Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Sara Erickson (Part 2)
'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 second guest is Sara Erickson, Director of Sales and Marketing for Renegade Game Studios, who shares her experiences working behind the scenes in the business, and tells us about some upcoming Renegade titles. The interview, which will be published in two parts, was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi. The first part of the interview can be found here.
Do you find some games, regardless of how good the game is, are harder to market, and if so, what do you find most affects that -- Theme? Lack of designer name recognition? Weight? Play time? Box size?
The hardest games to market are the ones that are truly innovative. Think about Dominion when it first came out. No one even knew what “deck-building” was so you have no reference to explain the game. You just need to get enough people to start playing it so that they can tell everyone else to play it even though no one can explain it yet. Building the critical mass is incredibly challenging but when it works and you’ve created a whole new genre of games, that’s very exciting.
So I think there is a typo on your website. It says that Fox in the Forest is a two-player trick-taking game, but surely that isn't possible. How could that even work?
Great question! While most traditional trick-taking games were really designed for 4 players, there are certainly some great exceptions! Piquet is a very old French trick-taking game that was designed for two players. My husband and I found it in a card game book that we brought with us on our honeymoon in Europe years ago. We really fell in love with it so I was instantly intrigued when I heard about a modern trick-taking game that that inspired, in part, by Piquet.
To answer your question, The Fox in the Forest uses powers on the cards to modify the rules of each hand allowing for enough secret information and suspense to work with just two players. It's a brilliant system and the art compliments is superbly. We will have a very small number of early copies at Origins this week and I'm really looking forward to showing it off.
The upcoming Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game is based on a graphic novel series that was later adapted into a major movie. How hard is it to work with an existing intellectual property? How much pressure do you feel to get it right by fan base? Whatever the challenges, I would assume it must be worth the buzz of having a game that builds its own buzz, especially with non-gamers.
I talked about this a bit already (in the first part of the interview) but I think the most important thing, when working with an existing IP, is to make a really excellent product for the fans. It requires much more than making a great game, or filling a box with pretty pictures of their favorite characters. You have to do both. But when you do it’s absolutely worth the extra effort. Our industry is still in its infancy and there are huge amounts of people who have never played a modern board game. If we can lure them in with something familiar and then give them a experience that makes them want to try more games, we’ve succeeded.
Another upcoming game from Renegade is Sentient, designed by J. Alex Kevern. He already worked with Renegade as the designer of World's Fair 1893. It looks like a vastly different experience from World's Fair 1893, can you tell us a bit about it? How was working with him a second time?
We actually met with Alex just before the release of World’s Fair 1893 last year and signed Sentient. He’s delightful to work with and an innovative designer. I worked closely with him on Sentient and actually see a lot of similarities in the design to World’s Fair. They’re very different games mechanically but they are both incredibly balanced, with relatively simple rules that offer complex choices and low player conflict. I’ve played several of his prototypes and they all fit into that category.
Sentient is set in a futuristic world with AI technology but you’re managing your own facility, trying to add bots into you system without messing up your previously acquired bots. It’s very puzzly which is something I love in games. I’m really looking forward to releasing this one. The custom dice are amazing!
One more game coming up from Renegade I'd like to hear more about is Ex Libris, from Adam P. McIver. How does it play?
A: It’s similar to Clank! in that it uses a well known mechanic as a way to do something else. Clank! allowed you to journey into the dungeon on a epic push-you-luck adventure by using the familiar deck-building mechanic. Ex Libris asks you to build the best library using a worker placement mechanic, with a twist. The player powers are also quite thematic and enjoyable and add to the immense replayability of this game. More will be released about Ex Libris as we get closer to the release. Keep an eye on this one!
Renegade publishes a good amount of games. How do you find the games you choose to publish? I see you take submissions on your website. How many submissions do you get that way? Have you found a lot of your titles through that process?
Scott Gaeta, President of Renegade, handles the submissions from the website. It’s a ton of work to go through all of them. Luckily, he has a knack for reading through rules quickly and getting a pretty good feel for a game. Usually though, we find out games through our network of designers we’ve worked with. We make sure that they are really involved in our process as move from game development to art, graphic design, and finally production. Most designers love to be looped in during this whole process so we have worked with many of the same designers more than once and had many of them recommend games to us that they find in their own local designers groups. It’s really a team effort.
We also recently had Renegade Summit, just to play through a huge pile of prototypes that we had received from various designers. It took us a week but we got through a lot of games and found some really fun stuff for next year.
In the unique position of being both a game store owner and working for a publisher, what are your thoughts on the current state of the FLGS?
I think that people are playing board games now, more than ever, because they have a desire for social contact that we’re missing because we all work a lot, commute far distances, and spend more time with technology than the real people around us. FLGSs offer people a venue to connect, a third space. They can escape their work buddies and their home life and go to a clean friendly place with clearly defined rules. That’s very appealing to a lot of people. Stores that don’t do that well will have a tough time. Stores that do that well but can’t figure out how to monetize it effectively, will also have a tough time. It’s harder with board games than it was with CCGs because you only need a few closer friends to play a board game. You can organized it yourself at a local coffee shop, or rotate houses. With CCGs, you need a large group of willing opponents and someone to organize the whole mess. Stores need to make it worth it for board gamers to support them. That only seems fair to me.
Thanks so much for your time. Before we finish up, is there anything else people should know about you? Other hobbies or interests? Contact info?
I love nature, hiking, being outside in the wonderful playground of Montana’s back country, and having a menagerie of wild dangerous animals that live in my house.
I would be a terrible interviewer if I let you leave off the interview mentioning you collect dangerous wild animals, and not following up and asking you to name a few examples. So what is in your menagerie?
I’ve always loved animals was lucky enough to find a significant other that shared this passion. We currently share our home with four different species of poison dart frogs, two bee hives, two fledgling ant colonies, one very old Siamese cat, and an extremely protective and mentally unstable Rhodesian Ridgeback (also known as an African Lion Hound). We also have several fruit fly and springtail colonies which are kept as food for the frogs. We currently don’t have any snakes but have had many in the past and miss having some slithery friends around! I would love to try my hand at training rats though so that’s my next planned project.
This was part two of Punchboard Media's ‘In Focus: Women of Board Gaming’ two-part interview with Sara Erickson. The first part of the interview, with details about Sara's time working at Cryptozoic and IELLO, can be found here.