It is the second week of June, and summer is just around the corner. Though there won’t be any physical parades this year, the Pride Celebrations continue in our homes, hearts, and online. Last week in our four-part series highlighting LGBTQ+ designers we got to know Nikki Valens, the designer of Quirky Circuits and Mansions of Madness 2Ed. This week we introduce you to…
“The secret to the tabletop gaming industry is that there is no industry… The worst thing that happens is you fail, learn from it, and try again. No one is going to hold you back but you.”
Games: Delta Green, Godlike, Runequest.
Mox: Hi Simeon. Tell us a little bit about who you are and how you got into the tabletop game industry.
Simeon: My name is Simeon Cogswell, I finally came out as non-binary and pansexual a year ago and my friends have been very supportive. I do graphic design and layout for board games and tabletop roleplaying games. I have been doing this for 10 years, though only in the past 2 have I switched over to doing it full-time.
It all happened by accident really. I graduated university in 2007 and lost all prospects of getting graphic design work in the economic crash of 2008. So, I was working at Urban Outfitters in Birmingham, Alabama when I met a friend using an online “looking for game” website called Pen and Paper games. I was the new person in his group, and his group included the owner of Arc Dream Publishing (known for Wild Talents, Godlike, and Delta Green). We became good friends, and finally he needed some layout help on a Godlike project. Seeing as I had recently graduated and had no design work he asked if I wanted to help. I believe that was the Black Devils Brigade book for Godlike (I don’t want to look at it, I’m sure it is hideous. I had no idea what I was doing). Everything snowballed from there and in 2015 I was brought on to completely overhaul the design of Delta Green for it’s new standalone Kickstarter release. I guess you could say my original goal was just thinking “cool, I’m making an RPG!” And now it’s my life.
Mox: What do tabletop games mean to you? Simeon: Tabletop games have been a part of my life since I received the D&DCyclopedia from my grandfather in the 4th grade. Now, they pretty much define my life. It’s what I work on, it’s what I do to relax, it’s my creative outlet. It always feels great having someone come up at a convention and tell me how much they like the look of a game I’ve worked on and how important the game has been to their life. It may sound corny, but tabletop games change lives and I love being a part of that.
Mox: What inspires your game design? Simeon: Stefan Sagmeister, Edward Tufte, and Robert Bringhurst influence and inform my work from a graphic design perspective. Artistically I look to Constructivism, the works of Egon Schiele, and the Bauhaus school. I work to integrate text and image in a way that rules can be easily digested, but also doesn’t feel like you’re reading an encyclopedia. I also get very preoccupied with accessibility in the games I work on, especially board games. I try to run every component I design through colorblind simulations to make sure the most people possible can read and enjoy them.
Mox: What has been your favorite title to work on, and why? Simeon: Delta Green is my child. I worked closely with Arc Dream Publishing to get the look and feel right, and I am extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished. It pushed me to new heights as a designer and artist and we even won a gold ENNIE for it’s look and design. But I’ve just been brought on by Green Ronin to design their upcoming Fifth Season Roleplaying based on N.K. Jemison’s Broken Earth trilogy, so maybe that will take over!
Mox: What theme would you love to see in RPGs/ board games that you haven’t seen or would like to be more prominent?
Simeon: To be blunt about it, tabletop gaming is a massively white, hetero, cis male controlled space. Most of the big companies (except for Paizo) are owned by older white men. I just really want to see more female, LGBTQ+ and PoC voices heard in gaming. Thanks to crowdfunding platforms and the internet, we’re having our voices heard more and we are able to reach more people. But it will still be nice to see us in the tabletop “mainstream” more.
Mox: What do you find most challenging as a queer person in the industry?
Simeon: Getting companies to use correct pronouns is always a challenge. I’m often thought of as “one of the guys” working on a project, and I’m not. I think this partly has to do with the people running these companies being older and not used to those kinds of social norms, and because almost all of us work remotely and aren’t interacting face-to-face on a daily basis. I would like to shout out Green Ronin for immediately asking pronouns I preferred when I was brought on to their company Slack server.
Mox: What would you like to tell young LGBTQ people who want to break into the game industry?
Simeon: The secret to the tabletop gaming industry is that there is no industry. Even now in this golden age of gaming, it’s mostly people working from their homes on things they love. Anyone can make a game, anyone can illustrate a game. You don’t need companies to publish your game, crowdsourcing has changed everything. Make a Kickstarter, make a Patreon. The worst thing that happens is you fail, learn from it, and try again. No one is going to hold you back but you.
Thank you Simeon for your time and sharing your experiences with us. All of us at Mox are incredibly excited to see your work in the upcoming 5th Season RPG.
Make sure you pick up a game featuring Simeon Cogswell’s graphic design work next time you’re in Mox, and check back next week when we continue our series with game designer Matt Fantastic.
– See you at Mox