Industry Interview: Bryan Johnson, Designer

During our excitement over welcoming Bryan Johnson to Knight Moves Cafe this Friday (he’ll be here 2/28 at 7pm, in case you missed it!), I got a chance to sit down with him and ask some questions about his game, his development process, and the hobby. Something you want to know that I didn’t cover? No problem – come ask him yourself Friday night!

Me: So, you know I’m a fan of Island Fortress, but I’m wondering: What do you think is special about the game?

Bryan: I think it would be the blend of mechanics. There are a lot of familiar mechanics in the game, but they all play a prominent role – resource management, bidding, role selection, area majority, pattern building, etc. They’re all there, yet they blend wonderfully. Also, timing is important and there are many ways to score points, so strategies can (and often do) change from game to game, and even mid-game.

Me: What do you hope players get out of playing Island Fortress?

Bryan: Enjoyment. I guess that’s the most important thing. I hope players find the game fun and interesting. Aside from that, one thing that I personally enjoy is watching new players figure out how certain things work within the game and how to get the most out of their actions.

Me: What initially inspired Island Fortress? Were you surprised by anything during its development?

Bryan: Island Fortress came together in a way that is very unusual for me. In fact, I was not even thinking about game design when I started getting ideas for it. I was working the night shift at my normal job in early 2005 and our floor at work has square patterns on it. On this particular night, I began thinking of the various patterns I could make with the squares, within a 3×3 grid. The next night, I found myself doing the same thing, and when I got home I began drawing the patterns out on graph paper and somehow felt inspired enough to base the game design around that. This is also strange because the pattern building aspect of the game is not the main feature of the game.

As far as what surprised me during its development, I think the most surprising thing is how true the game stayed to its original design after nearly 8 years of development.

Me: You had a run of bad luck publishing at first, with two publishers accepting the design and then failing to publish for reasons unrelated to the game. What helped you stay persistent in the face of these setbacks?

Bryan: I always felt like it was a good game. I really believed that. Even with my early prototypes, I got a lot of great feedback from many people and it encouraged me to stay tenacious. There were so many ups and downs over the years with this game, there were many times I was ready to just quit. I mean, many people know that two publishers couldn’t fulfill their end of the publishing agreement, but very few people know how bad things really got at times. The lows were really low. I couldn’t have stayed as persistent as I did without the support of all the positive people who believed in me. My family, friends and gaming community in general have been overwhelmingly supportive.

Me: As part of your Kickstarter campaign, you offered backers a chance to put something special to them in the game, like naming the fortress or influencing the artwork. What special things did you put in the final production for yourself?

Bryan: Well, this one’s kinda funny because there are a few “hidden” things within the game. You know, like personal touches, inside jokes, or just things that are important to me personally. Some people have spotted a few things on their own, and I won’t elaborate too much on that here. However, I will say that people who know me knew that brown would be a player color choice since it is my favorite color. Oh, and the Builder card… that is one very good-looking guy! (laughs.)

Me: Board game cafes like Knight Moves are a very new type of business. Do you have any thoughts about board game cafes and how they can contribute to the board gaming community?

Bryan: I think it’s a great idea. Anything that exposes more people to this hobby is a good thing. While the gaming industry has grown a lot over the past few years, it is still a very “niche” hobby, so I really like what Knight Moves is doing. I hope they are very successful.

Me: Do you have any more designs in the pipeline? What can we expect from Frost Forge Games in the future?

Bryan: Right now I have 3 designs that are under contract for publication, so hopefully we’ll see at least one or two of those within the next 12-24 months. One is the “prequel” game to Island Fortress. It’s basically a board game about what happens on and around Alcott Island before the fortress is built.

The other two are card games – one is a trick-taking card game for 2-4 players, which I’m very fond of. Without talking about it too much (beacuse I can’t), it is a very different kind of trick-taking game, and one that can be played with just 2 players! I’m very excited about that one. The other one is a simple, western-themed combat card game with an interesting drafting mechanic, for two players only.


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