Join Meeple Mountain as we welcome indie game designer, and president of Van Ryder Games, A. J. Pofirio to the interview table. A. J. is the designer of the wildly popular solo game Hostage Negotiator, and the publisher behind games like Tessen, Salvation Road, and Saloon Tycoon.
Welcome A. J.! What games are you playing these days?
The “getting ready for Gen Con while also running a KS Campaign” game. It is quite challenging! Oh you meant board games… well to be honest I have only played Salvation Road and Saloon Tycoon recently – teaching friends and family the game. I’m ready to get back to Pandemic Legacy when the dust settles from Gen Con though.
Do you work full time in the board game industry?
No, I have my day job that pays the bills. Our hope and goal is to one day be able to do VRG full time.
You, and Van Ryder Games, are based in the Nashville, Tennessee area (as is Meeple Mountain for the record). How’s the design scene in Nashville?
These days there are designers everywhere, and Nashville is no different. You’ve also got several other small publishers in the area like Black Locust, Conquest, Infinite Dreams, and others.
A game you designed, Hostage Negotiator, is currently ranked 880 on BGG. That’s pretty good for a solo game from an indie publisher. To what do you attribute it’s popularity?
It is a fast-playing, very thematic, and – most of all – fun game. I’ve learned that those things trump old assumptions about things like player count that some people think can hold a games sales down. But no one knows exactly what makes certain games a hit and others not, otherwise we publishers would only make hits! Right?
Speaking of solo games, why do you think they get a bad rap? How do you think games like Hostage Negotiator are changing people’s opinions of solo gaming?
Ok you want to open that can of worms? I don’t think solo games get a bad rap per se, but sometimes people who play solo or even prefer solo are not understood.It basically boils down to people suffering from something called Self-Reference Criteria, which means (per the google): “The SRC (Self Reference Criterion) is an unconscious reference to one’s own cultural values, experiences, and knowledge as a basis for decisions.”
In other words, people who don’t play solo games often look at it as “lonely” or “sad” because maybe for them it would be. But in reality, for the solo gamer, that is probably about as far from the truth as you can get. Solo gamers are extremely happy when playing a great game just like the folks that enjoy a great game with other people. They just derive their enjoyment fully from the game and their own thoughts, rather than any interactions from others as you find when playing in a group.This is really not a new thing… think puzzles, books, video games, jogging, and on and on. The problem is that, based on history and what people think “playing a board game” means, people identify board gaming as a group activity. The good news is, that is changing. It is not so “weird” any more. Just ask the 5,000+ members of the 2nd largest guild on BGG – the 1 Player Guild. If you’re reading this you should join us!
And here is the best thing… solo and group gaming are not mutually exclusive! There is no reason you cannot do both! (ok not at the same time granted, but you know what I mean). And many people do!
You have a current Kickstarter campaign for Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave, a stand alone expansion to Hostage Negotiator which funded in 5 hours, how does that feel? What does knowing you’re already funded free you up to do?
It feels great. Look, I’ve been in KS campaigns of all types. The ones that fund quickly are always lots of fun and it does take out a lot of the stress because you never quite know. I’ve also been in campaigns that struggled to fund but made it at the last minute. KS is a roller coaster, but hey roller coasters are fun right?
Being funded early allows us to knock out some stretch goals and improve the game. It is one of the great things about Kickstarter. People can actually influence what the final product will look like.
Last year your company’s Kickstarter for Salvation Road narrowly funded in the last hours. I’d love to hear the story about those last few days, and how you were able to rally your fans and followers.
Yeah I referenced that in the last question. Salvation Road will always have a special place in my heart. And by the way, it is out now so go grab it up!
But yeah, it really was looking like we were not going to make it. We debated cancelling and trying again later. I was prepping the designers for the real possibility we wouldn’t make it. It was tough, we worked SO hard on both the game and the campaign. Failing to fund would have been really deflating. I think the catalyst for the turn around was when I posted an update and really spoke from the heart. We saw a very real increase in pledge activity following that update and on into the last 48 hours. It was very satisfying to see the support and the fight that our backer community had.
Here is that update if you are interested in reading it.
It looks like Van Ryder puts out a good mix of games you’ve designed, and games from other designers. How do you identify designers you’d like to work with? How do you decide who makes the cut and who doesn’t?
That isn’t really something I can put into words, but I’ll say this, and I say this to every designer we’ve worked with… We are publishing the person just as much as the game. We are not an outfit that takes the design and says “we’ll take it from here”. We work very closely with our designers throughout the publishing process. And to do that, you have to like who you are working with ,which means we want to work with great people with great attitudes that make great games.
What’s next on the horizon for Van Ryder Games? Any upcoming projects you’d care to talk about?
Our next project will be a very innovative game from VRG partner and game designer, Evan Derrick. Players will be solving a mystery in an extremely thematic and engaging scenario based game. And THAT is all I will say about that…. for now.
Thanks again A. J. for your time. we wish you the best of luck on the Hostage Negotiator: Crime Wave Kickstarter!