.

Chris K: We’re a two person game company. Both myself (Chris Kreuter) and Chris Gosselin are friends from our days at the University of Rhode Island. A bunch of our friends bonded over Magic:the Gathering during college. We played the game for many years, and forged some amazing friendships over road trips to PTQ’s and Grand Prix’s. Chris G. has a Grand Prix top 8 and a visit to the Pro Tour on his gamer resume. He’s also a long time miniatures wargamer and plays League of Legends.

Chris G’s top 5 board games (that aren’t our own) are: Magic, Warmachine, Dominion, Tash-Kalar & X-Wing

Chris G: When Chris K asked me this question, he left out the board game part.  To get to 5 board games I would add Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.  But honestly, the 5 board games I most want to play rotate monthly.

Chris K: To my own credit, I participate nearly every year at the World Boardgaming Championships. I have a few laurels to my credit, including Carcassone (2nd – 2013) and Race for the Galaxy (5th – 2012). I typically log between 450-600 board game plays per year, with a standing goal of learning 50+ new-to-me games each year. When I’m not boardgaming, I write science fiction books and enjoy the occasional game of the Civilization V or XCOM.

Chris K’s top 5 board games are: Through The Ages, Race for the Galaxy, Ascension, Carcassone & Blokus

Tom: What’s Masquerade Games all about?

Chris K: Shortly after college, Chris and I started kicking around some ideas for board games. Over the next few years I drifted away from Magic and into the hobby board game scene. Chris joined too, but keeps one foot in the Magic scene.  

Chris G: More like two feet in one scene – curses to Magic Online!

Chris K: We started the company with the sole intention of publishing our own games. The company was founded in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2011 when we self-published our first two titles: Epigo and Simpletons. Both debuted at GenCon that year. It should be noted that we launched both titles on our own, before Kickstarter turned our hobby on its ear.

We play many genres of games, and it shows in the variety of games we discuss/design. Our philosophy has always been to help everyone in any way we can. As a member of the incredible NYC-Playtest (nycplaytest.com) group, we’ve networked and become friends with many fantastic designers, including: Gil Hova, Tim Rodriguez, Carlos Hernandez, Josh Raab, Josh DeBonis, Eric Zimmerman, Travis Chance, and many more fantastic people. Through my playtesting I’ve had the honor of being heavily involved in other designer’s games (Battle Merchants, Infamy, Nika, and a few other titles that haven’t been released yet)

Tom: You have a couple of games – Epigo and Simpletons. Let’s talk about Simpletons first.

Chris K: Total disclosure here: this game was a total rush job. We were one month out from the debut of Epigo at GenCon and us, playing the role of amateur game publishers, thought that “we don’t want to be one of those single game game companies!” And so we kicked around some ideas one afternoon for a simple card game. Our design goals were simple: small number of components, easy to assemble, and quick to demo.  simpletons

Chris G: We also wanted to target a different audience, and Simpletons ultimately appealed to a younger audience than Epigo.

Chris K: Simpletons is a 3-8 player card game that plays in less than 15 minutes. Each player is the leader of a tribe of cave-people trying to collect the most rocks possible to be the Big Boss. Each turn players secretly select one role from their hand of cards. Once all players have selected, they are revealed and resolved. Players can gather,

Chris G: a safe play to get a couple of rocks

Chris K: hunt

Chris G: a gamble to get lots of rocks if you are the only hunter

Chris K:  raid a specific player (take half their rocks), or defend against potential Raids.

Chris G: The game ends when there no rocks left, and the winner has the most rocks.  We break ties based on who has the biggest rocks.

Chris K: It’s fair to call it a multi-player rock-paper-scissors game,

Chris G: but with loads more character.

Chris K: The design of Simpletons came together over one week, and we were able to find a fantastic printer (AdMagic.com) to do a rush job for 100 decks. Then we bought an absurd number of fish tank rocks at a local craft store, and some burlap bags in bulk online. The night before we drove out to Indianapolis, we assembled the games in a manic rush. But here’s the thing, it demoed so well at GenCon! In fact,

Chris G: we demoed more games, and sold more copies of Simpletons than we did Epigo during the convention.

Chris K: Our demo table featured stone-age decorations that drew people to the booth. Families really enjoyed the accessible fun and dug the theme.

Chris G: There was a lot of primitive speech.simpletons2

Tom: Of course there was. That makes it fun.

Chris K: Simpletons never got a wide release,

Chris G: as we never printed additional copies.

Chris K: For many months after the con, we’d get regular requests for the game via e-mail. We’re happy to say that we’ve since sold out of that original print run. The fun little side project more than paid for itself.

And I’m happy to announce here that Masquerade Games will be reissuing a new & improved version of Simpletons via print-on-demand later in 2015. The game will feature two games modes: Basic – same as the original game with a few minor improvements, and Advanced – which will feature far more strategy, interaction, and a deeper experience. We also plan on utilizing the artistic talents of Anton Brand again (http://www.antonbrand.co.uk/).

The new version of Simpletons just had fantastic demos at UnPub 5 in Baltimore – so we’re well on track!

Tom: Now let’s talk about Epigo.

Chris K: The original seed for Epigo came to Chris K in a dream. (Yes, seriously). Upon waking up, Chris scrambled for a pad and sketched out the game in the dream. Much of the final product is exactly the same as those first sketches, although a ton of development joined that idea in the final box.epigo2

Epigo is primarily a two player abstract, with pieces provided for up to 4 players using advanced variants. Players select multiple moves each round. The game required focus on figuring out your opponent rather than the optimal move on the board. Every turn required thinking like: “I know that you know that I know you really want to push that 5 off the board, so I’m going to cancel it?”

Chris G was the genius who turned Epigo into a game system. Introducing variants allowed us so many amazing ways to expand the thought patterns and replayability of the game. While only 21 made it through the gamut of testing and into the box, we’ve placed many more on our website for free over the years.

The game was well received in reviews, and we had a good debut at GenCon.

Chris G: In fact, it’s still on Tom Vassal’s top 10 abstract games of all time list!

Chris K: We also had 16 people sign up for our first ever World Championship on a Saturday night at GenCon – that was a great honor and a ton of fun.

Epigo was our first big release for a reason: it was a learning exercise for us. And for as awesome as that game is, we made mistakes. Our final art decision was a safe one. In fact, we skinned Epigo twenty different ways during development. While a fun exercise in graphic design, the final product was very conservative. I still love the decision that we made, even if it hurt Epigo’s shelf appeal. The game just doesn’t stick out on a shelf, especially when shelved end-on as most games are.

Chris G: We did apply to the Mensa Mind Games, which was an unmitigated disaster. They put the game out and listed it as a 4 player game. Since we only recommend the 4 player game for experienced players, things fell apart. Some of the feedback was hilarious, we’ll have to tweet a few of them soon. We had high hopes that the game would appeal to their audience and their approval would have boosted sales in a major way. So beware potential applicants, be VERY specific with your applications on how your game should be presented. (another hard lesson learned)

Chris K: Another lesson: box size. We were passionate about not having any folds in our game board. We felt that an uneven edge would be annoying when sliding and pushing the Epigons around. This meant a 12.5”x12.5”x1” box. That doesn’t travel well. It also takes up a lot of room on a pallet. Multiply that by our 2,500 copy print run and you have 11 pallets of fun! Shipping and distribution were pretty expensive. In hindsight, a quad fold board would have brought down our costs considerably and made the game far more portable.

Epigo was helped significantly by the release of the iOS app in 2013. The app was developed in conjunction with Red Finch Studios, and went on to win a BoardGameGeek iOS Gold Award in the abstract category. We were incredibly honored to win out over the amazing Pathogen. iOS gaming blossomed after the initial design for Epigo, but boy was it the perfect platform for our game. Async multiplayer works perfectly for our simultaneous action selection format. Players effectively take 2 turns every time they open up the app. The app recently went free (with variants as IAP), so there’s no excuse not to try it.

Tom: Now what’s the news on Fire At Will?

Chris K: Fire At Will! was our first foray into publishing a game from an outside designer. Mac McAnally is a friend from the NYC-Playtest group, and both Chris’ loved playing his civil-war themed card game. Mac was having a hard time finding a publisher, so we decided to take a shot at it. We both felt that as a small card game, it would be a good first experiment for Kickstarter.fire at will

We felt that the original Civil War theme was a tough sell, so we worked extensively on a steampunk re-theme. It was a lot of work preparing for the campaign, and we got off to a great start. However, the goal was simply too far away to be a success. We stopped the campaign about half way through in order to re-evaluate the project. We’re still in this process, and hope to have an announcement this spring.

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

Chris K: Play other people’s games, and lots of them. Play things outside of your comfort zone. What makes them tick? So many games have a DNA that can be traced back to what’s come before your game. Many of these influences aren’t even intentional. Whether it’s theme, mechanics, layout, there’s so much room to grow in seeing what does (and doesn’t) work in board games.

Chris G: Don’t let people tell you that an early version of a game is great.  It isn’t.  Most finished games aren’t great. Positive feedback might you feel good, but it’s either a lie or a polite substitute for “your game was so confusing, I don’t know what to say.”  Most play testers will have constructive feedback, but unfortunately, most would also rather keep their opinions to themselves to avoid insulting the designer.  So if someone plays your game, and says it’s great, insist that they give you one piece of criticism, no matter how small.  After disclosing one complaint, many more might follow.

Chris K: Bonus advice: If possible, have another human teach you how to play. Reading a rulebook is not the same as having to grok how the game fits together while learning in person. This is critical to your ability to transfer rules knowledge (and layout a rulebook) effectively.

Tom: What else is in the game design queue?

Chris K: Our initial Kickstarter experience didn’t work out very well. We feel that the market has so much potential and is growing fast. However, the volume of games being released is increasing far faster than the size of our industry. This is a real problem that comes from reducing the traditional publisher role of acting as gatekeepers. It’s a double-edged sword that quite frankly, hurts the small game companies like Masquerade Games.

There are quite a few games we designed over the years with lots of potential. However, we did not complete their development for lack of funds since we were marketing Epigo. Right now we’re trying to turn our focus back on these old project, as well as making awesome new games.

We don’t need Masquerade to make a living, so we are exploring alternative methods for sharing our games. For example, print-on-demand is growing both in popularity and quality. We’re intrigued by developments from these suppliers, and are exploring it heavily. Look for a re-release of Simpletons in 2015, with a few other titles (hopefully) not far behind!

Tom: Awesome! POD is really becoming a solid business model. (Note to self: I should try to get Sean Patrick Fannon of One Bookshelf/ all the DriveThru… stuff for an interview). I look forward to seeing the re-implementation of Simpletons and your other games in the wild soon.

Any final words?

Chris K: Find a local group of game designers and join it. Even if you don’t design games, it can broaden your appreciation of the hobby, and you can help make future games better! If no group exists, start one. Feel free to contact nyc-playtest.com to get some inspiration & advice!

Thanks Chris and Chris for being my guests this time. It was a pleasure talking to you. Both Epigo and Simpletons look like a lot of fun. I wish you a lot of good things with the relaunches.