At the Office - Board game Fun with Matt Hyra

By Christina Sims

Hello Cryptozoic fans! This week, I interview Matt Hyra, our lead board game designer here at the office. Matt is the mastermind behind many of our awesome games, and he sits at his desk amongst a small pile of shiny glass counters and other board game tokens used in testing some of his new game ideas. We start the interview as he prepares some tiny poker chips as counters for testing purposes.

Name: Matt Hyra
Official Title: Lead Board Game Designer
Unofficial Title: Supreme Board Game Overlord

Hi Matt! Tell us a little bit about how you start your day here at the office.

The first thing I do is check the forums on our website. I see if there are any rules questions for any of our board games. I check a couple times during the day as well. I also check out BoardGameGeek, although that is a very experienced crowd of board game lovers. People do ask questions there, but our forums are definitely a better place for that since I'll see it faster.

I typically look at my notes from the previous days' worth of testing. If I haven't made the necessary changes, I'll start making changes to our card builder file and print those out. It's not unlike doing a trading card game.

I'll take a look at our game schedule . We have a lot of games in process of getting built up with design, production, getting approvals; a lot of times I look over things and make sure they're ready for approvals and make any changes needed there. Sometimes I'll need to add comments here and there. I'll also review things before they go to the factory.

Sometimes Cory Jones (our president and chief creative officer) or Patrick Dillon (our board game product manager) will come by on a seemingly weekly basis and they'll say, "Hey we're thinking about getting the license for [insert project here]. How quick do you think you can get a game together to show them in two weeks?" With the kind of licenses we're going for, I typically have a good idea in mind and figure out what kind of experience the average person will want to get out of it. Sometimes I'll do two different games and quickly mock it up on my own, and Cory will want to see both of them.

As you're making a board game, there have to be so many different inspirations out there when it comes to design and direction. What inspires you when you're creating a new board game?

For making a new engine and such, I like the challenge of working within pretty strict guidelines. Sometimes the guidelines are, “2-5 people, the game has to be over in 30-45 minutes AND it has to be 100% compatible with iOS technology”. Other games may need to be aimed towards children, or a particular gender. This makes me think outside the box a bit. I can't always create a revolutionary new engine out of the sky. Most designers have the capacity to do that once in their lifetime. It doesn't happen with every game. Give me a set of parameters and I'll make a great game.

It's important for lovers of a particular TV show, series or other IP to feel a connection with their board game. In The Walking Dead, you really captured the feel of the “safety” of the camp. How does the theme of a game alter its gameplay?

One of the main things to determine about a game is who YOU are in a game. A lot of licenses, especially a license where the game exists inside the license, you need to know “Who are you?” Take Penny Arcade for example; everything exists in the comics. But am I a person that exists within the PA comics or am I myself playing in their world? We went with the design that you are a character playing as other characters, so sometimes it's a two-step process. Because we're doing licenses, people want to feel more integrated with the world. That's a good starting point. Playing different characters can give you a different gameplay experience each time you play a game without have to tack on another 20 page rulebook to it.

People are really excited for the DC Comics Deck-Building Game!

Yeah! That's coming along, and should only be a couple weeks out now. I'm excited about that one. It's the first really big thing I worked on here. I like DC. It's my favorite comic book brand. It's a thematically good time. You get to tell a bit of a story: If you're Batman, you're probably going to want to pick up the Batarang, or the Bat Signal or the Utility Belt. It'll be easy to get into and has good strategy as well.

People love promo cards! They provide a different gameplay experience and are fun for collectors and completionists to gather. Martian Manhunter is the promo for DC Comics Deck-Building Game. Are we going to see more promos for our board games in the future?

I spoiled in a recent article that we're working on an expansion for the DC Comics Deck-Building Game. We may loop in a few different promos in there. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as well.

You play games for a living … what exactly do you do for fun?

I started out my gaming life as a role-player: D&D, Dragon Quest, Rune Quest, Traveller, Car Wars, GURPS, and Call of Cthulu which is my favorite table-top RPG. I've written a ton of adventures for that. I also watch movies and go to plays when they are in the area.

Thank you for the interview, Matt! It's fun to see what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to creating a new board game for everyone to enjoy. Join us next week for more interviews with the Cryptozoic crew!