FreeStarter Interviews Matt Worden
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 third of four interviews, one with each of us. Today? We're talking to Matt Worden. Me (Grant Rodiek), Chevee Dodd, and AJ Porfirio are also in the conversation.
Chevee: Tell us about yourself, Matt. Let the readers in on the life of The Beast.
Matt: I’m a pretty typical upper-midwestern, suburban dad. I’m a business systems analyst for a day job, and design games (and do other creative outlets, like writing and music) during my freetime. I’ll have been married to my high school sweetie for 20 years this August, and we have 2 kids and 2 cats. I love to get out in nature -- camping, canoeing, fishing, etc. -- and will play or watch just about any sport or game that is going on. I also do some volunteer work via my church, focusing on youth.
Grant: All hail The Beast!
Matt: You know that I find this nickname that you and Chevee gave me to be pretty funny. And that’s probably why it’ll stick long-term now. Back in high school, my basketball coach gave me the nickname “Brick” due to my sweet, sweet hoops “skills” … still have a few old-time buddies that will call me that. But really only 2 people that call me “The Beast”. ;-p
Chevee: “Probably stick long-term?” Did you think we were just going to drop it!? Silly man.
AJ: I am... speechless.
Chevee: It happens in the presence of The Beast. You’ll get used to it.
Chevee: Did you grow up gaming? Have you always gamed? When did you become a true “gamer”?
Matt: I grew up in a playful family. Lots of traditional games, especially card games like cribbage, canasta, and sheepshead. Cribbage and sheepshead are still some of my favorite all-time games and I’d like to get back to remembering how to play canasta again sometime. Whenever we had family gatherings, there was always a table of card-players, or Clue or Monopoly, or Yahtzee out on a table somewhere. My brothers and I were both really into sports too. Softball or football out in the yard was pretty commonplace growing up. The extended family still gets into a serious basketball game in mom’s driveway at gatherings now-adays.
I have a brother that is a few years older than me, and we played a lot of different games growing up. Early on, we played a very informal version of miniatures wargaming, as in setting up the GI Joe guys and throwing things at them. But, as we got into our teens, we played more serious games. We put a lot of hours into APBA Baseball during those years.
I didn’t really realize what was out there for good modern board games until just the past 10 years or so. I still have not played much of anything yet (compared to most folks into hobby gaming). But, I’m always willing to try things out.
Chevee: You like everything, so asking about your favorite games is dull... what games do you NOT enjoy and why?
Grant: You’re going to break Matt’s programming with questions like this.
Chevee: But, I’m honestly curious. I’ve never heard Matt say he didn’t like a game! And I don’t want some lame “it’s not for me” answer. I want some real, backhanded bashing here Matt.
AJ: There goes Chevee trying to start fires... man you are still taking that “add some explosions” suggestion I made last year at Gencon WAY too seriously.
Matt: I think you see my positivity around newborn creative projects as “liking everything” … really, I just love the creative process and enjoy seeing the new ideas that come out of it. I’m seeing potential … and have no reason to bash that ever.
I don’t love all existing/finished things. I don’t like games where I have to read a lot of stuff on a card to figure out what rules that particular card is adding/changing/breaking … therefore, I haven’t made it very far into any traditional CCG-style game. Also, games that have so much going on in them that it muddies-up the view between a player’s choices/actions and the targeted end results …I play by intuitive feel (and maybe a little strategic planning, but not much), so I need to be able to quickly sense how what I am able to do will impact my outcome or someone else’s outcome.
Oh! Let me have a range of options of actions. Please don’t constrict me too much, and allow me to choose how I balance between building up my stuff and tearing down (or, at least, interfering) with other players. Which means, I like to have the ability to directly influence other players’ stuff. Haven’t found a deck-builder I like yet either. Sorry, deck-builder folks.
Games I didn’t enjoy playing (actually naming names): 7 Wonders, San Juan, Catan: Card Game, Finca, silly poker variants with wildcards and special combinations. I only watched people play Seasons. It’s beautiful and has some interesting things going on in it, but it presses at least 3 of my bad buttons.
AJ: Man, you hate everything!
Chevee: I know right!? What a jerk!
Matt: Did you want me to tell you about the things I love in games? I’ll sum-up: take out the stuff I listed above and I love everything else. :-p
Grant: I agree on Seasons. Can’t stand it now -- it pushes a lot of my bad buttons as well. I must say, Matt’s support was really helpful creating York. Having him push and encourage me early on really helped.
Chevee: I think we are all on board with Seasons. I am not a fan. It’s playable with two, but there are other games I’d rather play if it’s two-player night.
Grant: Summoner Wars, X-Wing, Fleet Captains, Dragonheart, Conflict of Heroes, Memoir ‘44, Mr. Jack...
AJ: I won’t pile on further other than to say I agree regarding Seasons.
Chevee: Tell us about the two games you’re giving away for the FreeStarter Group Hug.
Matt: Space Mission is a beautifully rendered, simplified version of my game Jump Gate. It was published by Schmidt Spiele in Europe and has everything in it you would expect from a good German company like that -- good components, wonderful artwork, clean rules in 5 languages, etc. It’s a lighter game that works well as a gateway game when playing with non-core gamers, and can serve as a filler for experienced gamers. There’s hand management, action selection, and set collection inside of a space exploration theme. And it has 3D miniature spaceships.
Dicey Curves is a family/party-style dice-rolling racing game. You build the track from randomly-drawn cards as you race. You roll dice and try to make Yahtzee-style combinations from them, which allow you to move your car down the track and through the curves. There are also control chips that let you adjust the dice a bit, so it isn’t 100% random results. Very fun and simple: Roll ‘em and Race ‘em!
AJ: As a proud owner, let me say that Space Mission is a beautiful production. The winner of the serious game package will really be getting a gem of a game in Space Mission.
Grant: Honestly I want to steal this version of the game, which I don’t have, and send something random off my shelf instead.
Matt: And, um, Dicey Curves is okay too, right? Right? Uh, Guys?
Chevee: You self-published Jump Gate (the predecessor to Space Mission) before Kickstarter was a thing. How did that work out for you and what spurred that decision? Would you have used Kickstarter if it were available?
Matt: There’s a lot going on with that question. First, I’ll answer strictly financially, since that’s easy to measure: we broke even. We put way-too-much money on a credit card to get all of the materials needed, then overestimated my ability/willingness/time-allowed to do that hand assembly. But in the end, a little over a year later, we were able to pay off the credit card. And I still have a lot of materials sitting in my basement. Now that it’s a 2-year-old, lighter, indie-produced hobby market game, demand has dropped to nearly zero. I don’t expect that I will self-produce another game in this same manner.
Now, with the business side out of the way, I will say this: I gained *so much* from this experience beyond the money stuff. The support I received from my family (especially my wife, who is awesome) and friends and the game community at-large has been amazing and a real blessing to me. And, it opened a ton of doors that I didn’t even know existed before it all came about. I owe a lot of thanks to the board game reviewing staff at GAMES Magazine, especially John McCallion, the editor in that area -- that’s what got the whole thing rolling and kicked off the chain of events that lead to Space Mission happening.
I probably would have used Kickstarter at the time if it had been something I knew about, but that would have only changed the financial part of things. I do not expect that I will try to use Kickstarter on my own for one of my games. Though, I am open to partnering with someone who knows how to use it successfully and has a good way to doing fulfillment … those are the areas I like the least in this whole process.
Chevee: I know we both spend a fair amount of time on thegamecrafter.com trying to make our work available. How has that community treated you and do you have any advice for people looking to use thegamecrafter.com?
Matt: The TGC community is really great and has treated me very well and I hope others would say that I have treated them well and been helpful to them there too. That’s really the only way that sort of community can work and become the positive thing it is. My advice would be to purposefully engage with the community via the forums and, especially, the always-on web chat that TGC hosts. Ask questions, talk about what you’re working on, let your sense of humor show, etc. Also, make sure to engage with the TGC staff. They are really easy to work with and are focused on making the site a success. Others there could probably give better advice than I could about the technical aspects of using TGC to produce prototypes or shop-sold games. Don’t be shy -- ask them questions about what you’re trying to do.
Chevee: Yeah, I just like hanging out in the chat. I enjoy talking about game design and I feel like it is a great forum to help others... and get help... about all aspects of the design process.
AJ: It really is a good resource for bouncing ideas around.
Grant: In general, it’s good advice to ask people for help in this business, whether you’re a designer, publisher, or even just want to start a blog. I’ve sent a lot of weird emails to people and most of them get a response. If you ever have a question, ask someone.
Chevee: What are you currently working on?
Matt: As you guys know, I always have too many irons in the fire. For board game projects, I’ll make a quick list:
Jump Gate, 3rd Edition: This will be a small-box edition with some rules tweaks, available only via TheGameCrafter.com. Should be out this summer.
Thunder Run to Gratis-3: This will be my entry in the miniatures game design contest running at TGC through June. It’s a trashy pummel-your-neighbor dicefest: “Thunder Road INNNNN SPPPAACCCEEE” set in the Jump Gate background story.
Magistrate: The monster of a game that I’ve been working on forever. An area control game with 3 different areas to control without the ability to focus on them all at the same time.
For Goods and Honor: An odd chit-pulling, bidding, negotiating, worker placement, resource production game that I introduced at Protospiel-Milwaukee in March
SharkBait: A simple round-the-table family dice game where you are trying to keep fish from being eaten by sharks
Cosmic Critters: A family card game about selling pets from outer space. It has a neat little multi-hidden-bidding mechanic at the core
Dicey Curves: Secret: Mix what I have so far with Dicey Curves with the old arcade game “Spy Hunter." It’s currently a big mess
Dicey Curves Deluxe: Re-forming the existing Dicey Curves + the DANGER! expansion into a full-sized box with hex tiles and tweaked dice-control rules.
Colonies of the Jump Gate: A bigger sequel to Jump Gate. I had an early version of it at GenCon last year. It needs a lot of work and is currently percolating on the back burner
I won’t list the games that are only ideas at this point … I’d need to use another dozen bullets there. And lately my interest has been re-piqued in the area of writing PC games and doing some longer-form fiction writing. And, apparently, I’ve taken up wood-working as a new thing now too. ;-p
Grant: I look forward to your fiction! You know, you can help me write stories for Blockade...or even just send me plot points. Can you bring Colonies to GenCon? I also want to play the updated Magistrate. You did update it, right?
Chevee: Why do I not own For Goods and Honor yet!? I want that game!!!
AJ: Come on Matt, FINISH SOMETHING already! (subtle foreshadowing)
Matt: Yeah … not all that subtle.
Chevee: People tend to like advice. Do you have any for new designers or people considering self publication?
Matt: Yeah, I’ll give 2 pieces of advice: (1) Talk with Folks, and (2) Finish Something.
Talk with Folks: I’ve found that I’ve improved what I’m working on at a much faster pace and with higher quality improvements the more I’ve been open with people about what I’m working on. I’ve re-learned this point over any over. Initially when first getting involved with the BGDF website, then with Protospiel, then with the community at TheGameCrafter, and now with all of the designers and gamers I’ve gotten to know via Twitter and Facebook and from visiting cons. The more open I’ve been -- both in discussing what I had going on AND in honestly listening to the feedback -- the more I’ve learned and improved my habits and my design. I also like to hear what other people have going on and get into those “talkin’ shop” sort of discussions on the topic.
So, get out on the web, go to cons, go to designer get-together events, etc., and talk with folks.
Finish Something: I think it’s important to finish something end-to-end as a way to simply prove to yourself that you can do it. As creative/design folks, it can be easy to get caught in the spin-cycle of tweak-and-test-and-think-and-change … but there needs to be a point where an individual thing that you’ve created has to come to a resting point. Then get on with another thing. Learning that you have much more ‘’in the tank” is another lesson that comes from this.
This is the area where I think I’ve been different than the other 3 guys in this cabal … I get a lot of things spinning in parallel, and I work to get them finished off and “out there” in a faster cycle. Not sure this is a great long-term or all-the-time type of strategy, but it’s something I need to do as a way to prove things out and -- in an odd way -- to sort through the ideas in my head.
So, I offer up “finish something” as a counterweight advice to the majority behavior of “you can never test too much” and “keep refining it until it’s perfect” … you obviously need to find a good balance between those things.
Chevee: I agree completely with “finish something.” It is very simple to start things... and get bored with it and start something else... or tell yourself it’s not what you want and keep hacking at it... but once you have that Finished Something under your belt, it becomes much easier to move forward with other ideas.
AJ: Great advice. I think there some designers out there that never get to a real end state with any of their designs and it is a real shame. At some point you have to stop tweaking and get it out in the wild!
Grant: Ideas are cheap. But making a fun game? That’s the key. You can hypothesize all day but it’s so key to really make something.
Chevee: Share something awesome about the gaming community with us.
Matt: To me, the community of gamers and designers in this hobby are what’s kept me working on board games. The games are cool too, but I don’t get a lot of opportunity to actually just sit and play. But, thanks to websites and social media, I can interact with cool people who are into this same thing I am on a daily basis. It was AJ, on the TGC chat about a year-and-a-half ago, that suggested I should think about using Twitter, which lead me to get to know you guys.
Getting to the in-person events is really where it’s at though. Meeting you guys for the first time in-person at GenCon last year is a great example. Same thing for when I met Cyrus Kirby and Jeff King for the first time in-person at Con of the North in St. Paul a couple years ago, and David Whitcher, Clark Rodeffer, and everyone involved at the Ann Arbor Protospiel a couple years before that.
These are all really good people that you can learn a ton from, and have a really enjoyable time while you do it.
AJ: Pshhhhh. Name dropper.
Matt: I do drop names … I also buy people beer. It makes me feel special.
Chevee: Good beer too! Not the swill I was begging people to drink at ProtoSpiel.
Grant: Shameful of you to have spent so much on Pabst.
Obligatory Promotional Section