So in a surprising bit of news, it was just announced that Z-Man games has been bought by French Canadian publisher Filosophia. Is Zev imploding? What does this mean for all the great games he has in the works? Did Earth Reborn and all the dummies that haven't bought it bankrupt this once glorious publisher? I spoke with Zev and had him clear up a few things for us. We also talk about some of the new Z-Man releases to look for in the coming months.
So what’s the story with Filosophia buying Z-Man?
I got an email, they said there was a rumor I was for sale. And I was like not really I just joked that if the price was right I'm always for sale, and they said what’s your price and we just started talking from there.
Kind of awesome huh?
Yeah it was cool. Sort of strange, weird, but you know, so was me publishing games.
So basically Z-Man’s really not gonna change at all other than the fact that now there will be a bunch of other people dealing with the paperwork and nonsense that’s not fun for you to deal with anyway?
Correct. Basically, my goal, my job is to be the face of Z-man, be at conventions and just keep finding good cool weird games. Basically they are gonna take over all the day to day stuff; sales, invoicing, marketing, CS, you know all that stuff that I had to do, but wasn't crazy about. So I get to concentrate on all the parts I really enjoy.
Are you worried at all about losing that personal touch in customer service that you were so known for?
Well I told them that my customer service reputation is really up there and they would harm themselves if they started fooling around with that. They said they want to keep up the same level of service that I gave, absolutely. They are the ones that wanted me, they said to buy your company without you is a crazy thing and we don't want that. So I feel confident that they want to keep up the status quo. I mean, maybe I was a superhero and did things that no one can, I don't know. But you know, when I go to a show or away on vacation or something, I shut down; nothing takes place. It won't be with them cause their office is always open. So even if someone goes on vacation, there will always be someone there to do something. So maybe CS will be even better.
There is a lot of trepidation mixed with excitement coming from most fans in the hobby, people are so happy with current Z-Man stuff, do you think you'll lose some of that personal connection with customers?
There will be people who feel that way, but I really stress that it's Z-Man. That's what it is and they want to keep it that way. There is always trepidation with change, but it should be a pretty invisible change. If there had been no news about, I don't think people would have known about it. At least certainly not right away.
So we can still complain to you about Agricola or release dates?
Of course! But now Filosophia will also be able to field those calls so I won't have to do it all the time. Especially about what comes out when, I'll know because I'll be in the loop but now I got somebody else that can do the same thing.
Do you think this will change Z-Man’s output, you've had a pretty insane pace the last year or two?
I think we're gonna slow down. I was considering slowing down anyway. I don't think they will keep the same pace, it was honestly a really crazy pace, I did go pretty wild on the releases and stuff. I was planning to slow down. The main thing I was gonna watch out for was to not have some many games come out in one month. I had nobody to check me really.
I think it's indicative of how you are as a publisher and why gamers tend to like you so much; you just happened to have a lot of games you were excited about come down the pipe at the same time.
Is the process of finding new games going to be the same? Will you still accept submissions from anyone and have an enormous closet full of prototypes all the time?
Well I still got a closet full right now! I think we'll still keep it open, we just might not get to as many right now, especially during the transition, but even now it's been pretty slow. I haven't playtested as much in the last few months. Once the transition happens I can pick up the pace again and set up playtesting dates. I still have a lot to go through. I think we'll keep our eyes and ears open more at conventions and stuff like that and pursue things that we see there while we are there. I think the blind submissions might slow down a bit, at least until I catch up with the stuff I already got.
Are there any titles that stand out as blind submissions that turned out to be huge hits?
Wasabi was a submission. Endeavour. Pandemic was in effect; I met Matt and tried one other game of his in person and I didn't like that one but he said he had another one and he sent that to me and , well we know the story of Pandemic. Pretty much the ones that weren't, were things that were originally published in another language like Agricola.
Anything else to add about Filosophia?
I'm still gonna do stuff that F:AT fans are gonna be interested in. There are titles that might not fit under Filosophia imprint but would be perfect for Z-Man, something like Road Kill Rally. They would never do that under their own imprint, but under Z-Man, they can. So there is still definitely an avenue to AT type stuff that will be of interest to everybody.
Speaking of AT, I know you are a huge fan of trashy dice and themes and ridiculousness and you have a lot of good ones in the pipeline. One that people haven't really talked about that much yet is the Walking Dead game.
Yeah I was actually surprised, I thought there would be more talk about that. But, who knew.
So what's the story about that? I couldn't find much info about the actual game play, I think people are excited about the license but you know, how does the game play? Why should we be talking about it more?
It's a zombie game, it's licensed from the comic so we're using that art, we're not using any art from the TV series. I think the game, whether or not people like it, I think its very thematic to the Walking Dead universe, meaning you feel like you're in the Walking Dead comic. You'll be playing the characters, you'll be meeting and gaining followers, many of whom are from the comic book that you'll recognize. and the goal of the game is to survive basically. You're trying to gather resources, you're trying to find safe havens. It will feel like a real Walking Dead game.
So this is co op?
It’s available to be co operative, but it is competitive. It's basically a race to be the first group to find four safe havens, but the thing is, you can work together. You can have 2 or 3 groups work together to find the 4 safe havens. Plus there is also solo play.
Any update on Scorched Earth?
At this point, anything that's not at the printer already, I'm meeting with Filosophia in July to discuss stuff that I've committed to but are not at the printer and we're gonna find out what they wanna do or not. Unfortunately that's the only downside to the transition, I had so many games in the pipeline, some might get moved to 2012, but basically we need to discuss what's going to be available and what's not. My goal is to find out what they are not going to print for sure and either find another place to publish it or get it back to the designer.
So there is some stuff that has the potential to be cut loose?
Yeah, that's true.
I really hope Scorched Earth doesn't get cut!
Me too, I'm gonna push for it, but they are the final arbiter.
Battle Beyond Space, is that at the printers?
No, but I think because it's already done and ready to go to the printers and we already have the molds for the ships, I can only assume they won't say no to it. But again, it is one I still have to discuss.
What about Quest?
Quest is at the printer and should be in time for GenCon.
Ok, so sell me on Quest. Obviously the fantasy adventure game genre is pretty crowded, but you, not being an idiot, would not be publishing a game in such a crowded pace if it didn't have something special and awesome to it, so why am I gonna want to buy it as soon as it comes out?
The first thing is it's not like your typical adventure game, it's not like Prophesy, Talisman, stuff like that. I think it's much closer to an RPG. Prophesy is a board game with role playing elements, this is a role playing game with cards/boardgame elements. It's basically a role playing game. Almost a choose your own adventure. There is a quest master and he describes the scene and he says here are your choices; do you wanna do this, this or this.
So is it almost like a Tales of the Arabian Nights?
It's closer to that, except it's more liner. You're not sent around all over the place. There is a strict adventure with a finite end point. There are different paths to get there, but it's a full adventure with a beginning, middle and end. You can just play around on how you get to the end, you have some freedom but not a lot of freedom, you're going to end up the same way, well, or dead. There is a combat system, basically a tabletop combat system; you'll be putting figures on the board, rolling dice and there will be movement, casting spells and all that. So there is a tabletop combat element to the game, but it's more of a role playing game than not. There is an adventure booklet with 5 adventures which basically tell the whole story, basically a mini campaign. There are also breaks in the adventures where you can stop if you want to play a shorter game. But all your decisions will have impacts later on. Like if you can either help this girl or run away. If you help her, you may meet her later on and if you helped her she may help you. So there are lots of decisions, but it's more linear. I think this will appeal to role players and also people who want to role play but don't have a lot of time but want to have that role play feel.
What kind of replay with this have?
Very little. You can toughen it up and stuff, but once you know the outcome there won't be much for that adventure. But that's the thing, we're coming out with more adventures.
So it's more of an RPG model where you play through the adventure once and then go on to the next?
Exactly. Right now there is a second quest coming out in Germany with more adventures all tied into the same story. So after you play this one, you'll know the system and the next one will have a whole new story line.
What is the thing in the pipeline that we should be most excited about? What's the next Earth Reborn?
That's definitely coming out or not? There is one that we still have to discuss but I'm really excited about; it's called The Doom That Came to Atlantic City. It's basically Cthulu mythos in Atlantic City and instead of building houses like in monopoly you're destroying them to open gates. It's a lot of fun; it's funny and plays in about an hour/hour and a half. It's a lot more of a "boardgame" than Earth Reborn which is a minis game. We do have miniatures by Paul Komoda who’s a great sculptor, so we're gonna have pewter figurines of the elder gods. In terms of what I know for sure is coming out, Quest is something I'm really excited about, I think it's something that's not really been out there. Couple other good titles; Undermining, Ninjato has some interesting things to it. But yeah, Earth Reborn, that's something I love. It's right up my alley. I don't think there's gonna be too much like that ever. Although I am working on some big box things and we'll see if those get pulled into the thing with Filosophia or I gotta do them separately. So I do have a couple of big plastic games we're working on.
Talking about Earth Reborn, are there any plans for expansions or more scenarios? Boxes of new stuff or just online scenarios?
I know they are thinking of another expansion, I just don't know how viable it will be. Or exactly where we're gonna fit in with that. I know Chris has many times talked about that he has lots of ideas. And there is so much you can expand on, you know figures, factions, tiles, there is so much you can add to it. But honestly, I think the game has pretty much anything you need to do to keep you busy for a very long time. But you know, people do like new stuff and I don't mind and of course hey, I love new figures and new cards and stuff like that all the time. But it's not necessary.
So you alluded to it before, but can we clear up once and for all that Earth Reborn is not a total failure and was the worst and Zev lost his company because Earth Reborn did so bad?
I didn't lose my company because of Earth Reborn. I didn't lose my company because of anything, I was doing really well. Earth Reborn just didn't do what I had hoped it would do. But also because I committed very much to the game, I did a lot of them. If I had committed to a smaller print run it would have been a huge success, but I did a big amount because I really hoped it would do more. I really thought this would be a game that Space Hulk fans would buy, and other minis gamers, so it’s been a failure in that regard. But it is still early, it's only been out like 5/6 months so I'm saying this, but it's like I didn't give it a full shot yet, it hasn't been out a year yet. It hasn't been out at any of the cons; we sold out at Origins rather quickly, I didn't bring as many but still, we sold out. I think the Tanga thing a lot of people bought it and played it and are like wow this is cool, so hopefully that pays some dividends.
It's gonna turn into the next Nexus Ops or something; people don’t' really care when there are a ton of them and then it goes out of print and people freak out because they finally discover what a good game it is.
Exactly, but the good thing though is that I printed a lot so it will take a while for it to go out and not be available. But it's only cause I committed a lot and I stuck by it and it just didn't do what I hoped it would so far. But it's doing alright and I'm happy with that.
Not selling completely up to expectations doesn't mean it's a complete failure either.
Exactly. It did not tank my company. It's inventory and ties up some capital. But I still have 13 or 14 games coming out this year. I have about 35-40 the whole year coming out.
Can you talk about Richard Launius's spy dice game that totally rules?
Well, I'm gonna be pushing for all these things when I go up there in July. I'm bringing prototypes and hopefully we’ll be able to play as many of them as possible and hopefully they'll agree with me. But again, it's really up to them but I'm gonna push for all that.
First off, thanks to everyone for all the support. I'm a gamer, I love gaming, I do my best to come out with games that I think everybody’s gonna want to play. I love doing it. I met a great number of people, I had a lot of fun and I'm gonna keep doing it. You know, I'm still here, I'm gonna be with them. It’s pretty much status quo for me, I just don't have to do the business things. But who knows, I might have had to hire someone anyway at some point. It was getting to that point.