During PAX East 2011, we had the chance to sit down with Steve Jackson (President) and Phil Reed (Chief Operating Officer) of Steve Jackson Games. What followed was a great discussion on game design and convention culture, presented here for your enjoyment:
MTV Geek: So you guys produce a fairly diverse selection of games between your card, board, and role playing offerings. For the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with your games, what would you say is the Steve Jackson signature?
Steve: Steve wanted to publish it. I would like to make all sorts of statements about “quality”, but the fact is that the first question is “do I think this is fun?” and what I think is fun has varied from decade to decade and I hope it keeps on varying.
Geek: When you create a game, do you begin with a theme or a set of gameplay mechanics?
Steve: Theme always. The game in its final form may wind up being an attempt at simulation or it may be a highly abstracted process, but it always starts with the story. Some designers go the other way, but I’m always for storytelling.
Geek: Steve Jackson seems to have one of the largest tabletop presences at PAX East. How long have you been attending PAXes and what originally drew you to the convention?
Phil: We first went to PAX Prime in 2008, and it was just to send a couple of guys to check it out, so we bought 3-day passes for a few of us. Before everything was even processed we had an email from PAX saying “Oh, oh wait, if you’re going to come, let’s set you up with a little more than just 3-day passes.” So they worked with us and set us up in a really nice space in front of the tabletop area where we had a table and ran Munchkin Quest. It was fantastic, and by the end of the show, we had decided that yes, this is a show we definitely wanted to go to.
The tabletop scene at PAX East 2011
Geek: So your presence here has been growing from those early days?
Phil: Yes, we’ve been building since then. We took Steve to one and that’s only helped to cement that this is a growing show that we want to be a part of.
Steve: Absolutely. As we look around, we’re always thinking “OK, we see where we can do more next year.”
Phil: Creatively, what’s also nice about shows like this is it’s a great way to get new game ideas. Getting away from the office is a really good way to get new ideas to come out.
Steve: Did you see all the good comments that the dice gazebo is getting? You know what a dice tower is, you drop the dice in the top and they roll? Richard Kerr, our in-house sculpter, laser operator, and general maker of things with his hands, built a wooden 3D gazebo about 8″ across with big evil eyes on top like Jon drew in the Munchkin cartoon.
Geek: So I saw the announcement about Munchkin Axe Cop. How exactly did that marriage come about?
Steve: I was contacted by Surge Licensing and they said “Hey, are you interested in Axe Cop?” I had talked with Surge before and I knew who they where, and I knew about Axe Cop. I enjoy it, so right away it was already a serious suggestion. Axe Cop goes very well with Munchkin, and we had never done a license for Munchkin before. Munchkin stands on its own just fine, it’s never needed one, so my kneejerk reaction on that was “wow, I really like these guys but we don’t need to license.” But I had hardly formulated that thought before I had gone into “who cares whether we need it or not, this would be so cool. Let’s talk about it!” The reaction that we’ve had here tells us that was the right decision.
Geek: You’ve always had Jon Kovalic lend his artwork to Munchkin cards. Now with Ethan Nicolle’s art, will there be any merging of the two for this game?
Steve: No merger. This will be Ethan’s artwork all the way.That’s what the Axe Cop look is.
Geek: So no need to “Munchkin-ize” the brand?
Steve: The story is fully “Munchkin” already, but the characters? That’s Axe Cop.
Geek: What other noteworthy product are coming down the pipe from Steve Jackson Games?
Steve: We’ve got a new edition of Awful Green Things From Outer Space coming up. This doesn’t have any significant rules changes, but what it does significantly change is the component quality. This one’s got a big heavy board, heavy counters, and we did tweak rules just a little beat to answer common questions that had come in.
Geek: Where do the business and creative processes intersect when you are trying to determine which games actually need a remake?
Steve: One of our releases later this year will be a big version of Ogre. The box is going to weigh twelve pounds. The hexes on the map will be an inch and a half across.This is one where I look at the list of what needs to be changed during reprint to make it a better game and I say “everything!” That list then goes to Phil on the business side and he says “no Steve, you can’t have this!” So Ogre has been backburnered until we compromised from originally wanting the base game and two big supplements. Instead we decided we could make one humongous, bigger than I had dreamed of base game that won’t need any supplements. Ways are being figured out to create this at a price where people can afford to buy it without mortgaging the house.
Geek: So you’re saying with a deluxe reprint like Ogre, you maybe have to wait a little bit on it until the company is doing well enough to take a change on these wish list games?
Phil: That’s exactly what’s happening here.
Steve: We’re not going to make nearly as much on Ogre as we might if we plowed it into four more Munchkin supplements.
Geek: But there is a core base of your fans who you are trying to please here?
Steve: And we please me. That’s explicity one of the things that’s happening here is this was my first game, and we’re going to get me a beautiful edition of it.
Phil: There has been discussion online about Ogre and what’s being done, and some people say to just reprint the original game exactly as it was. What I explain to them is that Steve already owns that game. My reason for this is I’m making the Ogre that Steve wants and fortunately there are a lot of other people who want the same thing. Ultimately, my job is to give Steve what he wants, or find him a way to get what he wants without risking everything.
Steve: Or talk me out of it!
Geek: Going back to our first question, I think that if fans have trusted Steve’s taste up until now, they are going to want this too once they see it. They just don’t know it yet.
Phil: I think people will be surprised once they see the final product.
Geek: Well I’ll be looking forward to it. It’s been a pleasure talking with you two, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your PAX!