I believe it was my first New York Toy Fair ever when I first met Max at the Tiltfactor booth there. I'm sure we had conversed via email before then, as I had already taken a look at both Buffalo and Awkward Moments for Purple Pawn. Since then I've gotten to meet up with him at various conventions around New England, PAX and Boston FIG being two of the more recent. I don't think I've ever seen him where he wasn't talking about games with a huge smile on his face.
In his own words:
"Max is a board game gearhead who loves mechanics and balance to a fault. When he's not making or playing games, you can find Max curled up in front of a fire staving off the New England winters with his wife Angela and his cat Mogget."
So let's start with you telling everyone who you are and an overview about what you do.
I'm Max and I'm a game designer and producer at Resonym. Resonym is a New Hampshire-based indie board game publisher founded and directed by my boss and mentor Mary Flanagan.
At Resonym I work with Mary to design and publish games. Since we're a tiny studio, I get to be a part of every step of the game making process: brainstorming, mechanics design, balancing, managing artists, print file layout, Kickstarter management, and so much more.
What are some of the game you've personally been involved in?
Early on I worked on some party games like Buffalo: the name dropping game. I assisted on the design of Monarch. And most recently I codesigned Resonym's newest game, Visitor in Blackwood Grove with Mary.
Tell me a bit about your design process. What's it like working jointly on a project with another designer?
I don't really know what it's like to NOT design jointly with another designer! All the games I've worked on, I've worked on with another designer.
Mary and I work together really well--of course we both work on all the aspects of the game, but she's much better at building worlds and evoking narratives than I am, and I am more into balancing mechanics. It's all very complementary!
Process-wise, both Monarch and Visitor went through a strange design process that I don't think many other designers have. Both games were worked on for a while, and then we sat on them for a while before we figured out how to make them work. For example, Visitor's first prototype was in 2013. Mary had the initial concept of a game in which players would have to conduct experiments to test theories. We iterated on a bunch of prototypes and could never get the game to quite work. Fast forward to 2017; we revisited the prototype added a few new ideas, and suddenly everything clicked and started working.
A lot of Resonym games are based around social experiments, right?
Many of Resonym's games were designed at Tiltfactor, which is Dr. Flanagan's game research lab at Dartmouth College (and conveniently my day job). There we study the psychological impacts that games have on their players, and design games with specific psychological goals. One of the prime examples is Buffalo: the name dropping game. Buffalo is probably the easiest party game you'll ever play, but it's been shown to reduce players' prejudices, which was what it was designed to do.
So yes! I wouldn't necessarily call them "social experiments," but they are certainly games with prosocial goals, studied in social psychology experiments.
Who are some of your favorite designers? Which designers do you feel have influenced your work?
Well obviously Mary Flanagan most influences my work! Beyond Mary, I'd have to say that Naomi Clark (Consentacle) and Brenda Romero (Train) are two designers that remind me to make games that are more than just amusing experiences.
When it comes to the mainstream hobby scene, Vlaada Chvatil and Antoine Bauza are most represented in my collection, and I admire them for not being afraid to risk trying bizarre new mechanics (Terror in Meeple City, anyone?). On the flip side, Phil Walker-Harding's Sushi Go is the game that showed me that exquisite implementation is just as important as novel mechanics.
That's a perfect segway for me to ask you what some of your favorite games are.
So, Max. What are some of your favorite games?
Oh boy. Well I was about to list some games and then I realized the list was basically the entirety of my collection, so I'll just limit myself to one: Letters From Whitechapel. The mechanics are great, and playing the game makes me feel like my role, but its biggest strength is the ludonarrative. The way the mechanics shape the tension across the course of the game is just perfect.
Okay I couldn't just limit myself to one. Runner ups are Pandemic: Legacy for adding almost cinematic storytelling to board games, and Codenames as a party game with pretty great tactical choices that casual players can choose not to engage with.
What games did you grow up with? What brought you into the hobby?
I was introduced to Catan when I was 7, and Puerto Rico soon thereafter. That probably kicked it off. As a kid I played video games and board games equally before realizing that video games were the "cool" games.
When did you start designing?
As an undergrad I took Mary's game design course. I'd always loved games but never considered making them before. After the course I volunteered at Tiltfactor, then became a Tiltfactor intern, and I'm still there!
That was about 10 years ago, to actually answer the question
What's in the future for you? Any interesting projects in the works?
Lots, many of which won't see the light of day. The one we're hoping to have ready next is an iteration of the game formerly known as "Continental Drift." After people liked it in the 2017 BGG Print and Play contest ("Best New Mechanic," "Best Game to Play With Your Child"), we've been working on it quite a bit. It's a game played with a single sheet of paper and a pair of scissors, where you divide up the board as you play. The game comes with over 100 unique boards, as well as access to a print and play generator where you can print your own. On top of all of this, each board contains a few special features randomly chosen from over 50 different mechanics to really shake up the gameplay. I'm very excited about this one!
Sounds awesome! Thanks for taking the time to chat. Would you like to add anything else before we end?
I think I'm obligated to make a direct plug for Visitor in Blackwood Grove... It's a 15 minute party game for 3-6 players. So if you like Zendo or Stranger Things, you should come play with me and Mary at PAX East, Origins, or Gen Con!
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.