PUBLISH & BE DAMNED: GAMES OMNIVOROUS
Appearing out of nowhere at the start of 2020, Portuguese RPG publisher Games Omnivorous quickly established themselves with a series of beautifully designed releases that skipped with almost delirious abandon between deluxe looking zines, a “minimalist” historical RPG and even a psychedelic bestiary of strange, angry insects.
That initial rapid-fire burst of releases was soon followed by a 12” record of beautifully weird abstract electronica, that just happened to double as an RPG setting, another brace of gorgeous looking zines, a stunning box set of Isaac William’s Mausritter and to cap it all off news of another 12” release, Putrescence Regnant, this time a collaboration with everyone’s favourite Swedish Artpunk’s MÖRK BORG.
It’s a slate that would be the envy of most indie publishers, let alone one in their first year of existence, so we pinned down the company’s founder Andre Novoa to find out exactly how he managed it.
Hi Andre, Games Omnivorous really hit the road running in 2020, how long have you been planning all this?
The idea for Games Omnivorous started in the spring of 2019, circa 9 months before the launch in late February 2020. For some time I had been playing around in my head with the idea of creating an arthouse & minimalist RPG publisher.
I think some of the concepts were solid, especially the minimalist side of things – I truly believe that the 2020s are going to be the decade of minimalism in RPGs. But I lacked the know-how in terms of design, art and production to make those ideas come true.
So that’s when I was fortunate enough to partner up with lina&nando, a couple that lives in the north of Portugal, and are seasoned designers and book producers. They know the trade well and made things happen. I was also very fortunate that Exalted Funeral became interested in the project right from the start and somehow sponsored it by placing a large order, which gave us a much needed confidence boost.
From there on, we started contacting people and things started to roll. A lot of money was coming out of my account, and I panicked there for a moment (!), but it all came together when we launched the webstore and the response was, honestly, much much better than I ever anticipated.
Obviously 2020 has been a hard year for everyone, but starting up a new project is especially challenging. Did you have to make any drastic changes or has it all gone to plan?
Surprisingly, it all went more or less according to the original plan. That was four releases for launch day (which we did), then Death Robot Jungle and two new Manifestus zines in the late spring / early summer, and finally The Insectiary in September.
That was the original plan and we managed to do it all. The only thing that was not in the original plan was Mausritter, but even so, we were able to develop, produce and deliver the box set before the end of 2020.
I’m a bit of a deadline freak. It’s really important for me personally – and I guess for the brand itself – that we actually deliver on time. So I’m very happy that, despite the pandemic, we actually did everything we wanted to this year. I mean: we really can’t have more than nine releases per year – or can we?
Every release so far has had a really strong graphic design element to them...
That’s all lina&nando. They are phenomenal. They have never played a roleplaying game in their lives – I suspect they aren’t even that interested! – so they came in with a blank slate of sorts. Lots of fresh ideas and concepts. They have built themselves a reputation in Portugal in the arts & literature milieu, with tons of credits under poetry publishers, theatre, performance, dance, and the likes.
They somehow brought those worlds into Games Omnivorous and the RPG industry. They have a very arthouse and minimal aesthetic, which is not entirely new in the industry obviously, but it is certainly not mainstream. I think this is becoming more appealing that one would presume.
What is the RPG scene in Portugal like at the moment? Is there much of a homegrown indie scene?
Despite being small and very mainstream – most people here play [D&D] 5e, Vampire, Call of Cthulhu and Fria Ligan games – I do believe that the RPG scene in Portugal is expanding and becoming more aware of indie games and there are several very knowledgeable folks around who have had a significant impact on my own development as a game designer and a publisher.
As I explain below, I first became acquainted with Mausritter through another Portuguese gamer. Other folks here have shown me – and played with me! – a variety of incredible games to which I was totally oblivious. I’m very thankful to them and to that community of people. I believe there is also a growing scene of game designers.
I know quite a few people that are very passionate about their own designs and I think it’s only a matter of time before we actually start seeing them in print.
For instance, Maré Baixa ran a successful KS Zinequest campaign with a RPG about pigeons called Dirty Town and the game is expected to go out to backers soon. And we have, of course, Beatriz Dias, who has authored or collaborated in countless titles for 5e at the DM’s Guild.
We’re big fans of your own 17th Century Minimalist game. Was your background as a historian a help or hindrance when writing a 'historical' RPG?
As both a historian and RPG geek, I’ve always ended up playing games in all sorts of historical settings. What I normally dislike about them is their level of seriousness and depth.
So, I decided to create this fast, deadly, black-humoured, satire-driven and action-filled type of game, the kind where players are most of the time tricked, or fooled, or put in dangerous and uncomfortable situations.
Do you have any more of your own works coming up, or plans for any more 17th Century Minimalist scenarios?
Yes, actually I do. There is Putrescence Regnant obviously. I’m writing and recording the music for that along with Manuel Pinheiro. I’m also co-writing another weird setting and another bestiary graphzine of sorts (more on this soon!). As for 17th Century Minimalist, we are still not sure what will happen next.
We have been approached by Italian and French companies for translations, but I guess we need to sit back after the New Year and see where we want to take that line.
Most of your releases so far have all been heavy on the weird side of things, especially the Manifestus Omnivorous zines with their 10 rules the writers must follow. How did you come up with the idea for that and the 10 commandments?
This was one of lina&nando’s doings. Coming from an arts background, they pitched me this idea that we should do a collection around an artistic manifesto.
I immediately fell in love with the concept, and we quickly came up with the set of rules. The rules are of course very much arbitrary and, honestly, they are not as important as the entire concept/experience.
The idea that different people are given the same brief to create something unique, and then they come up with radically different interpretations… That’s what’s important and that’s what I want to highlight.
Of course, for consistency reasons, we included several method-oriented rules, like a limit to the number of words or colours, whilst others are purely flavour-driven, like the idea of including strange eating habits or a voracious eater – which is obviously a pun with the name of the publisher itself, Omnivorous.
And then the lost rule “the adventures cannot have good taste” is to be interpreted however you want. Maybe you create something “cheesy”, maybe you include rotten food, or maybe because it’s a lost rule, you actually create a module with superb taste! This was the case with Dirk Leichty, I guess. All is valid. It’s the experience that counts.
Getting designers to work to a manifesto gives it a strong collaborative vibe. How did you chose the people you’ve worked with so far?
People have been picked because we admired their work. And that’s precisely the idea for this collection. To create a space where authors/illustrators from all over the world forge something unique under the exact same conditions. It’s the idea of a shared artistic space that counts the most there, at least to us at Games Omnivorous.
Almost as if the collection itself is more important than any of the individual books in the end. It’s truly fascinating to see how people interpret the manifesto in such different ways. I can’t wait to share who we have lined up next for 2021. You’re in for a treat.
How have people reacted to the constraints of the commandments?
Generally it’s been “my brain is immediately fueled by lots of ideas”. That’s the main reaction. And that’s the beauty of it: something that, at first, seems like a harsh constraint then becomes a brutal catalyst for creativity. Most great art, I believe, comes from that place, from a place of constraints.
Every zine released so far has been both written & illustrated by the same person, was that an important consideration when you chose people to work on these?
Yes, it was. The entire collection revolves around the idea of making personal interpretations of the manifesto, so we thought it best that the entire body of work was done by only one person at a time.
Of course, this might change in the future. We are very much open to teams of authors-illustrators for instance, or maybe even two authors writing a single interpretation. That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? Maybe that’s where the collection needs to go next. We are definitely open to it.
Earlier in the year you released Death Robot Jungle, an RPG setting on vinyl and you’re now working with the MÖRK BORG guys on a another record. What is it about playing with formats that appeals?
All my life I’ve been obsessed with the idea of conceptual work and connecting things that, at first sight, seemed unrelated. I’ve been doing this as a musician, as an academic, as a mere reader and, now, I guess as a game designer. My main drive for Games Omnivorous is to blur the lines between games, art, music, design and even literature.
For me, Games Omnivorous strives to be all of those. My intention is to give people a hard time trying to figure out into what shelf they should place our products. Is it going into the music shelf? The book shelf? The games shelf? I like the idea of making a gaming product that can be read as a graphzine by someone else. Or a gaming product that will appeal to non-gamers too, because it is actually a musical record that you can listen to without having any knowledge of games. That’s what I like to do. To shatter conventions, to shatter conceptual barriers.
The vinyl RPG seems to be an idea catching on with other designers...
I’m super excited to see that the concept of a gameable LP is picking up. There’s more creators playing with that idea currently and the response seems to be there. It honestly feels great, and humbling, that so many people think this is a good idea too.
How did you hook up with Johan & Pelle from MÖRK BORG?
Ever since the start of Games Omnivorous, they have been really supportive. I guess that our weird, minimalist, arthouse aesthetics appealed to them, and they kept sending their love.
For me personally, this was major, because I’ve considered MÖRK BORG to be the pinnacle of contemporary game design ever since I received my original Kickstarter copy. Anyway before we knew it, an idea started floating around that “we must to do some sort of collab someday”.
Well… the day finally came when we discussed the possibility of making this stenchy swamp setting for MÖRK BORG in the format of a vinyl record. Everyone fell in love with the idea and things took shape rather quickly. I cried in delight.
Where do we go next? How else can we play with the idea of what an RPG is and how we engage with it?
You have to wait for our new project! We are expanding the out-of-format RPG settings concept with a new product. Without revealing too much, it’s going to play with the idea of a moving, unfixed cartography in a very minimalist and highly-visual way. That will probably go live sometime around February or March.
Talking of formats you’ve also just released a beautiful Mausritter box set, which is about as maximalist a release as a minimalist game could be...
I love how you described it. It is indeed as maximalist a release as a minimalist game can be. Back in January, my friend Andre Tavares suggested we play this new little game about mice with swords. I fell in love with it right at character creation. I was in total awe.
After the session, I contacted the author, Isaac Williams, and tried to convince him that the game was perfect for our minimalist RPGs line. We had three months of back-and-forths and then Isaac agreed to license the physical, English edition to us. And so we started to work on an expanded/revised edition with a box set full of contents to go along with it. I think it came out alright! It’s an incredible addition to the Omnivorous portfolio.
The game has had an amazing response. We are definitely considering creating additional content for it next year and we have some ideas where to go with it, but it’s still too early to reveal. Please bear with us here.
So, 2021, anything you can reveal yet?
We have everything planned for 2021! If all goes according to plan, we have eight releases next year. Expect new weird/conceptual settings, more arthouse bestiaries, more Manifestus titles, of course, and a couple of surprises along the road, probably towards the end of the year.
The Mausritter box set is out now. Find it, and all Games Omnivorous’ other titles, at gamesomnivorous.com
This feature originally appeared in Wyrd Science Vol.1 / Issue 1