Nor’easter – Marshall Britt

Rob Kalajian interview, nor'easters, tabletop 0 Comments

Affiliations:
Yanaguana Games

Location:
Rhode Island

Links:
Stir Fry Eighteen
Re-Chord Preorder
Facebook

Image

Preface

I've known Marshall for a few years now, having met him at the first CT-FIG Mid-Year Event. Since then we've gotten to hang out at just about every convention I've attended and I've been lucky to follow the progress of his latest game, and Kickstarter success, Re-Chord. Marshall is an awesome guy and a positive influence in our corner of the industry. He's always willing to give advice and share connections with fellow designers and small publishers and I've been him make lemons into lemonade on more than one occasion. If you're a tabletop gamer in or around Rhode Island you've probably run into him before, as he seems to be everywhere at once within a 50-mile radius of his stomping grounds.

Interview

We'll start this off like all the rest. Tell everyone who you are and a bit about yourself.

My name is Marshall Britt and I am one of the owners of a small publishing company called Yanaguana Games. We are the makers of Stir Fry Eighteen and recently ran a successful kickstarter campaign for Re-Chord. In terms of what I do it's a bit of everything. I design tabletop games, develop outside projects, consult with other companies on product design, and generally have irons in many fires. In terms of what I do with Yanaguana Games the list is extensive and includes most of the day to day operation, manufacturing, acquisition, and project management. In addition to these roles I've been the sole artist and graphic designer for many of our products, though we are hiring outside artists more often now. I wouldn't be able to do all of this without the help of our small team, outside consultants, and lots, I mean LOTS of coffee.

It's funny you should mention copious amounts of coffee. You also run a weekly livestream, yes?

I do as a matter of fact! While it's only started fairly recently we are a couple of months into doing Monday Mug Mentions once a week on facebook live at 2:30 EST (Shameless plug!) If you miss the show we put the archived episodes up on YouTube as well. The inspiration to start the segment came from Jamey Stegmaier who does a great weekly chat with his followers on Facebook. I decided to add a small format to mine since I tend to ramble on at times. So over the course of a cup of coffee, we discuss some game-related mechanics, media, and marketing each week in about 25-30 minutes. My favorite part about doing the show is the engagement from viewers, the insights that a live audience can bring to the table are incredibly valuable and real time. I'll also add that trying a new type of coffee weekly is a nice treat to look forward to.

You've certainly got a lot on your plate. Where do you find the time to do it all?

I wish this was an amazingly helpful answer about how well I manage my time, or how my schedule is tailored to it, but it's not going to be. The first (and seemingly quite common among my peers) bit is that I sleep roughly 4-5 hours per night, which grants roughly 19 hours per day that are useable. My family of course needs my time and attention so I try to limit work to 10-11 hours per day, if you do the math you'll realize the potential for 77 hour weeks is real. Somewhere around the time I reached the age of 30 I adopted the philosophy "I'll sleep when I'm dead" which has propelled my productivity exponentially. It's not uncommon for my last Skype call or meeting of the workday to wrap up at 2 am or later if we ware talking with someone from overseas. We all have the same 24 hours per day so I feel prioritizing your goals, and making some sacrifices to achieve them is key. I'll admit, I'm constantly asking others for advice on how to better manage time.

That's why I ask everyone that question 🙂
Yanaguana Games has quite an interesting history. Care to tell the tale?

I'd be happy to! Alex Clifford, Andrew Toth, and I all played Magic: the Gathering together at a shop called "Cards & Crafts" in San Antonio, TX for a few years. When the first PAX South was announced we all attended. We walked around talking to developers like Steven "Razlo" Bailey who was showing off the first print run of Billionaire Banshee, and J.R. Honeycutt who was showing his game Twirk. After meeting many who were publishing their own games, Alex and I started a discussion about forming the LLC to start working on a card game I'd been tinkering with. Within about two months of the inaugural PAX South Alex filed the paperwork and Yanaguana Games LLC was formed. The name Yanaguana comes from the name of the Payaya village that eventually became San Antonio, Texas.

We began working on the development of "Shipload o' Gold", my first ever design. Andrew joined the company shortly after as the head of development and it still in charge of "breaking things" until we get them right. to this day. Our plan was to manufacture a small print run of Shipload o' Gold to sell at the following year's PAX South in a booth of our own.

A couple of months before PAX South I read a challenge prompt on BoardGameGeek.com that stated: "Design a game using 18 cards and one-half sheet of paper, nothing else". I scribbled some stir fry ingredients onto cards and put a few numerical values, then added some combination points. After my wife, Courtney and I had a couple of unexciting play tests the bluffing of ingredients was added and the game really started creating some fun moments. I showed Stir Fry to Alex and Andrew and mentioned that after PAX South we potentially look into printing it, they had other ideas. Alex and Andrew suggested that we attempt to have our manufacturer send copies in time for PAX South, this suggestion is one of the main reasons we still exist today.

Our manufacturing partner was unable to print boxes or rules, so we had them print and shrink wrap the cards by themselves. Andrew and I loaded the cards into one-pint Chinese takeout boxes, folded a set of rules for each, and finally added a fortune cookie to each box. PAX South 2015 was our first ever point of sale for any of our games and while Shipload o' Gold trickled off the table, Stir Fry Eighteen was getting substantial attention, and sales to match. By the end of the weekend, we'd sold a good amount of Shipload o' Gold, but we were sold out of the entire first small print run of Stir Fry Eighteen, which was an amazing way to start our venture into tabletop publishing. Since then we've sold thousands of copies of Stir Fry Eighteen, it continues to be our highest volume product and is very close to my heart for many reasons.

We've also as you know (since you were a backer, thank you!) launched and funded Re-Chord, our guitar themed euro game that uses real guitar picks and chords. We are in the process of proofing and manufacturing and are really excited about shipping this one out to the Yanaguana Family this Fall. We are also publishing games that are not our own designs and have signed or made agreements with a handful of designers this year. Meeting designers and talking about their goals for games is incredibly fulfilling and might be one of my favorite parts of the publishing process.

Any hints on what we may be seeing after Re-Chord?

This is where things get tricky, I can tell you about a couple, and I can hint about a few more but will word this carefully so as not to violate our multiple non-disclosure agreements. We are currently working on a family tile laying game about bees pollinating a garden, designed by Stevo Torres. I'm very excited about this one, it's a family game and the art direction is going to be something really special and unique, I can't wait to share more about this project. I'm also co-designing a solo game with Dave Beever about working a shift in a coffee shop, on a day when everyone else decided not to show up for work. We are in talks with a few other designers about their upcoming projects as well.

There are three more games that we are currently developing and designing which I'm bouncing off the walls with excitement about. I can share that all three are popular video game IP based tabletop projects. The risk in even mentioning this is that ultimately these are not an IP we own, and these studios have the right to shut the projects down for any reason. I'm fairly confident we share the same vision as these partners, but if I've learned one thing as a publisher, it's not to get too attached to projects as sometimes things out of your control happen. All that being said, these three projects and the designers that are teamed up for them have the potential to be the biggest projects we've ever worked on. I'm very thrilled to have the opportunity to make these games.

Sounds like Yanaguana is getting ready to explode! (in a good way) Was the success of Re-Chord on Kickstarter a catalyst for all this, or is it the continued success of Stir Fry Eighteen? Am I totally theorizing and it's something else?

Good question, and one I'm still trying to figure out to be perfectly honest. Having Re-Chord fund at the level it did certainly help propel us towards doing more. I'd been toying with the idea of starting to publish more games, the Re-Chord campaign(s) took most of my attention and time. Now that we are much further along on that project, it felt like the correct time to prepare for the near future and discuss doing some projects that were not our own designs. Without Stir Fry Eighteen I'm not sure we'd be much of a company, it still shocks me to look at how well that game has done for us, so everything we do is in part a product of that success in reality.

I think the final piece is the realization that while I consider myself a game designer, there are so many folks with vastly more talent and knowledge about the subject. Many of these very talented designers prefer not to deal with the financial or logistical stresses that come with publishing. Since we've found we are capable, I think we owe it to our community to help facilitate these aspects for those who don't feel comfortable or simply prefer not to. All that being said, we are of course a business and aim to make a profit by selling games, so our motives are not solely altruistic. I hope that helps answer your question, or at least gives you insight into our thought process and movement towards a more traditional publishing role.

It does!
You've had some experience with Kickstarter now. WIll you be using the platform in the future for some of these new titles?

Re-Chord is a better game largely in part due to the engagement from our backers. I think that alone has compelled us to look more closely at using Kickstarter for certain projects. There are a number of reasons to use the platform so it's easy to see why so many newer creators are keen on it. As a publisher, we funded our own products exclusively until Re-Chord, so I've had the luxury of seeing both sides of that equation. I'll be honest, never having to pay large percentages of Stir Fry Eighteen's revenue to an outside platform was very satisfying. On the flip side, Re-Chord was a bit more of an upfront financial risk, and we certainly made a better product through listening and addressing concerns from backers. I don't think Kickstarter is the place for everything we do but will be a consistent option for many projects.

Let's talk a bit more about you and your gaming history. What got you into gaming?

The year was 1983, my parents recently welcomed me, baby Marshall into the world. That same year a monstrosity called the "IBM PC Junior" was announced. I'm not exactly sure how or when we ended up with our machine, but at some point around 5 years old, it was moved to my room. The fondest memories I have of games during that time are playing Sierra's King's Quest series, River Raid, and Zyll, though I played many more. My oldest brother had an Atari 2600 and I'd sneak into his room to play that as often as I could as well! In my grade school years, I began playing Magic: the Gathering with friends, and continued to collect and play competitively for nearly 20 years.

Games have always been a huge part of my life, so naturally while attending college I decided to study Animation and Digital Design. During that period a group of friends introduced me to The Settlers of Catan and a few other board games they enjoyed and I found myself playing new board games more and more often. At some point around 2012, I started tinkering with my first tabletop design which led to the eventual founding of Yanaguana Games.

What are some of your favorite games today?

I've really been enjoying a wide range of games lately but certain titles that stick out and get multiple trips to the table. They include Food Chain Magnate, Ethnos, Path of Light and Shadow, Azul, Wordsy, and a bunch I'm sure I'm forgetting. I've been playing a ton of unpublished prototypes in the past few months, and have a pretty substantial amount of shrink-wrapped un-played games that I intend to play this summer if time allows.

So what do when you're not playing, designing, or publishing games?

I'll be honest, games in some form take up a vast majority of my time which is a pretty awesome problem to have. When I do get a bit of free time I usually spend it with my Wife Courtney and our Son Harrison, we have another Son due in a couple of weeks, his name is Corbin. We like to explore New England since we are originally from Texas and now live near Providence, RI. There are a ton of cool state parks, orchards, and hiking trails that we've explored. We also really enjoy getting to see historical landmarks from the original colonists, it's pretty surreal.

I also enjoy playing the guitar but rarely get time to practice or improve, if I ever retire part of my plan would be to play guitar daily. I also golf on occasion and enjoy the fact that it's a sport you really only play against a single opponent, yourself. While it's somewhat related to games I enjoy drawing and painting, as well as painting miniatures, but again rarely find the time.

That's about all I've got. Anything you'd like to add before we wrap up?

I'm a big fan of Pawn's Perspective, and it's one of the few Patreon pledges I have on monthly recurring support! Thanks for everything you do for the community. I look forward to maybe getting to see you this summer at CT FIG, thanks for having me!

Thanks for chatting!

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.

Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!