Join Meeple Mountain as we welcome Jason Kotarski, the owner and founder of Green Couch Games, to the interview table. Green Couch Games publishes some of the most awesome light games you’ve ever played including Fidelitas, Best Treehouse Ever, Wok on Fire, the recently funded Rocky Road a là Mode, and the current Kickstarter game Outlawed! Welcome Jason!
What games are you playing these days?
I recently moved so it’s been tough to get back into a regular gaming rhythm that doesn’t just involve prototypes with getting the house ready and kids back to school. But I’ve managed to get in a few games since GenCon.
I’ve gotten to play Ice Cool a few times with my family and that game is so fun! The board is made of 5 nested boxes clipped together and you flick penguins through the doors trying to catch the most fish while avoiding the dreaded hall monitor! Simple, brilliant game!
I’ve also been able to play Evolution: The Beginning which I thought was pretty cool. Oh, and my oldest kid (7) is nuts for the new Ticket To Ride: First Journeys which is great because I love Ticket To Ride!
You recently moved into a new house, how are things settling in? Are you still in the same town?
Things are going well. I actually moved from Flint, Michigan to the other side of the state to Grand Rapids. My wife got a new job and we have some friends and family here so it’s great. There is a really strong gaming community here, too, which is fantastic. I’ve only been able to make it to a couple game nights but those were with the West Michigan Tabletop Design Group and they are a great bunch of folks that were super welcoming to me.
Moving can be a nightmare, but you were moving while also preparing for Gen Con, working on the successful Kickstarter for Rocky Road à la Mode, and shipping your previous Kickstarter Wok on Fire. How did you manage all of that?
Whew. It was tough but I have a great supportive wife and a flexible day job so I’m able to put a lot of energy into making games and getting them into gamer’s hands! I need some rest for sure but I’ve got another Kickstarter campaign to run first.
Your bio says that you’re a pastor in addition to your other hats. I’ve noticed a decent amount of men of faith in gaming. I’d love to hear about your background, and your thoughts on why board gaming appeals to people with religious beliefs.
Sure. I was an associate pastor before being sent out to start a new church in Flint, Michigan. Those were great experiences but the church closed after a couple of years and I started working as a hospice chaplain. My spiritual journey didn’t really get going until I was an adult. I didn’t really grow up in church but got connected when I discovered some friends who are a part of a new, non-traditional church plant that really connected with me. That really was a point when growth on so many levels really started to kick in for me. I met my wife and started a family. I went back to school and got a degree. I started developing and using my leadership skills in new ways. And all of those experience led me to where I am today, making games and having the confidence to take risks doing stuff I love.
I have noticed a lot of people of faith in the gaming community as well. I think part of that is due to the wholesome-ness of sitting across the table from people playing together. There is almost something spiritual about that. You are doing some tangible things like rolling dice and moving pieces around but you are sharing space with other people and the parts make up a bigger whole. There is the game and there is all of this stuff going on behind the game. I don’t know, it’s just a special thing to be connected to something bigger than you and sharing that with others. That’s sort of how my spirituality and playing games comes together in a cool way.
You started Green Couch Games in 2014, I assume after the release of Great Heartland Hauling Company? What motivated you to start your own game company?
I just loved every part of the experience of working with Dice Hate Me on Heartland that I wanted to keep contributing to the hobby and learning more. So I made some more games, started a podcast, and thought my skills lent themselves well to managing projects and putting out cool games so I went for it! I just wanted to dive in and see how far I could go with this gaming thing. It’s something I’ve always done with different interest, just jumped into the deep end and tried to swim.
You’re a game designer as well as the owner of a game company. Do you think that gives you a unique feel for what might work in other designs?
It certainly helps. I get to at least scratch the design itch when I’m helping another designer develop one of their games even when I’m not working on something of my own. And I think being the type of person that keeps hammering away at something until it works is important both as a designer and publisher.
Do you expect to design any more games? To be released by Green Couch, or another publisher?
I am still designing when inspiration strikes. I can’t give specifics right now but I actually just signed a card game with another publisher that I co-designed with Philip duBarry (co-designer of Fidelitas) that is based on a well-loved IP. That should be coming in 2017.
Green Couch Games is known for some pretty awesome filler games. Why light card games and not meatier stuff? Is that your preference, or is there some other driver behind your choices?
I really love filler games. After a few years of getting into the gaming hobby and buying everything that looked cool I realized that only small stuff was getting lots of play with my family and friends. I think that was because it’s easier to get fillers to the table, especially with casual folks, but also because they explore a lot of territory in simple ways. They are easy to teach and quick but they can still provide a meaningful experience.
I started Green Couch with the goal of being a go-to company for fillers because I felt like in a lot people’s minds they were just an afterthought. I wanted to make them them the main course. In general, I just put out the kind of games I like to play.
Now that the major cons are over, it’s back to work I imagine. What releases do you have coming up? Can you share any hush hush stuff about pending projects?
I am really excited to be launching another game by Ryan Cowler, the designer of JurassAttack! This one is called OutLawed! and it’s awesome. It’s a bluffing game about trying to apprehend the most outlaws to become the new deputy. It’s got fantastic art by Shaz Yong and it’s just a great, quick social game. Super excited about that and it launched on [Kickstarter] Wednesday, September 14th!
After that, I’ve got a great climbing/trick-taking game by Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle coming. And then a couple surprises after that. Lots to do and so little time but we’ll keep plugging away.
I can’t end without asking: East Coast punk or West Coast punk?
I am going to have to say West Coast punk because I grew up on the Lookout! Records stuff. Green Day, Operation Ivy, all that stuff. But there is so much good stuff everywhere that’s a really tough question!