AMMON – For Mark Hanny of Ammon, playtime is serious business.
The Rigby High School grad has worked in local media for 40 years and is currently employed with Local News 8. But he moonlights as the owner of Joe Magic Games and creator of numerous boardgames, a passion he has nurtured for decades.
“I started making games in 1992,” Hanny told EastIdahoNews.com. “My first game was called ‘The Personality Game’ and was kind of like taking a personality test. When you finished the game, you are on this grid that showed you your personality type. I made all those in my basement and sold a bunch of those in a few states: Idaho, Utah, California and Texas. I’ve made dozens of games.”
Hanny wasn’t initially interested in creating games but his passion was sparked by playing games he really loved.
“It didn’t really start for me as a kid,” he said. “As a kid, I was into sports and stuff and not really ‘geeky’ stuff like games. But as time went on, I started getting introduced to these games that were amazing, that were different and new. Games like ‘Settlers of Catan’ was the start of that. ‘Magic: The Gathering,’ which is still a strong game, was something I did for a long time. I don’t do it anymore because I just can’t keep up with it.
The gameplay mechanics really hooked Hanny and drew him into designing his own projects. He was especially interested in worker placement mechanics, a gameplay mechanism that gives players a limited number of tokens to deploy at multiple placements in the game.
Along with the mechanics, Hanny enjoys games that require a bit of brain power.
“If I can play a game that is challenging and seems complicated, it’s exciting to me,” he said. “There’s a game called ‘Feudum.’ I think I watched six hours of video to learn how to play that game and when I started playing it with my friends, it took a couple of hours to explain the rules to them. But once we got to playing it, it was really rewarding.”
Hanny aims to emulate these qualities in his own games. Hanny’s current line-up of games runs the gamut from “Misty Runes,” where you learn your character’s identity over the course of a dungeon adventure, to “Stadium,” a game that casts you as the owner of a football franchise, to “Wazooga,” where the goal is to escape incarceration in an alien zoo.
Hanny says that his inspiration for games can come from a litany of different sources.
“Sometimes I think ‘I want to make a game about ‘X’,” he said. “Fantasy and ‘Lord of the Rings’ are at the top of my list as far as genres. Pro football. I’ve made a couple of superhero games. Then, I’ve made games that have no genre at all. Just whatever seems fun.”
Once Hanny has an idea he likes, he begins actually putting the game together. He makes as many of the components as he can using tools like a 3-D printer. What he can’t make himself, he orders from outside companies. Then his game-playing buddies help him work out any bugs in the games.
“My process is that I try to make as close to a finished product as I can from the very beginning,” he said. “I have a lot of guys in town who play-test with me who are very into the hobby, so they’ve played a lot of games. When they play my games, it becomes very obvious if something’s not right. And they don’t mind being critical, either.”
In the end, it’s the reaction of players playing his game that’s the ultimate reward for Hanny.
“That what I live for, when somebody comes up to me and says ‘We played your game and we love it,’” he said. “I met one woman from Boise who got a hold of one of my games that was called ‘Giant.’ And she said ‘We love that game so much, we wore it out and when we wore it out, we drew our own version of the artwork so we could keep playing it and playing it.’ Man, that feels good!”