I got to talk to Jamey Stegmaier about the Stonemaier Games upcoming release, Scythe. The transcription of the interview is below and you can always subscribe to iTunes and listen to the podcast there. In addition to talking about Scythe and the hype engine that surrounds the game, I also ask Jamey a few unusual questions, which serve as the beginning of a, hopefully ongoing, segment I like to call “Inside the Designer Studio” or something like that. The name is a work in progress. Lots of laughs were had. After seeing the amazing miniatures for Scythe, I cannot wait for this game to launch on Kickstarter.
RICHARD: This is Richard Miles with Board Games Authority and today I have the privilege of talking with…
JAMEY: Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier games.
RICHARD: Hi Jamey, thank you for agreeing to be on the show today and taking some time out of your day.
JAMEY: I think the last time we chatted was at Gen Con, when we had a good time just hanging out in the demo room that we have there.
RICHARD: Yeah, yeah, those were good times. For me, Gen Con is just such a big, awesome, experience. It was my first time so I was just overwhelmed and blown away by just how much of an awesome convention that was.
JAMEY: Yeah, yeah, that was my second Gen Con and the first year I just walked around for four days just kind of overwhelmed and trying to figure out how I could fit my little company into that giant entity that is Gen Con.
RICHARD: Alright, well, let’s jump into some Stonemaier Games news. In 2015 it seems like we will see at least two games from Stonemaier games. We’ll see ‘Between Two Cities’ and ‘Scythe’. Let’s talk about Scythe first, if you don’t mind, because that game has received a lot of, a lot of hype for the limited information that has been released on it.
Most of the hype has been completely positive that I’ve seen. It’s been overwhelmingly positive and, I think, rightly so, but there has been a few negatives that I’ve heard. And a lot of it has to do with the hype. It has to do with: it has too much hype for too little information and it’s just a hype engine. It’s just running on your past success and an image, a good looking image, a great looking image, but that’s it. There’s no meat. How do you take that kind of, I don’t know if that’s a criticism, but how do you take that? You know, does that put a dampener on your day and what do you do about that?
JAMEY: Well, I think hype, hype is an interesting thing because I’ve heard that term thrown out, definitely with Scythe, and even with previous games. And what hype, to me is, is it’s a lot of people being excited about something, and then it’s some people who end up getting that thing, and they end up being either not as excited about it as they were like a few months before that, or they’re not as excited, or they don’t end up liking it as much as people seem to be excited about it. Like, hype in its essence is kind of an empty thing. I guess, it’s just people being excited about something. Right?
JAMEY: Well, most hype is, I think, I mean, the other type of hype that, I think is, can be misused, is a company or an individual hyping their own thing and saying, “This thing is awesome, you should be excited about it.” And, I think, that’s a key difference here because with Scythe I, yeah, I basically put out a press release with an image and I talked a little bit about the game, but I made sure that people knew, in that press release, and on BoardGameGeek and everywhere I could, that the game was in very early development.
So, this wasn’t really a case of me going out there and saying, “Hey, this thing is awesome, you, everyone should be so excited about this thing.” It was more like, I put this little thing out there and people got really excited about it and I kind of love that. I mean, I like that people were willing to get excited about something that was in a very early stage of development because it’s fun to get excited about stuff. Like when we saw that Star Wars trailer, you know, a month or so ago. We saw what? Thirty seconds of movie.
JAMEY: But it was fun to get excited about it and then every once in a while you’d see, I don’t know how you reacted to it, but I would look on Facebook and see these threads about you being really excited about it and on every one of those threads there was, at least, one person that chimed in and was like, “Oh, well, we haven’t even seen anything. Why should we be excited about it?”
JAMEY: And my reaction was always like, “Who cares?” Just like, just be excited about something because it’s awesome. There was a Reddit thread about Scythe, where I probably saw the most scathing criticisms of me putting any information out there about it and it was a criticism about me pitching the game as an Agricola meets Kemet. Are you aware of that thread or any of those criticism?
RICHARD: Yes, yes.
JAMEY: Yeah, a few of the people on this thread and I basically, I rarely go to Reddit because people can get really mean on Reddit but I did visit this thread and there are some people who were just really, really, mad. They seemed angry that I would compare a game that really barely even existed yet to two great games.
They seem to think that it was irresponsible of me to do that and that absolutely they’re entitled to their opinions but, I guess, I think, maybe, they took it a little bit too far because I wasn’t saying, “This game is literally Agricola, and it’s literally Kemet, and it’s literally me combining them together.” There’s me making kind of a pitch for a game, it’s like, it’s how we talk about movies again. Like when people pitch movies they say, you know, “This is Die Hard Meets”, you know, “The Incredibles.”
And it doesn’t mean the movie is, literally, like Bruce Willis fighting against the superhero family. Right? It means that there’s like the essence of Die Hard is meeting the essence of The Incredibles and mashing together into its own unique thing. It gives people a frame of reference so they can decide whether or not it’s like the type of thing that they should even consider getting excited about.
So, I mean, I hear their opinions, I hear that criticism and I certainly did not mean to mislead anyone but, I think maybe, I mean this was where I was a little surprised by the hype engine that became, that started up because people really did get entangled in it when I kind of would hope that, maybe they would wait for a little bit more information.
RICHARD: Right, so for me, and I know a lot of people probably fall in the same boat, is that we were exposed to the art.
JAMEY: Um hum.
RICHARD: Prior to it being centered around a game.
RICHARD: The art was released, I forget what forum or thread that it was in that I first saw it, but it was out there. I discovered the art, I’m sure around the same time you and a bunch of the internet community did and it was this really unique, there are Mechs in the 1920’s or whatever. That was cool, and that is a really cool kind of aspect. And so, that, for a lot of people, that’s what drew them in and that’s what made them say, “Wow, this is going to be something awesome.” Just that concept struck a chord…
JAMEY: Yeah, that was my same, that was my exact reaction and as a designer and a publisher fortunately I had the ability to reach out to that artist and say, “Hey, like, I can imagine a game in this world. Like I’ve been thinking about it and I can imagine it. Would you be interested in letting me make a board game in this world that you’re creating”.
And I think that’s kind of a key part of this whole thing because it’s not like a world that he had already created. It’s a world that he was in the process of creating, and it wasn’t like a game that I had already created and I wanted to slap his world, his theme onto that game. It’s that I saw this art and I could imagine a game in that world and I started brainstorming it, and thinking about it, and I pitched the game to this, to this artist.
I said, “This is the game that I want to make in this world. Are you up for it? Are you up for being a part of this?” And part of that meant that he would have to evolve the world a little bit for the game. For example, in his original world it was essentially an alternate history version of Poland against an alternate version history version of Russia.
And I said, “I wasn’t really interested in making a two player game. I completely respect you if you just, if you want this world to just be about those two entities and I’ll walk away from it, or we can make a game that’s four or five players, has four or five different countries, or factions that are involved in it. Are you interested in doing that?”
And he was all about it. Like he was fully, he fully embraced that idea. So that’s kind of how the behind the scenes collaborative process worked between me and the artist and I really enjoyed it. I doubt, I don’t know if Jacob will listen to this but, and he is a lot of fun to work with, and he’s extremely creative, and talented, as you can see.
RICHARD: Yeah, yeah, no, that’s really cool. I was very curious as to what came first. You seeing the images or having the idea in your head and finding the images and saying, “Oh, wow, these would be great,” but you’re saying you saw the artwork and from that the idea was born that “I need to make a game kind of set in this world. This would be great for a game setting.”
JAMEY: Yeah, and the thing that really stood out to me, is that so many of these images have those like farmers and villagers either interacting with the Mechs and the soldiers or just kind of co-existing with them. And it just triggered something, to me, that that’s what war, especially in that time period, was all about. Like the soldiers relied heavily on the farmers to feed them and the villagers and the farmers relied on the soldiers to protect them.
And I don’t think there are many games, I can’t specifically think of a game, I’m sure one exists, that is really all about that interaction between the two and the dependence on the two. And that’s what really got me thinking and got me inspired, and kind of centered me in the world of Euro-games that I’m very familiar with as a gamer, and a designer, and may be excited about tapping into some of the Ameritrash elements that I haven’t incorporated into my games up until this point.
RICHARD: In the releasing of that press release you did that without a kickstarter launch date. For new project creators when would you suggest releasing some type of information to the general public about what’s going on? Do you think that a firm date, “This is going out March 15th” or whatever, is that necessary or can you kind of stair-step it along the way? What’s the best way from your perspective to release that information?
JAMEY: Yeah, that’s a great question. I wrote a blog post about like Scythe and Hype, and I think a few people commented on that blog post regarding that. For the most part, I think it’s a really good idea to announce the release date along with something big and exciting like a piece of art or the name of the game and things like that. Or, at least, pretty close to the release date. Like when I originally announced that we were making ‘Between Two Cities’ I didn’t have an exact day that we were launching the Kickstarter, but I think I said early 2015 at that point.
RICHARD: Right, yep.
JAMEY: Maybe, I said February 25th so it’s like pretty exact. With Scythe, because it’s in such early development, like I don’t really know the date. I’ve said sometime in 2015 and, as you said, some people kind of struggle with that and they, some people offered me some constructive criticism as a publisher asking like, “Why would I create all this excitement about something that people can’t immediately go support.”
RICHARD: Exactly, exactly. So, that is what I wanted to hit on. For timing, for board games, for Kickstarter specifically, at least a lot of people they believe that there is a timing mechanism involved. We don’t want people to forget about our game.
JAMEY: Right, and I think that’s a valid piece of constructive criticism and I might look back in a year and wonder like, “What was I thinking?” But for Scythe in particular because, I guess, this is my reason behind it, I don’t know if it was correct, but my reasoning was that Jacob is working on creating this world and a big part of that is him creating art for the world.
So, a couple times a week he’ll send me a new piece of art and that helps me with my design, and it helps him like figure out the direction for the world because I might come back to him and say, “You know, this doesn’t quite fit or can we make this wolf bigger, or this uniform more unique from another faction. And I wanted, I thought this was kind of a unique opportunity to include other people in that process. Not in that I really want other people giving us input along the way because it’s not a world that I’m building with 100 other people, it’s one that I’m building with Jacob specifically. But I just thought it would be cool.
RICHARD: You were excited; you wanted to share that.
RICHARD: It’s hard to contain when you are passionate and excited, it’s hard to contain that and not share it.
JAMEY: I think part of it though is that I wanted, I wanted to give people the opportunity to join us in that journey along the way.
Like usually especially with Kickstarter it’s a very concentrated amount of time when you’re excited about something, and then you wait seven months, and you’re all excited about it again when you get it. And with Scythe I kind of just wanted like, I think, when we, whenever we launch this on kickstarter, say it’s in October. People who have been along with us throughout that process, they’ll have like something to look back upon where like they remember that first piece of art, and they remember the first time they saw the wolf, or remember the first they saw like this scene, and then when the Kickstarter comes out they’ll see all that art in the actual game. Like in, on the player mats, and on the cards and whatnot, and they’ll have this… I’m hoping, that’s kind of my hope that it’ll have some sort of sense of a journey, a story that people are involved with. But we’ll see. I mean, this is all, I mean, this is very new for me to try, Richard. So we’ll see if it works.
RICHARD: A follow-up to the timing aspect is BoardGameGeek. When do you recommend for new project creators to have their BoardGameGeek page set up for these new projects that may not have firm dates, they may not have the artwork, they may not have, you know, the rules aren’t ironed out. When should they claim that BoardGameGeek page?
JAMEY: Well, and opinions will very vastly on this, but my personal opinion is that once you know the name of the game, for sure, I like to claim it on BoardGameGeek. Yeah, BoardGameGeek requires you to have like, an actual description of the game for you to do that but, I guess I’m always worried that someone else will take the name. And even if they do that you can still claim the name again, like they’re games with the same names on BookingGeek but I like to claim that name right away and then when you have a cover image for it you can plop that down there as well.
RICHARD: Alright, so, here are some inside the designer studio questions.
JAMEY: *Laughs* Are you going to ask my favorite curse word?
RICHARD: I, well, the first question is, “What is your favorite sound?”
JAMEY: My favorite sound? Oh, I mean I have different answers for different times. You know, well, I’ll throw out one, and I have many favorite sounds, but I love the sound of popcorn popping.
RICHARD: Okay, nice. Another acceptable answer would have been: The clink of the metal coin from Tuscany.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
JAMEY: Star Wars. I’m a big Star Wars fan. I do like JJ Abrams’ take on Star Trek though so I’m excited to see what he does with Star Wars.
RICHARD: Star Wars is the correct answer.
JAMEY: So there are correct answers? *laughs*
RICHARD: Yes *laughs* there are.
Marvel or DC?
RICHARD: Again, correct. *laughs*
You’re favorite hobby other than board gaming?
JAMEY: My favorite hobby other… I am a very, very, avid reader of fiction, specifically like speculative fiction, like fantasy and sci-fi, so, that would be my other hobby. What’s the right answer, Richard?
RICHARD: That is acceptable, that was one of the top five, yes. *laughs* Are you currently reading a series?
JAMEY: I’m currently reading two books. I’m really focused on one but I’ll go back to the other one. So, the one I’m reading right now is The Leviathan Series. It’s a series that I’ve learned about after talking about Scythe because it’s set in a world kind of similar to Scythe with Mechs and, I think it’s late 1800’s instead of 1920’s but someone recommended it based on the art. So, I’ve been enjoying that. And the other one is a book called, ‘One’, it’s a sci-fi book.
RICHARD: Next question. When robots rise up against humanity and take over, will you serve them, living adequately enough with no real hardships, save for a lack of freedom? Or will you join the resistance, living in the sewers and being hunted like they’re rats you share living quarters with?
JAMEY: *laughs* I will not fight the robots.
RICHARD: Now, that shows some character.
JAMEY: Or lack thereof.
RICHARD: Well, yes, or lack thereof.
JAMEY: I think I’ll be one of the people who tell people, who like talk a big game. Like I’ll talk about what I would do if I wasn’t living with the robots but I don’t want to live in the sewer.
RICHARD: Your favorite band?
JAMEY: My favorite band? Actually, I’m going to see one of my favorite bands in two days for the first time ever so I’ll mention that one. They’re called, ‘Generationals’. It’s kind of like an alternative pop band that I discovered through a movie trailer like two years ago and I just found out last week that they’re coming to St. Louis on Thursday so…
RICHARD: Wow, cool.
Jamey, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. It’s always a pleasure.
JAMEY: Yeah, it was great to talk with you, Richard.
RICHARD: I’ve been your host Richard Miles for boardgameauthority.com. My guest today was Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games. You can find this podcast on iTunes. Subscribe please, that would make me very happy. You can also connect via Twitter @boardgameauth. We have a Facebook page, that’s facebook.com/boardgameauthority. And as always, there’s our website www.boardgameauthority.com. Drop us a line we would love to hear from you. Tell us who you’d like me to interview next, or tell me that you should be the next guest. I would love to hear from you. Until next time: Game On!