Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers. Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before. If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples. Support me on Patreon!
Interviewed on: 3/7/2020
I first met Steven Vesci at Protospiel Chicago last year. Since then we've crossed paths quite a few times online. He's an active member of a bunch of game design Facebook groups and The Game Crafter community and we both entered games in The Game Crafter's Staff Roll and Write Design Contest (which is still in limbo waiting for the results due to the pandemic). Read on to learn more about Steven and his numerous game design projects!
Tell me a bit about yourself.
How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.
Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I needed an outlet to devote energy to that was a little more productive than constant social media scrolling! Had always been into tabletop games and spreadsheets, so it seemed like a natural fit.
What game or games are you currently working on?
Petri - an card-driven area control game where players are Biology lab tech using CRISPR to cheat at their Fantasy Cell Culture League
Cthulhu Snacks - a blind bidding game where players are billionaires trying to attract weakened Lovecraftian Gods to their zoo by feeding them employees, but the Gods awaken if overfed
Spellbook - a puzzly solitaire legacy game that I'm currently trying to adapt to a 1-4 player coop legacy game
Have you designed any games that have been published?
Days to Harvest by Glass Shoe Games will hit Kickstarter as soon as in-person conventions start back up (was previously scheduled for July)
What is your day job?
IT - software testing
Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.
Where do you prefer to play games?
Play a lot on my gaming table at home, also enjoy a local meetup in a large community center space
Who do you normally game with?
Playtesting with Cleveland's Ultimate Team-Up group, regular playing with the Board Gamers of Greater Akron, and local cons at Ravenwood Castle
If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Terraforming Mars, Scythe, or Spirit Island. Still hoping to trick someone into
And what snacks would you eat?
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
What's your favorite FLGS?
Critical Hit Games, especially for their annual flea market sale. Recently I did a playtest session at Rogue's Den which I'd like to visit more. Shoutout to local game cafe Tabletop for hosting too many playtest sessions
What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Scythe is probably #1 - I love the uniqueness of the map and the upgrade system. Terraforming Mars is high for its ambition, Spirit Island for its complexity. The worst game for me was something I believe was called 'the Logo Game' - which combined mass-market roll and move with crappy trivia about advertising.
What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Engine Building has got to be the favorite, because there are so many flavors of it. Not sure I have a least favorite - I'm really bad at social deduction but I still enjoy it!
What's your favorite game that you just can't ever seem to get to the table?
Spirit Island! Seafall is conceptually a favorite, but haven't actually been able to play it yet
What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Video Games
Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games
OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.
Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I've entered several Game Crafter competitions, and one ButtonShy. No wins yet!
Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Rob Daviau - I am totally in love with Legacy games and Pandemic Legacy in particular. Also a huge fan of his efforts to rehabilitate old classics!
Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I like to try to capture the essence of iconic scenes from books or movies - not specifically about the particular IP, but the thematic content. I have games based off the Council of Elrond, the shapeshifters duel in Sword in the Stone, and Spellbook has some Neverending Story reading a magic book vibes. I've also been inspired by iconic quotes, like "God does not play dice with the Universe" and cool technology like CRISPR.
How do you go about playtesting your games?
Ultimate Team-up hosts weekly meetups around the Cleveland/Akron area so there's lots of opportunity for great feedback. I will occasionally lean on family, and in real early stages I'll load things into Tabletop Simulator and mock a few turns myself. I try to have specific questions I want to answer from each session, though in early tests those questions are usually just 'is this fun?' and 'does this work?' Also love to attend Protospiels! I frequent PS Chicago, Cleveland, and starting to frequent Proto ATL. Hope to hit Indy, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Toronto someday!
Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
The Ultimate Team-up crew provides fantastic insights and suggestions, and a lot of our games contain a lot of ideas from team mates, though we don't tend to officially co-design.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
The cold pitch. Haven't mastered the art of getting publishers excited about my games from a quick introductory pitch, and I'm not notable enough to get warm ones!
If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Veronica Mars, Consulting Detective
What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
It took me too long to grasp the idea of Minimum Viable Prototype, and my early designs definitely tried too much too fast. Also needed to know not to start with your most ambitious ideas, I've had much more success with smaller swings and those efforts have helped shape bigger efforts.
What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Enter contests! Not necessarily to win, but to give yourself artificial constraints and a deadline. Game design is so open ended, and you can easily get lost in all of the options and never finish anything. It feels good to finish an entry, and the constraints will force you to try things and learn things you wouldn't naturally do.
Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Games that will soon be published are: Days to Harvest, by Glass Shoe Games, is a light drafting and push your luck game, where players select garden gnomes to add to a community garden. Placing lazy gnomes gives more points, but you'll be kicked out of the round if the garden fails and you've been the laziest!
Currently looking for a publisher I have: For the Greater Good is a Negotiation/Take That game where the players are ambassadors to a great council planning the defeat of an encroaching evil while plotting and scheming amongst themselves to have the most influence after the dust settles. Think of the 'Council of Elrond' scene from Lord of the Rings where everyone behaves like Boromir.
Spellbook is a Solitaire Legacy game where the player is a would-be magician huddled in a library basement, attempting to learn magic from a mysterious book. It's a grid manipulation and pattern matching puzzle with legacy mechanics giving the player more options as they learn spells, allowing them to match more complicated patterns
Petri is a low-medium weight area control game where the players are Biology lab technicians using CRISPR to cheat at their Fantasy Cell Culture League. Players play 'splice' cards to add, move, and remove cells from petri dishes trying to establish majorities, and playing multiple cards of a given type lead to splashy combination effects.
Mintilization is a civ-building game in a Mint Tin! Players use simultaneous hidden worker allocation to try and grab land, technology, and buildings before their opponents do, trying to grow the mightiest mint empire!
Dice with the Universe is a kid-friendly Roll and Draw where players get to draw their own personal Universe! Dice rolls determine which astronomical objects players can choose to draw, with different objects scoring in different ways.
Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker's Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Board Game Design Lab, Card and Board Game Designer's Guild, UTU Creators' Space, Meeple Syrup Shop Talk, Protospiel
And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I'm sure are on everyone's minds!
Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
I like both Trek and Wars, but currently prefer The Expanse! Dr. Pepper. Streaming.
What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Raising a tabletop gaming daughter (yay My Little Scythe!), and a little bit of video games when I should be designing.
What is something you learned in the last week?
My six year old trash talks other six year olds in Mario Kart
Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I listen to way more podcasts than music - favorites being NPR Politics, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, 99% invisible, Board Game Design Lab, The Dice Tower. For books, I recommend the Expanse series and the Broken Earth Trilogy. I don't get to non-kids movies very often at all!
What was the last book you read?
Uncrowned by Wil Wight (The Cradle series)
Do you play any musical instruments?
I do not, but enjoying listening to my daughter starting piano lessons
Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
My shortest attempt at a game design lasted 5 minutes - I had an idea for a kids worker placement that I tried on a whim with my daughter that had her in tears on her first turn. Turns out when you tell a child they can't do something because the other player did it, they don't like that at all.
Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
If I've ever done something crazy, I've probably suppressed the memory
Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
My laptop was being repaired after a drop. Couldn't design my usual way using spreadsheets and Nandeck, so I sat down with dice and paper and ended up with a roll and write
Who is your idol?
N.K. Jemisin - she turned her writing side hustle into repeat award dominance of the field
What would you do if you had a time machine?
Answer a lot of theological questions definitively. I'm sure that would clear everything up and people would gladly accept the findings without complaint....
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Captain Planet would be super useful right now
Have any pets?
Currently one cat, but at Peak Pet had 6 cats and a dog
When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
I don't think any specific entertainment is vital enough to worry about in such circumstances, I think a whole new culture of entertainment would result. But there would be some interesting archaeological discussions around digging up meeples and cubes - it's too bad the rules documents wouldn't survive!
If you'd like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here's your chance (I can't guarantee they'll read this though):
Thanks so much to my wife Sara for the understanding around playtesting outings and conventions!
Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?
Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html
Did you like this interview? Please show your support: Support me on Patreon! Or click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter . And be sure to check out my games on Tabletop Generation.