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SJGames Week: Interview with Steve Jackson

Posted on July 25, 2011 by Flames

As part of our continuing coverage for Steve Jackson Games Week, FlamesRising.com is happy to offer you an interview with the President of Steve Jackson Games, Steve Jackson himself. Today, Steve shares his thoughts on game design, his company and his secret role with the Illuminati.

How long has Steve Jackson Games been in business?

    More than 30 years now. Before that, starting in 1976, I was a regular freelancer for Metagaming. Before that I was gaming a lot but not professionally.

    If you had to pick just one, what’s your favorite game?

      I don’t have to pick just one! *smiles* I like lots and lots of games, which is one reason I have been doing this for so long.

      In your opinion, what elements are crucial to great game design?

        Replay value (which you can get a lot of ways). Clarity of rules. Easy enough to learn/teach that a beginner can enjoy himself quickly.

        Describe your typical day.

          Get up. Hate the world. Drink coffee. Feel the hate recede. Read e-mail. Go to work, whether it’s at the office or home. Meetings and/or more e-mail. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to talk about actual game design, and if I’m very very lucky, I get to play something. Go home. Read, or fool with Lego. Go to bed too late.

          Where do you feel Steve Jackson Games will be in five years? Ten?

            Probably right here . . . Or maybe someplace with a cooler climate. I’d really like to keep growing our sales without compromising quality. Boy, I sound like a marketroid, don’t I? In all honesty, the insistence on quality, as **I** view it, has absolutely been the biggest brake on our growth year to year, but I thnk it’s also a big reason why after 30 years we’re still around. It means a lot to me not to disappoint the gamers.

            What was the first game you ever worked on?

              “Monsters! Monsters!” RPG by Ken St. Andre, a T&T variant in which you play monsters who come out of the dungeon and head toward the city to slay humans and take their stuff.

              When did you know you wanted to sell and design games professionally?

                Sometime in 1976. Though it was undoubtedy a while after that when I figured out that I wanted to do it for several decades.


                Are you a member of the Illuminati?

                  The Illuminati do not exist. I hold a moderately senior position.

                  How has Munchkin evolved since it first debuted?

                    Tighter rules in general. Lots more card types. Balance between Races, Classes, etc. is entirely based on their own powers (in the first edition, for instance, Elves were way stronger than Halflings but there were a lot more elf-hating monsters). By doing this, we make it easier to combine different sets – which itself was a later development, because when I first did Munchkin, I had no inkling either that it would be so popular or that there would be different themes.

                    What game are you the most proud of? Least?

                      Most proud? Possibly Illuminati, in terms of original game mechanics.

                      Least? Hm. That would obviously be one I don’t think about as much. Hm. Okay, there was an in-magazine game in Fantasy Gamer that I could not even remember the name of, so I must not be especially proud of that one. But I don’t feel any actual shame for anything I have ever let ship . . .

                      What’s your favorite Munchkin card (or game)?

                        I LiedFavorite Munchkin card? Hee. That is hard. There are so MANY . . . How about we pretend you asked about my favorite Illuminati: New World Order card, because I definitely have one for that game: “I Lied.”

                        That’s the one that lets you walk away from a deal, with the illustration of the guy in a trenchcoat, shrugging and grinning and holding out his hands . . .

                        How often do you get to play games for fun?

                          Not nearly enough! And often it’s at conventions. Now, playtests are fun – or if they are not, that in itself is a problem – but I know what you mean, and the answer is definitely Not Enough.

                          How does it feel to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Munchkin?

                            I have a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the idea that it’s been ten years!

                            Can you share some advice to aspiring game designers? Artists?

                              Game designers: Playtest, and listen to your playtesters. You don’t have to do everything they say, but LISTEN until you understand what they’re really saying and why.

                              Artists: What you do is a deep mystery to me. I can critique individual illustrations – and I do, just ask John Kovalic! – but the process of illustration awes me, and “how to be a good artist” is a question way beyond my pay grade. How to be a SUCCESSFUL artist? I can answer that, because I hire artists. Work hard at what you do; learn from others but don’t imitate; and if you are doing art for a client, meet your deadlines, meet your deadlines, and meet your deadlines.

                              Do you have a message for your fans?

                                Braaaaaiiiiinnnnns!

                                Interview by Monica Valentinelli

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