Interview with Justin De Witt

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« Justin De Witt »

How did you come up with the idea to create “Castle Panic”?
I’d been working on some more traditional competitive games and I found myself really wanting to expand on those moments where players work together. I started toying with the idea of putting all the players on the same team against a common enemy. I knew there were a handful of cooperative games out there, but I felt most of them were either too complex or weren’t truly cooperative in the way that I wanted. After experimenting with a few ideas, I settled on the theme of defending a castle against waves of attackers and it didn’t take long to find a way to have the game work against the players.

I also have to give some credit to the last two Lord of the Rings movies. Those scenes where our heroes look out over the defensive walls and see nothing but a sea of incoming enemies were pretty inspirational. I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s just horrible . . . I bet that would make a great game!”

Where do you get the ideas for your games? Do they start with the mechanics, or the themes?
I find they often develop at the same time, but if anything does come first it would probably be a mechanic that captures my imagination. In the case of Castle Panic, the idea of matching your attacks to the rings and arcs on the circular board was the real genesis of the game. I had already been thinking about a defensive game, so having a mechanic that would lead directly to that sense of danger closing in worked perfectly.

Which level of luck is acceptable for you in a game?
That very much depends on the type of game, but I think we all want to be able to control our outcomes as much as possible. Pressing your luck is the whole point of a dice game, but losing a game you’ve been playing for hours due to a few bad rolls can be irritating.

How many games do you work on at one time? Are you working on several designs simultaneously, or do you work solely on one project?
Completing a design can be a very intensive task, so I tend to focus on just one game at a time. I find I work best when I can devote myself completely to a game and get lost in that world. I always have multiple ideas that I’m juggling, though, so it can be tough to just focus on one.

Can you tell me anything about the project you are currently working on? Can you tell me any details about the game itself?
It’s still in an early phase of development, but it will be quite different from Castle Panic. It won’t be a cooperative game, but there will be quite a bit of player interaction and a very different theme. Beyond that, I’d better not say.

Your family and friends participate in your adventure to create a new game?
Definitely. My wife, Anne-Marie, is a huge part of Fireside Games. Not only is she the editor and co-owner but she also contributed a lot of ideas to the development of Castle Panic and, of course, a huge amount of support! My friends are also part of the process as they can often be early play-testers and guinea pigs for rough ideas.

The creation of a game, have several moments? Creation, editing, testing and publishing? Which is the most pleasant for you? Why?
Each phase has its own challenges and rewards, but I think the initial creation is my favorite part. All the ideas are raw and it’s an extremely creative and fast-moving process.

How often do you play test a board game before publication?
As often as possible is the correct answer, but it depends on the game. A game like Castle Panic which had a lot of variables that needed to be explored needed a lot of play testing. We probably tested the game over a hundred times easily through all its various incarnations.

How does the internet affect your designs? Do you read the feedback about your games online?
I think every designer reads at least some of the feedback about their game, whether they admit it or not. We all want to know if players are seeing our game the same way we do. Are they having the same experiences, are they enjoying the same things? Getting feedback and new ideas from players online has been a great experience. I learn something from every comment, but in the end I know the process I need to go through to create the kind of games that I do and while that may get refined, it won’t change fundamentally.

What do you think about playing board games online?
I’ve only played a handful online, and while it’s great to be able to play a game anytime you want, it just doesn’t compare to being face-to-face with other players. I think that’s one of the greatest things about board games---the social interaction, and you just can’t capture that online.

How often do you play your own games after they've been published? Do you prefer playing your own games or the games of others?
With all of the demo games I’ve been running, I actually play Castle Panic quite a bit, and I still really enjoy it. Part of that enjoyment is playing with new people and seeing them experience the game for the first time. Plus, every game is different and new players only enhance that difference.

You play games time to time, or the games are part of your daily life?
Games are a huge part of my daily life. Between promoting Castle Panic, working on new games, and running Fireside Games, it’s just about all I do. I can’t complain.

Can you tell me the game you enjoy playing the most? Why?
I’d have to say that Pandemic is probably my current favorite, even though it can be just plain mean. I’m a big fan of cooperative games, (not surprisingly) and Matt Leacock did a great job of making players feel the tension of trying to save the world.

Do you prefer play the games or create them?
In all honesty I love both and I see them as going hand in hand. I love playing a new game and then teaching it to friends and seeing them enjoy it as much as I did. That same excitement also comes from seeing an idea take shape and crafting its development into something that other people enjoy.

Do you think sales are a determining factor of whether a game is good or not?
There’s no denying that sales are critical. It’s what keeps a publisher in business and gets paychecks to designers. While it may be true that there are a lot of gems out there that just don’t sell well, there are also a lot of financially successful games out there that aren’t very much fun. Still there’s a lot to be said for a well-marketed game that becomes a hit with critics and gamers.

When did you realize that create games were your dream?
Early on when I was a child I would make my own games. Sometimes just to entertain myself and other times to play with friends. I didn’t realize you could do it as a profession until much later.

How do you define yourself as a game designer?
Enthusiastic. I work on games in one way or another constantly and I’d like to be known for making light, fun games that are easy to learn with a wide appeal.

Do you have another job, or you are a full time game designer?
Currently I work part-time as the Production Manager for Steve Jackson Games. I’m not directly involved in game design there, though, just helping to get games through production and off to the printer.

What can you tell us about Fireside Games?
We’re a small publisher that focuses on games that are fun, innovative, and accessible. Our goal is to create games that will appeal to both hobby and mass market players and bring the fun of board games to a broad audience.

Do you normally follow any particular game designer with especial attention?
I’m a big fan of Bruno Faidutti and Matt Leacock.

Do you think that board games can be use for an education purpose?
Certainly. They can teach kids everything from the basics, like math and colors, to logic and reasoning. Adults can learn teamwork, planning, and more. Even if a game isn’t directly educational, it can keep your mind engaged and sharp, help with your focus, and improve social skills.

What you think about the economic crisis? It will affect the games sales?
Sadly, I think the crisis is having an impact on retailers, making it harder for many of them to stay in business. However, I do think there has been a surge in people being smarter when it comes to entertainment. I think board games can be a big part of that surge as long as people realize they are a valid option and a good way to spend their time and money. Games are a great value for their price. For what it costs to take a family of four to the movies for a few hours, you can bring home a game that will entertain your family and friends for years.

The “Age of Empires III” and “Goa” board games retract the glorious days of Portugal history.
Do you think that Portugal history can be a theme for a game made be you?
We don’t have any plans for a game like that in the near future, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

What you know about Portugal? Have you ever visited Portugal?
I’ve never visited Portugal, but I actually have family from there. My mother’s side of the family comes directly from Portugal, and my wife and I would love to visit there sometime.

Thank very much for the interview.
Thank you for the opportunity!

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