How Mike Fitzgerald Makes Games

Tell us about yourself - Who are you? What do you do?

I am Mike Fitzgerald. I am a full time board and card game designer. I have designed 71 games over the last 20 years. I can only really remember about 25 of these and 20 of them I am proud of.

 

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If I’ve never played your games before, what’s the first one I should try?

The 3rd Mystery Rummy game Jeckyll and Hyde is the easiest of those games and gives you the feel for that series. I would also say my game Diamonds would be a good introduction to my lighter games. I did 4 Trading card games in the 90’s and WCW Nitro or Wyvern would give an example of my work in TCGs. My latest, Baseball Highlights 2045 is a very different kind of deck builder that I am very proud of.

One fact that we probably don’t know about you:

I spent 44 years as a disc jockey including 27 of those in New York City on WHN and CBS FM. I co hosted the morning show at CBS FM with Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees in 2005.

What tabletop games (including digital board/card games) are you playing most right now?

I am playing Impulse, Fallen, Deus, Imperial Settlers, Thunder Alley and Roll for the Galaxy a lot. (I also love to play my Baseball Highlights 2045 deck builder)

What are your all-time favorite tabletop games?

Ticket to Ride, Guildhall, Istanbul,Glory to Rome (and Uchronia), Catan. ( I stil play my first Mystery Rummy game Jack the Ripper)

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What draws you to make games?

I make games I want to play. I do not know why I am drawn to this but it is a passionate need I have to try to be creative and create game that I would like to play.

What are you not naturally good at, that you’ve learned to do for your work?

I am not a naturally talented mathematician but I have learned enough from designing those early trading card games to know enough for game design.

Describe your process (or lack thereof) when making games. How do you reach your final product?

Wow. Every game has a different process for me. Most of the time I start with theme but sometimes I will come up with a mechanic first.

What design-related media do you consume on a regular basis?

I keep up with as many games coming out as I can and follow my favorite designers closey. I watch Boardgamegeek videos a lot and listen to many podcasts. My favorite is Ludolgy. This is the one that is most design-related to me.

What are some tool/programs/supplies that you wouldn’t work without?

Blank cards, labels, colored markers, Filemaker data base, Excel, Word, Adobe Illustrator etc.

What’s your playtesting philosophy? How often/early do you playtest?

I have a close circle of play testers who will see my designs as soon as I feel I have made a complete game. I then open it up to many including blind play testers to find out everything from rules ease and what players have trouble with in the game. I think there is a real danger to play testing a design too early. Then the play testers start designing it and your vision may get lost and the game can become a hodge podge of different ideas. You also have to be careful listening to what play testers say. The most valuable information I get from play testing is from watching the play testers. What part of the game are they having the most fun with? What part are they frustrated with etc. They will show you this in how they play the game.

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What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work, and how have you overcome them?

I will sometimes get stuck in the design process. I put the game away for awhile and play a lot of my favorite games for a week or two. Then I usually find this has freed up my ideas so I can make progress on the design. I do have may half finished ideas that are still waiting for inspiration in the closet.

How do you handle life/family/work balance?

It is easy now since I am full time at game design.

Do you have a second job? If so, what do you do? If not, when/how did you quit your day job?

This is all I do now. I retired from radio in 2013.

How many hours/week do you generally devote to game design? How many to other business-related activities?

It varies but I try to design from 9-noon every weekday and play test on the weekends. That probably makes about 20-25 hours a week. The rest of my work time is the business if game design which involves contracts and making contacts for future designs etc.

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?

Stay true to your vision of a game.

What’s the best advice about life that you’ve ever received?

My parents always said “Do what you love to do” and the rest will take care of itself. Not always as easy has that sounds but I have no regrets.

Who would you like to see answer these questions?

Richard Borg