Some people think actors are awesome. Others swoon over singers. Not me. My fangirl side rarely comes out, but when it does, it’s for extremely talented people in the game industry. Right now, for me, that’s Michael Coe, founder & publisher at Gamelyn Games, whose recent Kickstarter for Tiny Epic Galaxies was wildly successful (we’re talking record-breaking in a variety of ways). Swoon. I try not to fangirl too hard in this interview with him. I may have failed. I’m not sorry.
SOOOO, WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
I’m a lifelong gamer, made in ’83, and a true product of the Nintendo age. Playing games was a rite of passage when I grew up. One day, in 2010, I decided that I was tired of the regular workforce and wanted to spend my life doing what I loved, gaming. By the end of 2011, I had started a board game company. In 2012 I published my first game, and now today, 2015, making games is my entire livelihood.
LATELY, YOU’VE BEEN DOING A LOT WITH THE TINY EPIC SERIES. WHAT’S THE HISTORY BEHIND THAT? WHEN DID YOU AND SCOTT START WORKING TOGETHER?
Scott and I began working together on Tiny Epic Kingdoms in late 2013. Following its success in January of 2014, Scott and I set out to give the gaming community a whole series of games that followed the lead of Tiny Epic Kingdoms. Games that are small, quick to play, and easy to teach but that specifically offer a big box experience. The gaming community had responded so well to that concept with TEK and so our journey to create Tiny Epic as a series began.
THE KICKSTARTER FOR TINY EPIC GALAXIES WAS AMAZING AND BROKE A LOT OF FUNDRAISING RECORDS. WHY? WHAT MADE THIS SUCH A WELL-FUNDED GAME?
I believe it was a combination of things, with the most important being the game’s merits, having been shown at numerous shows including Spiel in Germany and having had thousands of print and play downloads, and the incredibly positive reception the first game in the series received. Additionally, I have a track record on Kickstarter of having delivered projects in a timely and professional manner.
TINY EPIC GALAXIES WENT THROUGH SO MANY STRETCH GOALS (AS A BACKER, YAY!). DID THEY HAVE A PLAN FOR YOUR STRETCH GOALS? HOW DID YOU KNOW THE LINE TO CUT IT OFF? HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT FOR SCOTT TO EVALUATE ALL INCOMING SUGGESTIONS AND POSSIBLY DESIGN NEW RULES/MECHANICS MID CAMPAIGN?
I STRONGLY FEEL THAT PART OF THE KICKSTARTER EXPERIENCE IS THE INTERACTION AND INVOLVEMENT WITH THE CREATORS AND THE FINAL RESULT OF THE PROJECT.
So Scott and I prepare pretty extensively for this going into the project. While we do not have all the stretch goals planned, intentionally, we know how many things can be added before busting the bank or busting the game. Regarding suggestions and the design of new ideas, if a solid core concept exists and is adhered to, new content is not all that difficult to develop and test.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE WHO WANT TO RUN A KICKSTARTER OF THEIR OWN FOR A BOARD GAME? IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DID THAT YOU THINK REALLY CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR SUCCESS?
I would advise that a new creator learn and utilize boardgamegeek.com. This site has an active, passionate, and supportive community for board games. Investing your time and marketing funds into boardgamegeek.com is worth every second and every penny. Furthermore, I would advise to show your game to as many people as possible. Attend conventions, local game days and anywhere that people play games.
DO NOT GET IMMOBILIZED BY THE FEAR OF IDEA THEFT OR REJECTION.
Also: Market, market, market.
AS A PUBLISHER, WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN GAMES?
I look for approachability and salability. Approachability meaning; rules complexity, theme, size, length of play and overall experience. Salability meaning; production cost and MSRP, marketability, and how it fits within current industry trends.
YOU ALSO DESIGN GAMES! WOW! WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN INSPIRATIONS WHEN IT COMES TO GAME DESIGN? WHAT TYPES OF GAMES DO YOU LIKE TO MAKE?
I like to make games that remind me of things I enjoyed in my childhood. I find myself adding a lot of nostalgia to my own designs. I’m not sure if this is a particularly useful habit or not, maybe not since nostalgia is so subjective. Then again, a lot of my peers share similar hobbies and interests.
SO I’M OBSESSED WITH FINDING NEW COOL WAYS TO PROTOTYPE GAMES. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE METHOD OF PROTOTYPING NEW GAMES?
My favorite method now, and this is after years of Goodwill searching and old game cannibalizing, is to use PrintPlayGames.com. They offer a one-stop-shop for prototypes and will even assemble it with box and rules. All for a very affordable price. I’ve been using them almost exclusively for some time now.
SO TO WRAP UP, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR DESIGNERS WHO PERHAPS EVENTUALLY WANT TO PUBLISH THEIR GAMES (OR MAYBE EVEN OTHER PEOPLES’ GAMES)?
I would encourage the designer to develop a trained and disciplined objective perspective of his/her own games. You’ll notice the director’s cut version of a movie is longer, and typically more boring than the theatrical release. This is because he loves his footage, and of course he does. The editor on the other hand does not and therefore, typically, cuts a more enjoyable version of the film. In that way, designers need to know what to remove from their game.
Jasmine didn’t know it during the interview, but Michael Coe is also an actor. He’s also a world champion video game player – he holds a Video Game World Record for the original Legend of Zelda on NES. He once designed a war game featuring Lego. You can find him online at Gamelyn Games, on Twitter @Gamelyn_Games, and on the board game boxes for Dungeon Heroes, Fantasy Frontier, and Rise!
30 SECONDS WITH MICHAEL COE
What color do you play? Blue, white or black
What’s your favorite game? Carcassonne
What’s your favorite game mechanic? Worker Placement
Which game would you redesign if you could? None, I’d make a whole new one
Theme or mechanics? Synergy
Who’s your game design inspiration? Scott Almes
What was the first game you ever played? Life (not the board game)
What was the first game you ever designed? Lego Tactics, a table top war game with legos.