Our latest interview is with award-winning Australian boardgame designer Jack Ford Morgan, who is the co-director and lead game designer of Half-Monster Games.
SRGA: Jack, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in gaming.
Jack: Thanks for having me! I’m a huge video gamer and a dad to two babies under two, which don’t always mix well in terms of time allocation. I got into gaming with the Nintendo 64, And the best games ever: Ocarina of Time and Banjo Kazooie! I used to save up my 5c and 10c coins to go and hire them over and over again from the Video Ezy up the street. I have always had pretty difficult anxiety that was undiagnosed for a long time too, and gaming was always a nice escape to decompress and recharge, and also a way to connect with others.
SRGA: Tell us about the game you have developed. (Genre, setting etc)
Jack: The biggest title we’ve released thus far is Terrible Candidates, which is about being the worst possible presidential candidate ever. The genre I guess is “debate” or “satirical choice”, sort of like Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples. My artist/co-designer Sean and I really wanted to have an element of debate added, where you defend your horrible Topic/Policy match and try to convince everyone else to vote for you against your opponent. After significant testing my co-director Callan suggested adding the debating mechanic to the convincing, and it just went on from there. We won the Tabletop Game of the Year award at the Australian Game Awards last year for it as well, which was just so exciting and humbling. We’re really grateful that so many people enjoy playing it enough to vote!
SRGA: What motivated you to start creating your own game?
Jack: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but it turned out I’m not very good at writing prose and fiction! I did a games design degree in 2011 with Callan, and found I am really good at worldbuilding, though I can just never decide what the characters should do. I started a story a few years ago about animals taking over from humans and just continuing to do human things, like school and business and stuff, and my wonderful wife Crystal urged me to maybe try making a game out of it, because the story was interesting but the writing… well, its not my strong suit! And now with three published games and a dozen on the way, it turns out it was the best brutal honesty I’ve ever received. And now I can see players making fun and interesting decisions for their characters in the worlds I build, which I find way more fun way to be a part of a story.
SRGA: What has surprised you most about your experiences creating / producing a game in Australia?
Jack: The two most surprising aspects of creating and producing a game in Australia for me have been encountering these two main challenges: firstly, a distinct lack of easily-accessible and affordable manufacturing capacity for board game boxes and customised cards here in Australia, and secondly, how making the game is only about a quarter of the entire journey of releasing and selling a product. I had no experience of business before starting to sell games and setting up the company, so it’s been a lot of years of trying and failing at finding funding, conventions, learning marketing, running events, building megagames at universities, making custom games for clients for cash flow, and so on. That failure and learning has led a lot to our current success, so overall it’s been a really hard but fulfilling journey that I’m excited to continue.
Australian audiences have a hunger for cool games and experiences, but the trickier part than making them is then figuring out how to market to them and to sustain a business. But it can be done! Endless help from groups like the QUT Foundry and the Tabletop Game Designers Association, my mentors, and awesome collaborators like James from the Brisbane Treasure Hunt Society have been so critical along the journey as well. I was surprised how much of a team effort the business of game development is!
SRGA: When it comes to designing, are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you meticulously plan every detail, or spontaneously go with the flow when creating your game?
Jack: I’m absolutely a pantser. I usually am making about five games at a time, and finding four of them suck and one is good, and then continuing with that one (and starting four others in the meantime!) So I guess I’m more a prototyper: I’ll make a bunch of games and test them with audiences as soon as possible at events or uni, and then I focus on the games that people like the most and that work well, just needing further work and polish. A few will turn out to be great through sheer brute force, and in the meantime I’ve experimented with a bunch of ideas and mechanics that I can roll into more games later.
SRGA: What is important to you as a player, and how have you incorporated aspects of that into your own game?
Jack: I have trouble reading long rulebooks, so I tend to make my games with a lot of social mechanics and depth, over pages mechanical complexity. I wish I could make really long and detailed rulebooks, and I really respect people that do! But it’s just not my specialty, or where I find my joy as a designer. So I make games where interacting and making deals and temporary alliances with other players is an important factor, and I personally find that really fun and interesting.
SRGA: What do you think will change about the Australian hobby gaming industry over the next 5 or 10 years?
Jack: I think it’ll keep chugging along and growing at a nice and steady rate. The board and card game industry here in Australia is currently worth about $750 million, and it has been growing very strongly compared to the 21% per year internationally. I think more immersive analogue game experiences will come out, like Two Rooms and a Boom, or this one we’re developing called One-Shot Western, which is tuned towards parties, public spaces/venues, and conventions like Supanova and PAX. I think there’s a lot of growth opportunity for that sort of “bridge” between gamers and the general public – games that bring in light roleplaying and can take place pretty much anywhere so thus get a lot of visibility.
SRGA: . Finally, some fun questions to finish off (give quick answers please!):
SRGA: If a movie was made of your life what genre would it be, and who would play you?
Jack: Romantic Comedy, and Ty Burrell, the guy that plays Phil Dunphy from Modern Family
SRGA: If you could bring back any fashion trend throughout history, what would it be?
Jack: Hoods and cloaks, definitely.
SRGA: What personal trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
Jack: I fall in love pretty quickly. Leads to a lot of trouble, I can tell you.
SRGA: Thank you for your time, and for being part of the Australian gaming community. If readers what to find out more about your game, or purchase copies, what is the best way for them to do that?
Jack: Thanks Philippa! This was really fun.
The best way to see our stuff is to go to halfmonstergames.com, to check out our Facebook page, to join our Facebook gamer group “The Half-Monster Horde”, and consider signing up to my Patreon for free stuff and lots more behind-the-scenes insight into the art, science, and slapstick comedy that is analogue game development! (Patreon.com/jackfordmorgan)