What Inspired Jamey Stegmaier to Create Scythe, Viticulture, + More
Hey Jamey, thank you for making your time! First up, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi! I’m Jamey Stegmaier, and I run a tabletop-game publishing company called Stonemaier Games. I work out of my home/office in St. Louis.
What is your origin story as a board game designer? Can you recall the first game you had designed?
The very first game I designed was called Medieval Quest. I designed it when I was in elementary school.
Are there any unique/strange habits you've developed over the years due to your occupation as a game designer? (for example, do you drift off into your own world thinking of ideas while playing games with your friends?)
Funny you should say that, because for a while I got into the bad habit of doing exactly that (often even stepping away to take notes). I realized that wasn’t providing a good experience for my friends, so even though I’m frequently thinking about game design when I play games, I try to keep it secret. :)
Is there a pet mechanic that you always have on the back pocket to try and include in a future game?
I have a few favorite mechanisms that I haven’t used in a game yet, with the top item on the list being I-cut-you-choose (or I-price-you-choose).
How many prototypes or full games have you thrown away because they weren't good enough? Is that just a part of the process you learn to accept and move on or is it still difficult?
Many, many prototypes. For every 100 game ideas I have, maybe 10 of them make it to the prototype stage, and only 1 of them ends up being a game I actually pursue. It’s just part of the process—sometimes it’s good to know that something just isn’t all that compelling so I feel good spending my time elsewhere.
Which part of the game development process is your favorite and how come?
I still love the brainstorming stage of game design. That’s when anything and everything is possible and I’m finding ways to match theme and mechanisms.
Have you developed a sixth sense to gauge how successful a game might be? (whether your own or others')
Since I both design and publish games, I’m always thinking about marketing and the consumer. It also helps that I’m an avid gamer. Though I always think my sixth sense could be stronger—I have a lot of room to grow. As for games from other publishers/designers, it’s harder to tell, because there are lots of ways for a company to mess up the potential for a great game.
Do you think Wingspan would've been as successful if it was your first Stonemaier game?
Definitely not. When we were just starting out, we had 100 e-newsletter subscribers, no distribution, no localization partners, no reputation, no money… I think we could have gotten Wingspan to fund on Kickstarter, and it would have eventually become a hit, but it would have taken a lot longer.
I recently played Viticulture and it's a beauty of a game! And it makes me wonder, what was your inspiration and how much time do you normally spend researching the source material?
Thanks! I designed Viticulture back in 2011 because I wanted a game that appealed to gamers and non-gamers alike (there are many such games now, but not as many back then). I spent around a month on the research and initial brainstorming process for Viticulture.
What is your usual process for finding an artist and who was the most memorable to work with?
I wouldn’t say I have a usual process, as it’s varied widely from game to game. Sometimes there’s an artist I really want to work with, and the game is inspired by their art. Sometimes I target a specific artist for a specific game; they may be someone who has worked on games in the past, or they might be a random artist who has contacted me or whose work I’ve noticed on the internet. I maintain a master list of artists I love here.
Could you describe for us the exact moment when you felt you had "made it" as a designer?
I’m not sure I’ve ever really felt that way. :) Like, there have certainly been moments that surprised me or made me grateful to have this career, but I don’t think there’s been a moment where I’ve thought, “Up until now I haven’t really made it, but now I have!” It’s more of an ongoing journey. :)
Lastly, are there any exciting developments in the works you could share with us? Will there ever be a light Stonemaier game? And what would be your dream project?
There is a light Stonemaier game—it’s called Between Two Cities. :) Our next product is the Scythe modular board, and I’m really excited to see the stories that emerge from it. I’ve actually gotten to work on several dream projects already, including my legacy game and my upcoming civilization game. I have several other dream projects in the works.
Additional questions from our users:
How do you feel about the tunnels in Scythe? Do you think they make the board too accessible from everywhere?
I’m biased, but I love the tunnels in Scythe. They make a big board smaller than it appears, which means we don’t need different boards for different player counts.
Do you ever see offering new boxes of your premium bits or will they always just be sold individually now?
I think there’s the possibility of more treasure chests being made by our realistic resource partner, Top Shelf Gamer.
How do you feel about Kickstarter for game sales? Are you done with Kickstarter?
My company wouldn’t exist without Kickstarter, so I’m grateful for the platform, and I think it’s neat to see other creators innovate on it and use it to launch new products. I’m still an avid backer, but the last project I ran on Kickstarter was in 2015, and I have no plans to return.
Click here for Jamey's extensive coverage of his Kickstarter experience.
Click here for Jamey's reflections on his post-Kickstarter phase of his company.
Thanks Jamey for making your time for us and sharing your thoughts! Thank you also to those who read and please comment below with any questions for Jamey, any of your thoughts about the games mentioned, suggestions for future artists/designers/publishers to interview, or anything!
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