You've recently left Wizards of the Coast and Avalon
Hill. What are you up to now?
I've formed a game design studio called LoneShark Games with James
Ernest, the president of Cheapass Games. James and I have been friends
for almost a decade, and we think too much alike for it to be safe
for the world.
Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
We started when James was designing the upcoming American Idol
card game for Fleer. We then immediately launched into a cool new game for Wiz Kids called Pirates of the Spanish Main,
which was just shown off at the GAMA Trade Show; it uses beautiful polystyrene punchout ships which sail and
fight in a very fluid fashion. We're
doing some new games for the German market and a new Cheapass game
and, well, there's a lot more. Basically, a bunch of companies contacted
us once they found out we were working together, and so a lot of
projects are in the works now. Oh, also, I've done a game with the
late Paul Randles, the designer of Pirate's Cove, and Bruno
Faidutti of Mystery of the Abbey fame. It's a deep-sea
diving game called Treasure Island from Tilsit, and it should be out
next year. I'm very excited about that.
You've designed games with James Ernest in the past, haven't
Yeah, we did Fightball, a futuristic real-time card game
with knucklehead gangbangers who bring their baseball bats to the
basketball court. It rocks.
This new studio, just doing designs and leaving the publishing
to others, clearly takes a page from the business model of PC and
console games. What else could the tabletop industry stand to learn
from video games, in terms of how the business is structured?
A ton. Their design departments are smaller, and they understand
that one company shouldn't have to shoulder all the responsibility
for making a game work. They are much more comfortable with intellectual-property
partnerships than the tabletop games industry, and I'd like to think
we can help change that. I also think the tabletop games distribution
channel puts way too much emphasis on hitting specific release dates,
timed for catalogues and conventions and trade shows. The videogame
industry understands that a game is only late once, but it's bad
Will this new venture be doing any roleplaying work? (Justify
your answer, please :-)
Tough one. I'm enjoying focusing on board games and card games
right now. But hey, I spent twenty years working on D&D, and
I was thrilled to be one of the creative directors on the D&D
relaunch a few years ago. It's been two years since my last big
D&D books (Masters of the Wild and Book of Challenges),
though I did work on an upcoming hardback for D&D. I could definitely
be intrigued by doing something else, and I have some ideas I'd
like to pursue. I have a lot of respect for companies like Green
Ronin and White Wolf, so if someone really wanted to put a budget
behind a project of mine, I could see getting back into the RPG
Tell us about your dream contract - the scale and nature
of games you'd really like to be doing.
My favorite gaming experiences are huge in scale—hundred-player
live action RPGs, weekend-long road rallies, thousand-person puzzle
games. I want to bring more of those to life. Games are great when
you share them with your friends, but imagine sharing one with an
entire theater of people. I do a lot of those now, at conventions
like Gen Con and Origins, but I keep dreaming larger.
Why did you decide to leave WotC/Avalon Hill? Did you
achieve what you had hoped for while there?
I'd been there for eight years, and was fortunate enough to work
on all their great games. I absolutely achieved what I wanted to
do there. With the job title of "inventor," few people
had as good a job as I had. But in some sense, with the exception
of my puzzles, I'd become defined by other people's properties—D&D,
Axis & Allies, Harry Potter, Marvel, that sort of thing.
I wanted to stretch a bit and work with James on some new ventures.
But Wizards remains close to my heart (as well as my house), and
I still do a few things for them when time permits.
Now that the new edition of Axis is out, has
anything surprised you about fan reaction?
I was surprised that it's been so rabid—positive, negative,
you name it, but always absolutely ferocious. You won't find any player
who's indifferent about the revision. There are fully functional
online engines for the game running already. Look, it's been 18
years since it was last revised, so I knew bringing it into the
21st century would be extremely controversial. Since I was best
known for RPG and TCG work prior to this, a lot of people in the
board game community didn't have any idea who I was. I guess they
On the other side of the coin, what's going to surprise
people the most about Risk: Godstorm?
That it's not Risk 2210 B.C. You'll be able to do a lot of things
you could never do in Risk, like have your soldiers fight after
they die. Plus, you can sink Atlantis. How cool is that?
Were you involved in the recently announced Betrayal
at House on the Hill?
Yeah, I was a developer on that game. Betrayal is brand
new, and nothing like it has ever been published before. It's a
horror board game that really feels like you're in a horror story.
The game comes with beautiful painted figures and tiles in which
you build a haunted house. The amazing part is that the designer,
Bruce Glassco, invented a mechanism where you only find out who
(or what) the badguy is late in the game. I expect it'll be a huge
hit around Halloween.
If you had to guess, what's the future of Avalon Hill?
Extremely rosy. Along with Eagle, Days of Wonder, Uberplay, and
others, it will revitalize the American board game market like no
one's ever seen.
We all have an answer to this one, but let's hear yours:
dream AH reprint?
You could get me energized about a new version of Kingmaker,
but hands down the answer is Squad Leader. My first hobby
game, and probably my favorite. I love the global scale of Axis
& Allies, but I get positively giddy about trying to get
five guys and a halftrack across a minefield. I think Squad
Leader would need a thorough overhaul for the modern era, though,
and I would kill to be the guy to do it.
So, just how big of a Simpsons fan are you? I ask because
of a certain card game...
I used to think I was a huge Simpsons fan. But then I met some
of my developers on The Simpsons TCG like Elaine Chase
and Andy Collins, who could quote every line of every episode. I
can't match that. Still, I was a big enough fan to be flattered
when, six months prior to the TCG's release, one fan site called
it the "worst...game...ever!" I don't get many compliments
better than that.