To hear him tell it, Lewisport native Jason Hawkins was the kid that folks around the post office considered strange when he came in to pick up books from a mail-order military history book club.
“People at the post office thought I was the weird kid,” Hawkins said.
But all that delving into history led to Hawkins to classic military board games, like “Panzer Blitz,” “Luftwaffe” and “Rise and Decline of the Third Reich,” Those games weren’t “roll your dice and move your mice” affairs, but were filled with problems like how to strangle Nazi Germany through strategic bombing or how to successfully conduct a war of attrition on the Eastern Front.
“If you were a little country boy with nothing to do, they were amazingly entertaining,” Hawkins said in a recent phone interview from his home in upstate New York. “I would go off to these gaming conventions and play these old men and destroy them.”
Most gamers are content to simply enjoy their favorites, and occasionally make up a few house rules to move the game along. But Hawkins became a professional (as in well-paid) game master, an art director on the popular card game Magic: The Gathering, and a designer and award-winning co-designer on the board games “Settlers of Catan” and “Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean.”
Although he’s no longer working with large gaming companies like Iron Crown Enterprises, Hawkins continues to work on game development when not at his full-time job. And, he still loves a good game.
“I still run games,” Hawkins said. “If you’re doing it right and the characters are playing it well, it’s like a little home theater.”
Hawkins said he got his love of military history from his father and delved even further into certain eras to enhance his knowledge of the games he and his friends were playing.
“I read books to find out what the planes were” in “Luftwaffe,” Hawkins said. He also got into the popular roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons and studied the game “like it was a job,” he said.
At Western Kentucky University, he’d run D&D sessions into the night for friends and later became a “professional referee,” running D&D sessions for up to $1,000 a game. Around that time, friends started suggesting he put his expertise in gaming in a book, which he did.
The book Hawkins co-authored, “Gamemaster Law,” was published in 1995. “It sold out,” Hawkins said, although used copies can still be found today on the web.
The book’s publisher, Iron Crown Enterprises, was impressed enough with Hawkins’ knowledge of games to bring him in to work on their collectible card game “Middle Earth.”
“They had the license for ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ ” Hawkins said. “I came along and was just right, because I knew them front to back.” Hawkins became an assistant designer of the game and assistant art director.
“That was one of the happiest moments of my life,” he said. “I ended up with 200 artists, all of them working for me … We had epic people from all over the world in fantasy (art).”
To design the game mechanics, “I would pull some quotes from my books,” to inspire the designers, Hawkins said. The game is out of print, but you can still find a full set of the cards — for $700 on eBay.
While at Iron Cross, Hawkins got partnered with Mayfair Games, a firm dealing with imports. One of their products was a German game in need of a facelift, called “Settlers of Catan.”
To the uninitiated, the name “Catan” might not mean anything. But Catan grew from an obscure European game to an empire, spawning numerous editions and expansions, and becoming a best-seller. Gaming might have been a niche hobby in the days of “Panzer Blitz,” but now it’s a major enterprise.
Hawkins was brought in to do the art redesign for Catan’s second edition. ‘The first edition was all dingy brown, and (the artwork) was photoshopped by a staffer,” Hawkins said. “It was so bad.
“I gave it a colonial Williamsburg look,” which was something Hawkins knew well from his days of pouring over history books. “I came back and art-designed the 2006 edition.”
While doing art design for Catan or Middle Earth, Hawkins had been monkeying around a card game he called “Greek Islands,” since Greek history was one of his favorites. With co-designer Andrew Parks, the two created “Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean,” which was named 2005 Origins Awards Board Game of the Year.
A big honor, to be sure. But just don’t ask Hawkins if he feels like pulling “Parthenon” off the shelf and playing it anytime soon.
“Designers get tired of playing their games,” he said. “They’ve spent too much time thinking about it. ... Everyone wants to play it with you.”
Hawkins had his hand in several other games over the years, including the pirate-themed roleplaying game “Run Out the Guns,” and games with viking and wild west themes.
Today, Hawkins works full-time as a security alarm and fire alarm system designer. He still does some game designing — he has an “Heirs of Alexander” game in the works, where foot soldiers and war elephants battle for control of the ancient world.
Hawkins said the game has generated a few nibbles of interest from firms that were later bought out, but said he’s happy with being connected to the industry full-time.
“If tomorrow I lived closer to a population (center), I would be able to put together six or seven prototypes right away,” he said. “But I live too far off the beaten path.
“For the decade I was involved full-time (in game design) … looking back, it’s very hard to have a career that matches that,” Hawkins said. “But now, I’m calmer and happier.”
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, email@example.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse