There is no “normal” day for Jamey Stegmaier, as he is an entrepreneur. What has he done in the last few months? Simply published a book on crowdfunding, available on Amazon, and raised over $1.8 million via Kickstarter for his new tabletop game, Scythe. In between all of this, and running a business, he took the time to answer a few questions for me regarding games, inspiration, his cats, and his design process.
1. Where do you get inspiration for your games?
I get inspiration from things that capture my imagination. That’s a pretty broad category that includes other games, movies, television shows, books, etc. Usually it’s just a little thing that makes me think, “Wouldn’t that be cool in a board game?”
2. Do you keep a note journal for your ideas, gaming or otherwise?
I do, kind of. I use a web app called Trello to keep track of my ideas. I have different boards on Trello for general game/theme and mechanism ideas, then separate boards for specific games. If I decide to brainstorm about a specific idea, I do it with pencil and paper and organize them into colored folders so I can find them later.
3. Parents say they don’t have a “favorite” child. But be honest - which cat is your favorite, Walter or Biddy, and why?
Oh, definitely Biddy. He’s my boy. I adopted him when he was a tiny kitten, and he has such a distinct personality. Walter is more like a toy—he’s furry and cute, but that’s pretty much it. I’m very fond of both of them, though.
4. When did you realize that you “needed” to create games and other creative projects?
I like that you used the word “need,” because I think creative people can relate to that. By “creative people,” I mean people who actually create stuff. I first felt that need for board games when I was 7 or 8 years old. I had only played a few board games at that point, but I felt a strong need not just to play them, but also to create them. It was around the same time (probably a little before then) that I felt the same need to write fiction.
5. What kind of creative routines or patterns do you have, if any?
I have to be intentional about creative time, because I have so many other things to do involving my business. Like, in the next few days, I need to put together my tax documents, register our Gen Con events, and create a list of questions for a panel on which I’m participating in a few weeks. That’s in addition to all the daily maintenance and project management I need to do, as well as customer service (which is a lot of what I do), order processing, and staying up to date on the board game industry through all the blogs, podcasts, and video channels. Then I also have to (and enjoy) play a lot of games. Basically, it would be all too easy to fill my days, weeks, and months without ever actually creating anything, so I have to be really intentional every day to spend at least 1 hour brainstorming or moving forward with one of the many projects I have in the works. Even if it doesn’t end up going anywhere, like you said before, it is a need of mine—creating is essential to who I am.
6. What is your favorite morning drink?
Water! I love hydrating in the morning.
7. When do you get your greatest ideas?
It’s hard to put a classifier (“greatest”) on an idea, because an idea isn’t really anything of itself. I don’t think I’ve ever had an idea that was instantly great—rather, it takes a lot of time and effort after the inception of the idea to make it great. But I see what you’re getting at, and I’ve found that the time of day doesn’t matter. Rather, it’s anytime that I have some completely uninterrupted (no e-mail, computer, phone, etc) time and space to think and brainstorm that I’m at my best creatively.
8. Who is your favorite soccer team?
The US Women’s National team. Though I most closely follow the English Premier League, and I don’t have a strong alliance towards any team there. I often find myself rooting for the plucky overachieving underdogs, like Leicester this season.
9. What gives you the greatest satisfaction from designing your games?
The act of creation is very satisfying to me—like, I go to bed happy whenever I made progress on a game that day. But in the long run, I want to create things that people actually play and cherish. I think my favorite and most satisfying moments happen when someone reaches out to me to say that they really connected with someone else over a game I designed. I hear this a lot from couples who play Viticulture, and I’ve heard it from parents who played Euphoria with their kids and had a great time as a family. Those are the moments that stick with me.
10. What does your design process look like?
Oo, that’s a big question, so I’ll try to answer it very briefly. I brainstorm a lot of games on pencil and paper—maybe 30-40 games a year. Out of those game ideas, I’ll spend a decent amount of time focusing on brainstorming 20 of them. Of those, I’ll prototype/write rules for about 10 of them and test them out a few times. Of those, only about 1 survives to fully enter the design cycle of prototyping, playing, revising, prototyping, etc. I’ll start off playing those prototypes with my business partner, and when the game has taken enough of a shape that I don’t feel like I’m wasting my friends’ time, I’ll expand the playtests to my local friends. The prototype/playtest cycle will continue with them for 2-3 months, and eventually the game will get to the point where it’s fun, the rules are cohesive, and I’m not embarrassed by something that a lot of people will see, at which point I’ll release it for blind playtesting, which takes another 2-3 months. By the end of blind playtesting, there should be a cohesive, near-complete game.
And what physical pieces do you use most when designing or prototyping a game?
Interesting question. I have a lot of bits and tokens that I use, and my treasure chests come in handy when prototyping. I would say 1cm cubes are probably the most common physical piece I use in prototypes, though.
11. Do you collect anything?
Not really. I don’t have the desire to amass things just to have them or to have them all, though I’m thankful for all the gamers who have that inclination for our games! :) I do have a sizable game collection, but I prefer to only keep games I actively play. If I don’t play a game for a year, I donate it to other gamers.
12. Is there somewhere you would like to travel that you haven’t been to yet?
Yes, plenty! One of the first places that comes to mind is Cinque Terre in Italy. It looks stunning in photos.
13. Any hint or ideas of something new you would like to create yet?
Sure, I have lots of games on my checklist that I want to create. Near the top of that list is a legacy game and a cooperative game. Both present very different design challenges that I’d like to explore.
Big thanks to Jamey Stegmaier for taking time out of his day to give us some insights into his design processes and inspirations! It's an honor to have Jamey as the first interview for this new series of interviews of my favorite creative people. You can check out Jamey's company Stonemaier Games as well as his personal blog for more.
(by Bryan Sloan, Black Forest Studio)