Heir Interviews: Jamey Stegmaier

May 15, 2016 - 9:50am
jamey Welcome to our first installment of Heir Interviews, a new process we’re going to try out here at Dice Tower News. I am Bryan Gerding, though on BGG and elsewhere I go by HeirToPendragon, thus the title (also it acronyms to HI which gave me a good chuckle). For our first installment we are talking with Jamey Stegmaier, co-owner and public face of Stonemaier games, and one of the most considerate members of our community. Their Kickstarters are known for their transparency and their backers-first structure. Jamey, I asked to interview you because your company is getting pretty popular at the moment. Scythe is still one of the most anticipated games of the year and Charterstone is getting some buzz. You also recently put out the Essential Edition of Viticulture with its version of Tuscany on the way. And finally I hear stories about Euphoria getting more stuff for it and its world. Where to begin is probably the best question! Let's start with Scythe. When you were developing the game and piecing it together did you anticipate this much excitement for the game? scythe I really had no idea how people would respond to it until I posted the cover art on BGG in December 2014. I mean, I loved the art, and I figured I wasn’t alone, but to get that big of a response for a game still in early development based on the cover? Wow. That was pretty awesome. I think it was the number 2 most liked image on BGG in 2014, and it only had 1 month to make that impact. As hyped as it is, do you feel more stressed to put out a stronger product than you were with previous releases? To me, “hype” is people being excited about something, so sure, there was a certain amount of pressure to get it right. But it’s not like I don’t try to design and publish great games when people aren’t as excited in advance about them. The real reason I had to work harder on Scythe is the level of asymmetry in the game—I think games like that require a whole different level of blind playtesting than games with little to no asymmetry. Where exactly are you with the completion? Do you expect to hit the delivery date? Should people map out their path and run to your booth early at GenCon? (Reply given May 13th) Currently we’re about a month ahead of schedule of the original estimated delivery month of August. The games are fully assembled and have been loaded into cartons and pallets, and they’ll be transported from Panda to port next week. We don’t have a booth at Gen Con (just a conference room), so we’ll only be selling Scythe there if (a) all backer/pre-order copies have been fulfilled and (b) if our local friends at Greater Than Games decide they want to sell some copies at their booth. There are rumors of a video game from the artist. Any comment on that? I hinted at that in a recent project update, though I really don’t know much about it, and it’s totally Jakub’s thing, so it’s not my place to say. I can say that I’m currently waiting to get a sizzle reel back from a developer who wants to make a board game port of Scythe in Unity (for tablets, phones, Steam, etc). I’d love to make that happen. Also, the Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia versions of Scythe look great. Fun Question: what about Scythe are you most proud of? Hmm, interesting question. The first and biggest thing that came to mind is that I’m so proud that my game could have a positive impact on Jakub’s life (the artist). And, to give him credit, it’s had a great impact on my life as well. I feel like Jakub deserves to be famous for the level of talent he’s worked hard to achieve. I think it would have happened without Scythe, but I’m proud I could be a catalyst for that process. He’s awesome. charterstone banner Onward, how far into development are you with Charterstone? It’s still pretty early. I’ve been working on the design since December 2015, and it’s now in the second phase of early playtesting. The first phase usually involves me making a game that sucks, and then I take a break and try to make it suck less. That’s where I am right now. A ringing endorsement, right? :) Seriously, I’m super excited about the latest iteration, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Are you putting it onto Kickstarter or is your company getting big enough to not need it? That’s an interesting way of putting it. I think you’re asking if my company has enough money that I don’t need to raise funds to manufacture a game, which I think is a common fallacy about Kickstarter. There are many other reasons to put a game on Kickstarter: build community, generate excitement, make it better through stretch goals, and gauge demand. The latter is closely tied to funding. Like, with Scythe, we had enough cash on hand that we probably could have made the minimum print run of 1500 games, but that would have done a great disservice to the nearly 18,000 people who wanted a copy. Kickstarter is a great way to ensure that the people who want your product are able to get it. What makes it different from other Legacy games? There are a few key things. One is the core mechanism where you and the other players are building actions on the board for all players to use. Thus, it’s competitive, but you’re interacting in a shared space. You’re basically building a worker-placement game from scratch, and each copy will end up being very different. Two is that Charterstone is a constructive legacy game, not a destructive one. Whenever you make a permanent change (like place a building sticker on the board), you’re adding to the game. You’re not tearing up cards. Not that I have a problem with tearing up cards—I’ve had a great time doing that in Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy—but that doesn’t align with the core aspect of building in Charterstone. Three is that Charterstone is designed to be fully playable and enjoyable after you’ve unlocked all of the secrets and completed the story. At that point, it’s as if you’re playing any other worker placement game, complete with plenty of variable elements to keep it fresh. It also plays from 1-6 players, and some of the games are relatively short (20 minutes or so). It does get longer and more complex as the village gets bigger, though. What is the hardest part about developing a legacy game? Prototyping and iterating are really hard. Like, every time I complete a playtest, if I need to make any changes, I basically have to throw away everything I’ve printed and cut and start over. And even little changes to one aspect of the game can have a ripple effect through so many other areas of the game. I’ve tried to take Rob Daviau’s advice and break the game into different eras—that way I can try to get the first era right before I design much of the next era at all, as I’ll probably need to redo all of that later-era work anyway. Fun Question: How far into Pandemic Legacy are you and if you've finished what is your record? Oh yes, my group finished it back in September or October of 2015. I think we finished 12-6. Next games! Is the next Tuscany printing directed toward Essential Edition owners? Would you recommend it for people that own a previous edition of Viticulture? The Tuscany Essential Edition is for anyone who owns Viticulture and doesn’t have Tuscany (most people in that category have the Viticulture Essential Edition). Yes, I highly recommend it. I loved what we originally did for Tuscany, but it was a very expensive addition. The Essential Edition is slimmed down—it only has the extended board, special workers, and structure cards—so we’re looking at a price point around $30-$35. That’s a more appealing expansion price for a $60 game than the $70 MSRP on the original Tuscany. Are there any changes to the modules that will be in the next print? Are any modules being removed? The only change to the three modules we’re including is that there are only 14 special worker meeples instead of 66. 66 was just too expensive—it would have increased the price to $50. Instead, each player will get 2 meeples, and there are 2 matching stand-ins to be paired with the 2 random special worker cards drawn at the beginning of the game. Thus the gameplay will remain the same. We’re removing the following modules because we don’t consider them to be essential: patronage, mafia, arboriculture, formaggio, and structure crossovers. Is there a place for people to get the removed modules, meeples and coins once they buy Tuscany Essential Edition? Also, how will future printings of Viticulture and Tuscany play out? Will it only be Essential Editions from now on? We recently started offering ala cart items from Tuscany (and some of our other games) on our website while supplies last. The metal coins were actually never in the retail version of Tuscany (only the KS version), but we’re currently making more of them, and they can be pre-ordered here. That’s correct—from now on we’ll just be printing Viticulture Essential and Tuscany Essential, and possibly the occasional small expansion or ancillary product like Moor Visitors or the metal coins. What exactly is going on with Euphoria? I've heard of both an expansion and a side game using the same world. Can you clear any of this up? You’ve heard a lot of things. :) I wish I could clear it up, though I don’t exactly know! I’m not the designer. I’ve been involved with the development of it this year, but all I know right now is that Morten is working on it for the next month and then submitting his final version to me in mid-June. I’ll know better then exactly which path he’s taken. Any other announcements you'd like to make? I’d like to announce that my cats, Biddy and Walter, are the cutest of all cats. Last Fun Question: What game outside your company are you having the most fun with right now? The best new-to-me game that I’ve constantly wanted to play over the last 2 months is Ora et Labora. But if we’re talking right now, I played Millennium Blades for the first time last night and really loved it. It’s one of the most ambitious games I’ve ever played, yet Brad Talton was able to create some very clever mechanisms to help players reign in the information overload. I talk about that on my video here. I’d like to thank Jamey again for the interview. If you’d like to learn more, you can always visit their website here. Jamey has a really interesting video blog as well, the front page of which you can find here. I’d love to hear your feedback on the interview process and what you’d like to see more of going forward. Feel free to leave your feedback on the Dice Tower guild of BGG by posting here. If you’d like to contact me for an interview or discuss ideas for future interviews I can be easily reached through BGG Geekmail or through direct email.