Four friends recently launched a project called FreeStarter. Why? To give away free games and thank the awesome board game community for being awesome. We also wanted to help you get to know us better. This is the first of four interviews, one with each of us. Today? We’re talking to AJ Porfirio of Van Ryder Games. Me (Grant Rodiek), Matt Worden, and Chevee Dodd are also in the conversation.
To learn about the contest, click here! To enter, send an email to , tell us which contest you want, and follow us on Twitter!
Grant: Tell us about yourself. Why should we care, at all, who you are?
AJ: I’m really just someone who loves games. Board games to be exact. I got into design, which got me into publishing, and now I publish my own and others’ games under the label of Van Ryder Games.
Matt: But … we want to learn about *you* … like: wife/girlfriend/boyfriend, kids, pets, favorite song/book/movie, just how into My Little Pony and Twilight are you, approximately (or exactly) how tall are you, do you prefer to cook in the French or Southern BBQ styles, etc.? Or, you know, you can just talk about game stuff I suppose.
AJ: There goes Matt getting all personal. Well, I have a wife and 3 kids – All boys! They are great! I’m not a BBQ guy, I am a Cajun guy. Give me a crawfish boil any day of the week!
Grant: What are some of your current favorite games?
AJ: I’m going to be a little cheesy here and say “The next one!” I just love variety and I love playing new games. I am a firm believer that playing fresh titles only helps me as a designer as well. I think we as an industry are uber critical of ourselves and the quality of products we put out there. In the end we are talking about games, sometimes we need to step back and remind ourselves that the goal of any gaming experience is to have fun! Some games that have been the most fun for me of late are: Tales of the Arabian Nights and Descent 2nd edition. Betrayal at House on the Hill and Spartacus will probably always be on my favorites list.
Grant: Tell us about the two games you’re giving away for the FreeStarter Group Hug.
AJ: If I’m Going Down is for 1-2 players and really fills an under-served niche theme that no one seems to design games for: Zombies! Ok, Ok, so it is kind of the opposite. But IIGD (as we like to call it when typing – it is clunky to say though) is different from all those other Zombie games because it isn’t about survival. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. It is all about how many zombies are you going to take down with you when you go. Solo players and/or Zombie lovers will get the most bang for their buck from IIGD. It is a thematic marvel of a game and if you don’t feel the theme you just might be a Zombie.
Tessen is a design by the creative duo behind Cardboard Edison, a blog that is all about sharing game design insight and resources from all over the internet. Tessen is a Japanese themed card game that is played by 2 players in real time. Players try to gather sets of animals and optimize the use of Samurai warriors to capture the animals of their opponent or prevent their own from being taken! I discovered Tessen at UnPub 3 in January and it was the highlight of the con for me not only to play, but to see the reaction of others and how much fun they were having.
Grant: My co-worker and I play Tessen to settle disputes at work. I’m pretty bad at the game and therefore, I’m rarely right. It makes me sad. You ran a Kickstarter for IIGD, right? How did that go?
AJ: It seems like such a long time ago… fall of 2011. Kickstarter has come a long way since then. For me the project went well, the game was funded, and the feedback has been pretty good. For my first publishing effort, I would consider it a success. There is definitely room to improve and I am excited about the prospects of bringing Tessen to Kickstarter in the near future and taking it to a whole new level!
Matt: A quick aside for those reading this. If you have not read AJ’s posts on BGG from when he was going through the IIGD KS experience, you should go back and do so. They were very open and honest and a great source of information on one particular small publisher’s experience. Because they are from back when using KS for board games was just starting to become popular, it’s interesting to see how quickly things have evolved over the past 2 years.
AJ: Oh great, now I have to remind people how horrible I have been at keeping up with that blog. You are right about things changing! Much of this I believe is still relevant, but some probably isn’t. Click here to see the blog.
Grant: Are you working on anything else we should know about?
AJ: Yeah, a little solo game called Hostage Negotiator. HN is a pure solo game that I am marketing as a gateway to solo. I am confident that serial solo players will enjoy Hostage Negotiator, but I feel very strongly that it will open the minds of some who scoff at solo board gaming to see that playing solitaire can be a challenging and entertaining experience.
Grant: You seem to really like dice and have said things like “embrace random” on Twitter. Why?
AJ: I think more than dice specifically, what I like is the “unknown”, or not knowing what is going to happen next. Dice are great at creating long odd occurrences from happening just often enough to throw a wrench into your (or somebody else’s plan). When I play European style games I generally feel like I know who is going to win halfway or two thirds of the way through the game. Sure, I am wrong sometimes, but usually my sense of the endgame is correct. That’s fine, but I just enjoy uncertainty which makes for more epic stories and memories in my opinion.
Chevee: Because dice are like cards that don’t need to be shuffled! Woot!
Matt: AND dice feel, sound, and smell great! If you haven’t smelled your dice lately, go ahead and do so now … We’ll wait.
Grant: How did you get started in the board game community?
AJ: You know I have always been into gaming, but I never knew such a fantastic community was out there. I grew up on D&D, Magic: The Gathering, Talisman, etc. so I have been gaming for awhile. But, since beginning to design games and realizing the world that was out there beyond just the local game shops, I have really jumped in head first and immersed myself.
Chevee: Oh snap! Talisman!? Shall I bring all my 2nd Edition stuff to GenCon for a night of nostalgic awesomeness!?
AJ: I sure won’t say no to that!
Grant: Please no?
AJ: It’s ok, we’ll just grab Cole.
Grant: Do you have any recommendations for folks just getting started with design or publication?
AJ: SLOW DOWN. When you have that first idea you think “Gosh I am brilliant! This is going to be easy. I will be a millionaire sensation!” The sooner designers realize this thing ain’t (yeah I’m from the south) so easy, the better off they will be. Don’t feel like you have to get a game out the door in a month. Learn HOW to design, be a sponge. Take in as much as you can from those that have been there and done that. And finally… Playtest your game until YOU hate it, but most everyone else that plays it loves it.
Matt: I can see where at least one of our interviews will stray down a different path now.
Grant: Chevee hates every game he makes from day 1. And Matt seems to love every game I make from day 1. Then Matt copies it.
Chevee: To be fair, my games are terrible. Not even sure why I’m included on this list.
Matt: It is true that I love just about everything right out of the gate — including Chevee’s terrible games. Pretty sure I’ve never copied anyone’s stuff, especially Grant’s. Of course, there have been the cases where I’ve pre-designed it before you did, so … yeah.
Grant: Like Magistrate of York? Do you have any good stories or memories you’ve gained from hanging out with the board game community?
AJ: Man, just getting to meet everyone in person last year at Gencon was incredible. I especially bonded with my partners here that are part of this contest! I can’t wait to see everyone again and meet some more new faces. And it may sound cheesy, but I feel like I get a bit of that on Twitter everyday, which is incredible. If you are a designer and you are not on Twitter I highly recommend joining us there!
Obligatory Promotional Section: Keep in touch with AJ and Van Ryder Games!
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