I've seen Alex at quite a few events, but never really sat down to talk and get to know him until a playest night at Jason Miceli's, another Nor'easter, house about a year ago. Since then I've made it a point to find him out at cons to chat for a bit, and even finally made it down to Elm City Games to site down for some more games with both him and Matt Fantastic. While he's still generally new to the industry in terms of designs, his games are being snatched up by publishers left and right. With some new titles about to hit shelves I figured he was the perfect candidate for a Nor'easter interview!
Tell everyone a bit about yourself and what you do.
My name is Alex Cutler, and I live in New Haven, CT. I’m a game designer, developer, agent, and publisher. I also run the New Haven Game Makers Guild which meets every Wednesday at Elm City Games. I primarily design and work with Matt Fantastic and we’re in the process of starting up a new publishing company which has a focus on games as an artistic medium. We’re always trying to push the boundaries on what we can do in our field.
Tell me more about the company and the types of games you're looking to publish.
Our vision is games as art, broadly speaking. In practice that can mean a couple of different things. Sometimes it's purely visual, in that we want to pair interesting mechanics and fun themes with high quality visual art or unexpected physical components. Basically going real hard in the other direction from your typical hobby industry "15th century shepherd standing in a verdant field with a small village in the background" style of art direction.
In parallel to that, though, we also really want to focus on games as an avenue to champion specific progressive causes or be emotionally impactful. Can a game make you feel sad? Wistful? Angry? I think the answer is yes and I also thing there's a real scarcity of that kind of content in our industry right now.
We'll be teasing more about specific projects and plans over the next few months but one final thing I'll say that I'm excited about is that we're tying most if not all of our projects to specific causes or charities, where a portion of profits will go straight to organizations doing work we believe in.
That sounds awesome.
Let's talk about you as a designer. When did you first catch the design bug?
I've had that itch since I was a little kid. I have some distinct memories of making up card games with my dad when I was 5 or 6 (all of which were probably mediocre rip-offs of War), and then when I was a little older I remember coming up with a miniatures rule set for movement and attack for my little green army men.
My first foray into game design on any meaningful level as an adult started about 5 years ago when I began working on Expancity. It was always this little passion side project; I was just getting into the exciting world of hobby board games and I wanted to make my own. I had no idea what I was doing at first but I kept going back to it over and over. It was definitely the game I cut my teeth on design-wise. I learned so much in those early years about game development and the prototyping/playtesting process.
Expancity was picked up by Breaking Games and is on the verge of release. How's it feek having your first game design published?
It's a great feeling! When I started working on Expancity I remember having the distinct thought that if I self-published through Kickstarter or something like that I would consider it a success just to have it out in the world and not lose too much money on it. Now, all this time later, it's releasing at Gencon and it's going to be taking over half the booth. It's so far beyond my wildest expectations that it's hard to believe sometimes.
I've heard it said that if you want to be a game designer that you shouldn't really have "a baby" where you get overly invested in the success or failure of a single game, but try as I might Expancity is my baby. I'm incredibly proud of how it turned out and the treatment Breaking Games gave to it.
It is funny though, the time scales in board games are so different from project to project that even though Expancity got picked up for publication almost a year before anything else I've done it actually won't be my first release. We had Heads Will Roll launch at PAX East this year and Before There Were Stars will also be coming out at Gencon.
That's quite the accomplishment!
Any other designs in the wing?
There's a bunch of stuff on the horizon. It's actually been a really prolific last few months. I've got about a dozen or so games picked up by various publishers this year, including some really cool licensed stuff that I can't talk about just yet. Between that and the things we're doing in-house with the new publishing company it's going to be a really exciting 2019 and beyond.
So what's a typical day for you like?
I wouldn't say that I really have much in the way of a typical routine day to day. I'm on the road at conventions about a fourth of the year and those days are a whirlwind of pitching to publishers and hanging out with friends I only get to see on the road. When I'm at home I usually head across the street to Elm City Games around noon or so to meet up with Matt. We have an ever-changing list of projects to work on which includes our own designs as well as development work, and also dealing with setting up the new company as of late. Some days are more intense than others, and it's not unusual for us to be here til the shop closes. Other times we'll work for an hour, feel uninspired, and goof off for the rest of the day to recharge our batteries. We keep it pretty loose by design, unless we're really running up against a deadline we try not to force the creative process.
I definitely don't miss the 9 to 5 grind. I used to work in medical research at Yale before I became a designer full time and It's been really great to have more agency about what I want to be working on at any given time. The downside is that it can be hard to separate work from life, especially since board gaming is a "fun" industry. It's easy to get caught up in projects and work for a few weeks straight without a day off or stay up til 2am trying to work out a design challenge. I love what I do and wouldn't trade it for anything, but the lines do get blurry sometimes.
Sounds like the life! So other than your own designs, what games do you really enjoy?
I've been playing a lot of The Mind lately, that's definitely one of those games that gets in your head because it's just so unique and simple in what it does. I also really like Kingdomino and always seem to keep coming back to games like Carcassonne. I'm a fan of just about anything with tile-laying as a mechanic. It takes me back to being a kid again and playing with Legos and building little cities on the floor of my bedroom. I'm also on-and-off really into Minecraft on the digital side for the same reason.
Any hobbies outside of tabletop gaming?
Does Netflix count as a hobby? No? Okay.
I play tennis when the weather’s nice. Before I moved to New Haven I also played on a beer-league softball team and really enjoyed that but it’s hard to do team sports now because I travel so much for work that I can’t reliably keep to a season schedule.
This is a hard question! So much of my life is wrapped up in tabletop now. Most of the things I do for fun, like D&D, are directly adjacent to what I’m doing for work.
It's a very expansive hobby!
So where can people find you over the next few months?
I’ll be at Dice Tower Con down in Orlando in early July, and then Gencon in early August. PAX West... all the usual subjects. We’ll be launching the new company at Essen Spiel in the Fall, so that’s really exciting.
Mostly I’ll be here in New Haven. I actually live right across the street from Elm City Games so when I’m not on the road I tend to exist entirely within a tiny little radius.
Sounds great! Anything else you'd like to add before we wrap up?
I’ll put out an open call to anyone in the area, designers or just fans of games, that we’d love to have you at our Game Makers Guild meetups! It’s every Wednesday 7-10pm and the first Saturday of the month noon-late. We have people coming from as far away as Springfield MA, Providence RI, and the NY border pretty regularly and it’s been an amazing experience for me to be a part of such a talented and genuinely kind and welcoming community. In an industry full of great people, we have some especially great ones here in the North East.
I finally went recently, and it was awesome!
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me!
Thanks Rob! Great talking with you.
About the Nor'easter Series
Nor'easters is a series of articles spotlighting a different tabletop game designer, publisher, or content creator from the Northeastern United States each week. The series was inspired by all the amazing people in the industry I've met over the years in my home region of the US.
Make sure to come back every week and see who is spotlighted next! To see a complete listing of the series' articles, click here.
Media personality Rob Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of A Pawn’s Perspective, Rob focuses on board game reviews, events, and news. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.