Monday, March 26, 2018

Meet the Top 8: Jeremy Geist

I reached out to GDS3 Contestant Jeremy Geist for a brief interview as we ramp up to the show. Click through to find out a little bit about one of the Top 8 competitors.

Tell us a little about your background in game design.

I've been designing and self-publishing games for about three years now as Phantom Knight Games ( As a designer, I mainly focus on light games for casual audiences – the head of the monthly playtesting nights I attend commented that he's never seen a game of mine that took more than half an hour to play. I have a couple party games in the works, as well. One of them, Stand Back, Citizen!, is pretty much done and I'm trying to figure out what the heck to do with it.

The guiding principle I use for my designs is impact, which I write about here.

Besides contributing to the You Make The Card! forum as a teenager and Hipsters of the Coast's practice rounds, I haven't done any custom Magic design.

What do you think the biggest mistake amateur designers make?
The biggest mistake I see is biting off more than you can chew. A lot of first-time designs are very large and filled with complex systems, possibly because the challenge of making the next Gloomhaven feels a lot more exciting than making a card game you can play over lunch. Starting out with small games increases your skills, polishes your playtesting workflow, and gives you a better sense of your strengths and weaknesses.

This is true for amateur Magic designers, too. Magic is a very complex game, and jumping straight into custom Magic design without trying something simpler is like only practicing baseball against major leaguers. I don't mean to say "don't design any custom Magic cards if you haven't done boring ground work first" – of course, do what makes you happy – but working on simpler, more elegant games at the same time will improve your skills more quickly.

I highly recommend Grant Rodiek's The 54 Card Guild as a starting point.

What keeps you interested in Magic as a player and as a designer?
I play Magic because it's an emotional game. I've been playing for over a decade and I still have an elevated heart rate and trembling hands when I narrowly pull victory from the jaws of defeat, which isn't something I can say about any game I've ever played. Topdecking a burn spell or getting passed the perfect card for my deck 10th pick makes me feel genuine joy.

This is also why Magic interests me as a designer, because it's pretty close to how I approach my own design work (and it's probably influenced me subconsciously.) Mark Rosewater is a very psychology-focused designer, and R&D has made the focus of each set to evoke a different feeling from the player as they're playing it. Though Magic has a lot of strategic depth, it also respects the idea that a great game is more than a collection of challenging mechanics.

What’s your favorite thing R&D has done in the last five years? 
Conspiracy: Take the Crown. I haven't played a single game of Conspiracy draft that hasn't made me laugh uproariously. The drafting part is way more social than usual because you have to interact with your seatmates, and the gameplay takes player politics, something Magic isn't really built around, and makes it work with things like the Monarch mechanic. I'm a "social Timmy", in that I primarily play Magic as a way to interact with friends, and no format has been as much of a fun way of socializing as Conspiracy 2 has been to me.

Outside of Magic, what do you think is the best designed game out there? 

This is a hard question to answer because I feel different designers are going to have different definitions of what constitutes a well-designed game. I've heard No Thanks! called the "perfect game," but when I played it myself I found it dry and uninteresting. Meanwhile, I've very much enjoyed the resonant, high-variance gameplay of Betrayal at House on the Hill, but it's very heavy on dice results and the first half of the game has been described by Shut Up And Sit Down – with reasonable accuracy – as "not really a game."

The best designed game, in my opinion, is either Cosmic Encounter or Snake Oil. Cosmic certainly has moments where it can be frustrating or unfun, but that's the cost of creating a unique, memorable game where you get a different experience every time you play. One of many things it has in common with Magic, and one reason both games are so good, is the fact that all players are constantly engaged. There's no waiting around while the other players take their turn – you always have something to think about or do.

Snake Oil takes the already good framework of the Apples to Apples impress-the-judge format and fixes a lot of its major flaws. You're not going to stop playing because you've seen all the cards, because players combine two cards at a time to create responses. You're also not completely screwed when you have crummy cards, because part of playing Snake Oil is pitching your terrible idea in a way that makes it sound great.

It makes me angry when I see great party games get bad ratings on BGG because party games are A) harder to design than they look, and B) essential in helping even people not that into tabletop games have a fun time with their friends, and isn't that what this is all about?

What do you do when you’re not playing and designing games?

I spend a lot of time reading manga. Golden Kamuy is my jam right now – it's a sort-of Western about a Russo-Japanese War veteran who teams up with an Ainu (native Japanese) girl to find a hidden stash of gold in Hokkaido. Jojo's Bizarre Adventure is a perennial favorite, as are the mostly gambling-based works of Noboyuki Fukumoto. Gambling Emperor Zero is, to my knowledge, the only fictional work that features the protagonist commenting on and altering a flawed tabletop game.


  1. I strongly recommend Jeremy's writing about game design. He's written some really insightful articles.

  2. Ooh, Happy Daggers and Tiny Trainwrecks both sound really cool. I feel silly asking, but do you have a link to any reviews (or maybe just the complete rules); I can't quite manage to buy every game that sounds cool, but a quick search didn't turn up any info.

    1. Happy Daggers is here and Tiny Trainwrecks is here. Sorry they're Word documents, it was the fastest way for me to throw them online. I'll look into getting them onto my website as they look in-game eventually.

    2. Tiny Trainwrecks sounds fun.