Interview Oct 3, 2013

Today’s guest is Michael Coe, owner of Gamelyn Games. Michael’s game design credits include Rise and Dungeon Heroes. Today, he talks to us about Fantasy Frontier – his latest title now on Kickstarter.

GDC: Give us an overview of your game and how it’s played.

Michael: Fantasy Frontier is an adaptable euro style game for 2-4 players. Meaning that the game experience will adapt to the type of gamers that are playing; it can be a very peaceful experience or one riddled with aggression and take-that!

The primary focus in Fantasy Frontier is exploration and this is done through tile placement and pattern recognition. In order to get tiles and maps though, players use worker placement to manage a crew of airship pioneers. The game also features resource management, movement and some dice based combat!

GDC: What innovative mechanic or creative idea distinguishes your game from others?

Michael: Fantasy Frontier is reuniting airships with high fantasy and leaves steampunk nowhere to be found. In Fantasy Frontier players get to experience the busy life of an airship crew, but it goes deeper than that. Players can command their crew to leave the airship to interact with the land below.

Fantasy Frontier is unique in that it ties together familiar euro mechanics in an open and free environment. By that I mean the game allows players a lot more freedom and choices than most games and then rewards them for their efficiency in achieving the goals they’ve set for themselves.

GDC: Tell us about the spark or inspiration for this game.

Michael: The spark was to create a game of high fantasy airships. There are plenty of steampunk themed airship games out there but no high fantasy themed airship games that I can think of. I’ve set out to change that, reason being goes as far back as my childhood.
I grew up with Teddy Ruxpin and his fantastic airship and adventurous maps. Then I grew into playing early Final Fantasy games and Warcraft games which feature fantasy airships. Long story short, high fantasy airships are nostalgic for me and I want to relive that part of my imagination. Enter Fantasy Frontier!

GDC: Let’s talk about the design process. Tell us a bit about the iterations the game has gone through and the refinements you’ve made along the way.

Michael: With Fantasy Frontier being a game that mixes a lot of mechanics, it requires a lot of playtesting. In early versions of the game I found the mechanics needed order. So I created a phase order in which actions are performed. For instance, in the early stages of the game, terrain tiles were drawn at the start of a player’s turn but not placed until the player’s next turn. The latter part is still true; however we found that drawing the tiles early in the turn made players think about the tiles instead of the rest of their turn, creating a lot of downtime for other players. Now, drawing terrain tiles are the last thing a player does in a turn so that they can think about them off-turn and it keeps the game moving along.

GDC: What has been your biggest challenge in designing this game?

Michael: The biggest challenge has been marrying the multiple mechanics in a way that is fun and liberating. I want players to have a lot of freedom but yet the game needs structure, so finding that balance has been an exciting and satisfying challenge.

GDC: Let’s shift gears and talk about you. How did you get into game design?

Michael: I’ve been a gamer all my life. I feel like everyone says that these days though.

I was listening to a motivational speaker who spoke about freeing up your free time. Once you do that you have availability for inspiration. Well, I did that. I cancelled an MMO subscription; I turned off the consoles… I still played board games, because they are a unique breed of gaming that directly involves friends and family, but I freed up a lot of time. In my newly discovered time, I found that all I was thinking about were games, themes, mechanics etc. So, I set out to create my own. I have a lot of designs on the shelf in different stages of development but Fantasy Frontier marks my third attempt at publication. My previously published designs being Rise! and Dungeon Heroes.

GDC: What is your greatest moment as a game designer?

Michael: It was at a convention, I saw my first published game Rise! being played and enjoyed by people I didn’t know, I didn’t push the game onto them, they just came into it on their own and they were loving it! That hooked me. To make something from scratch that can provide an enjoyable time and create lasting memories for other people has been most rewarding and something I want to do the rest of my life!

GDC: Tell us a little bit about your life outside of game design and gaming: family? work? other interests?

Michael: Let me start by saying that I am living the American Dream! I have such a supportive and beautiful wife and healthy and charming daughter. I do what I love to do and I’m surrounded by people that I love. I don’t say this to brag, I say it as a reflection on the beauty that life is; it’s a mentality. That’s not to say I don’t have hardships because I do. But, I strongly believe that the life we live is driven by the thoughts that we have. I wake up in the mornings and make a conscious decision that I’m going to have a great day and then as obstacles show up I overcome them instead of letting them overcome me.

I come from a large family, I have 12 siblings. I’m a family man and I love to spend quality time with my friends and family and I find that board games are a great and effective avenue to achieve that desire.

Apart from my passion in board gaming, I’m an actor. You can check out some of my previous work on IMDB

I also hold a Twin Galaxies World Record for the original Legend of Zelda on the NES.

GDC: Do you have any works-in-progress or game ideas you would like to share?

Michael: Absolutely! I have several games in the works. The one I will tell you a little about right now is a medieval civ building game that combines worker placement/resource management with deck building. The game play is very similar to that of an RTS game like Warcrafts 1-3. The working title is King’s Town.

GDC: What games have you been playing lately? What have you liked, what have you disliked, and why?

Michael: I’ve been so swamped in production that I haven’t played as many games as I would like but I have played Terra Mystica and Smash Up lately. I love love love Terra Mystica!! They did a great job with that game and I’m itching to try other factions. Smash Up has a lot of potential as well, but my first play was a little flat. I can see why people like the game though.

GDC: Share your favorite game you haven’t designed and why?

Michael: My favorite game of all time is Chess, but my favorite game right now is Carcassonne. I love Carcassonne because I feel like I am a grand medieval architect when I’m playing. The game explores very exciting elements of high luck, high strategy and I’m always out of my chair at the end!

GDC: One word of advice to your fellow game designers?

Michael: Fellow designers, small games are hot right now and there an easy ‘yes’ to publishers because of low production costs. Jump on it while they are the buzz!

GDC: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to? (playtesters, design mentors, your friendly local game store, etc.)

Michael: You bet!! Fantasy Frontier has been a collaborative process for several people that deserve some love.
First off, the projects artist Naomi Robinson, not only is she wildly talented, she is a delight to work with. She is good person, communicative, thorough, dedicated and has fast turnaround times. She can be contacted at her blog.

Second, the projects creative adviser, developer and my wife, Brittany Coe, her insight has been very valuable and nothing gets put into this project without passing her scrutiny first.

Third, the projects lead game developer, Brian Ikegami, also the developer of Dungeon Heroes and Rise! Brian has been with me since the beginning of my game design and has contributed to a lot the greatness!

Lastly, all 200+ play testers that have gotten their hands on Fantasy Frontier. A lot of great developments have come from a lot of smart people. Thank you all!

GDC: Tell us how (and where) we can find you (social networks, BGG username, website, cons you plan to attend).

Michael: You can always find new information on Gamelyn Games at I’d recommend joining the newsletter. You can find me on twitter with @Gamelyn_Games or on My BGG handle is MGCOE and you can always reach me via email at

Thanks a lot for the opportunity to share a little about myself and Fantasy Frontier with your readers!

GDC: Thanks Michael! Fantasy Frontier is on Kickstarter for just a few more days – be sure to have a look!


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