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Interview with Steve Jackson

We “sat down” with Steve Jackson. The mastermind behind games like Munchkin, 

Just to give us a little background, when you’re not creating board games, what do you do for fun? Steve: I’m a nature lover, and I live in the country now, so I watch butterflies, road runners, and whatever else goes by. And I have a water garden, and lilies are blooming now, which is great. I also build with Lego, especially train/town stuff.


Steve Jackson Games was founded in 1980. What do you consider your biggest success since founding SJGames? Steve: Staying in business for almost 40 years? And helping to normalize the idea that game designers’ names belong on the cover like book authors.’


When did you realize designing games is what you wanted to do for a living? Steve: I’m not sure. I dropped out of law school to work on games, but I don’t believe I realized at the time that it would be a forever career.


For us, it all started with Munchkin. Was there a particular game that got you into board games?

Steve: There was a progression. The first boardgame that I spent a lot of time with, playing over and over, was Risk. The second and third, and I don’t recall the order, were SPI’s Borodino and Strategy One. The fourth, the one that took up most of a summer for one campaign, was GDW’s Triplanetary, and at that point I was hooked. (And we got the rights to Triplanetary, and did a Kickstarter, and the new edition is releasing soon, so that’s full circle for me!)


What elements do you find crucial to creating a great game? Steve: For me a great game has to have a roleplaying element. Now, a very good game that is fun in other ways, like Super Kitty Bug Slap, can get along without roleplaying. But I don’t think a game is great unless it draws me in some way into a fantasy. Even if it’s a silly fantasy of killing monsters and grabbing treasure!


Can you share some advice to aspiring game designers and artists? Steve: Kickstarter is your friend. If you don’t have good art, don’t have art at all. Playtest, proofread, playtest again. Support your friendly local game store. Do it because you love it, or don’t do it.


When Metagaming closed down basically holding rights to The Fantasy Trip hostage for ransom. What were your initial thoughts? Steve: Disappointment, of course, but I figured it would work out eventually. And it did, but it took too darn long.


You have regained rights to The Fantasy Trip and are planning to relaunch. Are there any major differences between the original and the relaunched version? Steve: I would say, no major differences except in presentation. Presentation is much better, with more and better compoonents, and will include color on the components that should have had color in the first place. The rules have seen a lot of polishing, and I removed a few exploits from things like unusual weapons. The option system got some attention, but in the end didn’t change much. One of the more frequent fan comments was that it was too easy for characters to die. So I made it a tiny bit less easy. But if the orcs chop you with their axes until you’re a puddle, you are DEAD dead dead — no change there. I am still working, and other things might change. Or not!


In 1995 you created a game called Illuminati: The Game of Conspiracy. There was a lot of speculation around this game and your possible world domination. When did you start using the Illuminati symbol added to your logo? Steve: I don’t recall, exactly. We had been using the Ogre silhouette, but to someone who doesn’t know Ogre, that’s just a spiky blob. The eye in the pyramid was much more recognizable, and, as a bonus, signaled our evil plans to those with the wit to see! Illuminati goes back a long ways. The first release was actually in 1982, and a new edition, with new art, will ship before long.


Are you still planning world domination? Steve: I have in fact dominated the world for seven years already. It’s turned out to be harder to fix all problems than I expected, but I am patient.


What is next for Steve Jackson Games? Steve: In terms of new products shipping right away, Munchkin Starfinder will be in stores soon, and Triplanetary, and the new Illuminati. Farther out, still in development — after The Fantasy Trip, the next big thing will be a new edition of Car Wars. It’s written in playtest, and we will probably announce a Kickstarter sometime before the end of the year.


Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to answer our questions. I’m sure that I’m not alone in saying we’re excited to see what’s coming next! Steve: Thanks for talking to me. I’m excited too . . .

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