It’s Knot Just A Game – A Conversation With … Matt O’Malley & Knot Dice

This time Matt O’Malley is back to talk about Knot Dice, his latest project that is currently on Kickstarter.

The nice building bits in Between Two Cities

Thank you for agreeing to be a guest on Go Forth And Game, Matt. It’s great to talk to you again. Tom: Between Two Cities, the game you co-designed with Ben Rosset, did super fantastic on Kickstarter.  I imagine that feels pretty good right?

Matt: The campaign was a huge success, and I can’t wait to go to Gen Con and Essen later this year to play the game with backers and introduce it to more players. The backers were so active and engaged – I hope I can develop that kind of support for Knot Dice.

Tom: Jamey is one of the best people in the business and community. I can’t say enough good things about him.I’m very excited for the game. It’s unique and at $29 it’s a no brainer to me. We talked a lot about BTC in an earlier interview. Is there anything new to add?

Matt: Just that we’re making great headway on those stretch goals and I hope we can knock them all out by the end of the campaign. The backers have been so active and engaged – I hope I can develop that kind of support for Knot Dice.

Tom: Knot Dice.  That’s what we are here to talk about most.Tell me about Knot Dice.

Matt: Knot Dice is a box of custom dice that form Celtic knot designs when placed next to one another. There are a bunch of games and puzzles for them, with more to come. But they also look and feel great just playing with them on a table or displayed on a shelf between plays.knot dice 2

The Kickstarter’s focus is a box containing two sets of 9 dice each (total of 18 dice) which is enough to play all of the games and puzzles in the box. And backers can add on additional sets of 9 to increase the size of the designs they can make and the number of players for some of the games. I’ll also have a smaller backer level for those who just want 9 of the dice to play with.

Tom: So it’s really a game system. That’s cool. If you back it then you actually are getting more than one game, correct?

Matt: Yes. The boxed game will include the rules to several games, by a number of designers (including myself), and I will also continue to post new games to the Black Oak Games web site. The boxed game also includes a number of unique puzzle types, with numerous puzzles of each type.knot dice 4

I also enthusiastically welcome everyone to design your own games and puzzles for Knot Dice and post them to BGG and otherwise make them available to players.

Tom: Those dice are amazing looking. What are they made of?  Who made them? How can I get some?

Matt: The dice are plastic, though they have a nice heft to them (and many people think they look like stone). At 20mm, they are much larger than typical 16mm dice. After several years of searching I finally found a manufacturer in China who can produce them at the quality I want for a reasonable price. If you want some, just back the Kickstarter!

Tom: I would not have guessed plastic from the pictures. They look like they are made of stone. Really awesome.knot dice 1

Matt: I wish I could get them made of stone, but I have no idea how much that would cost. Anyone out there a stone carver? My other concern with stone is the possibility that a piece of the die could chip off, since the lines extend right up to the edges. That said, if the Kickstarter does really well and there is a lot of demand, I might make a limited run of Knot Dice with some crazy materials.

Tom: What do you look for in a game?

Matt: Right now I’m really interested in games that produce interesting, complex interactions between the players. But I admit to having a weakness for shiny things. Games that just look fantastic have a very strong appeal, but I’m also usually looking for games that I can play in a relatively short amount of time now.

Tom: Short game play is a trend I’m seeing too. What is the least fun part of designing a game?knot dice 2

Matt: For me, it’s asking people to play those really early iterations of the game, when I know it’s full of flaws but I really need feedback. I feel very awkward asking people to donate their time because I know how precious it is.

Tom: That’s me too. I am very reluctant to ask people to playtest unless that’s the goal of our get together. What are some of your favorite games?

Matt: Some of my favorites right now are Finca, Jaipur, Yspahan, XCOM, and Eight Minute Empire: Legends. All great games.

Tom: Those first three games are so fantastic and under everyone’s radar. Finca is so under-appreciated. I really like it and need a copy of my own. Yspahan too. Sweet games.

Matt: Yep. What are a few of your favorites, maybe others flying under the radar?

Tom: Favorites: Most Felds, most Dice Hate Me Games, Memoir ‘44, No Thanks. Under the radar – The Little Prince, Farmageddon (Grant has a very fun game there.). Games from 5th Street and Small Box Games really need more exposure and press. John Clowdus makes good gamerly games and Phil at 5th Street did a fantastic job on family games. Mob Town is not out yet but it is super. I’m really sad to see 5th St. go away. Oh, all of Daniel Solis’s games are great and need more people playing them.

Mechanics or theme first? Which is most important?

Matt: Neither. Both. I think I’m a theme-first designer, but I frequently find myself working from a core mechanic initially and then finding the theme to flesh it out. As for which is most important, a game will rarely survive without both. Theme gets it to the table the first time, mechanics keep bringing it back.knot dice 3

Tom: Yeah. That’s pretty much what everybody says. I think it’s hard to divorce the two. At least for me. What designers do you admire?

Matt: Eric Lang, Alan Moon, and Uwe Rosenberg for making a career of it. Vlaada Chvatil and anyone who makes really varied games. I have so much respect for anyone who has gone through the entire process of designing, playtesting, and developing a game all the way through the process and finally gotten it published. It is a huge amount of work, and it takes a lot of dedication to see it all the way through to the end.

Tom: I’m starting to recognize Rosenberg as one of my favorites too. I agree with you. Just working on my own game I see how hard it is. How do you decide when a game is done?

Where did the idea for Knot Dice come from?

Matt: A friend of mine, Campbell Maloney (, designed an alphabet that uses repeated designs oriented in different ways to form the letters of the alphabet. Inspired by that and by Celtic knot designs, I wanted to do something similar in a game format. We talked about it for years, and eventually I designed a puzzle app called Celtic Knots (which is still available on iTunes). It was a wonderful experience (though a complete financial failure), but rather than continue to develop applications and games in my free time (which is so similar to my day job developing web sites), I wanted to create something physical.knot dice 6

My first thought was to create wooden puzzles with flat square pieces similar to the faces of the Knot Dice, but unless you had a lot of puzzle pieces the designs would always be the same. Next came the idea of flat wooden puzzles with designs on both sides of the pieces…which eventually brought me to blocks.

I was still thinking puzzles here, and imagining a 3x3x3 cube, with 3×3 celtic knot designs visible on each face (including the interior faces if you slid one 3×3 wall away from the other two). While I still think it would be a fascinating puzzle, it would be maddening to many people, and the designs on the different faces of the cubes wouldn’t match up over each edge. That plus at the time getting someone to produce it out of wood was financially out of reach. So I let the idea stew.knot dice 8

Meanwhile I was also designing board games in my free time. Nothing noteworthy, just playing around with ideas. At some point (I don’t remember when exactly), the idea grew to get the cubes made in plastic, and suddenly they were dice! Dice that were still great for puzzles but would lead to puzzles that were solvable in a much shorter time than the 3x3x3 cube.

The original dice had 4 different designs, but the cost of molds and the expense to produce a single die is as much as I can take on at the moment. Eventually I hope to get them all made via future Kickstarters if there is enough demand.

Tom: What was the most challenging part of designing Knot Dice?

Matt: Figuring out when to stop. Most games I’ve designed have had a pretty definite end point, but there’s no sign of that with these dice. I still haven’t stopped working with them, designing and tweaking games and puzzles, but I have decided that it’s time to get them manufactured and out into the world so more people can play them and design with them as well.knot dice 7

Tom: That’s a good problem to have. Most of the time it’s pushing past a block not turning off the idea spigot. Give us the elevator pitch for the game.

Matt: Knot Dice is a box full of games and puzzles that create art while you’re having fun!

Tom: Have you been rejected by a publisher? Is so, how did you handle it?

Matt: Of course! It’s always a letdown, but I don’t take it to heart. The publishers I’ve dealt with have all been really great to talk to, and will explain if they think that something about the game needs work (they’re usually right), or if the game for some reason just isn’t what they’re looking for right now. The trick is to figure out what went wrong with that particular pairing of game and publisher, and work hard on making the next pairing better. All the while honing and playtesting your game.

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

Matt: To start playing a game as soon as possible. I frequently sit down and do tons of work on icons, making huge sets of cards, balancing, and so on before I even get to the first playtest. If I could teach myself to start playing sooner, with some minimal version of the game, I could cut out a huge amount of development time and figure out which games have serious flaws much more quickly. Fail faster!

Tom: I have that issue too. My big roadblock is playtesting. I find it really hard to ask people to play my game.

Thanks Matt for being my guest and giving us the lowdown on Knot Dice. It sounds pretty awesome.

Readers, you really should check out Knot Dice right here. And you can find out more about Matt and what else he is up to at Black Oak Games.