We are here today with Sean Fenemore who is the Designer and Owner of State of Mind Games.
SRGA: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in gaming.
Sean: I’m a middle-aged guy living in Canberra with my wife, 2 kids and dog. I’ve had a number of jobs since I left school and fell into game design in 2014 after I was made redunant from the public service. At the time I was in a top 10 clan for an app game and the devs made changes that broke the game and refused to admit it for months. Eventually the top clans all left and our clan fell apart so I was grumping around the house when my wife said to either go and learn how to make my own games or to stop whinging about it. I found out that the AIE was at the other end of my street so I enrolled there and started studying game design until I graduated in 2017 with a graduate diploma. Before that I’d played games on and off but none of the modern hits (I still haven’t played Catan or Ticket to Ride).
SRGA: Tell us about the game you have developed. (Genre, setting etc)
Sean: So far I’ve been involved in 4 released games, The Stars Align published by Breaking Games and Panakizhi which is a collection of 3 different games in the one set that was self-published via KickStarter with Khairul Hamdan of Garage Games Australia. All of them were designed as 2 player abstract strategy games, though Breaking Games did theme our original unthemed prototype as stars that come out at night and begin twinkling while you look for a shooting star (the stars flip from one player colour to another while you try to make a line of all your colour at which point you remove those stars from the board). Panakizhi has 3 unthemed games but they were loosely tied together around the idea of the pieces being coins in a money bag (a Panakizhi) that scholars were gifted by rulers and the games were what the scholars would sometimes play with them. The prototype furthest along is “Of Stone & Wood” which again is a quick 2-player abstract that I’ve themed to fit into a fantasy setting. I’m currently trying to find a publisher for it. I’m also working on my first game that I’ve designed from theme first. It’s a quick 2-player simultaneous action card fighting game called “Dealing Blows” which I’m hoping gets selected for the Pax Collaboratory later this year so I can get some player feedback to gauge its popularity.
SRGA: What motivated you to start creating your own game?
Sean: Originally it was to keep my mind active after I was made redundant and to also get me out of the house. Once I got into it and our first prototype for a digital game turned into a board game we started to get more involved. Over time I’ve come to accept that I prefer working on tabletop games. The fact that so far all the people I’ve interacted with online in this area have been way more pleasant than a lot of the digital fanboys is an added bonus.
SRGA: What has surprised you most about your experiences creating / producing a game in Australia?
Sean: How hard it is to get any traction overseas, or to even pitch to an overseas publisher. Despite all the technology so many of them only deal in face to face pitches. It is slowly starting to change whereby some will take a sell sheet or tabletop simulator pitch/demo but they are few and far between and not with the bigger players yet. On the positive side I was surprised at how helpful all the other designers have been, often giving of their time and knowledge for no return, and the players at conventions who are willing and sometimes excited to try a new game that is probably broken but that they know they can help shape.
SRGA: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you meticulously plan every detail, or spontaneously go with the flow when creating your game?
Sean: A bit of both? I think because I have mainly done 2 player games I have been able to think through what would/should/could happen and design for it but then when you get a game in front of people they never do what you thought they would so in those cases I go by a combination of gut feel and logic to try and keep the game heading the way I want it to. So I’d say I’m a plotter initially that is also a pantser when the need arises.
SRGA: What is important to you as a player, and how have you incorporated aspects of that into your own game?
Sean: I really struggle with heavy games and long games, so a deep Euro or a game like Twilight Imperium will be something I may admire in passing but that’s it. So I’m looking for shorter (max of 20mins but up to 30mins) games that provide strategy and fun that also have components that let me do something with my hands while I’m waiting for my turn. It’s probably because of this that the games I’ve designed so far have been fairly short. “The Stars Align” is a 2-player abstract that takes about 20mins to play but has quick turns. You also are planning your next turn and playing with your pieces but it usually has very little down time. “Panakizhi” that I designed with Khairul Hamdan is a collection of 3 2-player abstract strategy games that each take 5-10 minutes to play (at least the way I play). Downtime is low so I don’t usually notice that I need anything to do with my hands. My current game is another 2-player game that takes about 10 minutes to play but it has simultaneous actions so there is almost no downtime at all. I’m trying to push myself into new design spaces (for me) like designing for more players and designing with a theme but I can’t see myself intentionally designing a longer game – if I can get the game to the good, tense bits quickly and have players resolve it satisfactorily in a short time then I’m happy because they will probably decide they have time for another game.
SRGA: What do you think will change about the Australian hobby gaming industry over the next 5 or 10 years?
Sean: Print on demand could be interesting with more people owning pretty good quality 3d printers at home. Everyone complains about the cost of shipping to Australia (quite rightly) but if they can back a game & print all the mini’s at home it could revolutionise stuff because no longer do designers need to source manufacturers, and if shipping is lower more people may back the game even if they never print the minis and just play with tokens from other games. Games with a solo play mode are becoming in-demand and with smaller households (in the number of people and actual size of the dwelling) smaller solo games or 2-player only games may take off along with mint tin games.
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?
Sean: According to my daughter the genre would be “Boring” and no one would play me because it would be so bad no one would want to be associated with it. If I had to choose it would be some sort of weird comedy along the lines of Dumb & Dumber & if he was still alive then I’d love Jerry Lewis to play me. If it has to be a modern living actor then to keep them in character with myself it would be some Neville Nobody.
SRGA: If you could bring back any fashion trend throughout history, what would it be?
Sean: Skinny ties. I don’t wear a tie anymore but they looked so stupid I’d like to see all the guys schlepping to work with a ridiculous tie on.
SRGA: What personal trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
Sean: Thinking fast but talking faster 🙁
SRGA: Thank you for your time, and for being part of the Australian role playing community. If readers what to find out more about your game, or purchase copies, what is the best way for them to do that?
Sean: The Stars Align is available online from most stores or direct from Breaking Games in the US. If people are interested in Panakizhi they can contact me at email@example.com or Khairul via Garage Games to see if either of us have any copies left (they were handmade so numbers were limited). For copies of The Reliquary, the zine set in the world of Relics: A Game of Angels by Steve Dee, they can contact me on the email above or contact Steve Dee via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 3 Panakizhi games will be included in the Ancient World Game System by Playford Games which will be hitting KickStarter soon, and we have also included a variant of each game that will play on a 6×6 grid board instead of the usual 5×5 grid. If you love abstract strategy games check it out as the kit will come with about 18 games suitable for a range of player counts.