Interview: Jamey Stegmaier from Stonemaier games

Scythe plays in roughly 2 hours, and accommodates 2-5 players.
Scythe plays in roughly 2 hours, and accommodates 2-5 players.

Stonemaier games are no stranger to massive crowdfunding campaigns. Created by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, Stonemaier games has successfully run five Kickstarter campaigns to create new boardgames. They are probably best known for Viticulture- a worker placement game that puts you to the task of making the best possible wine. Viticulture and its expansion Tuscany netted just over $500,000 USD in their respective crowdfunding campaigns.

Stonemaier’s next project is one the most hotly anticipated Kickstarters in recent memory: Scythe. The game lets you and your animal companion explore an Eastern-European landscape, where you can build structures, battle other players, even activate mechs to help you along your way. Jamey has described the game as ‘Agricola meets Kemet’ . Each player represents a different faction vying for control over the region. As such, each player starts with different powers, resources, and objectives to one another. To find out more about Scythe, click here.

I asked Jamey Stegmaier, co-founder of Stonemaier games, and designer of Scythe a few questions on the eve of Scythe’s Kickstarter launch;

What do you think makes a great board game?

I think there is one element present in every great board game: lots of interesting choices. They don’t have to be difficult or complicated choices, but if they’re interesting, that’s what matters. Also, a great board game needs to be FUN. Fun isn’t a happenstance result—great games are designed to maximize fun. This is usually the result of lots of careful playtesting when the designer of the game watches closely to determine when players are having fun and when they’re not, and then eliminating the elements of the game that aren’t fun and accentuating the fun elements to maximize fun.

Is there a board game that you would like to see more widely played?

That’s an interesting question. I’m looking at my collection right now to see which great games I own and love that don’t get much buzz any more (I have no idea other than what I read on BGG as to what the millions of gamers worldwide are actually playing). Okay, I’ll name two. One of my favorite worker placement games that hardly gets any buzz these days is Fresco. Fresco was a major inspiration for Viticulture. It’s so easy to learn and has lots of interesting mechanisms, like the worker programming and wake-up track. It’s a great game. The other game—which I’m sure gets plenty of play but isn’t talked about among gamers much—is the original Blokus. I’m not one for pure abstract games, but there’s something about Blokus that lights up my endorphins. I love it, and I think it’s a great example of a clean design with TONS of interesting choices. Or do you say “tonnes” in Australia? 🙂

How would you describe Scythe? Who would you say will get the most out of it?

Scythe is a 4x game for 2-5 players set in an alternate-history 1920s Eastern Europe. The action takes place on an uncharted patch of land surrounding a mysterious Factory, and players (represented by characters on the board) explore the land, expand their empire, produce resources, and engage in the occasional combat with other players. It takes about 115 minutes to play. The type of player who will enjoy Scythe is someone who loves to be rewarded in games. Every action in Scythe is calibrated to make a player feel like they received two benefits.

Will Scythe be shipped to Australia?

Scythe will be freight shipped to a fulfillment center in Australia (Good Games) to minimize the shipping fee for backers, which will be $13 USD per pledge.

What was the design process like?

It was the most in-depth game design process I’ve ever been a part of. First, the game started with art, which is unique for me. I discovered Jakub Rozalski’s art, worked out a deal for the board game rights, and in parallel I started designing the game while building the world with Jakub. The game went through many iterations and 2-player sessions with my business partner, Alan, before we expanded to local friends and gamers. Finally, when the game was at a pretty good place, I ran 3 waves of blind playtesting that was in itself a full-time job for 2 months. The playtests (more than 750 of them) took place around the world, but I was constantly on the forum and tweaking the prototype and the rules and testing the new ideas. It was grueling, but the fruits of that labor were huge. I then handed the game off to our solitaire designer, Morten Monrad Pedersen, who designed the solo variant and ran another 300 blind playtests of it.

How do you prepare for a potentially huge crowdfunding campaign?

Very carefully. I’ve been working on the Scythe project page for over 2 months, and I’ve been budgeting for it and working with manufacturer (especially on the miniatures) since April. I’ve run big campaigns before—my campaigns average over $300k and over 3,000 backers—so I know how to communicate with and engage lots of backers (though I’m always learning from them). I’m sure I’ll learn some new things if Scythe is notably larger than my other campaigns, but I’ve studied mega-campaigns and have a pretty good understanding of the challenges they’ve faced.

What inspired you to go out and start designing and creating board games?

Designing and playing board games has been a hobby of mine since I was a young boy. However, it wasn’t until the advent of Kickstarter that I thought I could actually make a board game for many other people to play. I was also really excited by the idea of crowdfunding in general—I love engaging with people in this way and building a community around a project. It’s such a unique opportunity to have a direct connection with people who are passionate about my creations.

If you are interested about backing Scythe, the Kickstarter is available for the next 28 days. As of the time of posting, it has been live for 6 minutes, and met roughly 200% of the funding goal. would like to extend a hearty thanks to Jamie for taking the time to have a chat.

Interview: Jamey Stegmaier from Stonemaier games

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