Saturday, June 8, 2013

Interview with Euphoria: Build A Better Dystopia designer Jamey Stegmaier!

by Randy

Hello, gamers! We have a treat today. We had an interview with Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games. Jamey is the designer of Viticulture and Euphoria: Build A Better Dystopia, and you may have seen the previous interview with him over at the Escapade Games blog here. As I am writing this, he is in the last few days of the Kickstarter campaign for Euphoria, and he was nice enough to answer a few questions for us about Euphoria and Viticulture.

Growing Up Gamers: I'm excited to talk to you about Euphoria: Build A Better Dystopia, but I want to back up a little and talk about Viticulture, your first game. You really nailed production on that one, and did a phenomenal job delivering. How did you do that, and what advice can you offer for other designers' freshman attempts? Perhaps I should add "aside from the wealth of information in the Kickstarter Lessons column on the Stonemaier Games website". :)

Jamey Stegmaier: Thank you so much! I’m glad you’re pleased with the production quality. I have to give credit to my graphic designer (Christine Bielke), my artists (Beth Sobel and Jacqui Davis), and Panda Game Manufacturing (Chris Matthew is amazingly responsive). The combination of those four parties created the game you see today. So my advice to other publishing startups is: Hire talented professionals and manufacturers. This is not a place to cut costs. This is not the time to have a friend do your graphic design or art for free. If they’re good enough to do your graphic design or art, you’ll know it because they’ll charge you. Also, I’m sure there are some other great manufacturers out there, but I could not be happier with Panda. They are consummate professionals every step of the way.

GUG: Viticulture looks amazing, by the way! Looking at the game board and player boards for Viticulture, I noticed that that they are double-sided. One side has detailed descriptions, and the other side is more minimalist and lets the art stand out. What led to the decision to make them this way?

JS: When I got the board and player mat art from Jacqui, I was swept away into Tuscany. And then we covered both with graphic design, and I was still swept away, but not quite as much. So given the marginal cost to make the mats and boards double-sided (why have one side when you can have two?), I decided to have one side of the mat with as few words and design elements as possible.

GUG: Good call! In terms of number of players, 2-6 players is quite a range. I've seen quite a few games that indicated that they played with this range, but it often seems that playing with 2 players or 5-6 players can be clunky or frustrating. Do you feel that you have avoided this with Viticulture and Euphoria? Do you feel there is an optimal number of players for the games?

JS: I’m a big fan of games that pull off that range. I want games that I can play with my girlfriend (who is currently imaginary, but it’s feasible she could exist in the future) or two other couples. In my games, I try to break down turns into single choices. Many worker-placement games let players use all of their workers each turn, which can lead to some interesting decisions, but it also means that you might be waiting a really long time between turns. In Viticulture and Euphoria, your turn consists of placing exactly 1 worker on the board. That keeps things moving along. Also, in Euphoria, if a worker occupies a spot on the board that you want, you can often place your worker on that spot and “bump” the other worker back to its owner. Thus the more players, the more bumping occurs, and the game moves quite quickly.

As for optimal numbers, based on the way it scales, Viticulture is a little looser and forgiving at 3 or 5 players. I would slightly lean towards those numbers, but I like tight games that make me think on my feet. Time will tell which number I prefer for Euphoria. So far I enjoy it with any number of players.

GUG: Are there any mechanical similarities between Euphoria and Viticulture? Was it easy to transition between working on the two games?

JS: Both are worker-placement games, but that’s where the similarities end. The games have very different mechanics, starting with Euphoria using dice as the workers. That was one of the first elements I incorporated into Euphoria, and it set it apart from Viticulture from day one and helped with the transition. Viticulture had more of an indirect influence on Euphoria in that after the Viticulture campaign, I wanted to play more board games. I wasn’t playing enough. So I started playing a lot more games, and it was tough for those games not to influence Euphoria. I played 7 Wonders and suddenly Euphoria was a drafting game. I played Belfort and suddenly Euphoria had a hexagon-shaped board with area control. I played Tzolk’in and suddenly Euphoria had a tech track. Fortunately I was able to distance myself from those games to make something unique and new. I wonder if other designers run into this—you play a game you love, and you want to make your version of it.

GUG: In all honesty, we have a new favorite mechanic every week; it's not just you! Aside from your own games, what games end up on your table most often? And what are your current top three favorite games?

JS: I’ll leave Viticulture and Euphoria out of this answer, because those are the games I’ve played the most. In the last few months, 7 Wonders has probably hit the table the most. My current top 3 are: Tzolk’in, Libertalia, and Agricola. But there are a lot of games up there near that top 3. Some of the games I’ve played quite a bit through the ages are Settlers, Dominion, poker, and Magic. I’m sure those four continue to influence me even if I don’t realize it.

GUG: How did you decide on the art and style? I really like the 1920's Art Deco style in Euphoria. What did your collaboration with the artist look like?

JS: Jacqui Davis is such a pleasure to work with, and her visual talents are truly amazing. She and I talked about the look of the game early on in the process, and after we were on the same page, I would send her the story behind the world, the markets, and the recruits, and se would take it from there. Sometimes I had a specific detail to mention, but usually I tried to give Jacqui complete creative freedom. She knows what she’s doing better than I do.

GUG: We love the work of Jacqui Davis! She has created some aweome pieces for Storm Hollow: over 100 at last count! What drew you to the dystopia theme? What dystopian sources most inspired you? And what came first when designing Euphoria: mechanics, or theme?

JS: I’ve been a big fan of dystopian literature and movies for a long time. When I started brainstorming for the project, I made a long list of my favorite dystopian works…it’s a long list. But a select few of my favorites are Ready Player One, Children of Men, The Matrix, and Oryx and Crake. Although Euphoria has a story of its own, there are lots of winks to other dystopian works in the game.

In the design process, theme came first, but each thematic element was paired with a mechanic after a brainstorming session. I made a list of the core elements of dystopian fiction, and those elements inspired the mechanics. Of course, the mechanics changed quite a bit over time, but by that point I had a different goal in mind: fun. Theme and mechanics are so important, but if they don’t translate into fun, they don’t mean anything.

GUG: Are you finding that it is easier to run a Kickstarter campaign the second time around? What would you say has been the biggest change between the campaign for Viticulture and the campaign for Euphoria?

JS: I wouldn’t use the word “easier.” :) I was more prepared this time, but it’s still a learning process every time. Plus, the scope of Euphoria and the speed at which we funded put this project in a whole different category than Viticulture (Viticulture had 942 backers; Euphoria has over 3000 as I write this. Viticulture funded on Day 17; Euphoria funded after 1 hour). I thought I might sleep more during the Euphoria campaign, but that hasn’t been the case. It’s a 60-70 week job in addition to my day job.

The biggest change between the two campaigns is something I didn’t expect and something I probably won’t do again. Because Viticulture was released to the world during the Euphoria campaign, there has been an incredible amount of enthusiasm for it. The question I got asked the most during Week 1 was: When are you going to add Viticulture reward levels? I listen to my backers, so I added Viticulture levels, but it’s always felt a little odd to me, because Viticulture is a completely different game than Euphoria. So there was a period during the project when there was a lot more attention on Viticulture than Euphoria. In the future I’d like to keep our games completely separate.

The plus side to all this is that we’ve completely sold out of Viticulture, so we’re considering a second print run.

GUG: Lastly, I wanted to ask about playtesting. How much playtesting went into Viticulture? And how did the playtesting process evolve between Viticulture and Euphoria?

JS: Great question, because this was a big difference between the two. Hardly any blind playtesting went into Viticulture before the project began. Alan and I tested it a ton, but I don’t think we realized the value of blind playtesting at that point. Thankfully, many backers became invested in the game during the Kickstarter project, so we had an unexpected outpouring of blind playtesting that really helped the project.

I learned my lesson for Euphoria, and I now had access to a ton of amazing, insightful gamers. So Euphoria went through a gauntlet of blind playtesting by 60+ people around the world while Alan and I continued to playtest it. We made the PnP (print and play) accessible to any backer during the project, so many more people have continued to blind-playtest it during the campaign. I would say that we easily have over 100 playtesters at this point, if not more. They are an amazing asset, and I can’t think them enough for the ink, sweat, time, and effort they put into helping us build a better dystopia.


What a guy, eh? We're really happy Jamey took the time to talk to us. He's a great guy, and we're happy to see his project doing so well. Please pop over and check it out while there's still time!

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