Geeking Out – Interview with Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games
Next month sees the release of Wingspan Asia, which is both a standalone version and expansion for the phenomenally successful Wingspan. This year, Stonemaier Games celebrates 10 years of making innovative, engaging games for players of all ages and levels of experience.
I’m a little ashamed to say that I’d only really encountered a couple of their efforts prior to this year (Scythe and Viticulture) but I’ve tried to make up for that in 2022! For us, Wingspan was the gateway drug – it’s so mainstream it’s even appeared in Coronation Street, folks! – and we’re completely smitten with the diverse challenges and difficulty levels of their various individual games.
Wingspan Asia contains: Duet mode (a new, self-contained solo/2-player standalone variant); the birds of Asia as an expansion alongside any other version Wingspan; and Flock mode, a 6-7 player variant using components from the core game. Alongside this will be the release of the Nesting Box, which can hold all current and future Wingspan releases along with containing the Asia expansion.
We’re also beyond thrilled that company co-founder Jamey Stegmaier very graciously agreed to sit down with us and have a chat about all things Wingspan and more besides.
BIG COMIC PAGE: Hey Jamey, thanks for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the industry?
JAMEY STEGMAIER: Thanks for having me! I’ve been gaming and designing games ever since I was a kid, and I formally entered the industry by designing and funding Viticulture on Kickstarter in 2012.
BCP: Let’s start properly with a really tough one: if you had to pick, what’s the SM game you yourself most enjoy playing?
JS: Since you’re the one asking, it would be the game of ours that you’re the most excited or curious to play! We only publish 1 or 2 games each year, and I only select games I really love, so I’m happy to play any of our games.
BCP: What do you look for in a boardgame as a producer?
JS: There’s a lot I look for (there’s a long list on our submissions page), but a few things I see are (a) easy onboarding even if the game is complex, (b) a sense of progression, (c) several hooks—mechanical, thematic, component, etc., (d) player count spanning from at least 2-5 players.
BCP: Why do you think Wingspan seems to have caught on so successfully?
JS: I think it’s a few different factors, among them being that Elizabeth designed a great game with a theme that isn’t seen all that often in a game with that much variety and emergent complexity. I also think it taps into the “collector” in all of us, as it feels good to cover your mat with a variety of birds. It also helps that it was so well received by reviewers early on, including a writer at the NY Times.
BCP: Red Rising is another huge success for you guys, based in Pierce Brown’s compelling dystopic universe. How do you start adapting such an iconic narrative?
JS: I started by getting it wrong…a lot! I picked out my favorite aspects of the books and the world of Red Rising and kept trying to apply worker placement and bag building to them, and it just didn’t work. So I set it aside for a while and was eventually inspired by another game I love, Fantasy Realms.
BCP: What do you think is the most important element of game design (yeah, all the tough ones today, sorry)?
JS: I think that finding the fun is the most important element. That’s a broad statement, as fun is different for everyone; another way to say it is that as much as I try to make our games as mechanically and thematically interesting as possible, if there’s an element of the game that is frustrating playtesters or is simply fine but not great, I’ll always sacrifice it for the sake of making it more fun.
BCP: More generally, do you think there’s a move in the industry towards hybrid miniature-board games?
JS: It does seem like miniatures are making their way into all sorts of game!
BCP: What do you think will be the aftermath of the pandemic for the industry? Obviously the Automa engine has caught the zeitgeist for solo play – do you see this as a longer-term trend?
JS: I do think that lower-player count games are more important than ever before, and, to a lesser amount, games that can be played remotely. Due to significantly higher freight shipping costs that don’t seem to be returning to their pre-pandemic levels, I think another impact is an increase in prices.
BCP: This year’s GenCon was abuzz with Roll and Writes – will we see anything like that from you? Or, to take another trend that seems to going in waves, app-driven gameplay?
JS: We do indeed have a roll-and-write game, Rolling Realms, which I designed during the pandemic to be infinitely scaling and remotely playable. Here’s a recent article I wrote about it (CLICK HERE).
BCP: Now I happen to know you’re very fond of cats (our own cat, Harley, is particularly fond of going on a Godzilla rampage during games of MCP). Granted we’ve had a couple appear anthropomorphically in My Little Scythe and Libertalia, but will we ever see a Stonemaier game which is fully cat-focused, Calico style?
JS: I do love cats, and Harley sounds awesome! Most of our games have cat Easter eggs, but currently we don’t have any cat-themed games in the works.
BCP: Are there any other games you’ve worked on that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
JS: I’ve honestly enjoyed every game I’ve worked on, whether I’m the designer or just the developer/publisher. It’s a joy to have my own creative space, just as it’s a joy for me to work with amazing designers.
BCP: SM is known for the high quality of its physical products, often with a dash of whimsy (the nesting box dice tower for Wingspan leaps to mind). What’s your favourite component that you’ve produced?
JS: One of my favorites is a secret component in Charterstone, so I won’t spoil that one here…. Instead, I’ll go with the chunky bakelite loot tokens in Libertalia. Inspired by Azul, it just feels so good to grab a handful of tokens. Also, I really like the special paper we use for our rulebooks.
BCP: What else can we look forward to from SM in the near future?
JS: In the very near future we have Wingspan Asia and the Nesting Box, and next year we’ll have a Tapestry expansion and a few surprise games.
BCP: And what other games do you have on your shelf?
JS: I can’t list them all, so I’ll choose 1 square of my Kallax and share the games in it: Dune Imperium, Lost Ruins of Arnak, Ark Nova, and Isle of Skye.
BCP: Having dipped into a number of universes, is there a franchise you’ve not worked on but would really love to get your hands on?
JS: Mostly I’m excited about the worlds we’re building for future games. I’d like to revisit Greengully (Charterstone) and Galecrest (Libertalia) someday. For intellectual properties, there are maybe a few book series that scratch the same itch as Red Rising (popular but I want even more people to know about it).
BCP: Finally, we are a comic site, so I always have to ask – what’s your particular poison?
JS: Well, one specific comic-adjacent product has been on my mind recently, as my most recent game, Smitten, was inspired by Marvel comic book cards from my youth (the set where you put together 9 cards to form a seamless panorama). That’s probably my fondest comic-related memory (thought I did have some comic books as a kid, and I’ve enjoyed some graphic novels as an adult).
BCP: Thanks again for your time!
And what would a Geeking Out be without a review? Let’s take a look at some more from our new favourite publisher.
VITICULTURE ESSENTIAL EDITION/ VITICULTURE WORLD
This time, we have a game of competitive (or, with the expansion, collaborative) wine-making. This is one of the heavier-weight games in the SM catalogue, but it’s no less accessible, albeit more as a grown-up game (and it really does go well with a glass or two of something). The design aesthetic and product quality is, as always, outstanding: it’s a beautiful thing, and the card stock is particularly impressive, high gsm and very slick. It’s a worker placement but doesn’t feel like yet another reskinned Euro game, as you’re always focusing on planting and harvesting the specific varieties of grapes for your vineyard – it’s solidly thematic, and sets itself apart with effective use of card mechanics to drive your strategy.
I do like a mix of push your luck and card draw (and, unlike Dice Throne, I’m quite good at it in Viticulture!), and it partially avoids the common problem of blocking (limiting placement of workers) through having a “grande” worker that can always be placed: this doesn’t undermine strategy (after all it’s an integral worker-placement game mechanic), but certainly makes it more accessible. With a playtime of around an hour max, it’s a great gateway game for Euro Worker placement novices, but just as satisfying for the veteran.
The World expansion is a lovely co-op experience if that more your thing. Co-op worker placement is unusual, so the game is all about communication: which resources do you limit? Who is going to do what? This to me really adds a family dynamic to the game, which suits us down to the ground. There’s a neat inclusivity nod also, switching around the gender-options of the Mamas and Papas cards (what you inherit from your parents in the pre-game), which doesn’t feel heavy-handed or tokenistic.
The introduction of other continents to cultivate, within their historical context, is also fascinating and enhances the game for younger players especially, whilst including a (very valid) disclaimer around the events leading to cultivation in South America. Also, seasonal worker meeples now get hats! I mean who doesn’t love a hat?
Damnit, Stonemaier, you’ve done it again.
As always, don’t forget to head over to our previous Geeky Giveaway post HERE and comment there. However, if you would like an extra entry you can comment below with either your favourite Stonemaier game (check out some of our previous reviews HERE and HERE) or which one you’d most like to add to your collection.
And remember to Like, Comment and Share across your socials (FB, Insta and/or Twitter) tagging us @bigcomicpage & @games_with_graven to bag yourself a bonus entry! UK entries only, unfortunately.
The winner will be announced on the monthly giveaway post on the first Monday in November! Till then, fellow ornithologically-minded geeks!
The Writer of this piece was: Sam Graven
Article Archive: Geeking Out
You can follow Sam on Twitter and Instagram
Wingspan is my favourite SM game but SM is my favourite game publisher. :)