Interview with Jamey Stegmaier

One thing that I love about Ethan is that he always finds great opportunities for us to do things that are fun and exciting.  So as we were preparing for GenCon 2016, Ethan found this great opportunity for us to sit down with Jamey Stegmaier from Stonemaier Games.  We were able to ask him some questions and get to know him a bit better!

A: So we’re on Sunday at GenCon . . . .what has been your favorite part about GenCon this year?

J:  Really it’s seeing people face-to-face.  Meeting you guys is great, seeing . . . the many faces of people . . . or face that I’m putting names of people that I’ve seen online, that I’ve chatted with, or who are backers whose names that I did or didn’t know.  It’s neat to see those people face to face and make those connections.

A: Yeah, I’m sure that’s . . . .it’s been good for us even to be able to say, “Oh, that’s what Jayme is in real life!”  .  . . Where do you draw inspiration from when designing, especially games like Euphoria, which is another that we own and love, and Scythe where they’re a more Sci-Fi/Fantasy theme?

J: For Euphoria, I love dystopian fiction in all forms; I love reading it, I love . . .there are a couple TV shows, a lot of movies, and so . . . I paired that with an idea that I had during Viticulture . . . it was . . . you know in worker placement games you’re putting workers on the board and they never question you, right?  The workers always go where you tell them to go.  And so I was trying to think of pure game where the workers would question you or a game where thematically it would make sense that they wouldn’t question you.  And so a dystopia made sense for that.  So I combined that one theme that I liked with a question that I thought of.

E: So the workers abandoning mechanic was the central focus and then built a game?

J: Yep, exactly. And then for Scythe it was . . . Scythe started with the art.  I found the art about two years ago; Jacob had been working on the world and the art for a few months at that point and I  . . . just immediately drew me in and captured my imagination. And I just wanted to design a game in that world.

A:  Awesome.  So, what is your favorite dystopian fiction world, book, show? *laughs*

J: I do love the Hunger Games, I know many people do . . . I loves Fringe, as a TV show, which wasn’t quite dystopian but there was certain dystopian . . . I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it!

A: No I haven’t! *laughs*

J: And then I love . . . uh . . . what is . . . there’s a movie where people stop having babies . . . what’s the name of it . . . like the world’s population is dying because no one can have babies anymore . . . “Children,” “No Children” . . . I should know the title of my favorite movie.

A: *laughs*

J: “Children of Men!”  Children of Men.  It’s just a beautiful dystopian style movie.

A:  Cool.  Umm, what are your current favorite games to play?

J: Yes!  Uh, I’ve been having a lot of fun . . . so there are a few games that have gotten into my top 10 list this year, because I do the top 10 list every 6 months.  T.I.M.E Stories is one of them.  I love T.I.M.E Stories

A: Oh my god, we love that game.  We love it.

J: How many modules have you done so far?

A: We’re all the way . . . we’re current.  We’re waiting for Expeditions to come out.

J: Awesome.  That’s exactly where we’re at. I love that experience. Umm, Isle of Skye is another . . . a Euro Game, but I really, really love Isle of Skye.  Yeah, those are the two newest entrants on my list. What about you two, what are the two newest entrants on your list?

A: Oh gosh.  T.I.M.E Stories is definitely up there.  Umm, one game that I personally love, umm, is Jaipur. That’s probably . . . my friend is actually working on . . . he’s got a kind of algorithm  that he’s working on where he can figure out what people’s top 100 games are based on question that they asks . . . he asks about them and I’m sure Jaipur will be in my top 5 if not number 1.

E:  Uhh, we just played Food Chain Magnate the other day.

J: Yes!

A: Whoo!  Yeah!  We’re, uh, chomping at the bit to play it again.  Yeah, that one was really REALLY heavy.  A really thinky one.  I really liked that the luck level being at zero . . . was really . . . was really good.  I liked that about it.

J: Yeah!

A: Yeah.  Umm, okay.  So you’ve been hearing a lot of pitches for game idea, I’m sure. Umm, what makes an idea an instant no?

J:  That’s a good question.  When it’s just an idea.  We’ve had a few pitches where . . . very enthusiastic, creative people with something that’s got no . . .  it hasn’t gone past the idea stage yet.  So I’m looking for something that is at least somewhat developed and play tested.  If they have a prototype to show me that can actually play right here, if even for a few minutes.  So that’s the only . . . that’s really the only instant no – WELL, the one other category, we’ve had it before, is if people come in and pitch RPGs to us? Which is, again, I love to see the creativity . . . one guy brought in a fully fledged Dungeons and Dragons sort of world that’s just beautiful; I don’t play Dungeons and Dragons and we don’t publish RPGs.  So, it’s been interesting to talk to those people and get their perspectives and see another world, but it isn’t, that’s not what we publish.

A: So how do people the the idea stage . . . what’s their next step after that?  Like, what should they do after that to get their process moving along?

J:  Well for me, and I think for many designers, it goes from idea to . . . ideas are brainstorming, thinking of what the game could be and translating that to an actual prototype and rules, something that you can actually play with and then actually playing it.  That’s the key stage.  Getting it to the table, even just once, to see if there’s anything there.  If it can possibly be something more than just an idea.

A:  Awesome.  What thing makes an instant good impression when somebody’s pitching a game to you?

J: An instant good impression . . . yeah. I always, well, the first part is they have an actual game on the table, that is great to see.  Honestly, in the environment of GenCon, like this in an event, it’s nice to see someone who’s relatable.  I wanna see if I can work with this person for 6 months, or 2 years, or 5 years.  Can I have fun working with them?  So that makes a nice impression.  And then, for any game it’s nice if we can just start playing the game without, because they only have thirty minutes to pitch, if it takes 30 minutes, and I know many games take 30 minutes to actually learn the rules, but if we can at least start playing and learn the rules on the fly . . . my favorite thing is when designers come in and give us a 2 minute spiel about the theme of the game, and some core ideas, and then we just start playing.  Even if they’re directing my turn and Alan’s turn and whoever is playing the first few turns and then we get into the swing of it.  That’s . . . I love doing that.  That way I really get to get the feel of what the game is.

E:  So a good thing for a designer to do would be to probably go through the vendor hall at like GenCon and see how people pitch their games?  Especially games that would be similar weight . . .

J: Yeah, that’s a big part of it.  Definitely helps.

A:  What theme do you think is currently overrepresented?

J:  An overrepresented theme . . . a few years ago I would have said like, Zombies . . . and Trains . . .

A: *laughs* Yes!

J: And those are still, there are more games that are coming out, but it doesn’t feel like quite the level of oversaturation.  I think that people maybe have realized how saturated it was.  Right now . . . umm . . . I don’t know if there is one that jumps out.  You guys have had more time in the hall, what do you think?  Have you seen anything?

A:  Yeah.  I feel like it’s pretty diverse.  This year, I uh.  I mean, the top games that are popping out right now are  Scythe, obviously, Cry Havoc (gone), Seafall (gone).  Last Friday is another one that we actually didn’t expect to be gone that is gone that I’m very disappointed that it is.  But yeah, it’s not really honed into . . . like, this year it’s all about serial killers or something like that.  There is a lot of sci fi/fantasy this year but yeah.  There doesn’t seem to be like a big, you know.  Yeah.  Do you think there’s anything that can use more exploring?

J:  Oh yeah.  Many themes.  Umm, I’m still looking for a really wonderful time travel game.  I guess time stories kind of does that, but that’s more like you’re escaping to a world for a while.  There are some decent time travel games out there but I want something . . . nothing has really captured my imagination.  Do you have anything that comes to mind in the time travel genre?

A: You know, TIME Stories really . . . I’m trying to think of any . . .

E:  I know there’s Loop Inc.

J: Yeah.

A:  What’s the other one?  Tragedy Looper?  Tragedy Looper kind of does that, but it’s . . . it’s . . . you’re travelling to the same points, you know what I mean?  You’re just repeating a point instead of . . . so I think that would probably, in my opinion, be the most successful one at doing that?  Because you’re resetting yourself, so . . .  okay, yeah, that’s interesting.  Okay, our friend Christy wants to know what you can tell us about Charterstone.

J: Yeah, yeah!

A:  I’m pumped about that!

J:  Did you see the box over there?

A: Oh, I’ve been checking it out.  I’ve been watching it.

J:  Charterstone, I mean what you probably already know is, it’s a village-building legacy game, it’s 1-6 players, so you’re building a village together with other players, and then whenever you build a new building in the village, in your own designated area that you’re building it, but it’s shared village.  Anyone can place their worker on that building, you can place it there or you can place workers on other building.  There are . . . basically when you open the Charterstone box, there will be . . . you won’t see much of anything.  Everything will be enclosed in envelopes and tuck boxes . . .

A:  Is it modules like Pandemic Legacy where you need to open certain things?

J:  There’s a lot of things.  Pandemic Legacy, it had those 8 packets that you punch open and open but that deck of cards were that . . . oh!  They had . . . I guess there were a lot of things to open.  Similar thing.  There’s like, 50 or 60 different tuck boxes in there to open . . .

A:  Wow!  That’s a lot!

J: Yeah, I love that experience of opening something that is secret and hidden and, yeah.

A:  So do you have any nasty, “do not open, please don’t get to this box” box? *laughs*

J:  Not yet, many I’ll throw something in there for . . . maybe there will be something in there that will have a little surprise, but Charterstone is a much more constructive game.  It’s a game of progression, it’s not as much of a game of struggling against something like Pandemic Legacy is.  Thematically.

A:  Awesome.  Umm, our friend Rob wanted us to ask, we have . . . we’re part of and help run a fairly successful meetup group.  We are currently at about 300 members in our meetup group.  We do meetups about 2-4 times a month.  And we cap our meetups at about 20 people and they’re been full for about the past 6 months.  What do you think we could do to help ensure the success of our meetup group?

J:  That’s a good question.  Is it not considered a success as is?

A:  I think he’s just a little . . . he gets worried.  *laughs*  We had an article in our local paper newspaper about it, I think that helped really spike the success of it.  I personally feel like the word of mouth has been good, I mean people are adding and adding and adding to our group. Umm . . . I don’t really know why he wanted to know that! That’s a good question.

J:  One thing we look for in our group and the groups I play with is that we’re not clique-ish.  We don’t end up excluding others just because we’re comfortable with each other. So, this might tie to his question, but the key for growth and making sure it’s sustained is making sure that people feel welcomed.  If people come many times, they continue to feel welcomed, or that new people feel welcomed to join in.  If they’re new to games or experienced with games, different types of personality types . . .

A: And I know that’s something that he’s really worked on, we . . .there’s five of us that we consider the leadership team, and we all have very different ways that we game. And I think that that has definitely helped us, like, take new people. We have a, we have our designated euro gamer. We have . . .we [Amber and Ethan] pretty much, we can float pretty much to any other kind of games. We have someone who is like our designated “new gamer” person. And then we have a family friendly, like, a 1 hour game, so the 1 hour gamer. *laughs*

E: Yeah, so we always watch for new people and make sure to have intro-level stuff, like, I know that there’s going to be people at our . . .new to our group or new to games.

A: Yeah, we actually meet in a public space. Our . . .the game store that we meet at is in a mall, and it’s split between a game store and, it’s like a sports memorabilia [store]. So we have lots of different people that wander around our tables *laughs*.

E: We did get one person that joined from just seeing us, by wandering around.

A: Yeah, so . . .awesome. I think that answered Rob’s questions. Rob wanted to ask on behalf of us: We’re still pretty new for reviewing games; we had the idea in 2015, so this is something we wanted to do for fun. We started in January 2016. We’ve got, oh, up to, I think we’re up to 40 posts now.

J: Awesome.

A: We get at least a few hits every day on the blog. What can we continue to do to be more accessible and give more exposure for our reviews?

J: That’s a good question. In terms of exposure, whenever you write a review, do you let the publisher know that you posted it?

A: We’ve been working (well, I’ve been working *laughs*) a little on trying to establish a Facebook and a Twitter presence. We do have a Facebook page. I was told by someone else who does reviews that it’s very hard to get likes on a Facebook page, just from their personal experience. Twitter seems to have been a little easier, maybe because it’s limited to the 140 characters, and it’s really easy to press the retweet button.

J: Sure.

A: But we try to, I should say.

J: Because I think one of your best assets . . .I love it when someone posts a review and sends me the link, because I’m not . . .I subscribe to a lot of blogs, and I use Mention – do you know Mention?

A: No.

J: It’s . . .if someone posts, like, the words “Stonemaier Games” on the Internet, anywhere, I get an alert from Mention telling me that someone did that. It doesn’t always work; if they misspell the name, I never see it.

A: I’m sure you get that. *laughs*

J: Yeah. Well, if they just mention “Stonemaier”, it doesn’t come up, or if they misspell it – yeah, any slight misspelling. So I love it when a reviewer will send us, “Hey, I reviewed your game.” Whether it’s good or bad, I love to hear about it. That way I can put it on my website; I can share it if I want. I don’t like when – and this might be just personal preference – but I don’t like when a reviewer reviews a game and then says, “Hey, I—“ it depends on how they ask me to post it. I think the best way is just to give me that information that it’s out there, and then let them [the publisher] do with it—

A: And do what you will, yeah.

J: Right. But some say, “Hey, I’d like you to retweet it, I’d like you to put it on Facebook, I want. . .” and I’m like, why do I have this list of, like, I just sent you a free game, or I didn’t send you a free game, and I still appreciate it, but . . .yeah, they’re commands.

A: Or they command you to send them a free game because they didn’t like your game? *laughs*

J: Yeah. So, those things definitely. Because your publishers are your biggest asset if you write a review, and really I think it’s whether it’s good or bad. I’m sure in many of your reviews you have a few good things and a few bad things to say, and publishers really—

A: Yeah, we do have pros and cons of each game, and I mean, we haven’t reviewed anything that we thought was completely terrible; every game we’ve reviewed has been in our collection, so there must have been something that we liked about it? Except for, Quantum, but that’s just my personal preference.

J: Can I tell you another thing there too?

A: Yeah!

J: On Facebook, or on Board Game Geek, I’ve found that . . .so I do a video series every week on game design; I don’t know if you’re familiar with it?

A: Yep!

J: And so, whenever I do that – and I’m not trying to market that at all, but it really, it’s just for fun. Whenever I do it, I put it on Board Game Geek, and I link the – you know, you can tag the game or the designer; I usually do that. Not necessarily for the person that published it, but for anyone who follows that game, so they can see it come up on their subscribe feed.

A: And I know we’ve done a few . . .putting our photographs on, you know, for the games, linking them [our reviews] in the Reviews section, so yeah, we’ll just need to keep on top of that a little more.

J: Yeah.

A: Yeah. So, this is something that’s coming from my heart. I’m currently waiting on a Kickstarter that’s two months behind. People have started to get their Kickstarters while we’re here at Gen Con, and the people are upset about how they’re arriving. As a consumer I’m mad about that, because I know I’m going to be going home now, and my game’s going to be destroyed. As you, who is somebody who produces Kickstarters, what should I know as the consumer that can help me ease my mind a little bit about things like that? What’s something that I should know that would maybe make me sympathize a little bit more with – when bad things are happening during a Kickstarter?

J: Ooh, that’s a good question. Sympathize with the creator?

A: Yes.

J: Do you feel like you have that expectation to sympathize with them?

A: I . . .I guess I kind of hope that I do, because the games are arriving in pretty bad shape, and I think kind of there’s a little bit of mob mentality that’s going on with this game right now, in that, like, more than half the people are getting their games destroyed.

J: That’s a lot.

A: Yeah. And, I mean . . .and the company has – it’s trying to take care of it, but it’s started to kind of be – they’re saying the same kinds of things to everybody, but not really saying any really new updates about things that are happening, and it’s . . .I think everybody’s starting to get a little frustrated. And so, me personally, I want to find a reason that – ok, this is happening and I can feel a little bit better about why this is happening.

J: Well, I can speak to that, personally, a little bit. We just delivered Scythe around the world, and we had two fulfillment companies that I had, I gave them very specific instructions on how they should pack it. And they have not followed those instructions at all, and that was a company in Australia and a company in Europe. And Europe – Australia was pretty good – but Europe was around 6000 packages they were sending out. And they were terribly packaged.

A: That’s interesting.

J: *laughs* And it’s the type of thing where, as the creator, I feel somewhat helpless, because I had given them very specific instructions; this is a company I had worked with before, and they’d done well in the past, and they just didn’t do it this time. And even throughout the process, when the first game arrived, we realized it was a problem, and we told them to fix it for everyone, for all the other games, because they don’t ship them all in one day; it took them three weeks to ship all of them. And yet, despite almost daily instructions to fix it, fix it, fix it, they didn’t. So, if you want to sympathize with the creator, you can do it for that reason. It is kind of out of their control. At the same time, it’s still our responsibility to get your game to you untarnished and perfect. And so, I don’t think we deserve the sympathy for that, if your game doesn’t . . .I consider it, even though this shipping company in Europe is the one messing up, I still consider it my responsibility. If the game is damaged . . .If it’s only got a dent on the corner, ideally I would just give them a partial reimbursement, a partial refund. If it’s mangled, or the box is unusable, or there’s a big dent, then we have the customer send it back to the fulfillment center, and the fulfiullment center sends them a better-packaged, mint condition . . .So it’s my responsibility to manage that communication, make them feel secure. So I try to be very active on social media to make sure – social media and personal e-mails – to make sure customers know that I’m there helping out the facility, and so if a creator’s not doing that I don’t think they deserve your sympathy.

A: Interesting.

J: Because even if it’s out of their control, they can try to be there for backers, to show they’re doing something. So I can’t speak to this issue you’re having, if that deserves your sympathy or not, but it’s nice of you to be compassionate towards creators. But you give them money for something, than you want it in perfect condition.

A: The wait has been killing me. *laughs*

J: Yeah, I’d bet.

A: Especially when they sell it at Gen Con.

E: And at UK Expo.

A: And at UK Expo, months before it was even . . .but nevermind. Ok, so, at a panel that Ethan attended on Thursday, Rodney from Watch it Played suggested that when referring to people who troll or make mean comments . . .That, remember there’s always a person behind the computer and kindness is always the answer. I’ve seen you personally respond to some people who were not very kind, and took it a little bit further than that, I would say. What is your process to, like, deal with people like that?

J: My process is probably a little different from Rodney’s, but I love that mentality that he expressed, and I. . .

A: It’s ‘cause he’s Canadian. *laughs*

J: Yeah. My process differs. Depending on the day that I’m having, and ideally regardless of my mood I would treat someone with respect and kindness, and try to put myself in their shoes. Some days it’s easier to do that than others, especially if it’s a lot of things like that. For me, I draw the line if someone is really insulting or bringing . . .They’re just trying to disrupt and hate. And I . . .whether it’s against a game, or against a person, or against all the other backers . . .That I don’t have much patience for. I understand that it’s still a person behind the computer, and face-to-face at Gen Con we’d probably have a very different interaction. But I don’t think that’s an excuse for spreading hate in any form. And so that’s kind of where I have a hard time drawing, or where I do draw that line, and I don’t have a hard time removing them from the Facebook group, or removing them from our e-newsletter. But what I’ve struggled with, and what I think is great about that message that you said with Rodney is that, sometimes it’s not a message of hate. Sometimes it’s an expression of passion that comes out in an ineffective way, and so I try as hard as possible to differentiate the two, and to create a connection with those people, and maybe give them a chance to say it in a different way; have them be more constructive, so that they can benefit the conversation and be a part of that conversation. But it’s hard sometimes. Have you seen that on your blog; have you had trolls?

A: We actually released a survey, and this is the only time we’ve ever received this, and like I said, most of the people who read our blog are out friends, so I know they would support things a little more kindly. But we posted a survey on what people think that we should review next, and that’s something that I really – I want to be able to review things that people are interested in. And we got, we had an option at the bottom to write, you know, something in. And somebody wrote, “Maybe you should just stop.” That’s like, oh, and I think I took a day . . .And it was anonymous, so I mean, there’s nothing really I could do about it. So I kind of just had to stew about it, and say why would somebody say things like that? It’s the Internet, I mean . . .people are going to do things like that, but that’s . . .I kind of remember that’s not why we’re doing it, you know what I mean? We started it because it’s fun, we started it because we want to do it for our friends who know we have a 300 game collection and want to know which ones to pick, you know what I mean? So I guess that helped a little.

J: So did you leave the comment?

A: No, I kind of just let it be. I didn’t even acknowledge it, because we had posted it in our friends group, but we had also posted it on the BGG Facebook group, so it wasn’t worth my time.

J: That’s a good way to . . .yeah.

A: It wasn’t worth my time.

J: But I can understand that’s tough to read. It doesn’t move the conversation forward in any way. I’m sorry someone wrote that.

A: No, it’s ok. It’s over; we’re over it.

E: Unless it was you.

A: “Jamey wrote something nasty. . .” No, I’m just kidding. What is your starting player color?

J: I’m always . . . I like to be red.

A: Oooh. *laughs* We have a friend that’s always red. What do you do to relax?

J: To relax? The main thing I do, I play soccer, which I love to play pickup soccer. And then every night, my thing to turn off my brain so I can actually fall asleep is to read fiction. I love, especially sci-fi and fantasy fiction, but all types of fiction. And that’s able to, like, switch off my work brain, because I basically . . .I wake up and start working. I work from home, and so I’m at my office in two seconds, and then I work all the way through until about midnight when I go to bed, and so just switching off a little bit and just reading is . . .That relaxes me.

A: Perfect, and that kind of tied into our last question so I don’t have any other questions, [to Ethan] do you have any other questions?

E: No, I don’t think so.

A: No, I think we covered everything that we frantically added in at the end of this, so I just wanted to say thank you again. This has been a lot of fun. You’re the first person that we’ve actually been able to interview in person, so this is really exciting.

Jamey was a great first interview for us, I hope you enjoyed our question and answer session!  We hope to get to speak with him again at other Cons.


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