Years ago, Jason Tagmire was the go-to guy in the South Jersey/Philadelphia indie rock scene if you wanted buttons made for your band.  Not long thereafter, he was the talk of the town, raising thousands of dollars on Kickstarter to fund his kickass games, like Pixel LincolnStoryteller Cards and Maximum Throwdown.    

In an era dominated by motion-sensing, immersive video games, Jason Tagmire is bringing it truly old school.

1. Tell us a little bit about your history. Did you have the stereotypical childhood of playing Dungeons & Dragons in your basement?

I wanted to play D&D more than I actually played it. But the 8-10 times I played impacted me in a really big way. I was obsessed with the creation side of things (character generation, random encounters, etc), to the point where I setup a bunch of D&D games/campaigns that never took place. I didn’t mind too much though because the initial creative spark and the world building that followed was my favorite part.

Aside from that, I grew up playing lots of Atari, NES, SNES, and some of the Sierra adventure PC games. On the tabletop side, once I could drive myself to Toys R Us and thrift stores, I started to pick up Heroscape, variations of Risk, and any oddball old games I could get my hands on.

2. How did you grow into game design? Did you go to school for it?

It really started as an extension of my creative projects. I’ve been a musician forever and always enjoy the crafting of a song more than anything else. I’ve done short film / video work and prefer the creative side to the technical side. I’ve tinkered with toy and product design. So game design fit right in. I liked to play games and as a result I messed around with seeing how they were made. From the background story to the math involved to the graphic design.

Eventually I would find companies that printed game related components and I started ordering my own games, just so I could play them with friends.

As for schooling, no, I went to school for video production and am a manager at a law firm. Game design fits somewhere right in the middle of that. It’s really the perfect fusion of rules and creativity.

3. How was your Kickstarter experience? It seems like you’ve made a killing on raising money there. Do you keep yourself afloat with that or is it incredibly difficult to keep up with fulfilling all the perks?

It sure seems like that, but it’s not really what it seems. With Kickstarter, I’ve been on 2 sides of it. 1) Another company is handling the campaign and publishing the game, and 2) I am self publishing. With another company handling the publishing, I’ll get the standard designer cut, which is about 4-5% of their net profit. It’s not enough to hold yourself afloat, unless you have a bunch of games out there and they are doing very well. Game design for 95% of us is a very passionate hobby, where you’ll make a little bit of money here and there, but have no choice but to keep your day job. When I self-publish, things are much different. I have to cover all aspects of the production and fulfillment and will often lose money, unless the game sells well after the kickstarter. Example: Storyteller Cards brought in $16,000, but cost closer to $20,000 to produce and fulfill 600 orders worldwide. Shipping was close to $6500 alone. Kickstarter/Amazon took $1600. Then there is production and art and suddenly the $16,000 is gone. But then there are the extras… Extra perks that we added as incentive to sell the main product. Those cost another $2500.

The positive side is that I have 1500 copies left over to try and make back my loss and start to head into the positive side. But I’m entering the world of marketing and sales, which is very different than game design. It’s something that I try to tell game designers who go into self publishing. You need to be an everyman, good at everything, and it sucks away any time that you have to make new games. So many of us decide to go this route, and come back to it over and over. And while you may lose money, it’s extremely fulfilling on a personal and creative level.

Pixel Lincoln

4. Where does Pixel Lincoln stand? How is it growing?

Pixel Lincoln is out and about. We’re in-between releases now, but have a wave of products in the manufacturing stage right now. I actually just proofed about 250 cards this week, which is a really tough part of the process. It’s so important as you are the final eye before mass production, but it’s so easy to make assumptions. I’ve seen these cards dozens and dozens of times already and assume there can’t be any mistakes. But there were a handful, as always.

We released the deckbuilding card game mid-2013 and around October we released a small travel box with another 54 cards. Since then we made a 21 card set and four more 54 card sets that should be scattered over the next year or so, once they arrive from China. It’s really exciting to see the longevity of this game and I hope to see it continue.

5. It seems like you are pretty active in going to trade shows, gaming conventions, and the like. Is this how you grow your brand? What else do you do?

I go to a lot, but I haven’t done too many as a vendor/exhibitor. I’ll go to most of the big board game shows as an attendee just to meet up with friends from all over, play games, try their new games, test my own, and hopefully catch up with some publishers and get my games in front of them. All of those things are crucial in the industry, and most I assume. Networking is the most important part, especially in today’s Kickstarter world. More recently I’ve been running demos of games like Pixel Lincoln as it’s a very important part of getting people into the game. It’s a lot easier and more effective to jump in and show them what the game is all about. And now that I’m getting Storyteller Cards in stock, I’m hitting some of the smaller, more affordable shows as a vendor. It’s a whole different vibe of work, not play. But still kind of play.

Aside from conventions, I try to stay active in the community on Twitter, Board Game Geek, podcasts, and local game nights.

6. What does your body of work look like? How many of your own games have you made? How many have you made for other companies/people?

My body of work is actually pretty silly. I designed Pixel Lincoln with Game Salute, Maximum Throwdown with AEG and I was co-set designer on Quarriors: Quest of the Qladiator with Wizkids. All of those are board/card games on the quirky side. The 16-bit president fighting puking turtles, a card throwing battle game that pits pirates against aliens against demons, and an expansion to a successful dice-building game where Empress Quiana calls together the mightiest Quarriors across the land to compete in the great Quolosseum.

On the other side, I designed and published Storyteller Cards and Storyteller Cards: Fantasy (in production), which grounds me a little bit in the storytelling/creative world and let me test the waters of the publishing world.

And this year I will have a game called Seven7s with Gryphon Games. It’s very tame in comparison to the other games I’ve been a part of. Players are attempting to get the highest three card hand using the powers of seven famous sevens. They can use the seven deadly sins to hurt opponents, seven lucky gods for a chance at bonus cards, the seven seas to shift cards around, the seven ages of man to “age” the game by speeding it up.

7. What is the best game/game idea you have ever seen/heard? What is the worst?

It’s hard to choose the best, but Risk Legacy sticks out for me. It’s similar to standard Risk, but with a few changes. Instead of playing for world domination you play to 4 victory points, which takes about an hour. So it’s right to the point. But what makes it wonderful is the Legacy side of it. After each game you will modify the world in a variety of ways. You can name a continent or city by physically writing it on the board, this will change the effects of those areas for you in future games. You will add stickers to cards or the board, or tear up a card. There are sections of the rules that are incomplete at the beginning of the game and are added in as you play. There are sections of the packaging filled with cards and components that say “Do not open until X happens”. There’s even a hidden one that says “Do not open ever”. The game becomes what you make of it, and after 15 games you have a world that is unlike any other.

It’s probably harder for me to pick a worst because I try to find the good in everything. But anything that has a lot of downtime between players is awful for me. When it’s 5-10 minutes between turns and I have no interest in what the other players are doing, I start to tune out.

8. What is the cardboard gaming world like today? How do you compete against the video game world?

It’s at a definite high right now. Things like Kickstarter, the YouTube show Tabletop, and massive conventions seem to be growing and growing. I’ve been watching heavily for the past 4-5 years and it’s becoming less of a niche and finding its’ footing in overall geek culture. A good example is the 3-4 aisles of games in Barnes & Noble putting games like Quarriors and Power Grid in front of the mass market.

I don’t really know if video games and board games are in competition. They serve a different purpose as one is very solo and the other requires a group. Some may say video games are anti-social by definition – with online play being an exception, and board games are social. But some of the lines are blurred when digital versions of board games are becoming more and more common. I think some board game companies are pushing for the video game crowd to come their way as well. Games like Krosmaster Arena have a solid video game feel to them.

9. Speaking of video games, Pixel Lincoln is on Steam?

Not at the moment. Pixel Lincoln digital has been in the works for a while but there were a bunch of technical issues that bogged down development, so I put my focus on the tabletop version. It’s so much easier to debug a tabletop game.

Maybe one day though.

You can follow Jason Tagmire on his site Button Shy and on Twitter.