I am so very excited to be able to bring all of you this fun short interview with Justin De Witt from Fireside Games! If you have ever had the pleasure of speaking with anyone from Fireside, then I’m sure you know that their customer service is astounding. I have spoken to a handful of members and they have all been so kind and great to talk to. Mr. De Witt is a great guy and really seems to care about his customers.
Fireside Games is probably my favorite game company, so it felt only right to start off Industry Interviews with this particular interview. Castle Panic is truly amazing and you should give it a shot, the expansions really add depth to it. I will be trying to get an email interview with someone from the board gaming industry once a month, but not all companies are as willing to do small time blogs so I may not actually have the chance to do this as often as I’d like.
I asked Justin De Witt ten questions about his life and board games, read further to check it out!
1)Board gaming started out as hobby for you. At what point did you decide that this is what you wanted to do for a living?
After years of designing games in my spare time, we realized that the games I was coming up with were actually really good. Anne-Marie and I had always planned on running our own business of some kind and the more we learned about the hobby game industry, the more it made sense to move forward as a publisher. That was sometime around 2007 when Castle Panic was almost finished and my day job was going to be closing soon. We decided that rather than look for a new job we would take the leap and make Fireside my new job.
2)I understand that Castle Panic was the first game published by Fireside Games, but what was the first game you actually designed?
Ha! That’s a great question. Looking back I think the first game I ever designed would have been back in 1982. I remember coming back from seeing the movie “Tron” and being obsessed with it. We went to the local store a few days later where I just assumed I could by the Tron board game, but there was no such thing. I was shocked . . . so I went home and made my own. It was a light-cycle racing game and had a ton of these folded paper triangular pieces that you put behind your marker to represent the light wall as you moved. It was actually pretty good now that I think about it.
3)What is the inspiration behind the Panic Line and is the world going to get more expansions?
The whole idea behind Castle Panic was to find an authentic way to let players work together in a board game. This was back in the early 2000’s and there really weren’t any coop games back then, so it truly felt like an itch that wasn’t being scratched. I had some ideas for what that could be, such as players being the crew of a spaceship, or even different parts of a cell, working together to keep a body alive, but it wasn’t until I messed around with the idea of the players defending a castle together that it all clicked. A lot of trial and error later and I had an early version of what would become Castle Panic. As for expansions, yes we still have a few more surprises up our sleeves. I can’t say much right now, because there is still a lot of testing to be done, but look for a new expansion in 2018 that will give some fun new options for the players!
4)What is the first game you remember playing and what is the first game you played that sent you down the “rabbit hole” of the board game world?
First game ever? Maybe Tic-Tac-Toe or something like that, but I don’t think that’s what you’re really asking. I remember being really impressed with Stratego as a kid and loving the tension of not knowing what those pieces would be until you flipped them around. The first real “rabbit hole” game would have to be Settlers of Catan. I first played it back in 2000 I think and it really opened my mind up to how far board games had come and reignited the design spark in me.
5)Do you ever grow weary of playing board games with it being your profession?
Surprisingly, no! I may get a bit tired of all the testing I have to do with my own games, but if I get the chance I’m always happy to try a new game, or an older gwame I may have missed. I still love playing games and honestly, I wish I had more time to play.
6)What did you do for a living before Fireside Games?
My background is in Graphic Design and Illustration so I worked for several multimedia companies in the 90’s and into the 2000’s creating digital graphics, designing interfaces, and animation. I worked for Humongous Entertainment on the Blue’s Clues CD-ROM’s and that was a ton of fun. After the (first) tech crash I worked for the State of Texas creating printed materials and that gave me a chance to reconnect with print, which was really refreshing and definitely helped as I moved forward. I worked at Steve Jackson Games for several years after that and learned a ton, as well as made some really good friends there. We still keep in touch as they are also located in Austin and are a fun group to hang out with.
7)Where did the name Fireside Games come from?
Honestly Anne-Marie and I were brainstorming ideas and came up with a huge list, but we couldn’t get the right “feel” for what we wanted our company to be. It took a few days, but eventually we thought about the idea of gathering people around the fire to play games and the idea of a hearth, or central, cozy location really fit what we were looking for.
8)What is your favorite Fireside game and your favorite non-Fireside game?
Ooh, that’s always a hard question. The games really are like my kids and I love them all, but I do think they all do something different. I love how Munchkin Panic let’s you throw the whole coop thing out the window in a Castle Panic setting, but it’s hard to say it’s my favorite. Right now, I think Hotshots is my favorite, but that’s partly because it’s new and I’m really excited to get a totally new coop game under our belt. As for games that aren’t ours, I’ve always felt Star Wars: Epic Duels was an amazing game that does just the right amount of fanservice too. It’s easy to learn, plays fast. and let’s you put Darth Vader against Boba Fett and there’s no way that isn’t cool!
9)How did you and your wife meet and has board games always been a large part of your relationship?
We met in Seattle when we were both working at a Hospital. She was a Speech-Language Pathologist at the time and I was working the front desk. We worked in the Rehabilitation department where people would go for Occupational Therapy/Physical Therapy, etc. so I like to say “we met in Rehab.” Back then board games weren’t that big of a deal for us, but this was in the mid 90’s so the board game resurgence was a good 5 years off. Once we discovered a few of the early gems like Settlers, Chez Geek, and Lunch Money, it quickly became one of our most favorite things to do.
10)Do you have any advice for people out there aspiring to also have board games involved in their careers?
We are in a strange period right now in the industry. On one hand we are in a Golden Age of games with more titles available than ever before, but that is also turning into it’s own problem. It’s much harder to create a breakout hit than it was 5 years ago. There is infinitely more competition than there has ever been, and the customer is more bombarded with more choices than they can ever hope to really sort through. This means publishers have to run lean and store owners have to be really careful in what they stock. There is a lot more risk in the industry than there has ever been so if someone is wanting to get into design or publishing I’d really urge them to be careful and learn as much as they can before the quit a steady job or risk their savings. If you are interested in other aspects, I’d say think about how your skills might help a publisher, then do your research on which publishers you could match that with. A lot of publishers are very small and do most of their work via contract, but some of the bigger studios have openings that may surprise you.
I hope you enjoyed this interview and I am so grateful to Fireside Games and Justin De Witt for gracing my little blog with its very first Industry Interview! Until next time… Live by the Board.