Welcome to an interview for the series Game Credits Who’s Who (#GameCreditsWW). Ever read the credits page of a game you enjoy and wonder about the various positions listed? Would you like to work in the game industry someday but are not sure how some of the positions work? This Monday series will take a personal look into those positions and introduce you to real people doing those very jobs in the game industry. This week, let me introduce you to Geoff, Brian, and Sydney Engelstein, a game designing family.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do as a game designing family.
My name is Geoff Engelstein, and I design board games with my children, Brian and Sydney, who are now both in their twenties. Our first published board game was The Ares Project, which was released by Z-Man Games in 2011. Now we have a total of five published games, not including expansions, with four more titles that should be releasing within the next year or so.
I am also a podcaster, having been part of The Dice Tower podcast since 2007, doing the GameTek segment. I talk about the math, science, and psychology behind board games, and it’s something I really enjoy doing. I am also the co-host of the Ludology podcast, which is a deep dive into game design. Originally my co-host was Ryan Sturm from the How To Play podcast, and for the last six months it’s been Mike Fitzgerald, who is a way more accomplished designer than I, with over 70 published games.
Design for me is a side line. For my actual job that pays the bills I run a product development and engineering company called Mars International. We do freelance engineering and product design for a variety of clients, from inventors to giant corporations, and it’s always interesting to be able to work on such a wide variety of different areas.
How did you become a game designing family?
I’ve been playing what are now considered hobby games since the 1970’s, so it’s always been a part of my life. When we had kids we naturally played lots of games together as a family, went to conventions, and more. So they grew up steeped in crazy games that none of their friends had ever heard of.
After playing Fantasy Flight’s Starcraft game, I had a flash of inspiration for what would become The Ares Project. I really enjoyed Starcraft, but I was hoping for something closer to the videogame experience. I kicked around some ideas with my son, and we jumped right into making some basic prototypes. My daughter helped out immensely with playtesting, and then came on board as a full co-designer with our second game, Space Cadets.
Share with us some of your recent projects.
Survive: Space Attack was a unique project for us, as it is a re-imagining of the classic game Survive from the 80’s. Stronghold discussed the idea of changing the venue from a Pacific island to a space station, and adding new game elements that would make it stand on its own. It was pretty intimidating to work in ‘improving’ such a beloved game, and our main focus was not screwing it up. But in the end, I think the additions we made turned it into a game that is still great for families, but has more depth that gamers will appreciate.
The Dragon & Flagon, which just hit stores a few weeks ago, is about a crazy tavern brawl between fantasy characters. You can jump on tables, throw mugs, push barrels, and swing from the chandeliers. It’s got a light, programmed movement element and is a a lot of fun. We’re really pleased with the nine characters and how differently they play, and the fact that even with 8 players it doesn’t take more than an hour. Plus we added a bonus Pirate Ship map on the back of the board, which was a fun last-minute addition.
We have one game that has been announced and will be out later this year called The Fog of War. This is a 2-player game simulating the European theater of World War II, but emphasizes the planning and bluffing elements of the war rather than be a detailed military simulation. The entire war can be finished in under two hours, so it should appeal to a wide variety of gamers.
What is your greatest frustration or pet peeve as a game designing family?
The most frustrating thing is when you have what you think is a great idea and a vision of how you want a game to work, but when you playtest it, it just doesn’t work. We’ve had so many projects that get stalled out because the core system just isn’t fun, or isn’t creating the experience you want. And working through that can sometimes just require time while your brain secretly works on the project in the background.
How can readers learn more about you or contact you?