Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Adrienne Ezell
'In Focus: Women of Board Gaming' is an exclusive series from Punchboard Media that spotlights women in all facets of the board gaming industry. Our guest this week is Adrienne Ezell, the designer of Shogunate and Ventures in the Void, and also an artist and graphic designer for many other games. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Adrienne, thanks for joining us. Let's start with how you got into the hobby -- what game or games really brought you in? What are some of your current favorites?
I thankfully grew up in a geeky family –- starting with cribbage and sci-fi and progressed to video games and traditional board games of yore. In high school and college I graduated to RPGs and Magic the Gathering, and cosplay as well as even more video games. Now I’m a true omni-gamer. I adore Concordia, Terra Mystica, and Keyflower, but the glut of my collection is medium-weight fillers. I enjoy playing many different games with different groups of folks at conventions or game nights. Right now I'm half way through Pandemic Legacy Season 2 and am playing tons of Gloomhaven.
When did you decide to go from being a person that enjoyed playing games into someone that designed them?
During my second play of Firefly: The Board Game I saw the potential for additional development, which got me thinking about mechanics and what I like or did not like about a game. This inspired my first design, Ventures in the Void.
Tell us more about Ventures in the Void.
Ventures is a love letter to pick up and deliver games. I find the largest impediment to some players enjoying these games is the length. My struggle was to make the game a length and that let players enjoy the beginning, middle, and end of the game, since another common complaint is knowing who the winner is mathematically but the game not being near completion. My innovation on mechanics with this game was my doubled ended cards that have variable supply and demands based on which end of the card is facing a player.
You also designed Shogunate, which is being published by Indie Boards and Cards in 2018. What kind of game is Shogunate? How did you get it signed by IB&C?
Shogunate is a strategic game of deduction. Players support two clan leaders both in the running to be the next Shogun. Your two leaders are hidden from other players and through your and the other players’ actions you must find allies to herald one of your leaders to victory by moving them to the head of the line of succession. My favorite bit of this game is my Hatamoto mechanic. The Hatamoto is the boss for the round and they choose in what order the other player’s take actions. The players all want to make advantageous choices for their leaders through what they believe other players will do based on the knowledge they’ve gleaned through game play.
IBC attended the design contest at 2016 Geekway to the West. They asked to see the game with a few changes at Gen Con a few months later and signed the game the moment I got to town that Wednesday. I am over the moon and can’t wait to see the game on shelves early next year.
Both Ventures in the Void and Shogunate list Dreadful Games as a publisher. What is Dreadful Games?
First, I want to be clear it's Dreadful like Penny Dreadful, the illustrated crime serials from the Victorian era (an inky art style I really like), not, in fact games that are dreadful!
Dreadful Games, LLC is the company I founded to house my gaming ventures. I service my gaming art clients through Dreadful Games as well as the contact point for my designs that I hope to license.
What is your design process like? Theme or mechanisms first? How has it evolved over time?
It varies with the game. I have a running list of themes I want to see in the market. Sometimes I pick one and brainstorm mechanics that can evoke that theme. Other times I think of a new or underutilized mechanic and I design a game around that. Sometimes I wake up at 2am and have to write down the awesome thing I "thought' of (dreamed?) and those games are the easiest to bring to life. The spark and excitement carries through the process, spurring me to work on it till it's ready. My husband and I are working on a deduction based spy game with dead drops at the moment because we both had epiphanies that won't let us rest till it works.
Are you currently working on any new designs? Is there anything you can tell us about them?
I am working on four new designs. One is a game about searching for shipwrecks, a foray into worker placement and victory point scoring. The second is a space salvage game about venturing onto derelict space vessels to salvage anything of value without causing catastrophic failure, this one employs tile laying and asymmetric player powers with the unique twist of the salvage and ship health occupying a single track so succeeding in one avenue is at the expense of the other. The third and fourth are alchemy themed and one really begat the other. Players gather ingredients and stir new concoctions to collect the elements necessary to launch powerful attacks against the threat facing their small town. The graduated version of the mechanics will serve as the base for a legacy game set in the same world. Players will learn and grow their alchemy skills by inventing new concoctions, attacks, and researching new enemies. As more map spaces are discovered, new ingredients may be gathered allowing even more spell craft. It will be a romping good campaign, but it takes a lot of work! There are actually a few more in various stages.
In addition to being a designer, you are also an artist and graphic designer. You did the artwork for Shogunate and Ventures in the Void, in fact. How do you like doing the art for games you design?
Doing my own art is incredibly difficult. Creating art for other games is much easier for me. I’m never satisfied with the art on my own projects. Sigh, it’s a hazard of the profession I suppose.
As you just mentioned, you've also done art, design and layout work for numerous titles, including Leaders of Euphoria from Otherworld Games, as well as Metal Dawn, Coma Ward, and Secrets of the Lost Station from Everything Epic Games. What exactly did this entail? Where exactly is the line between artist and graphic designer?
The scope varies from project to project. I provide art direction, graphic design, and asset creation in any and all combinations for my clients. Art direction is a passion of mine, a good art direction document can keep a game on track and save the publisher money in the long run.
Graphic designers are artists in their own right, true. We get to present the mechanics and illustrations to the players in the best way to foster understanding at a glance. Graphic design is about presenting information, while illustrators and asset creation artists create the graphics that compliment the information.
You are the artist and art director for the upcoming Rambo: The Board Game. How different is it working in that capacity for an intellectual property game?
Working with an IP presents exciting challenges. The most important thing is to carefully read your license agreement –- You must know what you can do and what you can’t. After that it’s an exciting roller-coaster ride of feeling a bit like an insider and working with amazing assets and artists. I love my job!
Are you looking for more art and graphic design clients? If so, do you have a best way to contact you?
I’m booked till February but I am happy to provide estimates for clients with lead time on their project. You can find me all over the internet, but the easiest way is firstname.lastname@example.org. That said, I love to talk board games on twitter @dreadfulgamesco and Instagram as loxleygram (so many board game pictures!).
Anything else you'd like to share with us before we wrap up? Any other hobbies or passions?
In my spare time I like to create stained glass, build woodworking projects, and travel to new places.
Come play a game with me! I’m a frequent con goer and love to play all the games. I usually tweet about my upcoming cons. See you there!