Eric Lee Smith – Founder & CEO

Eric Lee Smith - Founder and CEO of Shenandoah StudioGreetings, as co-founder and CEO of Shenandoah Studio (formerly Project Simonsen), I am excited to tell you a little about myself, Redmond Simonsen, and this new game company. I’m a Texan by birth and Philadelphian by choice with a long, important stay over in New York City that changed my life. I began playing games as a kid, the usual: Monopoly, Sorry, Easy Money, chess, Regatta and others, but when I discovered Risk I really got interested in games. A couple of years later my younger brother Clayton introduced me to wargames with Jim Dunnigan and Redmond Simonsen’s PanzerBlitz; from there I owned 200 by the time I was twenty.

At age 21 I went off to proper college (after having started my first business), if you can call art school proper. I went to Pratt Institute to study photography. Why Pratt? Especially since I got a full scholarship to New Mexico? Because that’s where Simulations Publications was located! They were my favorite game company by far and they had open playtesting on Friday nights. So I went there every Friday night to test games and meet my childhood heros, such as Jim Dunnigan, Redmond Simonsen, Richard Berg, David Isby, and others. It was lots of fun. I was a good tester and designers began to seek me out to test their games. Then one day after being a tester for about six months, I casually asked Brad Hessel if there was a chance I could intern with the company. He gave me a chance virtually on the spot at minimum wage, fifteen hours a week.

I do not recommend choosing as your first game a topic where one side is killed to the last man.

I had a great time going to school and working at SPI. The first game I got to work on was Bulge by Jim Dunnigan. It turned out well, sold well, and he was happy with the map I did and the new victory conditions I came up with, so happy he asked me to write a game proposal. So I did “The Alamo” our customers loved the idea, rated it quite highly, so one day Jim said, It was your idea, so it’s your design. I do not recommend choosing as your first game a topic where one side is killed to the last man. By hanging out with guys like John Butterfield, Joe Balkoski, Richard Berg, Greg Costikyan, and Eric Goldberg, I gradually learned how to design games. The Alamo came out, was well received, and sold well. I was on my way as a game designer. I designed quite a few games at SPI and was a developer also. SPI was an amazing place to work, not perfect, but lots of fun and highly productive. To this day, I have still not met a creative or software development shop as productive as Redmond Simonsen’s SPI.

Jim’s partner Redmond ran the art and editorial department, but he did so much more than that. Redmond (RAS to his friends) was a system creator, anything the company had to do more than twice he was ready and prepared to systematize. The systems RAS created and made SURE we all used were the key to SPI’s incredible output, over 300 games in 11 years, and well over 150 magazine issues. All that with a tiny staff, rarely more than 12 of us in art and editorial. We have chosen to name this company after Redmond during our formation stage. It honors him in two ways: first, we are all fans of his works, and second, Redmond was a great mentor to so many people, including myself, the game designers mentioned earlier, and many, many more people. But lastly, and most importantly, it is to remind ourselves and future members of this company to think systematically about creation, to create processes and procedures that help guarantee quality, timeliness, and productivity.

After SPI was taken over by TSR, the SPI game designers and editors left to start the Victory Games Company, a division of Avalon Hill. I stayed for three years then left to enter the burgeoning micro-computer field, becoming a consultant and art director in high technology. I moved to Philadelphia to join a startup company called Reality Technologies, becoming the manager of software design. We published software such as WealthBuilder by Money Magazine and grew the company to over 120 staff members before we sold it to Reuters. After than I have continued my work in software design and development and have over 20 years of experience.

I never thought I would get back into game design in a serious way, then came the iPad.

After having mine for a week, I decided I wanted to design and publish games for this new breakthrough device. So here we are!

As for favorite games, where to start? These are some of my absolute favorites, in no particular order:

1. Formula D. Formula One car racing with different shaped dice for each gear. I love it and I have played this game with up to seven people and it works great. There are fun optional rules and extra tracks.

2. Alhambra. My wife Alonna’s favorite game and one of mine too, it’s a simple tile laying game with lots of nice elements, each player builds their own Alhambra.

3. Washington’s War. The new version of Mark Herman’s breakthrough game “We the People” and one of the best wargames ever: fast to play, exciting, balanced, and simple. The new version has GREAT components.

4. For the People. Another Mark Herman game, this time on the American Civil War. If I could have only one wargame in my collection, it would be this one.

5. Big City. A kind of sim city board game, but playable in about an hour and a half, with totally over the top German playing pieces. I love this game and will play it any time.

6. Settlers of Catan. What’s not to love? This is the game that really got me into the Euro games and I love it. I play the basic game, with up to six, but stick with that, rather than adding the modules. I admire the design immensely.

7. The Blue & Gray Quadrigames. I have played these games dozens of time, mostly in my youth in Texas, but I’m up for a game any time. My Across Five Aprils game was designed in the spirit of Blue and Gray, that is, simple and fun games about battles.

8. Cobra: The Normandy Campaign. This game is not well known, but there are a group of us that really love it. The original version was designed by Brad Hessel, who hired me at SPI and to whom I owe much.

9. Condottiere. A card game with a board, incredibly simple and incredibly deep, I just LOVE this game and have bought copies for many people. Gain control of three adjacent regions and you win, but the card play to win those regions is amazing.

10. Hey! That’s My Fish! I have bought copies of this game for many people and consider it a masterpiece. You can teach it to a five year old and they will love it, and they will beat you if you’re not careful (your 10 year old will beat you!).

As for my gaming pet peeve, that’s easy: rules that do not have examples! Especially complex wargames that go on for pages and pages with only a line or two here and there as examples. If you want to see how to do it right, check out “Washington’s War,” to see it wrong, well, there are so many to choose from.

Thanks,

Eric,

PS. I also really love Ticket to Ride



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