Get On My Lawn!--An Interview with Mow Money Designer Matt Saunders

Today we're pleased to be joined by Matt Saunders, designer of the game Mow Money, currently on Kickstarter from Mayday Games.

Matt, thanks for joining us today.

First, tell us a little about yourself.

My wife, Sheila, and I have been married for almost 17 years. We have two elementary school aged kids, a boy and a girl. Currently, I am the Program Director at Youthfront Camp, a church-assisting organization located in Kansas City. I’ve been doing this for three years now and LOVE it! Prior to working for Youthfront, I was a student ministry director at churches in Kansas, Calgary (Alberta, Canada), and Idaho.

It probably goes without saying that I love playing board games. One of my favorite games growing up was Acquire. We played it during many holiday breaks, especially Labor Day weekend. When I’m not in the camp season, I participate in a weekly gaming group with a bunch of guys from Olathe, Kansas, and I try to hit up a couple of monthly game nights at some local churches. When I’m not playing games, I enjoy playing disc golf and volleyball, and I value helping out with my kids’ activities.

Your first game, Mow Money, is on Kickstarter right now. How did you come up with this unique theme?

Mow Money was inspired by my Grandpa and Uncle’s business, Walker Manufacturing. They began making high-end Z-turn lawnmowers back in the 1980’s. Many of my summer and winter breaks during my college years were spent in the shop. One of those summer afternoons, some of my coworkers and I were brainstorming silly ideas to be sold in the company’s merchandise and apparel store. I suggested a Walker Mower board game, which really wasn’t that funny compared to some of the other suggestions, but it was an idea that I never forgot.

Many years later, I followed through on the idea by self-publishing a board game to coincide with a celebration thrown for the production of Walker’s 100,000 machine. Mow Money is a streamlined, card game derivative of that other game.

Why do you think there aren’t more reverse auction games?

I am fascinated by the real world “game” of bidding for contracts. That’s what I wanted to emulate in Mow Money. Without going into long boring details, the reverse auction mechanic by itself leads toward uninteresting min/max decisions. Perhaps one reason why we don’t see many games using this mechanic is because it is difficult to implement without adding too much complexity.  An excellent reverse auction game needs to find a way to disadvantage a player’s position for bidding too low.

I wanted to make Mow Money fun and full of interesting decisions, while still keeping it streamlined and on the lighter, family-game end of things. Doing this was tricky. I added a couple of layers to dissuade players from always making the lowest bid. One of those layers was to create a way for players to win a contract without being the lowest bidder. This is realized in the “stake your reputation” action. The other layer was to create a second, and more efficient, way of earning money separate from winning contracts. This is called doing “Odd Jobs.” Money is tight in the game, and because bidding for contracts and doing Odd Jobs require the same resource (Bid Cards), players have interesting decisions of how to assign their cards.

Can you tell us about your process for getting Mow Money to a publisher?

I entered it in the Protospiel Card Game design contest back in 2011. The game didn’t win, but it was a finalist. After the contest ended, one of the judges encouraged me to begin pursuing publishers because he thought the game had a solid foundation and unique aspects.

Since I am a summer camp director, the idea of going to Origins or Gen Con is out of the question. However, the timing for BGG.con in Dallas is perfect for me. My first BGG.con was in 2012. I began pitching the game to publishers who were at the con. I participated in the Designer/Publisher meetup that James Mathe of Minion Games held that year, and got to meet several people. I actually began finding leads by visiting publishers in their booths asking if they had interest in looking at a prototype. Three companies gave the game some consideration, but no offers.

I took the game back home and continued developing it. When I went to BGG.con in 2013, I participated in both the Designer/Publisher “Speed-Dating” and Unpub events. That resulted in five companies showing some level of consideration, and a couple of offers. One of those was from Mayday Games. I chose Mayday because they were quickest to respond, and they had built a large Kickstarter audience.

How did you first get into the hobby?

I played games with my family while growing up. Like I mentioned earlier, Acquire was one of our favorites, but we also played quite a bit of Balderdash and some Scrabble. I played games throughout and after college. Other than Acquire, most games I played were the typical mass market games found in big box stores. My wife’s cousin was the one to introduce us to Eurogames. This was during a holiday break in the early 2000’s. Like so many others, my entry to this other world of gaming was through titles like Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan. I also got into designing games because of my wife’s cousin. As an educator, he used game design as a teaching method in the classroom. When we spent an evening playtesting a game of his, I couldn’t sleep afterward. My mind was racing with so many ideas. This was the spark for me, and I’ve been dabbling with game design ever since.


As a camp director, you probably play games with staff. What are some of your favorite group games?

Oh yeah. When Dominion came out, it was all the rage for three summers. Following that, our staff played a lot of Resistance and Avalon. This past year, we’ve introduced Sheriff of Nottingham, Snake Oil, and I’m the Boss. All of these have been megahits!

Are your wife and kids into gaming? What are some of their favorite games?

They are, but not quite as much as I am. My wife is my favorite gaming partner. She loves Agricola, and she is quite good at it, beating me nearly 3 out of every 4 times we play. My son loves Dominion, but he’ll play almost anything with me. My daughter enjoys most everything Mayday has made, especially Walk the Plank and Coconuts.

Are you working on any other designs?

I have four other designs in various forms of development. Two of them are further along, and I hope to polish them to a near final state before BGG.con so I can show off to publishers who will be there.

Here’s the Lighting Round: 5 Quick questions, and 5 quick answers.

Last good book you read?

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

Favorite band that no one has heard of?

Mortal/Fold Zandora

Favorite verse?

1 Corinthians 11:1

Game you wish wasn’t out of print so you could buy a reasonably priced copy?

Big City

What’s at the top of your travel bucket list?

I hope one day to go to the Essen Spiel Fair in Germany.

Thanks for joining us, Matt! And make sure you check out Matt's unique game on Kickstarter. And thanks for reading!