Rather than writing up a tournament report on US Nationals (By the time I sat down to do it it had pretty much been covered. I could talk about how I played specific games, but I'm not sure how interesting that really is), I thought I would share a little bit of, what was to me the highlight of the trip, my discussions with Jay Tummelson, the CEO of Rio Grand Games.
I used the time to ask him a ton of things about his business that I didn't know. Maybe some of this is common knowledge, but I've never seen it posted on these forums. So, here are some tidbits for your edification.
Rio Grand / Jay History
Jay began his career in traditional business. In 1995 he was ready to take a break and asked the owner of Mayfair Games if he could be involved somehow. The owner/CEO there said something along the lines of, "Can you ever!" and asked Jay to work for him full time as a Production Manager. By 1998 Mayfair was in trouble, and Jay left to found Rio Grand Games.
Rio Grand Structure
Rio Grand has two full-time employees: Jay and his wife. Everything else they contract out: from game design, to production, to art, to distribution. It's about as lean an organization as you could possibly have.
Rio Grand does no marketing (apart from supporting passionate players at places like GenCon where Jay will often buy meals for everyone in his rooms). He works on his own terms (Toy's R Us wanted him to sign their standard distribution agreement, and he declined. They wanted his product so bad that you will find his stuff in Toys R Us anyway - it goes through middle men who take the risk Jay refuses to)
Rio Grand International
Jay publishes in English and sells to distributors in the US. Internationally he has partners who do the same in the native language in that country. Most of Jay's games are distribution deals - i.e., someone else owns the original rights to the game, but Jay publishes and contracts with distributors in America. A few of his games he sourced himself. He owns the rights and let's others distribute them internationally - including Dominion and Race For the Galaxy.
These International Partners each make their own decisions when it comes to the Dominion World Championships. This is why some country National Champions are getting trips to GenCon and some are not - it all depends on the whims of the local partner.
How Rio Grand gets it's games
Jay gets many many proposals for games. He doesn't have time to handle it all (remember- it's just him and his wife). Donald asked him to publish Kingdom Builder. He turned it down - not because he didn't think it was good, just because he didn't have the capacity to do it (remember - they are just two people!).
We talked a little about material costs. First, he said, he tells his designers: "Design the best game. Don't worry about how to keep costs down." After the game is as good as possible, he works to find a way to make it work financially. Sometimes this is not possible (he gave details about a very cool unpublished game that will likely never be published because it can't be made economically), but usually it is.
As for what things in games are expensive, it surprised me:
1- Cards are expensive
2- Dice are the most expensive (he has a new dice-type game that sounds amazing: The die-building ecquivalent to the deck-building of Dominion. Very cool. You actually change the dice during the game!)
3- Die cuts are very cheap (i.e., the tiles in Carcassone)
When they were making Prosperity the manufacturers wanted all the tokens to be die-cuts. Jay decided that Dominion was successful enough, and given that the theme of Prosperity was 'wealth', he wanted something different. The result was the cool metal tokens (more expensive for him to make than die cuts, but 'way cooler').
His thoughts on gaming
Jay has been a gamer for a long time. He enjoys tactical games rather than strategic ones (His examples: Puerto Rico is a tactical game where you need to make decisions every turn based on what your opponents did the last turn and you can't plan ahead very far. Agracola is a Strategic Game where you need to think about what you want to do 4-5 turns from now to inform your current turn).
He also likes Dominion a lot. I challenged him that I thought Dominion is the most strategic game I have ever played - you have to develop a completely new strategy every time a new kingdom is displayed. His counter-arguement: That may be true, but you can play it as a tactical game. Thinking about what you need on your next re-shuffle and enjoying the interactions.
He's the first to admit that he is not a strong Dominion player, but to him, that's not the point - the game is very enjoyable for people (like him) who ignore the strategic implications.
[Thought: This was eye-opening for me. Dominion may be the only game that appeals to people who love strategy more than anything else AND people who despise strategy more than anything else...]
His Thoughts on Tournaments
This has been mentioned here before, but I'll go into a little more detail. Basically he doesn't like tournaments at all.
His argument is that these games were designed to be fun. In tournaments the dynamic changes and people get very competitive. Inequities that don't matter in real life are front and center in tournament play (i.e., opening copper/estate split in Dominion)
He appreciates that people like tournaments, and so has created this Dominion series, but he will never love them. This is part of the reason that the Regional Events were not widely shared - he agreed to host the Nationals and the Worlds, but left it up to regional organizers to do the rest.
ACTION FOR THIS GROUP:
For Regional events to happen they need to be organized by someone. Jay is very happy to provide the resources for that. If this site had ~20 volunteers from the largest cities across the country there is no reason we could not have a great event series next year. Talk to a local game store to host. Talk to Jay to verify he will give your winner a spot at Nationals, and it will happen. In fact one of the participants at the Nationals got a local store to run the Regionals and he even participated (and then won).
He's not 100% sure there will be a Nationals/World's next year, but my guess is there will be. If so he will find a way to communicate the regional events better (maybe a page on the Rio Grands website).
At the Nationals themselves, the structure is in flux, but some things are very likely:
1- All 3-player games
2- All designed Kingdoms - likely by Donald X himself (this year it was random - an experiment he is not likely to repeat)
Funsockets and Online Dominion
I asked him how he selected FunSockets. He said that people have been coming to him for years asking to develop an online Dominion game. He did not like any of the proposals. Two examples of why:
1- The wanted to make it platform-specific. They would slowly roll out platforms over time. Jay is not a technology guy, so he didn't have counter proposals, but he didn't like the idea. FunSockets came to him with HTML5 - playform agnostic. It's what sold him (even though he hadn't heard of HTML5 before)
2- DominionSocal. Imagine if you played Dominion, but if you did well, or payed extra money you could get to draw an extra card every few turns. Or the ability to see your opponents hand. Or decide your starting hand. Or get a free silver in your deck. Or many more things. All you have to do is pay a small fee... (this is the Zynga Farmville/CityVille/etc model). They told him, "This is how you make money with games online." He said this is not how he was going to make money with Dominion - because it wouldn't be Dominion anymore.
He's not entirely sure how Funsockets will work (he said he's leaving the money-making up to them), but here's what he thinks will happen:
1- Anyone can go on and play with a random set of Base Cards (not all 25 - likely closer to 15)
2- You can pay money to have more cards in your 'virtual locker' You can likely buy 1/2 sets at a time
3- When you play in a game all of your locker cards and the cards of the person you play with, are available to be used (just like in real life)
4- You can play games against the AI - again, only with your own cards
5- (This is a cool feature!) If you are playing against someone and they drop off for whatever reason, the AI will take over. They will have lots of AIs of different ability levels and they will try to ensure an AI of comparable level takes over from the person (the AI may not have the same style, but will be the same level of ability)
Isotropic and Funsockets and Donald X
Jay tells me that he thinks (heís never asked) that Donald and Doug knew each other before he met Donald and that isotropic was used for testing cards before it was used for public playing. He also said he thinks Doug is working with Funsockets now to help with the coding of the site.
Iím sure Donald and Doug, if they read this, could provide way more color than Jay did. But if true, itís nice to know that Doug is helping Funsockets if nothing else!
If you have any questions that this little interview didnít cover, let me know. I may or may not know the answer, but itís possible I just missed including something Jay shared.