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In this interview, I get the opportunity to interview Jack Ford Morgan, Creative Director of Half-Monster Games and designer of tabletop games such as Trust Me, I’m a Doctor and Trust Me, I’m a Superhero.

Jack Ford Morgan

Tell us about yourself?

I’m the Creative Director for Half-Monster Games here in Brisbane, Australia, which means I both develop new and current games and oversee creative projects being undertaken by our staff and interns. Though of course, being a growing small business, everyone on the team pretty much does a little of everything, from sales to events to invoicing to business planning.

I’m so grateful for the Half-Monster team, particularly my business partner Callan. He’s the focus right brain-machine to my chaotic left brain creative fire. As much as I can, I try to be at the coalface chipping away at new games and ideas. I’m a dad to two boys (thus far!) as well, which definitely keeps me busy. Im training them to be board game testers in the future, slowly but surely.

What is your favourite board game, game category and game that you’ve designed?

Xenohunters, for sure. I love asymmetrical cooperative/competitive games where it’s one vs. many, and I think I managed to capture the feeling of hunting and being hunted with the hidden movement mechanics for both humans and aliens. It was a fun and interesting project to develop too because I was making it during the 2019 COVID pandemic, so couldn’t actually test in person – most of the development was in Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator, and the first physical copies we made were the ones sent to reviewers!
Xenohunters on tabletop simulator

Xenohunters IPS Mission 2_Shipyard

If you were stranded on a deserted island with three people and could only bring five games with you, what would they be?

Probably ones that would let me make more games or tell heaps of different stories, I think. I have ADHD so I am always wanting to move onto the next idea, so things like Dungeons and Dragons, the Pocket Game Design Kit, the White Box, and other things like that.

What inspired you to design board games?

My wife hates when I tell this story, but it was actually when I showed her a story I was trying to write about animals doing business, and she gave me the very honest feedback that it wasnt very good! Haha But then she suggested I try making it into a board game or some other way of expressing the story, since the themes were cool, and I did, and it ended up being really fun, so that’s where it all got going. I continue to make board games because I love the speed and physicality of the design process, and the interpersonal nature of the testing and business side of things.

Which game that you’ve designed are you most proud of and why?

I’m most proud of the Trust Me I’m a Doctor game, to be honest. It was an idea that seemed quite silly to most people at the time, a debate game about being awful doctors trying to cure each other of gross historical ailments, particularly back when Cards Against Humanity and all of its clones were taking up so much of the gaming bandwidth. I sort of had to launch it almost secretly because we were focused on other projects at the time. It ended up being a hit and has formed a large part of the backbone of the HMG business, and it was a sort of proving that we can make weird games and that folks will like them. It was an important stepping stone to my growing confidence as a designer and allowed us to make some more alternative things, like Superhero and the NSFW expansions.

What inspired you to found Half-Monster Games and self publish your games?

Making games with my best friend and now-business partner Callan! We always made things to play together, even by Skype when he was living in Japan. The business is a way for us to just spend heaps of time together having fun and making things. As we’ve grown, I’ve found my primary happiness comes from seeing folks playing the games, having fun, and learning more about each other through play, and that’s why I keep going. I couldn’t not make games, it’s in my blood and is almost a compulsion, so if it wasn’t my job, it’d be interfering (at least mentally because I’d be designing in my head all day) with whichever career I’d be in, so at least this way I make a living from it!

Which parts of designing a game do you enjoy most, and which parts are challenging?

The ideation and hacking together prototypes stage is the most fun for me. It’s so easy to make changes and run with ideas and flip things around to seek the fun. The most challenging part is understanding that designing the game is only 1/10th of the process of actually having a physical product in the end that you can play with folks and sell to people. Design, Prototyping, Testing, Manufacturing, Funding/Crowdfunding, Running Events, Fulfilling, Selling, Distributing, Managing Client Relationships, Commissioning Artwork and working with Artists, managing cash flow, all of these impact a game’s design, so trying to make sure im not making something bonkers that can’t actually be economically made in real life is quite hard sometimes!

Jack Ford Morgan Play Testing Xenohunters

Jack Ford Morgan (left) playtesting Xenohunters at event

What advice would you give to a first-time designer making their first game?

Just make as many as you can as fast as you can, I guess. Don’t get too attached to one idea, or one game, or feel bad if you keep jumping around from thing to thing. Test early, even if its just paper, and follow where your energy goes – persistence is really important, but allowing yourself to drift creatively can lead you to either the fun core of your current game, or to a completely different game that is better suited to your current scale/energy/audience/means to actually produce the thing.

When making a new game, where do you like to start?

I start with a theme, and then break it down into its Elements (the individual things that players can touch, feel, and interact with) and Mechanics (the way all of these things can work together), and then I make a big ol’ dodgy prototype with cardboard and play it with folks, aggressively pruning and changing and taking parts out/sticking parts in. I am doing a Masters of Science Themed Tabletop Game Design and made a video series about the whole process, if you’re keen to see: https://thebridgetabletopdesignguide.squarespace.com/

What inspired you to have your games made in Australia, and what advice would you give for designers looking to have games made in Australia?

We love supporting local businesses where we can. We’ve manufactured in China for years, but the Evergreen shipping issues and the ongoing impact of the pandemic, as well as growing tensions and sanctions between the USA/Australia and China, have made it sort of an urgent matter to start seeking alternative arrangements.

We have formed a partnership with ePrint Online in Brisbane, Queensland, to try and sort out this issue of there not currently being affordable mass-manufacturing solutions for tabletop games here in Australia. Through this partnership, we’ve managed to reach landed-cost price parity with China for single-deck card games, like Uno etc., which is just amazing. They’re steadily upgrading their gear and facilities to now be able to make hard boxes, folding boards, and are looking into 3D printing miniatures production, so we’re really excited to be able to keep working with them. Contact them or us if you’re an Australian tabletop game developer wanting to look into in-country manufacturing for your games. We’re so grateful to be able to work with them; it’s been awesome.

What’s next for yourself and Half Monster games?

Our next game – The Gatherers: Tiny Kingdoms – is launching November 4th on Gamefound! It’s our second RPG and first campaign on Gamefound, so we’re super excited to see how it goes. They’ve been really supportive, and I think we are keen to grow their presence in relation to Kickstarter here in Australia. We’d love if folks could sign up, they get $5 off any pledge level for presigning, and it also would help boost our signal and the signal of Australian-designed games on the platform! https://gamefound.com/projects/draft/74q6nf9mrdvvjvc1vfry6e1vnms

Thank you for your time, Jack! It was great to learn more about you and your ambition for designing and storytelling. Want to keep up-to-date with the latest from Jack and the Half-Monster Games team? Head on over to halfmonstergames.com to be sure to sign up for their newsletter and follow their social media accounts.

Luke

Avid Board Game player and Pokémon card collector. You can learn more about me by clicking here.

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