Posts Tagged ‘ Michigan ’

Designer on Designer: Jason Slingerland

Sometimes, when you are interested in something a little off-center of mainstream culture, say like board games for instance, it can feel a little lonely. You spend times learning as much as you can about your exciting interest and find that when you get the nerve to share it with someone they aren’t as enthusiastic as you are. (For shame!) But then you find your tribe. The worlds gets smaller through the innovative technology and you begin to find pockets of your people spread across the world-wide-web. And occasionally you find out that some of these kindred spirits live in your own backyard. This is the case for me and my friend, Jason Slingerland. Jason is a cool dude who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He’s into board games, too. He’s also into designing board games. He even has a cool podcast where he and another Michigander get together to talk about designing board games! As a person who is always on the lookout for opportunities to learn and grow from the experience of others’ I was able to ask Jason a few questions. We talked about his show, Building The Game, and a game he’s self-publishing with the help of Kickstarter called Water Balloon Washout. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen in on our conversation. He’s good people.
Hi Jason, tell me a little bit about yourself. You have a new game up on Kickstarter that you are self-publishing and you are the co-host of a lovely podcast. Tell people about that!

I’ve been playing games my whole life and in the last year and I half, I have really gotten into designing. Around that time I started doing a podcast with Rob Couch called Building the Game. On the show we discuss talk about what we have been playing, discuss mechanics and then we pitch new game ideas each week. The show started as a way to track our progress from being complete newbies at designing to hopefully experienced designers. We try on the podcast to really show the process of design from conception through publication. Some many people feel like game design is inaccessible when really it’s quite the opposite. There are so many people willing to help out new designers.

My new card game, Water Balloon Washout is now on Kickstarter through August 11. It’s a light strategy game for 2-4 players that revolves around kids having a water balloon fight. It’s a simple that only takes a couple of minutes to learn to play but as you move through the game you find that there is a good level of strategy involved and also a lot of replayability.

Here's a shot from our prototype, the artwork here is completed but the layout and backgrounds will be improved once our awesome Graphic Artist gets ahold of it.  In addition our artist is still working on another 40+ images that will be in the game.

Water Balloon Washout Prototype.

So I know in the beginning of the Building the Game Podcast you and Rob set out to document the process of becoming published game designers. How has the podcast been successful to those ends?

We are making good progress towards that goal. I sold a card game design to Hat Trick Games last fall called Gunslingin’ Ramblers and it’s due out next year. That has really given Rob and I some insight into that process of working closely with a publisher. We are constantly getting great feedback from listeners that really encourages us. Our audience has been consistently growing and we really feel like we are making a difference and helping newer designers. In the process, it’s also been very helpful to Rob and I as designers.

Now that you guys are starting to get your games out to the world, how will this change the content/concept of Building the Game?

I think overall it doesn’t change up the show all that much. Maybe having games out there gives us a little more street cred but really we have had very experienced designers telling us from the beginning that our ideas were valid. I think that goes to show how open the community is to new people. I can say for sure that our format won’t change. Just our level of experience.

Let’s talk a little bit about Water Balloon Washout. How did this game come to be? What made you decide to try this one out of all of your ideas to be the one to self-publish with the help of Kickstarter?

This game came to be when I wanted to design a game that captured a neighborhood snowball fight in a way that felt like you were really in the thick of it but still have the game be very simple and easy to learn. Over time the game changed a bit and became Water Balloon Washout. The core was still the same but the theme changed from Winter to Summer. One of the side goals that came about from designing this game was that I realized I had created something that was simple enough kids could play but it had enough strategy baked in, that adults, specifically gamers would find it fun and replayable. This is something I am really proud of about the game because I think that’s a tough thing to do. Having playtested the game with kids and also adult gamers, I have found it equally enjoyable for them yet on very different levels.
As for why I decided to self publish the game… I have always been interested in that model and this game being a 90 card deck in a tuck box seemed like a low risk way to test the waters. Also, it allowed for Rob and I to get that insider experience into publishing via Kickstarter.

What have you learned so far through the process of building a Kickstarter campaign for your game?

I knew there was a lot to be done but I figure I spent about 60 hours just working on my Kickstarter page and laying things out. I couldn’t believe it took that long. I have also learned that waiting for more backers to come on board can be nerve wracking!

I really love getting to talk to other designer’s about the design process. Everybody seems to have their own system or approach. Tell me a little bit about yours.

I am a very theme oriented person, so I generally find myself coming up with a theme and then trying to find mechanics that really mesh well with that theme. I usually take copious notes in an Excel spreadsheet trying to balance the game before making a prototype. Once I make a prototype I have a core group of people that I test with.

You live in my home state, the lovely mitten; Michigan! What is your favorite game shop or gaming event in Michigan?

Game shop is definitely Fanfare in Kalamazoo where I live. As for favorite gaming event, I would be after this year it will be GrandCon.

How about a little more in general; what is your favorite thing about living in Michigan?

Michigan is a beautiful state with 4 full seasons and so many different landscapes to see. I love camping and nature so this is a good place for it.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. I wish you much success with your Kickstarter campaign, the podcast, and your upcoming game Gunslingin’ Ramblers. Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

Thanks for chatting with me. If anyone would like to contact me about the show or the Kickstarter the best places are @JASlingerland on twitter or email me at

Thanks so much man! This was fun!
You can back Water Balloon Washout on Kickstarter right here!


First, let me say that I am not a big reader of fiction, aside from the occasional graphic novel. But when I ran into one of my old middle school English teachers at a local art fair, I decided to take a chance and pick up one of his books.  I started reading Skeleton Key, by Jeff LaFerney, one afternoon and I found myself sneaking away to steal moments here and there until I finished it the next day. My wife was impressed with my focus since I am usually found reading 5 or 10 various church books and memoirs all at the same time. I found the story compelling and characters interesting. I didn’t want to put it down. When I was done I immediately went to the Kindle store and bought Jeff’s first book, Loving The Rain. He recently signed a deal to re-release his first two books with World Castle Publishing and is hard at work on the third. I’m always glad when I have the chance to share a little space on my blog with great local artists. In this interview, Jeff shares a bit of his story and some of the inspiration behind his work. It is my hope that after taking a glimpse, you’ll find a new companion to spend a few afternoons with during this dreary, Michigan winter.

1.Can you talk a little bit about how your journey from teacher and basketball coach evolved into author of fiction books?

My journey started when I began building a classroom library for my students.  I started reading junior high level award books (like Newberry Awards), assuming they were the best and I would begin to learn to recommend books to my students.  Instead, I read so many books that I didn’t think were very good that I found myself thinking that I could do better.  Eventually that thinking spilled over into adult books, some New York Times best sellers.  I found that several of those were poorly written too.  But I didn’t have a topic, time, or motivation, so the idea of writing just kind of ruminated in my mind.  My son then transferred schools his senior year, resulting in my losing my basketball coaching job.  I’d had a very successful career but was a bit frustrated when I was unable to get another job.  During this frustrating time, I got an idea for a book.  Then my son graduated, and because I wasn’t coaching in the summer and I didn’t have all of his activities, I found that I actually had time on my hands.  Then I was rejected once again for a job and instead of fretting about it, I got motivated.  I had found the three things I needed and Loving the Rain just simply flowed from my mind onto paper.  It was amazing .

2. How would you explain the heart of your books to someone who has never read them?

Clay and Tanner Thomas (father and son) have parapsychological abilities.  I wanted them to be as normal as possible, so I gave a medical reason for their abilities and I made them ordinary people with ordinary lives.  Tanner is a star athlete.  Clay is a college teacher and coach.  Both are genuinely good people.  Clay spends the first book dealing with the consequences of the few times he actually used his powers in an attempt to fend off a criminal.  In the second book, he decides to use his powers for good.  Except for mind-control that they share, they otherwise have completely different abilities, so they need each other and depend upon each other.

3. Where do you find your inspiration to write?

Unbelievably to me, I find that I’m quite creative.  The ideas haven’t been hard to come so far.  I think of things in the most unusual places, at times, but at other times I get ideas while sitting in front of the computer.  I thought of the ending for Loving the Rain while in bed in the middle of the night on a cruise.  I wrote it on a notepad in the dark.   In the morning I could actually read what I wrote.   Sometimes my wife gives me ideas when we’re talking about the book, but usually she isn’t trying.  She just says something that clicks with me, and I get an idea.  Sometimes, I just believe that writing is simply what God wants me to do, and He gives me ideas.

4. The characters in your book do some wrestling with issues of faith. Why do you think it’s important to tell those kinds of stories?

I found that I simply wanted to be true to myself when I wrote the books.  For instance, I don’t swear, so there is no swearing in my books.  I love sports, and I like humor, so I include those things in my writing.  And I’m a Christian, so I can’t but help but write from a worldview that includes God.  If Clay and Tanner are believers, then they should have struggles like all believers have had—struggles like I have had.  I’m proud that I’ve written books that my 8th grade students can read and that my seventy-year-old parents are proud of.  I think it’s good that anyone can read my books and enjoy them without me preaching at them, but the values and faith lessons and real struggles are evident too.

Continue reading


In this 3 part series, I will explore some of the best of 2011. These selections are based on things I experienced in 2011, not necessarily things that came out in 2011. Please feel free to discuss my list and what you would add in the comments section.

Kelsey Rottiers and The Rising Tide

If you have been hanging around The Green Couch at all over the last year, the name Kelsey Rottiers might ring a bell. She’s a fantastic singer/songwriter that lives in Grand Rapids (she grew up in my home town of Davison, Michigan). Last March, Kelsey released her debut, self-released full length album entitled Kelsey Rottiers and The Rising Tide. As soon as my wife and I heard her latest work we knew that is was something special. A few months after that initial hearing of the record, I offered to help Kelsey by becoming her booking agent. I was convinced that she has something so special that it was worth pouring time and resources into sharing it with others. I used to handle all of the booking for my old band so it started to come back after a while. In the last half of 2011, Kelsey Rottiers and the Rising Tide has played something like 40 shows. We are playing lots more for 2012 including at least two short tours. It’s been a lot of fun to get behind such a talented musician and person of character.


Cheap Girls

This is one of my favorite new bands over the last couple of years, even though I’m pretty uncomfortable wearing their t-shirt in public, especially when I’m scooting around town with my wife and daughter. 🙂 Cheap Girls are old friends from Lansing, Michigan. My old bands used to do shows all the time with their old band. I have known a couple of the guys since they we in middle school and have continued to love them more and more with each release. Cheap Girls’ music has a way of reminding me of all the bands I loved in the early 90’s before I discovered punk rock and thought I was “above” all that “Alternative-and-Grunge-nosense”.  It’s part Replacements, part Dinosaur Jr./Buffalo Tom but a little more punk rock. Great melodies deleivered over a wall of sound. They just signed with Rise Records and their new album that was produces by Tom Gabel from Against Me! comes out in February.


The Swellers

Lots of  local music (local to me, anyway) on this list! I hope you are catching the theme that Michigan has some great music to offer! The Swellers are a Flint band that played some of their first shows with my old band South Bay Bessie. They were those kids who had some of the best chops in our little scene when they were 14-15 years old. Now, they have two albums out on Fueled By Ramen and they are the band that reminded me that I still like punk rock! Their latest album, Good For Me, was produced by the legendary (fanboy speaking here) Bill Stevenson from Descendants/ALL. For me, the album explores those people and places from the past that shape us in all the ways that make us who we are. I haven’t seen them play live in years but I don’t really have a good excuse since they have been busy trekking all over the world.


What are your favorite musical expereinces of 2011?


Mike Vial stopped by The Green Couch to play a couple songs and we caught it on video! These songs are from his latest e.p. entitled  “Where The Sand Meets The Tide”. In case you missed it, you can read my interview with Mike here.

I hope you enjoy the tunes!



If you have ever been one to enjoy a good story that involves the main character taking a huge risk, giving up comfort and security, to follow a dream, you’ll find yourself inspired by my friend, Mike Vial. Mike left his job of teaching high school for the last 7 years to have a go at a career in full-time music. He has 3 releases under his belt and has grown with every effort. If you met him at one of his shows, his warm, unassuming attitude wouldn’t give you the impression that he’s such an adventurer. But that’s what he is and that’s what makes his story so compelling to me. A guy, a guitar, and a big heart taking a chance out on his own. Have a seat and listen in to our recent conversation.

You recently left a job as a teacher to pursue music full time. Can you talk a little bit about what was behind that and how the process has been for you?

Great question, Jason! Leaving the schedule of a high school teaching career was a difficult choice, but it was essential to focus and dedicate time to practicing, writing, and working through the music business.

For seven years I felt I could walk two roads and do both well, but there was always a fork in the path; I always had to put the guitar down and give up gigging until summer returned. The number of papers that followed me home and the constant, changing curriculum plans made teaching a 12 hour a day job, taking many hours of my weekends too. I really loved working with the students in the classroom, but if you look at my past gig schedule, you can see where I just stop gigging.

I also think I needed to experience more to become a better teacher. Only working in the classroom started to feel like I was running out of life experience to offer my students. Being an independent musician is like being a small business owner, so if I return to the teaching profession, I’m excited to have a lot more business and travel experience to bring to my classroom.

However, let’s not forget I’m still teaching. I now do private lessons for guitar and really enjoy it.

Over the last few years you have released 3 records. Can you share a little bit about each one of those releases and what your learned from each experience or writing and recording them?

My first EP, Three Men Make a Tiger, is a snapshot of a 25-year-old learning how to be a studio musician for the first time. Marshall Block at Real II Reel Studios helped guide me through that recording process.

“Mahogany” was written in my dorm room and “Intelligent Fool” and “Faster Than Slow” were written my second weekend as a teacher, so you have a young Mike Vial on that record! The chinese proverb of the EP’s title highlights the theme of “Pieces of This World,” but it also hints at the over arching theme of searching, making choices. And who isn’t searching when they are 19, 21, 25? Right? Boy I sure was!

Burning the Boats didn’t feel that different to me until quite a few people told me how it felt like a hearing a new Mike Vial. Bill Keith of the Trinity House told me he could hear the songwriting growth between the two records, and that gave me confidence. Honestly, what I love about that EP is how long I left some of those songs on the shelf before deciding they were strong enough to record. I played Cory Glover part of “Kalamazoo” which I almost never finished, and he told me it was going to be a great song and that it had to make the record.

Plus, working with Dan Achen at Catherine North Studios (before he passed away suddenly) really affect my life. Dan taught me things through his musical direction that I’m still practicing–how to add counter melodies to songs and move beyond a solo acoustic guitar player. He had a great, musical ear.  Some of the best direction he gave me is in Kalamazoo, from the guitar fills to the vocal cadences, and the band production on “Only the Rain Knows Why.”

Where the Sand Meets the Tide is about arrivals and departures. The theme of “transitions” is hiding beneath the love stories, and my career change is obviously inspiring that. One new arrival for me is working with more full band arrangements. Stuart Tucker’s playing drums, David Mosher’s on fiddle and mandolin, Kirk Starkey’s on cello, Hannah’s on backing vocals.

I’m really proud of this little release. Working with moon:and:6 (Michael Chambers) again at Catherine North was like a musical vacation, too. Michael and I became close friends while finishing Burning the Boats, so it just made sense to cross the border again to do the third EP.

Can you share a little bit about how community and/or collaboration has influenced you as a musician? Continue reading


The Oak Street Chronicles tell the stories of my time in Downtown Flint, learning to live and learning to love.

We settled in to our little spot on the floor, leaning our backs against the mattress and box spring on the floor of my room. It was the only furniture I had aside from the folding futon chair that my roommate was sitting on. I pressed play on the remote control and movie night had begun. The feature of the evening held a special place in my heart and it worked well with the rhythm that we had going of taking turns choosing movies that we’re meaningful to us.

Tevye’s booming voice entered the room. “A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say that every one of us is a fiddler on the roof: trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck.” That night, I chose The Fiddler on The Roof. I had played the butcher in the play my senior year in high school and my new girlfriend and I had met backstage at a musical rehearsal a couple years before that.


That sure felt like a strange word coming from me. Girlfriend. I hadn’t had a girlfriend for years. As a matter of fact, the last time I had a girlfriend before the night we watched that movie with my roommate was the year I played the butcher in the play. That one turned out to be gay though, so I’m not sure it really counts.

I was really only being neighborly by inviting my roommate to join us for the movie. I secretly hoped he would have other plans. Not because I didn’t like him but because every minute I had with her was precious.

I lived in Flint and she was living in Chicago so when we were able to spend time together is seemed to fly by. I’m sure everyone around us could feel the nervous energy of our scrambling to make the most of every moment. Sitting together watching the movie was no different. Our hands were fiddling as we took turns tracing the lines of each other’s palms while trying to not get too mushy in front of the roommate.

Hours later the credits rolled and right on cue, my roommate stood up and said, “that was cool, thanks for inviting me” as he slipped out the door muttering something about bedtime. Finally we were alone. I’m sure we talked for another couple hours. It was part of our rhythm. We could talk about nothing forever and we did that night. That is, until we started to talk about something.

I looked her in the eyes and took a deep breath. The words almost didn’t come out. But finally, I said it.

“I think I love you.”

She started to cry a little. I imagined that she was thinking about the distance and differences between us. The silence was painful but finally words appeared to be forming on her lips.

“I think I love you too.”

A door opened and we entered a world where nothing would ever be the same. I think I learned what it feels like to have the nerves of a Fiddler on the Roof.


The Oak Street Chronicles tell the stories of the years I spent in Downtown Flint, learning to live and learning to love.

Tap. Tap. Tap. I rustled from beneath the covers of my bed in order to glance at the clock on my side table. 3:00 a.m. Tap. Tap. Tap. “What is that sound coming from outside my window?” It seemed that someone was trying to get my attention. In my old neighborhood, you could never be too careful when looking out a window in the middle of the night. I had no idea what I would find when I peeked out of the curtain into my side yard. I stumbled across the room to find the source of the late-night tapping. I had to see who or what was trying to get my attention.

My eyes were still heavy with sleep as I gently leaned toward the window. I pulled back the curtain to witness a band of fireflies dancing against the night sky. “Wait a minute.” My eyes widened to the realization that I was not witnessing a complimentary performance of a moonlit Madame Butterfly. The flickering lights falling before my window were in reality, flaming ash. My mind began to race. “Where are my pants?” “If the house is on fire I can’t go into the street in my underwear.”   “Should I grab my guitar or my comic books?” The choices one is faced with in a time of crisis sure can tell you something about the heart of that person.

I slipped on my pants and my Chuck Taylors as I made my way to the front porch. I looked around but failed to find the source of the floating ash. “Alright, my house is not on fire. You can breathe again.” I heard voices coming from the side of the house and slowly made my way around to discover the neighbor who was responsible for rousing me from my slumber with his incessant tapping standing with a few others from our block. At the same time, I saw the source of the fire. An old church building that took up the lot directly behind my house was completely engulfed in flames. I could feel the heat from the fire brushing up against my skin and the smoke filling my lungs with a bittersweet fragrance that made me cringe as if I had just watched an Ed Wood film.

My neighbor who had just returned from a late night at the bar looked frightened. “Did you call the fire department?” He said that he did. “Probably some kids or a drug dealer cooking meth.” I was very compassionate. “Thanks for waking me up. I’m going back to bed.”

The next morning, I woke up hardly noticing the smell of the charred rubble that was still smoking in my backyard.  I went about my business, oblivious to all that was lost.

I wonder how often we miss the fires in our own backyards for the comfort of the beds we have made for ourselves. I think we tend to prefer the dancing to the destruction we see around us. But in reality, our dancing is often just a disguise for the places we ourselves have been destroyed.

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