One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers, creators and publishers in the UK gaming scene. This series of articles interviews various folks from across the UK tabletop gaming scene to get an insight into their games, their thoughts on current events in the industry and anything else that pops into my head. I hope you enjoy it.
My first interviewees for 2022 come from opposite ends of the designer spectrum. Matthew Dunstan is a veteran designer with 56 games under his belt covering everything from Adventure line by Kosmos games to Dice Hospital by Alley Cat Games. Rory Muldoon is a new game and graphic designer, with his first title Skora being released by Inside the Box in 2020.
Together they are WYLD STALLYNS.
But seriously folks. The two designers got together over the course of the last two years to form Postmark Games. They have just wrapped up their first Kickstarter campaign for Voyages, a print at home, roll & write game of naval adventures. Matthew and Rory were good enough to answer some questions about their collaboration, the philosophy behind the company, and some of the big topics of the day.
I understand that the two of you have never met up in real life. How did you get to know each other and what led to the formation of Postmark Games?
Matthew: I honestly can’t quite remember how I virtually met Rory for the first time – I think I was probably stalking him on Twitter! I really loved his design (both game and graphic) of Skora. Rory also used to drop by my Twitch stream, and I think one day we just decided to Skype and have a chat! We had mutual interests in pursuing non-standard ways of releasing games…and here we are with Postmark!
Rory: I was aware of Matthew long before we started chatting, having played and enjoyed many of his designs and co-designs. We first started talking around the time the pandemic and shipping crisis were starting to have an effect on traditional publishing. We both had these designs that could work well as print at home games and it all just fell into place from there.
You’ve both been involved with the tabletop industry for some time and Matthew in particular has designed a lot of games printed and distributed in a traditional way. With Postmark games you are looking to circumvent this and make games available to print at home. What led you down this path?
Matthew: I think you get a bit frustrated with various things in the industry, from the length of time it takes a game to be physically produced and distributed, to the limits on what types of games that can even be sold commercially. I love smaller games with small footprints, but they are notoriously hard to sign to publishers, and if they are, they rarely sell well.
Rory: Print at home is often seen as a secondary offering to big splashy boxed games but it actually has a lot of benefits to traditional manufacturing. Our goal from day one has been to lean into the things that print at home does well, and not just create a facsimile of a produced board game. It feels exciting to explore the potential of print at home and I think we’ve only really scratched the surface!
Let’s dive below the surface of home printing a little more. Over the last few years we’ve seen a rise in home and commercially available 3D printing. How do you think this technology can influence the future of tabletop game design and distribution?
Rory: A big thing for us with Postmark was lowering the barrier to entry for print at home gaming. In the case of Voyages, this meant developing a game that could be played on a single piece of paper printed from a standard home printer. The 3D printing space still feels a bit niche for what we’re doing, but I’ve seen some great campaigns that have leveraged it well. Ultimately, anything that can take the pressure off standard manufacturing and distribution channels has to be a positive thing for the tabletop industry.
With your campaign you’ve really embraced the digital, offering ways to play your game without having to print off anything. How do you see the rise in tabletop platforms, like Tabletopia, Boardgamearena, Tabletop Simulator, affecting the nature of tabletop game design, distribution, and play?
Matthew: These digital platforms are similar to print at home in that it provides new distribution and playing models for tabletop games. They’ve obviously been crucial and necessary in allowing designing and playtesting continue through the last few years, and what’s more enable new ways of socialising with friends not in the same locale. That being said, all those platforms are still ultimately trying to emulate the physical experience, so I’m not sure if we’re going to see too many designs specifically trying to be digital friendly as a top priority. Actually, in some ways the opposite is true – when designing a game digitally you have to make sure that it can still be played easily even when you don’t have unlimited components and digital accounting!
Rory: Digital tools are almost a necessity these days but designing entirely digitally can blind you to issues that are more apparent when working with a physical prototype. Things like shuffling lots of cards (which TTS and TT automate for the player) can, in reality, be frustrating or time consuming. For my own design process I tend to start with a physical prototype and then switch to Tabletopia when I’m ready to start playtesting with others. Voyages has probably been playtested as much over video chat as it has with folks around a table, and I’m proud that the experience feels similar regardless of how the game is played.
Considering the nature of Voyages and the low target you set, what made you go down the crowdfunding route?
Matthew: Honestly, we thought we would be doing well if we got 250 backers and about £1000 in funding – 500 backers if we were doing really well. So at those numbers, Kickstarter is a low risk and relatively low time and cost investment to try out the experiment with Postmark Games. I think we were taken completely by surprise with the success of the campaign, but that is also linked to crowdfunding. In the best case that we found ourselves in, it can really facilitate good word of mouth about the game, which was even more amazing considering how little promotion we did for it.
Rory: I was equally shocked by the success of the Voyages campaign. Kickstarter felt like a good way to foster a community which we felt was crucial to our plans for Postmark. Perhaps even more so than the numbers reached, I’m excited by the enthusiasm of the community that’s formed around Voyages.
The global shipping crisis has hit companies big and small across the tabletop industry and it shows no signs of abating. Do you anticipate projects like yours leading to a change in the way tabletop games are produced and distributed?
Matthew: We certainly aren’t the first company to think about doing things in a different way, and not even the first to offer print at home games to backers. I hope the success of the project might encourage other actors, whether established companies or new studios like ours, to try out new ideas and distribution models. I think we’ll all benefit from new approaches and greater visibility for those trying them.
Rory: Like Matthew said, we’re not trailblazers but I hope the success of Voyages proves there are other viable ways to make and distribute tabletop games.
What are your plans for the future of Postmark Games?
Matthew: I think we really want to see how far we can go with print at home games, and we are currently looking at developing future titles for either new Kickstarter campaigns, or direct online sales. I think we’re also quite interested in adapting Voyages for the digital sphere, but that’s a little way off for now!
Rory: We’ve got plenty of ideas for new content for Voyages, so that’s definitely high on the agenda. The success of the campaign has also given us more time to focus on other titles which we hope to develop into future Postmark Games releases.
What games, from other designers, have got you really excited right now?
Matthew: There have been a few games that got me through the last few years – I’ve played Fantasy Realms by Bruce Glassco and Point Salad by Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, and Shawn Stankewich hundreds of times, and still they are so enjoyable. I’m quite jealous of them, which is probably a good sign of their quality!
Rory: I’m pretty hooked on Marvel Champions at the moment but a recent game that sticks out in my mind is Codex Naturalis from Thomas Dupont and Maxime Morin. The simple but crunchy gameplay, and the beautiful pattern style illustrations work brilliantly together.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview then please come and join us in our Discord and let us know who you would like me to interview next. We have a welcoming community who love to chat about the latest news, games, and events. We also have regular game nights.