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A little over a year ago I purchased Mystery Rummy 1: Jack the Ripper, a card game designed by Mike Fitzgerald. My wife and I really enjoyed the game. In fact, it wasn't long before we bought all three of the Mystery Rummy titles. The themes, along with the interesting new twists in the cards and rules, make the ever-popular game of rummy all the more enjoyable.

Hoping to share these fine games with more of our customers, I planned on highlighting them as our Featured Games. I asked Mr. Fitzgerald if he'd grant us an interview to go along with his featured games here at Fair Play. I was very pleased when he agreed. Here's what he had to say about game design and, more specifically, his work with the Mystery Rummy games.

Mike Petty: To start off, how did you first break into the game industry as a game designer?

Mike Fitzgerald: I was at the 1994 Toy Fair and the head of US Games asked me if I knew someone who could make a game like Magic: The Gathering. I had a Magic deck with me that he saw. I said, "I could," and the result was my first game-Wyvern. I had tested and fooled around at games before that but was not serious about it until Wyvern.

MP: Speaking of US Games Systems, I see they are producing a game of yours called Dragon Hunt. Is that game related to Wyvern?

MF: Dragon Hunt is a two-player stand alone card game based on Wyvern. I dropped the Treasures and the "reaction" cards to make it simpler. It is a good introduction to Wyvern. Wyvern is still played in certain spots around the world, like Australia for some reason. I still play a lot of sealed deck and booster draft Wyvern. The game is excellent in those formats.

MP: My wife and I have really enjoyed your Mystery Rummy games. Could you tell us a little about how those were developed? For one thing, I've always wondered if you started with mechanics or a theme.

MF: I played Rummy all the time as a kid and always loved it. As I got older I wondered if I could put a little more strategy and a theme onto the base mechanic so I could enjoy playing Rummy at a new level with my gamer friends. I always start with a theme and build mechanics around it. I knew mysteries would work since you are collecting information to solve a mystery, like making collections of cards in rummy.

MP: So, I assume that you meet with a regular gaming group. Do you use them to playtest your latest designs?

MF: I have two main playgroups-one in Connecticut and one in New York City based at Neutral Ground ( a gaming club for Magic etc.). I playtest my designs with the target age groups, so lately I have been using my daughters classmates for many of my games. For my strategic games like Mystery Rummy I do use both groups. I also do a lot of two-player gaming as that is my favorite form of gaming. As far as what we play, we play the latest German hits like Puerto Rico (great two-player by the way).

MP: Which is your favorite of the three Mystery Rummy games?

MF: Jack the Ripper is my favorite. It is my favorite two-player game period. I worked on it for three years before publishing. I believe it is a real gamer's game with lots of skill opportunities within a rummy format.

MP: Do you have any other Mystery Rummy games in the works?

MF: Mystery Rummy 4 is Al Capone and comes out early next year. Five is almost done-I cannot divulge the theme yet. The plan is to keep going as long as they sell well and I can offer new and interesting ideas in each one. The Al Capone game borrows from Canasta for some mechanics.

MP: There are many similar mechanics in the Mystery Rummy games and in Wyatt Earp. How did that one end up being themed so differently?

MF: I was working on a Mystery Rummy for the wild west when I realized it was really not suited for the Mystery Rummy series. Especially with the use of money etc. My good friend Richard Borg agreed to work on it with me so it could be a "German" type game.

MP: It's fascinating how much mileage you've gotten from the basic rummy mechanic, yet the games are each unique in their own ways. There must be an incredible number of versions and tweaks before you decide on which traditional rules to keep and which special features work well with them. You mentioned the first one took 3 years to develop. How long on average has it taken you to do each of the others, including Wyatt Earp?

MF: Jack the Ripper took three years to balance the escape victory condition with the normal way of going out. It was also the first, so I had to spend a lot of time finding mechanics that worked well in this rummy system, like going into the discard pile, etc.. Once I did the first one the others are much easier, because I know a lot of what will work and not work already. Most of the Mystery Rummy games take one year. Wyatt Earp took a year and a half because Richard and I had to tweak it for the German type strategy game.

MP: On a more personal note, what have you found most satisfying in your experiences as a game designer?

MF: That's a hard question. I think it is working with Wizards of the Coast for the last three and a half years. They have the best R&D department anywhere and I got to work with them on several projects. They published my Nitro TCG and my X-Men TCG and then used my Nitro mechanic for Harry Potter.

My most satisfying accomplishment so far is Jack the Ripper. I have a lot of designs coming in the next couple of years, so we will see if I can get to that level again.

We'd like to thank Mr. Fitzgerald for his interview and we look forward to what new games he has in store for us in the upcoming months.


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