I was first introduced to Jason in 2015 through a mutual friend. Jason had a game he wanted to be reviewed and I just happen to write reviews. The game was Mars vs Earth and I remember taking the game with me on a camping trip so I could get it played for my write up. I wouldn't actually meet Jason in person for the first time until a year later at the first-ever Connecticut Festival of Indie Games in 2016. It didn't take long after that before we were hanging out, drinking whiskey playing games, and had become good friends. Jason, through CT-FIG, is one of the reasons the Nor'easters series came to be. I met so many amazing designers, publishers, and other content creators through CT-FIG, and eventually Boston FIG, PAX East, Connecticon, and other various Northeast events. What better way to kick off the series than a spotlight on the man himself, Jason Miceli.
Welcome, Jason. Tell everyone a little bit about yourself, and what you do.
Hey there! Like many, I began my gaming career long ago, having garbage picked my first copy of Risk when I was 12! I've always felt the need to create - I directed full-length musicals, developed technology products, produced music videos, and spun up two businesses throughout my college years (long since dismantled). Then in 2012, I decided it was time to do the game design thing for real - my partner Matt and I created Geek Fever Games, and it's been a tremendously successful and satisfying ride ever since. Since Geek Fever is purely a game design studio, I began to feel the need to flex some additional muscles on the publishing side - so at the beginning of 2018 Darrin (one of my other Geek Fever partners) and I spun up another company, Phase Shift Games. What do I do? I design and publish otherworldly gaming experiences!
Come on now. I know you and know that's not all you do. Isn't there a certain little "get together" in Connecticut you helped start?
Oh yes! We worked with the core team from the Boston Festival of Indie Games to create the same type of event in Connecticut. CT-FIG has grown immensely over the past 4 years, and this year we are holding the event at the giant ConnectiCon, where the indie digital and tabletop exhibitors will show off their creations over 3 days to 15k+ attendees! This represents an incredible opportunity for indie designers to get in front of a huge audience at a low cost, and potentially win some great awards. More info can be found at http://www.ct-fig.com/.
You mentioned playing Risk as a kid. What are some of the other games of your youth?
Let's see... I loved Sub Search! It was basically 3D Battleship, but that 3D element just added so much coolness to the game. I was a huge fan of the game Tablut, which is an ancient abstract game derived from Tafl - it's one of the first, if not the first, asymmetrical abstract games, meaning the two sides have different amounts and placements of pieces (unlike something like Chess, for example). I also loved the old card game Nuclear War, although it didn't really stand the test of time, so I offloaded it years ago.
When did you start designing your own games?
I have memories of creating really simple D&D adventures and dungeon maps in elementary school - probably when I was 11 or 12. But even earlier than that I remember having these giant rolls of paper when I was very young - my father and I would layout a sheet about 4' wide by 6' long, and then we'd draw a city with roads and buildings and highway ramps and so on. Then we would "play" a game on them. For me, I remember the act of creating those maps was far more exciting than just moving some matchbox cars on the roads, and I always wanted to add more "mechanics" so it would be more of a game than a play exercise, though I wasn't able to put that sentiment in words at the time. Great creative memories there though!
What would you consider to be your first "complete" design?
Oh boy. We're going to touch on some interesting parts of my past now! Since I can't remember the exact order, I'll mention two: During my heavy D&D years (college age for the most part) I created two or three complete roleplaying systems of my own. The most fleshed out one was a game I called Fathoms, which was basically Sea Quest the roleplaying game. It had personal combat rules as well as sub/vehicle mechanics. The funniest part, it was all D4 based - no other dice. That was not... the best game design decision I've ever made!! The second game I created around the same time was designed with Matt, my co-founder at Geek Fever Games. We found all these Star Trek and Star Wars mico-mini machines at Bradley's, and so we created a tactical hex-based board game that mashed up every sci-fi setting we could think of - we had Wing Commander in there, tons of Star Trek races, Empire, Rebellion, and maybe even one or two of our own design (Pirate factions). We played this game with a ton of our friends, and it became a pretty big hit within our group - so much so that Matt and I ended up pitching it to Paramount, LucasFilms, and Origin Systems... you can probably guess what the response was.
What design was the one that "clicked" and made you think, "I can really do this"?
(You also show your age withthe Bradley's reference. No Caldor?)
Oh I think Caldor was also the source of many of those minis we used! In fact, Matt worked at Caldor around that time!!
The design that ultimately "clicked" was a game we called Age of Heroes, and its what led to Matt and I formalizing our first company, Team Tactics. We spent many years developing the game, and then we started working with manufacturers to get some quotes. This was all way before the days of Kickstarter, The Game Crafter, and so many of the other great tools we have today. The game was solid, albeit WAY too complex for anyone's first game to publish. Still, we knew we had something special, and we knew we had the design chops to make something happen... but then real life set in - full time careers were taking off, wives were being selected, babies were birthed, etc., and so we shelved it and took a nice tax writeoff. However, many of our current games have pulled core pieces from that old design, and it's not impossible to consider rekindling a form of Age of Heroes sometime down the road.
Who are some of your favorite designers? Who has influenced you the most?
Tons - too many to mention. But I'll mention at least the ones that I reflect on regularly as I'm designing. Don Eskridge, who designed The Resistance - he created a game with so few cards and rules that created some of the greatest gaming moments at my table. Rob Daviau, the father of Legacy style games - such a genre buster that we're still just barely seeing the long term effects of. While it's not because of his game designs necessarily, I must mention JT Smith who owns The Game Crafter - without this platform, the services they provide, and JT's personal voice and guidance, we wouldn't have found the success we've enjoyed since Geek Fever Games began in 2012. But in the end, my favorite designers truly are my outstanding business partners, Matt Plourde, Tim Mierzejewski, and Darrin Horbal - we're doing some absolutely amazing things, and it's so exciting to now see our various designs turn into top-shelf published games!
Speaking of published games, your team has quite a few. Not to mention the fact that you're now starting a publishing company, yourself.
That's not a question. Is this true / false now? That'll be easy. TRUE!
Tell me about it, damnit!
Indeed we do! We're super proud to have recently signed our 6th game across 4 different publishers. And this latest one also expands us to a new market - role playing games. We have so many pokers in the fire, it's often hard to keep it all straight ourselves! But despite the amount of work underway with each of these publishers, we still have another 3 or 4 completed designs that we'll be pitching in June at Origins. And yes, I have now also spun up a publishing company, Phase Shift Games. Two of the four of us at Geek Fever wanted to flex some additional muscles on the publishing side, whereas the other two were happy to remain pure designers. So Darrin and I solidified our plans, we signed our first game, and we're now working with copywriters, artists, and soon manufacturers to bring this next one to life. Stay tuned!!
Before we wrap up, what are some of your favorite types of games to play. Which games stand out to you above all others?
Xia is my favorite game - the production quality, the theme, the gameplay, and the designer behind it, Cody Miller (who is also on my list of designers I look up to!). It's a heavily immersive experience, it's a giant sandbox with lots of possibilities and ways to play, and it's a visual masterpiece. I would probably say Nexus Ops (Avalon Hill edition) is my next fav - super tactical gameplay in a small timeframe and footprint. Plus it looks amazing! Finally I'll mention Circle the Wagons - it's a 2 player game with just 18 cards that packs one of the biggest punches both in terms of strategic gameplay and tactical decisions, and to top it off the replayability is super high. It's just unbelievable what they were able to do with just 18 cards!
Anything else you'd like to add before we finish?
Rob, I'm super appreciative to have the opportunity to talk with you today! We have so much great stuff in the works, and it's awesome that folks like yourselves are so interested and able to help us spread the good word. I look forward to our next chat, and until then... Your Prescription is Ready, at Geek Fever Games!!
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.