Designer on Designer: An Interview with Jeremiah Lee by Jason Kotarski

From time to time on Dice Hate Me, someone will shoot me an email with a different sort of proposition. This time around, it was Jason Kotarski, designer of The Great Heartland Hauling Co., and he wanted Dice Hate Me to feature an interview he did with another designer, Jeremiah Lee. Designer on designer, and both with awesomely fun games? How could I resist.

zombieJeremiah Lee is probably a werewolf. Or maybe a spy. Or a zombie. Or maybe he’s just a really nice guy. This stay-at-home dad/game designer may play a lot of different roles but deep down, he’s just a normal guy who loves his family and friends and likes to play a good game every now and then. After the success of his solitaire print-and-play game, Zombie in my Pocket, it wasn’t long before Jeremiah found himself signing a publishing deal for a multi-player version of the game with Cambridge Games Factory. When not “unschooling” kids (look it up, it’s a thing), he serves in a marketing capacity for Indie Boards and Cards. He’s also developing a new game based on the original ZimP for Valley Games and running a Kickstarter project (Check it out now! There’s only a few days left! ) for a new company called Stupid Awesome Games, which he started with friend, Donn Stroud. We were able to spend some time chatting about game design, his favorite games, and his current project Zombie House Blitz.

Jason Kotarski: Let’s start with the standards. Tell me a little bit about who you are and how you got into hobby gaming?

Jeremiah Lee: I’m a full-time father of four young children, I’m a gamer, I’m a distracted designer (most of my ideas don’t make it to the prototype stage), and I’m always doing more things than I should be doing at one time. I got into gaming many years ago, as a kid, but I didn’t really get into the designer board game “life” until late 2007, when I happened upon some board gamers at a local game convention. I didn’t even really know what someone would do at a game convention (I didn’t know you had to buy tickets, sign up for events, or anything like that). I sat down, played Detroit Cleveland Grand Prix, and was hooked. I looked it up on BoardGameGeek the next day, and now I have less money but more fun. I had played some games in college, but it wasn’t until this event that I really got into gaming.

Lee teaching Zombie House Blitz at GameSpace

Lee teaching Zombie House Blitz at GameSpace

Jason: You have a game published through Cambridge Games Factory and another game that is on Kickstarter now called Zombie House Blitz. Can you share a little about your journey into game design? What moved you from gamer to designer?

Jeremiah: I think I really became a game designer when I picked up the Dungeon Master’s Guide, from the D&D Basic RedBox, back in 1988 or so. Ever since then I’ve been working to create stories for people to enjoy in a game format. That said, I didn’t work seriously as a designer until 2007, when I came up with Zombie in my Pocket, which went on to be an amazingly successful print and play game. I knew right away, once I got into playing these games, that I wanted to design. There really wasn’t any time where I was just playing games and not designing. The gaming convention that sparked my entry into games was in late November of 2007, and my first game was released as a print and play game on in early December of 2007.

Jason: I know your first games were published as print-and-play games and given away for free to anyone who was willing to put in the time and effort to build them. You even won the Golden Geek Award for best Print-and-Play Game for your solitaire version of Zombie In My Pocket. I haven’t really spent a ton of time in the print-and-play community so I wonder how working with print-and-play games has helped you grow as a designer.

Jeremiah: The PnP community has been an amazing resource for me as a designer. Without it, I wouldn’t get the chance to watch as many other games grow as I get to. The PnP community is amazingly free with their games, and their design processes. We help each other, we play each other’s games, and we encourage other gamers to join us. It’s such a great way to get into game design, and it’s lead to many games moving from PnP to full productions.

Pre-production prototype of Zombie House Blitz

Pre-production prototype of Zombie House Blitz

Jason: You are working with Donn Stroud on a new company called Stupid Awesome Games. Can you tell us a little bit about the company and your current project Zombie House Blitz?

Jeremiah: Stupid Awesome Games came together because we wanted to step out and do something exciting and risky. Donn and I wanted to put ourselves out into the world and say, “Hey, this is something fun and we’d love to give it to you. Can you help?” Asking for money is always tricky, but we were ready to do that, and people have responded.

Jason: What’s the heart behind the game?

Jeremiah: The heart behind the game is my love of speed games, and my love of zombies. I really wanted to make a game that combined these loves, and would be easy enough for people to play that aren’t hardcore gamers already.

Jason: I have had the privilege of sharing a game table with you on several occasions so I know that at heart, you are an intensely social gamer. So I know that social games would probably be your genre of choice but are there any specific designers that inspire you? Any games that have inspired you to be a better designer?

Jeremiah: Designers that do things I wouldn’t ever think of doing inspire me to keep making games. Games like Flowerfall, Citadels, Glory to Rome, Mage Knight, and The Resistance inspire me. I’ll often find game design ideas by reading the first couple of lines of a game’s description on Boardgamegeek. I’ll read just that bit, write down my idea, and then go back to see if it matches the game I was reading about. If it is, I throw “my” idea away, though it isn’t often the same.

Jason: What, in your opinion, makes a great game?

Jeremiah: A great game, for me, makes me smile. I want a game to facilitate interesting interactions between players. That’s my big reason for playing games. If a game leaves me feeling like I’ve just “played the game” and not “played the people”, then I won’t want to return to it.

Jason: What would you say is the most important advice you’d offer to other designers who want to design and publish games?

Jeremiah: First, design games. Spend time making games, and really put effort into finishing games. Don’t just come up with a bunch of ideas and then never get to playing them. Designers, real designers, make playable games. People that come up with design ideas and don’t follow through aren’t designers.

Second, get involved in the gaming community. This doesn’t mean you have to go to gaming conventions across the nation (though that certainly helps). You can get involved through the designer forums on, on, or by getting involved on Twitter and Facebook. There are some fantastic groups of designers out there that are happy to have others join the conversation.


Jeremiah tries his hand at Jason’s new mini-game, FrogFlip

Favorite game to play with your kids:

Jeremiah: Right now it’s A Touch of Evil, though I really wish it had less pieces for me to set up and put away.

Favorite game to play with your wife (2-players only):

Jeremiah: Plato 3000 or Glory to Rome. We’ve played both of these games over and over, and while about 200 plays is wearing on me for Plato 3000, Glory to Rome hitting about 100 plays is still exciting.

Favorite game to play with a large group:

Jeremiah: The Resistance or Werewolf.

Favorite game to play with me:

Jeremiah: My favorite game to play with you, Jason, might have to be Skull & Roses. I had a lot of fun the last time we played. Though, FrogFlip is pretty high on my list, too.

Favorite band to listen to while designing zombie games:

Jeremiah: Break of Reality.

Jason: Do you want to share anything more about your current or future projects with us?

Jeremiah: I’m always working on new games. I actually just had the chance to alpha-test a new game this past weekend with the Boardgamers of Greater Akron (BOGA), and had a great time with it. It’s a kid’s game, called Kitty Corral, and on the very first play of the game there was swearing and drinks were spilled. That’s a win for me.

Jason: Where can people find more about you and your games on the web?

Jeremiah: On twitter @Jeremiah042, where I talk almost exclusively about games/gaming.

Jason: I really appreciate you taking time to share some of your story and your experience with me. Good luck with your Kickstarter, I really hope you guys make your goal.

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  3. The Rhino in the Room – An Interview with Crash Games
  4. Origins 2012 Photo Recap – A Publisher’s Perspective
  5. The State of Games, Episode 23 – The One About the Unpublished Masses
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