Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Sarah Reed (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 first guest is Sarah Reed, designer of Project Dreamscape and Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture, who shares insights into her design process. Oaxaca is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, view the campaign here. The interview, which was published in two parts, was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi. The first part of the interview can be found here.
Having already been through one successful Kickstarter campaign, and well on your way to publishing Oaxaca, what advice would you have for aspiring board game designers? Any essential resources? Any pitfalls to avoid?
There’s two parts here: Having a solid game and being prepared to run a Kickstarter. Honestly, Will and I focus on the first and then help our business partner Ben Haskett with the second. We’ve realized we don’t want to do the business side of Kickstarter, and that is something I recommend aspiring designers to consider. It’s hard for one person to do everything right, but a team is made up of people with strengths that can shine in the right circumstances. Finding a partner or two that you can trust will take you a long way to being successful. Not that you can’t do it on your own, but you are more likely to do it better with partners that have different skills than you.
Otherwise, the key to running a successful Kickstarter is to do your research. The first two resources everyone should check out are Jamey Stegmaier’s Kickstarter Lessons and James Mathe’s blog. I could say so much, but they both say it all so well and have so many resources linked in every post. So the only other thing I will say is get connected with others, but not just for the sake of your upcoming campaign. Make genuine friendships with people and build from there by sharing what you got. Don’t hide your designs and just show up on Kickstarter one day. No one will come because there’s too much competition and those doing it right already have people’s money earmarked for their campaign because they’ve been sharing for months ahead of time.
Now, getting back to having a solid game. Some basic things I’ve learned are that you need to playtest with a lot of different people. I know it’s hard to find others. We got lucky with our game store owner who told us that others were coming in talking about game design, so he organized the first meeting and I took it from there. I keep the group going with monthly meetings and organizing our private Facebook group. It’s very helpful to have a regular group to start a design off with as they can see the changes from iteration to iteration.
But at some point, you’ll need to go out and find new people. This is where the internet is your friend as you can make print and play files of your game and share it. It’s hard to get feedback this way, but possible if you’ve already established yourself online. You gotta get social. Go onto all social media platforms you can and get to know people. Again, make genuine friends. Help others, don’t be selfish.
Also, play games. I have learned so much just from the already published games out there. I learn what I like, what I don’t like, and then think about what I’d do differently. Then go talk design with others. Play other designer’s prototypes. This one is key – not only will you form good friendships by helping playtest others’ games, but you will learn so much from other people’s mistakes! And then go play more games!
Start small and work up to big games. I’m sure our first several games failed so hard because they were big and bloated, and we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. Project Dreamscape succeeded because it was small and focused. So we’re slowly working up to larger games. We find too many beginner designers throw everything into a game including the kitchen sink, and it is so not fun. And when it’s that big, it’s hard to make changes because one little change will send the whole thing off-kilter. My philosophy with design is streamlining. Less is more.
I could go on and on, and I’m sure there’s still stuff I don’t know as I’m learning something new every day. Always expand your horizons, not lock it down into a narrow tunnel.
Are you working on any future designs now? Any details you can give us if you are?
Ha, Will’s got like twenty game designs either in his head or notes written down on his computer, but yes, we do have one that we’re currently focusing on, hopefully for Kickstarter in 2018. Some may have heard of it as I posted the print and play files online back in April (which can be found here). It was called Reaching Angel’s Nest. We are currently working on renaming it and are probably going to go with Reaching Haven’s Vault. We’ll see how that sticks. But names usually fluctuate in early prototyping and we’re taking an unusual step getting outside feedback so early, but we’re limited on multiplayer tests because, sadly, Will can’t play his own design. It’s too visual for him. So I test it solo, but we need more viewpoints to let us know what’s working and what’s not.
Anyway, it is a steampunk airship, race-to-the-finish style game with resource management and a strong puzzle aspect. Here’s the current thematic blurb and then I’ll get more into the mechanics:
Amidst the many floating islands of Aerea, all the world’s greatest minds lived on a single island called Haven’s Vault. When war broke out in the year 929 post-avis, the inhabitants of Haven’s Vault protected it by raising its altitude higher than any ship could currently fly. In doing so, much of Aerea’s knowledge was lost. Now it is the year 1005 post-avis and recent advancements have made it possible, in theory, to reach the lost land. If you are the first to get there, you will lead Aerea into a bright future by unlocking its past.
Mechanically, each player has a cargo hold in front of them with a grid. There are improvement cards in the center of the table that you want to acquire to not only raise your altitude, but provide you with abilities to manipulate the board status. The challenge is you need to build them by acquiring resources into your cargo gold grid in the pattern shown on the card. The game is a constant puzzle to gain, move and discard resources to match the cards you want to build.
I am currently revising the rules and files for a number of items, including the name change. Here is the link to the files on DropBox. If you see Reaching Angel’s Nest then I haven’t posted the update yet, but if you see Reaching Haven’s Vault files in there, then please download as you like. Anyone who playtests it twice and provides feedback via the SurveyMonkey link, will get playtester credit in the final rules.
Otherwise, Will is teasing me with another game, called Holo-Sculptor, but won’t tell me much about it until I get the Reaching Haven’s Vault prototype updated (which is good so I don’t get distracted). I also have a few ideas for a roll and write game, but design ideas are not my forte, I’m a developer. However, Will is (rightly) encouraging me to expand my abilities and do as much of the initial design as I can on my own, and then he’ll be my developer. It’s currently called The Write Path, a roll and write adventure game.
In addition to designing games, you are also very active in the board game community in other ways, running the 10x10 challenge on Board Game Geek for a number of years now, and co-hosting the Our Turn: Women On Gaming podcast. Tell us a little bit about how these endeavors came about.
The Play Ten Board Games Ten Times Each Challenge (or simply the 10x10 Challenge) came about as I was talking to some ladies in the Women & Gaming Forum on Board Game Geek. Up to that point, I had been playing new games all the time. So I felt like I was never getting any better at games and by the time we got back to a particular game, I had forgotten how to play. So I was constantly learning and relearning games. It was frustrating. I shared my feelings on the chat thread and some of the other ladies related, feeling the same way. This was at the end of 2013. I was hearing about a few challenges getting started so I thought that’d it be neat to set up a challenge for the next year to get into the meat of games. Combat the cult of the new. And I arbitrarily chose 10 games to be played 10 times. The ladies were in agreement so I set up the Geeklist, posted it and all, oh, 20 of us joined. … Then 20 people joined that I didn’t know. … Then 50 more people joined. …Then it just exploded and hundreds of people were joining! All people I didn’t know! But something about the challenge resonated with them.
So suddenly, my supposed-to-be little, easy-to-run challenge was not so little and everyone was asking me questions on what was acceptable for the challenge and what was not. Like I knew! Ha! But I moved forward as best as I could, making decisions and getting people’s input as to what made sense. The challenge has changed a lot over the subsequent years – it started off as only hardcore but now has a normal level too. I’ve had to slim it down due to health and time constraints, but it’s settled into a good rhythm. And what I love the most is how it’s become part of the board game culture. People who have never heard of me, have heard of my challenge. And the stories I hear about how positively the challenge has changed people’s lives fills me with such joy. And it has spawned several offshoot challenges as well. If the 10x10 is my ultimate legacy, I am happy.
As for Our Turn: Women on Gaming Podcast, I was approached by Cathy Ford to join in. I met Cathy on the Women & Gaming Forum on Board Game Geek, and then found out she lived in my area! We hadn’t had a lot of interactions since I first met her, but she wanted to do a podcast with some women gamers and one of the ones she thought of was me. I had recently stopped doing my previous podcast, The Game of Crowd Funding with the All Us Geeks Podcast so I was looking forward to podcasting again. I do love to talk, if you haven’t noticed by the length of my answers.
I wasn’t able to join in the first several episodes of 2016 because I was buying a house and moving, but once that was settled, I was able to join in and have been having a blast on the podcast. All the props for keeping the podcast going go to Cathy. I’m unfortunately not able to dedicate a lot of time to it. Other than being a voice, I manage the Facebook page. All the hard work is done by Cathy and her husband Mark. I am hopeful that we’ll be able to grow the podcast over time as I feel we’ve got a lot to offer.
Otherwise, people probably know me best for my addiction, er, avid support of Kickstarter. I really believe in the fantastic opportunities that Kickstarter provides for indie game designers and publishers. I do what I can to help people succeed. After all, the rising tide floats all boats!
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. Before we go, is there anything non-board game related that everyone should know about you? Any other hobbies or passions? Anything else you'd like to share?
Yes, my other big hobby is LEGO! Will and I rediscovered our love for LEGO together, a few years after getting married. So for the last 8 years or so, we’ve been buying, building and collecting LEGO. Will is more of the original designer than I am, but I enjoy building with him and making suggestions on how to improve his models (kinda like our board game design teamwork). Now, when we build a LEGO set together, he takes all the pieces and sorts them by type. This lets him “look” at any new pieces as he feels the different shapes. Then using the instructions, I give him the correct pieces in the right order and tell him where they go. This can get quite challenging on the complex models, but it’s still a great relationship-building activity. On top of that, for the last several years, I’ve been secretary and he’s been vice president of our local LEGO club, the Sacramento Brick Builders. Every November, we do a train layout on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento. So if you’re ever in the area around Sacramento at Thanksgiving, come check out the Toy Train Holiday event. There will be a bunch of model railroad clubs there too.
Lastly, like I mentioned, we bought a house last year for reasons that may be different from most people. We bought a house more because our hobbies were outgrowing our little two bedroom duplex we were renting than anything else. We now have a LEGO building room and our living room has a 14 foot wall with two 6 foot Kallax shelves full of board games. We have a very large patio out back that we will eventually enclose and that will be our board game hall. We are geeks, through and through.