Hello, dear readers, and welcome to our latest installment of our ongoing series, Portrait of a Gamer. In this feature I interview someone from the gaming industry to find out how they got into it and why they love games. (If you haven’t read my other interviews, you can find them by clicking on the “Portrait of a Gamer” tag on this article.) This week, I got a chance to talk to Jim Felli, game designer from Devious Weasel Games and creator of Shadows of Malice (which we will be reviewing next week.)
How long would you say you have been a gamer?
Since the Fall of 1978 when I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons by a friend. I was hooked instantly.
Do you have a favorite type of game?
I really like games with strong, consistent, narrative components where players have to think carefully and work together to accomplish difficult, but not impossible, goals. RPGs fill that niche nicely. I also really appreciate the use of randomness as a “great equalizer” to combat game “optimizers” who focus so much on tuning, trimming, and balancing that they lose the soul of a game. In reality, a game is just a math problem… but a game with a soul takes you away from all the math and lands you to a big, open, muddy field in your mind and heart where you can freely play and bend the rules just for the sake of having fun. If you can’t do that, why play?
What is your earliest memory of gaming?
Fall of 1978, the day after I played my first D&D game… I replayed it in my memory it all day long. And the next day. Carrion crawlers still creep me out.
How long have you been a board game designer?
I started fiddling with what would become Shadows of Malice in the late 1990’s but didn’t really get serious until 2012, so I’ll say 3 years. But I think I’ve been subconsciously working my way to this point a long time… I spent a lot of time studying engineering, marketing, mathematics, decision theory, applied probability, and game theory. All these fields have greatly influenced the way I think about influences, incentives, creativity, and play.
What made you want to get into this business?
I don’t really consider myself “in the business.” I’m just a dabbler. In fact, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a game designer or game publisher that knows less than I do about the business. So far, its a fun ride and I’m learning a lot. But I’m just one devious little weasel in a very, very big wilderness.
Speaking of devious weasels, your publishing company is called Devious Weasel Games- where did that name originate?
I wanted a 2-word name for the company, specifically an evocative adjective-noun pair that would resonate with gamers. I tried a bunch, including things like “zombie piranha” and “undead llama.” Somewhere along the line the adjective “devious” popped up and sparked a sudden callback to my old D&D days where our DMs were known for their deviousness. In that moment, “weasel” seemed the natural noun to complete the pair. I knew in an instant that was the name I wanted: “Devious Weasel Games.”
What is the hardest part of doing what you do?
I think the hardest part for me is putting the brakes on ideas and trying to keep things simple. I’m always thinking about the next mechanic, the next story element, and sometimes forget that simplicity has an elegance and a profound beauty in and of itself. So… keeping things at an appropriate complexity level is really hard for me — luckily, I have great (and patient!) friends who don’t pull punches and reign me in when I start to bolt.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start designing board games professionally?
I really don’t feel like I know enough to give advice to anyone thinking about getting into board game design. I’m such a noob myself. But I will share my guiding principle: make games that you want to play. If they’re not fun for you, why would you want anyone else to suffer them?
So an expansion for your game Shadows of Malice, entitled Seekers of a Hidden Light is coming this July- what else can we expect from Devious Weasel games?
If all goes according to plan, 2016 will see the release of Zimby Mojo and possibly Options & Outcomes. Zimby Mojo is a “co-opportunistic game of cannibalistic mayhem” in which players take on the role of an all-powerful shaman of a tribe of nasty, vicious, hardheaded little cannibals. The players must work together to kill the cannibal king, then turn against each other to claim the fallen crown. Options & Outcomes is a card game in which players strategically place and resolve lotteries in order to outperform their opponents. It’s a fast game where fortunes can swing wildly and your chance for victory depends on how you build your portfolio of gambles.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Is there anything that you would like to say to our readers?
Yes. I’d like to thank everyone who has taken a risk on a new game. Without gamers willing to try new things, innovation would grind to a halt and opportunities would vanish for new designers and publishers. So, thank you all!
If anyone is interested in meeting Jim or playing his latest project, Zimby Mojo, he will be not only attending Gen Con, but hosting an event to playtest Zimby Mojo, so grab tickets for that event while you can. Next week, we’ll be looking at the game that started it all for Jim, Shadows of Malice, so stay tuned, dear readers- I’m certain that this is just the beginning of a stellar career for Jim Felli.