Friday, August 14, 2015

Interview with Jason Tagmire

Jason Tagmire, head of Button Shy Games

Doug: Howdy, Internet! I’m sitting down today with Jason Tagmire, owner (president? CEO? boss?) of Button Shy Games. Currently, Jason is running a Kickstarter for the fifth, sixth, and seventh entries into his “wallet line”. Jason, you launched at 10 am on Wednesday, and when I checked back at 4 pm that same day, you were already 150% funded. At the time of publication here, you're 400.9% funded. You are KILLING it! That’s gotta feel good, right?

Jason: It does feel good! Kickstarter is always unpredictable. Even after doing this a handful of times, I still never know what to expect. It could be an off day. Another campaign might launch at the same time and take the focus away. So many factors. But this one is off to a great start. Keeping that momentum requires pulling out all of the stops and the Kickstarter tricks, so here we go.

All three games from the current Kickstarter.



For people who don’t know about the wallet line, can you tell them a little bit about what that is and how it got started?

The wallet line started with my attempt to solve the problem of existing microgame packaging. I wanted a way to both package and carry around a bunch of microgames. Boxes are bigger than they need to be. Pouches aren't very durable. Tins often pop open in your bag. After digging around, I found the vinyl wallets. They're build for carrying around business cards and luckily got playing cards as well. It's a cool alternative and has stuck ever since.

All of your past campaigns have been for a single wallet game at a time. What made you decide to a campaign for three of them at once?

There are a few reasons that I wanted to try multiples. One is to reduce my Kickstarter footprint. Why? Well Kickstarter is funny. It's the only way I can move 500+ games at a time and fund production. Hands down, the best at that. If I were to bypass Kickstarter and do the same thing on my site, I'd sell ten copies, max. There are a ton of reasons for that, but it's just a magical time-based funding site that everyone is already using. There's very little barrier to entry. People know what to expect and get that. Moving the masses to buttonshygames.com is a long, long journey that will take years and years. Kickstarter just works and works well. So with all that, there's a lot of commentary about Kickstarter abuse. People who overuse it, people who shouldn't use it, and when will they move away from it. One the other hand, there are people who want more games from us. Instead of launching a campaign each month, we're combing three campaigns into one. It's a trial run, and I'm really hoping for the best.

There are other positives too. It's built to save backers on shipping costs, especially international backers where shipping is often more than the cost of the game. It's also setup to hit better price breaks on the components and save time on the grueling fulfillment process.

Chip Beauvais's Smoke & Mirrors - Art by Fabrice Weiss

The art style for each of these games is very, very distinct - and actually, the art style for all of your wallet games are highly distinct, from the portrait style on Pretense to the very cartoon-y style on Wild Cats. How do you decide on the art direction for these games? Is it something where you choose that direction, where the designer says, “I have this vision…”, or where you describe it to the artist and let them run with it?

I love art direction and the development that goes side by side with it. For Smoke & Mirrors we thought about theme a lot. It was initially just a numbers game and I wanted something awesome for it. I love themes that connect with the players emotionally, and the art needs to pave the way for it to happen. Everyone loves magic. Well, if you don't, I'm sorry. But a stage magician is a performer. Grand and over the top. A game about one upping your neighbor, and often faking it, was a perfect fit. Getting Fabrice Weiss on traditional playing card style art was a no-brainer.

Fever Chill was another one that was tough. It's just numbers again. But it's very interesting in that both positive and negative numbers are good and bad for you. Zeros are even better. We went all over trying to theme this and ended up with the medical theme. You want to stay at perfect temperature and if you go up, medicine will bring you down. If you go down, viruses will bring you up. When it came time for art, I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted Marty Cobb to do his best Dr. Mario impression, and he knew exactly what I meant. Colorful viruses and a silly lovable doctor. Then I passed it off to Adam McIver who nailed the graphic design in a way that I can't even comprehend. I'm thrilled with the final product.

Finally there is North South East Quest. I knew I wanted one thing: whimsical art that pushed the players to their creative comfort zone. I searched the internet for artists, looking for something that could compliment Campbell Whyte's work on our Storyteller Cards. Of all places, it was BGG that I found Embla Vigfúsdóttir. Embla creates her own games and they all look so perfectly illustrated and wonderfully hand-crafted. I reached out to her about North South East Quest and was thrilled when she was able to do it. I have her some direction, but the amazing tone was all her. 

Kenneth Thompson's Fever Chill - Art by Marty Cobb, Graphic Design by Adam McIver

What can we expect in the way of stretch goals? With how well the campaign is going, you’re going to need them!

We've got a few cool things planned for each of the campaigns. I'm getting them together a little sooner than planned though! Expect a set of two cards for Fever Chill that effect all other players with +1 or -1. And they effect all other players, other than the person with the card. If played on yourself, it acts differently than if you play it on another player. There's also a double-backed magician trick style card for Smoke & Mirrors. For North South East Quest I have an idea for something that even JR doesn't know about. The only thing I'll say is that it takes things in a different direction than we've already seen.

What’s your playtesting process for these kinds of games? Is there a usual range of time from when you sign a game to when you decide it’s ready?

Some designers can sit on a design forever, claiming it's never done. That's not me. Once I'm ready to dive into a game, I will set a date for production and it needs to be tested and tested and tested before that. If we're working up until the last minute, that's exactly what we're going to have to do. I can tell you that some of the big companies work exactly like that too. Part of it is that the last 10% can take 90% of the time, and in the end is that really worth the time? I don't know that there's an answer but it's something that helps shape the timeline of these games. Ultimately I've noticed that giving an end date helps move things along. On these games, we were working up until two days before the Kickstarter.

And how much of your own design fingerprint do you feel winds up on the games you publish by other designers?

It depends on the game. Some don't need it and others do. Most of my imprint is on accessibility. I try to eliminate odds and ends to make the cleanest product as possible. In these, I've had a good amount of input but in a lot of cases, it's less necessary than you would think. Designers know their stuff!

JR Honeycutt's North South East Quest - Art by Embla Vigfúsdóttir

Speaking of you as a designer, lately, we’ve seen a lot of games from other people from Button Shy. What’re you working on - and for whom?

I'm knee deep in a Homestuck card game I'm working on for What Pumpkin. It's a really fun project that's much bigger than the wallet games and requires a whole different mindset. I'm in that last 10% and making damn sure I get it down to 0%. I also have another version of Seven7s (seven more sevens!) on its way over to Eagle Gryphon and a few other unannounced things in the works.

Seven7s is one of my favorite games from the last few years, so I’m stoked that we’re getting seven more! Lastly, and quite selfishly, what can we expect in the coming months from Button Shy?

Next up from Button Shy is You're Fired, which was was not designed by Ben Begeal. It's Doug Levandowski's amazing card game about the firing people in the office before you get fired first. It's a little bigger than were used to though as its a full 54 cards in a tuckbox. After that, we have the next wave of wallet games (Avignon by John duBois, Pickpockets by Isaac Shalev and Matt Loomis, Dead Giveaway by Ben Begeal, Slugfest by Mike Mullins and even more). Then there's the Cult Film postcard line for the Board Game of the Month Club where we mix 12 designers and 12 artists and design 12 games based off of cult films. More about that later but it's coming along very well. So much stuff!

Looking forward to all of it! Especially that You’re Fired game. I hear that Doug Levandowski is just an absolute delight in all respects. In all seriousness, though, thanks for sitting down with me and talking games. Best of luck with the rest of the campaign!

I guess you could say he's pretty cool. Thanks for having me!



Doug Levandowski is a game designer who co-created Gothic Doctor, UnPub: The UnPublished Card Game, and created You're Fired (which is coming to Kickstarter from Button Shy Games in November). He has other designs in the works, too - because that's what designers do. When Doug's not designing, interviewing, writing articles, or sleeping, he's teaching English to a bunch of amazing high schoolers. They're working on summer break right now, which he fears is their favorite class with him. You can find him on Twitter at @levzilla.