An Interview with Unearth’s Designers

Matthew Ransom and Jason Harner

Unearth represents the combined efforts of many, many people. This week, we’d like to shine the spotlight on the game’s designers: Matthew Ransom and Jason Harner. They’re the true creators of Unearth, and we at Brotherwise have been honored to work with them over the past year. We recently asked Jason and Matt to answer a few questions about themselves and their design process. Here’s a sneak peek into the lives of a couple real, live game designers:

Brotherwise: Do you remember when you first decided to become game designers? Tell us about that moment.

Jason and Matt: We decided to start seriously designing games after we attended GenCon 2013.  It had been a few years since we had attended a big convention, and we were blown away by the exciting designs we saw at the con that year. It sparked something in us creatively, and we decided to challenge ourselves to create something new and to try to make our contribution to the board game community.

Brotherwise: What was the seed of Unearth? How did the idea first get started?

J&M: It originally came from a dice wargame we created in about 2 minutes when we were kids. We used the multi-colored dice a few of us had on hand. It had a hierarchy between the colors like suits of cards. We remembered the game a few years ago when we were brainstorming game design ideas, and many iterations later that spark of an idea became Unearth.

Brotherwise: Remind us how we met you, and tell us why did you decided to pitch your game to Brotherwise.

J&M: When we originally decided to become game designers, we were planning to self-publish and do Kickstarter for our games. We had seen the huge success Brotherwise had with Boss Monster and it inspired us. Chris and Johnny had managed to bring their dream to life and we believed we could too.

A few years later we had decided that we actually didn’t want to go the self-publishing route; our lives are pretty busy already and were afraid we would lose the time to actually design our games if we became publishers. We remembered Brotherwise and we made it a priority to try and sit down with them for a game pitch.

As things turned out we hit it off right away with them when we first met them in person at GenCon 2015, and our collaboration with them on Unearth has been a great experience.

Brotherwise: What was the hardest part about designing Unearth?

J&M: As first time designers, the hardest part was trying to figure out our own design process. We had to learn how to create a game for a broader audience than just our immediate friends, and that required different design strategies. We learned a lot about the importance of focusing on “core gameplay” and the elements that make the game fun. In Unearth the core gameplay is the excitement and unpredictability of rolling the dice. Once we had developed that idea and focused on making the other gameplay elements support it, refining the game became much easier.

Brotherwise: What do each of you bring to the game design process?

J&M: We each bring a different perspective to game design which ties into our careers. Matt is a professional musician and excels at the raw creativity needed to get an idea started, while Jason is an analytical chemist who likes to dig into how and why the game functions the way it does. While we collaborate on all of the aspects of our designs, we individually excel at different parts of the process.

We also challenge each other’s ideas, sometimes pretty vigorously. One of the hardest parts of game design can be letting go of a mechanism that you really like, but just doesn’t fit the game. It’s helpful to have a collaborator to help you gain better perspective on the success of failure of what you have designed. We both have a high standard for what we like to see in games that we play, and if something doesn’t meet with that standard, it has to go, no matter how much one of us might be attached to it.

Brotherwise: What are your plans for future games? Will we see more from Harner and Ransom? (Which sounds like an 80’s TV show with a cool car, btw).

J&M: We have some cool ideas for new games. We aren’t ready to reveal much about them yet, but we’re very excited to try some new directions in our game designs!

Matthew Ransom (left) and Jason Harner, designers of Unearth


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