BOP : Today on BOP, we are interviewing, Jamey Stegmaier creator of the recently funded Kickstarter game of strategic winemaking called Viticulture and the upcoming dystopian-themed Euphoria.
BOP : First, Welcome Jamey to the very first BOP interview! Let’s start things off with telling us a little bit about yourself. Where is your home base, how long have you been gaming, and what made you decide to get into game design? also throw in anything else you might like to add to introduce yourself!
Jamey : Hi Kelly, thanks for having me. My home base is my above-ground lair in St. Louis, Missouri. I’ve been gaming…wow, I’ve been gaming since I was about 6 or 7 years old. I think I’ve been designing games as long as I’ve been playing them. I think I started designing games because I wanted to create more of the positive experiences that I got from playing the games I played as a child, like Chess, Monopoly, Stratego, and Risk. I’d like to add that although I’ve moved away from those games, I think I’ve learned something from every game I’ve played and designed. Oh, and I have two cats. Or maybe they have me. I’m never quite sure.
BOP: [laughs] With two back to back games, one being released this month and one posted on Kickstarter just yesterday, does this mean you are becoming a full-time game designer? Or do you also have a day job?
Jamey : I’d love for designing, producing, and sharing games to be my full-time profession. It currently is a full time job in terms of time, but I do have a full-time day job as a the Director of Operations at a campus church here in St. Louis.
BOP : I can imagine your staying very busy then! Your first game, Viticulture, was pretty successful on Kickstarter; to those future game designers wanting to fund their game via Kickstarter. Can you talk a little bit about your experience and what they could expect?
Jamey : That’s a big question, Kelly! First, I should say that if future Kickstarter project creators want to know the full answer, they should go to www.stonemaiergames.com and read through the 37+ Kickstarter lessons I’ve written over the last four months. Although I still have a lot to learn, I want to help other project creators do well too if they’re willing to put in the time and investment (emotional and financial) into Kickstarter projects. Kickstarter isn’t magic. You can’t just throw an idea and a few photos up on Kickstarter and expect to make $100k. Kickstarter backers are pretty darn savvy, and I applaud them for that. If you look at the Euphoria project page, every element of it is designed for transparency, honesty, fairness, and engagement. Again, it’s not perfect, but I think it meets all of those goals.
BOP : Thats a great reference for people to look at, and I’m sure many folks will appreciate you taking the time to share your experience and lend some advice. You also managed to make your deadline, unlike pretty much all other Kickstarted games out there! How did you manage this?
Jamey : Deadlines are a big deal to me! If I say I’ll do something by a certain date, I’ll do everything in my power to make that happen. A certain amount of letting go had to happen, of course. When the games are on a boat for 30 days, anything can happen. The key is to build in as much buffer time as possible. I actually wanted to get the game out in April. Now I’m glad that I said May, because we really needed that extra time.
BOP : We haven’t had the opportunity to play either games yet, so can you tell us something that makes Viticulture and Euphoria new and exciting that would separate it apart from other games in a general board game collection?
Jamey : Let’s start with my favorite mechanic in Viticulture that sets it apart: The way worker-placement works, delineated by season. In Viticulture, there 6 summer actions and 6 winter actions, each with three spots for workers (or two in a 3-4 player game, or one in a 2-player game). You can only place a worker in one spot each year, so you have to balance what you want for the summer vs. the winter. Also, if you are the first player to place a worker on any given action, you get a small bonus. So even if you don’t get the action you really wanted, you still get an enhanced version of another action. The game is very tight, but it’s full of positive feedback.
Euphoria…wow, there’s a lot going on in Euphoria. I could literally list 10-20 things that set it apart from other games. But I’ll pick one of my favorites: the construction of markets. At the beginning of each game, you place 6 (out of 12 possible) market cards face-down on the board. During the game you can use workers and resources to build these markets—you can build alone, or other players can help you. When a market is built, with it comes an ongoing penalty to all players who didn’t help build it. There is a somewhat difficult way to get out of the penalty, so you’re forced to not only change your strategy, but also make the tough decision to get out of the penalty or go build another market to impose a penalty on the other players. It has the perfect feel for a dystopian-themed game.
BOP : Very cool! That said, are there any current games that gave rise to Viticulture and Euphoria or influenced it in any way?
Jamey : Viticulture was heavily influenced by Fresco, and to a lesser extent, Stone Age. Euphoria owes inspiration to the dice-as-workers element of Alien Frontiers and the place/retrieve mechanism in Tzolk’in.
BOP : A lot of themes are just tacked on but I noticed on on your campaign page for Viticulture you mentioned that when people teach this game, you feel it is important to teach to the theme. It seems that themes and settings are not really important during the designing process of many games today, how did you keep your game true to the theme and was this a major part in the designing process?
Jamey : Theme is really important to me, both in terms of the design process and the game experience. There have been so many times when I haven’t been able to get a mechanic to work, and then I’ll do some research into the way that element of the game works in real life (especially with Viticulture), and the information I learn inspires the perfect mechanic. Similarly, I think the theme helps create memorable gaming experiences. You never sit around reminiscing about the time that you moved one resource cube at exactly the right time. But do you remember the time when your butterfly-dragon hybrid creation managed to get the last point of damage one turn before his wings would have been snipped? Of course you do. :)
BOP : Since Euphoria was just put up on Kickstarter yesterday, lets focus for a moment on that. Can you tell us a little about the designing process in general?
Jamey : Euphoria went through a lot of iterations before I got the core mechanics down, and a lot of that had to do with the dice. The numbers on the worker dice always represented knowledge—that hasn’t changed. But early on the dice were simply used to track knowledge. You never rolled them. I discovered quickly that dice aren’t fun if they’re not being rolled. So there’s a LOT of dice rolling in the final version. That isn’t to say there is much luck. In fact, in early versions of the game, there was so little luck that the dice weren’t interesting. So we added one specific element of luck to keep things interesting.
The most important aspect of designing Euphoria was the multi-round blind playtesting gauntlet the game went through. 60+ playtesters worldwide kindly contributed their time and printer ink to playtest various versions of Euphoria and offer us feedback on everything from the mechanics to the numbers to specific cards. The game would not be what it is today without their efforts to make it great.
BOP : You said that you’ve been playing games for 25 or so years. Is there a game designed by another you really would have liked to have designed yourself?
Jamey : I love this question. I’m sure the answer has and will change over time, but right now I’d have to say Tzolk’in. I really, really love Tzolk’in.
BOP : And is that your also favorite game to play as well? :)
Jamey : Yes ma’am it is. :)
BOP : Was there a certain game which began everything for you?
Jamey : Chess definitely came first. For the longest time I wanted to design a game like chess, one with absolutely no luck, one that needed only a few pieces, one that was different every time. As much as I respect the game (and others that have proceeded it), I’m not as drawn to it anymore.
BOP : In an interview I read awhile back with Uwe Rosenberg he said designers “should not spend too much time on a project if it’s really not fun. You can’t inject fundamental fun after the fact….You’ll recognize good ideas immediately by the fact that they are good. Therefore one should frequently discard something and begin with something new. But never begin something new if the current concept is running well, simply because the new concept is enticing. Quite often, it becomes impossible to return to the original concept.” – are there any games you’ve begun designing that you really wish you could find away to make into a fun game or finish?
Jamey : That’s a great quote. I like that he talks about fun as the most important aspect. It’s totally true—if a game isn’t fun, it is irrelevant. To answer your question, I have many, many ideas that I’ve brainstormed, and there are some mechanics in particular that I really want to make into a fun game. But I haven’t moved forward with them because I can’t find the fun beyond those ideas yet. You can have a fun mechanic, but if it doesn’t translate into a fun game, it doesn’t matter. So to me it’s a matter of piecing together theme and mechanics for an overall fun experience. Until then, it’ll just be another note on my list.
BOP : I noticed in your Kickstarter campaign for Viticulture you mentioned “Rate the game on BGG after a few plays. Good or bad ratings are welcome–I want your honest opinion!” I think that is a really interesting comment, are you worried about receiving negative reviews on your first game? Also, how do you feel about board game designers ranking their own games on BGG?
Jamey : Oh no, I’m not worried about negative reviews. I mean, I don’t like seeing them, but a negative review is way better on BGG than no review at all. The reason is the way they create their overall rank. Until you reach a critical mass of input, BGG assigns hundreds of dummy ranks to your game, with the average of those ranks around 5. Thus they really drag down even the decent games. So I want to encourage people to rank the game even if they don’t like it very much. As for board game designers ranking their own games, it’s such a drop in the bucket to the overall ranking, I’m fine with it. I rated Viticulture a 9. :)
BOP : Lastly, this next question is an important one, that is often asked to many famous game designers… Are you inclined to play with a specific color when board gaming?
Jamey : Red. Always red. The color of love, blood, and strawberries.
BOP : Well said. Thank you Jamey! Best of luck to your two new games, and congratulations on already meeting Euphoria’s goal only one day in! We here at BOP look forward to checking them both out!
Jamey : Thanks so much for your time! This was a blast!
To back Euphoria : Build a Better Dystopia, visit the campaign page today. You have until June 13, 2013!
To purchase a copy of Viticulture : The Strategic Game of Winemaking, visit Stonemaier games to pre-order!