Stolen Pants and Space Monkeys
An Interview with Jim Doherty
It's a difficult task to break into the game industry. Many
designers try for years to sell their games to publishers. Others
spend a small fortune self-publishing their game, only to end up
with a couple thousand copies in their basement for years to come.
I'm always interested in a success story, and that is what Jim
Doherty has been able to tell the last couple years. His company,
Eight Foot Llama, got the spotlight when his first game showed up
in Games Magazine's Games 100. I still remember the buzz online,
"What's this game? Has anyone heard of Who Stole Ed's
Pants?" More than a few curious customers purchased the
game and Jim was forced to step up from his self-published
version to a mass-produced second edition.
A year later, Eight Foot Llama has released a second game and
it also found its way into the year's Games 100. From small, self-published
printings to honored success with his new company, it seems like
whatever Jim's doing with game design, he's doing it right. I
wrote Jim in early October and asked if he'd grant us an
interview. Just after returning from his first visit to the game
fair in Essen, Germany, he heartily agreed. I took the
opportunity to ask him a few questions about game design and,
more specifically, his latest award winner, Monkeys on the Moon.
Mike Petty: When you're not designing games, Jim, what do
you do for a living?
Jim Doherty: I'm working full-time on Eight Foot Llama right
now. In my previous life I was an electrical engineer.
MP: And how did you get started designing games?
JD: I've always designed games, but I started doing so
professionally when Who Stole Ed's Pants was ranked highly on the
Games 100 list for 2002. At that point, I could not keep up with
the orders by making the game at home, and I decided to mass-print
MP: Speaking of ranking in the top 100, congratulations on
Monkeys On The Moon! That's two for two.
JD: Thanks very much.
MP: In case anyone's interested, what's the process for
getting Games Magazine to consider your games? .
JD: You can reach them at The Editor, GAMES, PO Box 184, Fort
Washington, PA, 19034. Just include a game, your contact info and
a request that you'd like to be considered for a review.
MP: You recently returned from the game fair in Essen,
Germany. How was the trip?
JD: Essen was fantastic. I've never seen so many people
having a good time simultaneously in my life. It really has
to be experienced to be believed.
MP: And how was your latest game received there?
JD: Monkeys on the Moon looks to be popular in Europe -- we
sold out the 100 games we brought before the show ended and got
lots of interest from European retailers and distributors.
We've got a full write-up of the show on our website at http://www.eightfootllama.com/Spiel.PDF
MP: Many have noted that the mechanics in your games have
a very "German", yet your subject matter is quite non-conventional
for those types of games. Where do you get your ideas for new
JD: I don't think there's a general answer. For Who Stole Ed's
Pants, it was just a realization that framing others for a crime
could be fun, and that it hadn't been done before. Monkeys on the
Moon, believe it or not, was born out of the fact that I really
liked the title.
MP: Could you give us a brief overview of the design
process for Monkeys on the Moon?
JD: Well, based on the title, I knew there were monkeys on the
moon, so it was a matter of figuring out what they might be doing
up there. I figured they were squabbling amongst each other,
trying to improve their lives, and really wanting to come home.
So the idea was to reward the player who managed to befriend the
most powerful tribes and get them back to Earth.
My design model was something like trying to get elected
president of the UN. You try to help out everybody, but you can't
since everyone has conflicting needs and existing rivalries. And
you only have limited resources to use, so you have to decide
where they would be best spent. Therefore a bidding mechanic
using the idea of "tribal favor" made the most sense.
MP: How long did it take you to finish the game?
JD: Monkeys was about 6 months. That includes the time to lay
out the whole thing in publishing software.
MP: When do you know one of your games is finally finished
and ready for publication?
JD: Usually when I end a playtest session, I walk away with
several nagging thoughts that some things aren't right. Sometimes
the solution is simple, and sometimes it requires a near total re-design.
But over time, the problems begin to disappear and eventually the
playtest sessions seem more like playing and less like testing.
If everyone enjoys the game and looks forward to playing again,
and I'm not lying in bed that night thinking about how to fix
some problem, then I know I'm just about there.
MP: How do you round up playtesters for your designs?
JD: 90% of the playtesting is done by experienced gamers that
I know very well. They're all very picky and don't hold back
criticism (like myself). I've also met some folks online that
have been very helpful. Once we're all satisfied, I take
prototypes to small cons and get further feedback from people
I've never met.
MP: What's been your favorite aspect of working in the
JD: The helpfulness of almost everyone in it. If I had
started, say, my own restaurant, I don't think that established
restaurant owners would be going out of their way to help me the
way game companies have. It's really been amazing.
MP: Related to that, I seem to remember something about
you publishing Who Stole Ed's Pants shortly after attending James
Kyle's workshop at GenCon about self-publishing. Is it true that
the seminar helped you to pursue publication of that game?
JD: Yes, it certainly is true. James is perhaps Earth's most
helpful human. It was at his GenCon seminar that I learned one
could make very good-looking games at home and that he had found
success doing so. At the time, Who Stole Ed's Pants was half
finished and I wasn't sure what, if anything, I would do with it.
But the seminar inspired me to complete the game and develop a
high-quality first edition.
MP: What's the best advice you could offer someone trying
to get their own designs published?
JD: I'll assume you're talking about self-publishing as
opposed to getting an existing company to buy your first game,
because the latter happens rarely.
I would say, invest in quality prototyping equipment (a good
printer, a laminator, etc) so that you can make the game at home
to start out. This way, you don't have to spend a bundle to make
thousands of games, and you can make changes as required to
improve the game.
If you take it to cons and more than half the people who play
it demand to buy a copy, you might have something. Send it off to
reviewers, and if they like it as well, you might investigate
mass-printing. But be well aware that this is a very tough
industry to profit in. And don't invest more than you can safely
afford to lose.
MP: What things can we expect from Eight Foot Llama in the
JD: I think for the time being we'll be sticking with board
games about the size and price of Who Stole Ed's Pants and
Monkeys on the Moon. I'd like to do something larger someday, but
I don't think we're quite ready for it yet. It could be
interesting to work with other designers in some capacity as well.
James Kyle and I have kicked around a few ideas and it'd be great
to do something with him sometime. We'll see what opportunities
MP: And we'll definitely look forward to them. Thank you
for the interview.