An Interview With Board Game Luminary Mark Jackson!




Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions, Mark!

First tell us a little about yourself, and then tell us how you got involved in the board game hobby.

I am guy who wears a lot of hats: I'm the pastor of a small Southern Baptist church, the husband of Shari Jo (22 years!), and the father of two boys - ages 7 & 11 - who both (thankfully) love board games. I also blog on a semi-regular basis and have been a guest on a number of gaming podcasts, including The Dice Steeple.

I've played games all my life... my grandmother was a big part of that. Even as she got older, she'd get down in the floor with us to play Monopoly or whatever else I brought out of my room. And it was her daughter—my Aunt Nancy—who bought me my first Avalon Hill game (Outdoor Survival) and started me on the path to gaming geekdom.

• How has being a pastor enhanced—or run up against—your love of board games?

I've used board games in a number of different ways in ministry: as sermon illustrations, as ice-breakers in small groups, as social events (family game night) to connect people together. My church here has been gracious to allow me to host a regular gaming group in our social hall for a number of years, which helps me build relationships with people outside the "holy huddle."

• Have there been any games that you refused to play because you found the theme/ gameplay objectionable?

There are certain games I choose not to play (Hellrail, Lunch Money, Funny Friends, Chaos in the Old World, etc.) and other games I'm glad they re-themed (Twilight -> Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde) based on what I believe. I wrote some years ago that "my strongly held beliefs in Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible obviously play a role in my hobby. (If strongly held beliefs don't play a role in your whole life, then they're not strongly held beliefs.)" That's still true.

• You’re stranded on an island, but you somehow have the foresight to bring one game with you to play until such time as you’re rescued—or die due to exposure, starvation, or the awful disease those weird-looking lizards carry. What’s that game? (We’ll assume you’re stranded with the number of people that game plays best with…)

Oooo... so difficult. If I can carry expansions with me (I'll assume i can!), it would either be The Settlers of Catan or Memoir '44. (Just one? Seriously?)

• You have a wonderful blog. Which post has caused the most controversy?

Thanks for the kind words... it's a lot of fun.

I don't seem to generate wild levels of controversy, though I got some interesting private comments about my post The M Wordwhich was part of a series of posts about sex, pornography & passion.

On the gaming front, I got a bit of grief over my bad attitude about FFG and warned: I'm in full-on irritated fan mode in these posts,

I've also had a lot of comment about my posts about why I quit playing D&D: The Day I Quit Playing D&D, and DW, Bill Cosby & Evercrack.

• I can barely keep up with all of your updates on Goodreads. Who are some of your favorite authors?

On the theological front, I'm drawn to C.S. Lewis & Tim Keller. As a pastor, I've been mentored via books by Larry Osborne, Erwin McManus & Andy Stanley.

As far as fiction goes, I think Kurt Busiek's graphic novel series ASTRO CITY is tremendous... and Stephen Lawhead continues to write brilliant genre fiction.

My non-fiction recommendations are all over the map - though I'm particularly fond of Marc Reisner (Cadillac Desert) and Robert Andrews (The Storm of War).

• You’ve been able to play many prototypes and advance copies of games. Are there any (that you can talk about without getting a hit put out on you) that we should be on the lookout for?

Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts is a great addition to the franchise - and makes it easier for players who were overwhelmed by the previous trilogy of expansions to jump back into the game.

The Dungeon Lords expansion (Festival Season) is more of what you love IF you loved Dungeon Lords: more monsters, more heroes (minstrels!), more traps, and so on.

Matt Leacock has a fantastic prototype using his Roll Through the Ages system that I'm not sure I can say much more about - but it's a delightful twist that I've loved every time I've played it. (Yes, it's still an "ancients" theme; no, it's not a civ-building game.)

• Is your wife a gamer?

No. She'll play games - she likes cooperative games like Pandemic & Lord of the Rings - but she is definitely not a gamer.

• You have two kids with different ages. What are your favorite games to play with each of them right now?

My 7 year old has fallen in love with all things Catan - enough so that he told me the other day that he wanted to play "a game with hexagons where you get resources from rolling dice" - yes, that's kind of specific. He & I have been having a great time playing The Rivals for Catan and are looking forward to getting our review copy of the Age of Englightenment expansion.

My 11 year old has a wider variety of gamer interests - right now, we're particularly enjoying The Ares Project. He would gladly play Risk: Legacy every day if only we could convince his younger brother to join in.

Here’s the One-Word Answer section. • Favorite theologian who goes by his first two initials?

C.S. Lewis (with G.K. Chesterton a close 2nd)

• Favorite LEGO line/theme of all time?

Time Cruisers (I still have the blimp set!)

• Favorite Disney ride/attraction?

Radiator Springs Racers (CA Adventure), though Dinosaur (Animal Kingdom) is a close 2nd

• Favorite minor character in the Star Wars universe?

Admiral Ackbar

• Favorite comedian?

Bill Cosby (love me some of his OLD stuff)

• Favorite Batman villain?

Riddler (the comic book one, NOT the movie)

• Favorite Bible verse?

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Thanks, Mark, for taking the time to answer our questions! And thanks to you for reading!

An Interview with Jamey Stegmaier—Designer of Viticulture

Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us, Jamey. Could you tell us a little about yourself? I’m the co-founder of Stonemaier Games in St. Louis, along with my friend Alan Stone. I LOVE board games—I’ve been playing and designing board games since I was 8 years old (I’m a haggard, weather-worn 31 now). I’m an avid reader and writer; I play soccer, and I have two cats that keep me on my toes. They were not helpful in creating Viticulture.

What was your inspiration for creating your new game Viticulture?

A few factors played into the inspiration for creating Viticulture. I had a few key mechanics that I wanted to use in a game, and I was fascinated by both the romanticism and complexity of running a vineyard. So I combined the two into a vineyard in a box.

Would someone who didn’t like wine still find something to love about your game?

Oh, definitely. At heart, this is a worker-placement game with some hand management and production optimizing, so if you enjoy those mechanics... I also think that regardless of your interest in wine, people who enjoy the following elements of gaming will really enjoy Viticulture:

  1. Scalability: Viticulture is a 2-6 person game. Depending on the number of players, different numbers of worker placement spots on the game board are available. Thus the game feels the same whether you’re playing with 2 players or a larger group.
  2. Conflict Without Hostility: I designed the game so that people would walk away feeling elated, not frustrated. Thus you can’t block people in Viticulture unless you can actually take the action you’re claiming. There is conflict—after all, there are a limited number of spots on the board—but no hostility.
  3. Flow: Have you ever played a game where you have to wait 10 minutes with nothing to do before it’s your turn? Viticulture is not one of those games. Players place workers one at a time (not all workers for one player, then all for the next), so you have a constant stream of choices to make.

Not really a question, but I’ve never seen a money-back guarantee on a Kickstarter board game before. That’s a great idea!

Thanks! My backers are placing their trust in me to create a great game (and they’re pledging funds so that my game can be a reality), so I want to reciprocate their trust and generosity by offering their money back if they return the game within a month of receiving it. It’s my way of standing behind the Viticulture experience I’m creating.

I noticed that 3 of your top 5 games are worker placement games. Do you like any other type of games or game mechanisms? Which ones?

Sure, definitely. Dominion (deckbuilding) is high on that list, as is Ra (auctioning). I also enjoy games that feature drafting, and I love the idea behind tile-placement games (but have yet to find one that completely fulfills what I want—I might have to design it myself).

What was your gateway game?

There have been a number of gateway games in my life, each to a new level of gaming. I’d say that the biggest gateways were chess, then Risk, then Settlers of Catan, then Agricola. And lots in between. I feel like every innovative game opens a new gate.

One-Word Answers:

Buffy or Angel?


Coffee: Iced, hot, or neither?

Neither (I drink the occasional Frappucino, but that’s it)

Favorite author?

I’m an avid reader in a variety of genres, so this question is near impossible to answer. I’ll say that my favorite author right now is Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One.

Favorite place you’ve visited?

Man, you want a one-word answer for this? So many amazing places out there! I’m trying to decide between Stonehenge or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Stonehenge has been around for thousands of years, so it’s not going anywhere. Thus I’ll say Fallingwater, because it probably won’t last nearly as long.

The judges have decided to deduct 5 points for not keeping your answers to only one word. Nevertheless, thanks again for answering our questions!

Thank you! Your blog is one of the first gaming blogs I started reading, so it’s an honor to participate in an interview as a designer here.


Make sure you hit up Jamey's Kickstarter campaign for Viticulture. There are only four days left! And thanks for reading!