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Keith Matejka headshot

Join Meeple Mountain as we welcome Keith Matejka, the owner and founder of Thunderworks Games, to the interview table. Thunderworks Games is the publisher and distributor of games such as Bullfrogs, Roll Player, Blend Off, and the new Roll Player expansion – Roll Player: Monsters and Minions. Welcome Keith!

Let’s start off with an easy question, what games have you been playing lately? Is there a particular standout for you? What is it about this game that keeps you coming back?

Keith Matejka headshot

Gloomhaven is the game I’m playing the most. I’m loving it. We’re about 6 scenarios in and I’m a level 4 Brute. Other than that, I’ve been going back and playing some classics – Amun-Re, Tigris and Euphrates, Glory to Rome. All great stuff. All these games have different reasons why I like them. The smooth/clean mechanics of the Knizia stuff is great. The insane combos in Chudyk’s Glory to Rome is a blast. The narrative, immersion, and sense of progression in Gloomhaven is infectious.

Here’s another easy one, how do you pronounce your last name? I always read it as “Muh-tay-uh” in my head. Am I doing it wrong?

HA! You’re actually right. I’ve gotten so used to the butchering of my last name, I usually don’t notice anymore. Sometimes people call me “magic” because it’s easier.

Just to give us a little background, when you’re not creating board games, what do you do for a living?

I work at a video game developer called Raven Software. I’ve been working on various Call of Duty games there for the last 5 or so years. I work as a Producer which acts as a project manager most of the time. I’ve worked in video games for a long time. Before Raven, I was at Konami working on music games and a lot of other stuff.

What did you imagine yourself doing when you were younger? Did little Keith Matejka ever think that he would be doing what he’s doing right now?

Little Keith wanted to be a rock star. I’ve played music most of my life. I went to college for music recording as well. I always have loved games (both board and video), but didn’t even think of it as a career until I was an adult. The music background actually was one of my ways into the video game industry. I got a great opportunity to work on music games mainly because of my music background.

How long have you been playing the guitar?

I started playing when I was 13. A group of buddies all started playing at the same time. I was big into 80’s rock/metal at the time (and it still holds a special spot in my heart), so we were all learning Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Skid Row, Motley Crue, Slayer riffs. It was fun because we were all pushing each other to get better.

Do you play any other instruments aside from the guitar?

My main instrument is actually bass guitar. After playing for a year, I switched to bass, for the simple reason that bands in my area were looking for bass players, not guitar players. I fell even more in love with music playing bass. When I was in college, I played the upright bass (double bass) and piano, but I wouldn’t say I’m proficient.

What inspired you to start designing games?

2014-ish. I started working on a mech combat game after a few buddies at work decided to give design a shot. We had been playing games every lunch hour for years and one of us made the suggestion, and we all jumped into new design ideas. The mech game ended up on the “maybe I’ll finish this another day” shelf, but it sparked my interest in design and publishing.

Alexander Cobian, Kane Klenko, Keith Matejka… Madison, WI seems to to be a hotbed for up-and-coming game designers. How does it feel knowing that you’re a big part of that?

Don’t forget Kirk Dennison, Ed Marriott, Seth Van Orden, Mike Wokasch, Brett Myers, Dan Cunningham, Andrew Hanson, and John Kovalic! I love the design community in Madison. I always equate it to Seattle in the 90’s. We all try to support each other and celebrate each other’s successes.

Photo credit: BGG user EllenM

Regarding your company, Thunderworks Games, how did it all get started?

Well, I designed Bullfrogs and I decided to try this Kickstarter thing. I needed a separate entity to keep the money separate from my personal finances, so I needed to start a company (LLC). A couple clicks on the internet and paying a filing fee, and poof, you’re a company. smiley It’s grown gradually over the years, but it’s still just me designing and publishing games.

How do you balance being a family man with running a successful gaming company?

Ooh. That’s an important one and a difficult one. I have an amazing wife and a 6-year-old son. Balancing my day job, Thunderworks, and being a daddy takes up 99% of my time. I am mainly able to do it by sleep depriving myself. smiley I usually work till 6 and spend time with my family and get heads down in Thunderworks stuff after my son’s in bed until very late in the evening. My wife is very supportive of what I’m doing, which is awesome.

What was it like running that very first Kickstarter campaign for Bullfrogs? Was there ever a point where you weren’t certain that it would be successful?

Oh, yeah! For sure. Running a Kickstarter is the most stressful thing in the world to me. A lot of hard work is put into these things. It all leads up to that day when you press launch and there are a million things you can get wrong. Then it’s up to the backers. I was SURE Bullfrogs was going to fail about ½ through the campaign. But, it turned around and ended up being a very successful first KS campaign. It boils down to the power of 1 backer and the momentum they can create.

Photo credit: BGG user biffaliff

Do you have any sage advice for any our readers that might be thinking about launching their own Kickstarter campaigns?

Be prepared. Read as much of Jamey Stegmaier’s and James Mathe’s blogs as you can. High quality art is king on Kickstarter. Figure out shipping as early as you can. Pre-market and bring your crowd to the KS campaign. Don’t rely on KS to provide you backers.

Tell us a little bit about your game, Roll Player. Where did the idea for the game come from?

Roll Player is a dice manipulation game about making a character. That’s it. No adventuring, no quests. I focused on just one element of that experience and stayed true to that. It came from playing RPGs like D&D and video games like Skyrim. The core concept was “If Dominion is the metagame for Magic the Gathering, then what would the metagame for D&D be?”

Where do you see yourself and Thunderworks Games ten years from now?

That’s a tough one. I struggle to keep a balance between doing design work and publishing work. They’re both very different and rewarding in different ways. I think over time, I’ll slide more into design than publishing, but that remains to be seen.

Photo credit: BGG user kalchio

Are you currently working on any other projects? Can you give our readers a sneak peek?

I have quite a few in the works. I’m designing an asymmetrical 2-player game for Pencil First Games currently called “Skulk Hollow”. I’m working on the solo version of the next game from Steve Finn and Beth Sobel called “Sunset Over Water”. I am publishing a 2-player game from Brett Myers called “Dual Powers: Revolution 1917” in 2018 and I signed a game from a new designer Stan Kordonskiy for later in 2018. Staying busy, for sure.

Thanks so much for your time, Keith! We’re excited to see where you and your company go next!

If you haven’t played Roll Player yet, now is an excellent time to give it a try. The new Roll Player expansion – Roll Player Monsters and Minions is live on Kickstarter now.

Roll Player: Monsters & Minions cover

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David McMillan

David McMillan

IT support specialist by day, Minecrafter by night; I always find time for board gaming. When it comes to games, I prefer the heavier euro-game fare. Uwe Rosenberg is my personal hero with Stefan Feld coming in as a close second.