In this second post of Unsung Heroes of Gaming, CigarBoxBattle.com gets the great privilege of interviewing Mr. Jay Little, one of today’s most popular Game Designers. for over 20 years he’s worked in a variety of game genres. He’s created and contributed to Cigar Box Battle favorites like X-Wing by Fantasy Flight Games, and Warhammer Fantasy RPG. We’re going to talk to him about this and more (including a convention he founded 10 years ago that is still going strong!). Welcome Mr. Little in a BIG WAY!
CBB – Are you or have you been a gamer? (Miniature Wargames, Role-Playing Games, or Board Games)
JL – I’ve been a gamer since I was born. My family had regular game nights, and I played a lot of Scrabble and Cribbage growing up. By the time I was eight, I was already playing Dungeons & Dragons with my older brother — and I still have the character sheet for my first character! I gamed throughout grade school, high school, college, and now in my adult and professional life.
CBB – What kinds of games do you prefer to play?
JL – Roleplaying games are my first love, especially Indie-style games that push the thematic and narrative boundaries. Otherwise, I enjoy a wide range of games — Ameritrash, Euro, party, card, console and computer games… just games!
CBB – What was the first “hobby” game you ever played?
JL – If we discount roleplaying games and look at games more closely associated with hobby gaming, among the first games I ever played were a number of Games Workshop gems — Talisman, Chainsaw Warrior, and Kings & Things. I also have fond memories of early Steve Jackson black box games like Car Wars, Ogre GEV and Necromancer.
CBB – How did you get into Game Design? Tell us about it?
JL – I’ve been designing games since I’ve been playing games. I still have the prototype for my first boardgame design “Goblins & Ghouls” which is a roll-and-move race through a cemetery which I designed when I was nine years old. It’s terrible. But it’s fun to look back on and reminisce.
During high school, I spent a lot of time designing boardgames and roleplaying games. I attended so many GenCon conventions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that I knew one day I wanted to be a designer.
CBB – What was your first Game Design commission? Tell us about it?
JL – My very first paid design work was while I was in college. It was for a game called Klay Warz, in which you physically sculpted a monster out of clay and had them beat the hell out of each other. That was through a now-defunct company called Escape Ventures, which had also published one of the earliest non-D&D mainstream RPGs I ever played, called Element Masters.
The work that got me into game design full-time was designing click games for WizKids. I have a strong background in sports, and I was hired to design their MLB SportsClix game. While I was there, I also had the opportunity to contribute to Crimson Skies, Shadowrun Duels, and Mage Knight 2.0. I had a great time, and got to work with some awesome people at WizKids.
My experience there definitely paved the way for my extensive roleplaying work during the D&D 3.0/3.5 era, as well as eventually landing me a position with Fantasy Flight Games to do roleplaying development.
CBB – Thanks for the Mage Knight work. One of our favorite pieces of terrain ever was the pre-painted Mage Knight Castle Towers, and Walls (as seen below)
CBB – As a Games Designer, what do you feel you are most known for, and which Gaming accomplishment makes you most proud?
JL – Hands down, I am known for designing the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures game published by Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a massive license, a game from a major publishers, and based on fan reaction, a fun design. I get more interview, podcast, and appearance request for X-Wing than probably all my other work combined.
My proudest gaming accomplishment, however, isn’t a game design. It’s a contribution to hobby gaming in general. In 2004, I founded the Geekway to the West, a gaming convention held annually in St. Louis, Missouri. It grew from a convention held literally in the basement of our house to growing rapidly in attendance. 2014 marks the 10 year anniversary of the Geekway, and we anticipate more than 700 attendees from throughout the Midwest. It’s hard to express the amount of pride I feel walking through the convention, seeing hundreds of people having a good time enjoying the hobby I love so much. Click on the image below to find out more about this convention.
CBB – What is your favorite part of the Game Design process? Tell us why?
JL – Early brainstorming is so much fun. You may have some restrictions or guidelines handed to you, such as explicit product or design goals, production limits, or licensor expectations. But even with those concrete points, there are virtually limitless possibilities. Sitting around with a bunch of bright, creative people and envisioning what could be, riffing of each others’ ideas, trying different approaches… it’s hard to beat the creative rush of those initial brainstorming sessions.
CBB – Which part of the Game Design process, do you feel, is your “sweet spot” or specialty? Tell us why?
JL – I don’t know if I consider myself having a specialty. I think I have a lot of crazy ideas always bouncing around, but often they are unformed or loosely defined, until I can get with a group and we all work off each other. Usually it’s that one spark, that one flash of inspiration, that opens the floodgates and fills in the other details.
CBB – What will you be working on next?
JL – I’m working on some independent projects, as well as some designs I hope to co-publish with some other companies. The game I’m most excited about currently is a roleplaying game called Tall Tales, in which the players’ characters are folk heroes from the American Frontier. Those tales of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and John Henry happen to be true — these larger than life people are the “super heroes” of their era. So it’s a kind of supers game set in what I think is a fascinating era of American history. You can learn more about it at its website, www.TallTalesRPG.com
CBB – Do you have any “behind the scenes” industry stories that are worth sharing?
JL – One of the coolest things I got to do was write the official module that the movie Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising features, called The Mask of Death. The year the movie was released, I GM’d a live celebrity session in front of a room of onlookers. The game featured actors from the movie as well as Aaron Williams (author of Nodwick) and Monte Cook (prolific game designer). Monte was playing a paladin who was a neat freak and obsessive compulsive about keeping his gear clean.
During one scene, Monte’s paladin was trying to skirt a mud puddle in the middle of combat, lest he get his armor dirty. He failed a few checks here and there, and I deemed he fell face first in the mud. He was stuck fast, and had to make a Strength check to get up from the squelching mass of mud. He passes his check, and I say, “There’s a massive sucking sound as you pull yourself up.”
Without pause, he replied, “There’s been a massive sucking sound since we started this adventure!” Everyone cracked up. I couldn’t stop laughing, and the crowd erupted. It took us a long time to calm down and collect ourselves enough to continue. It was hilarious, and whenever I run into Aaron or Monte at a convention, we have a chuckle about that game.
Jay, we here at CigarBoxBattle.com are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to bring this interview to our readers. We appreciate your kindness and insight. We always look forward to your next game.
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