Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Helaina Cappel

Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Helaina Cappel

Before we talk about designing and publishing games, tell me a bit about the games you like to play.  You have two children, is a lot of your gaming playing family games with them? What are your, and their, favorite family games?  And when it’s just gaming with adults, what are some of your favorites?

While most of my gaming is with my kids (the reason I began Kids Table Board Gaming in the first place), I do have a regular game group and my husband and I play a lot of games that play 2 players. I try to play as many different games as I can. I like when I get to play many fillers like Patchwork, Rocky Road a la Mode, and Lotus. But also love the days when I can play longer, more in-depth strategic games such as Ulm, Clank, and Endeavor. My absolute favourite game in the world is Caylus. It's an oldie but a goodie. When I play with my kids, I can honestly say, there is a lot more play testing going on than playing of published games. However, some of our favourites are Cockroach Poker, Kingdomino, Rock, Paper, Wizard, JurassAttack, and Best Treehouse Ever (as you can see we're big Green Couch Games fans around here).

You designed Foodfighters with your husband Josh Coppel. Can you tell us about your co-design process? Who came up with the mechanisms of the game? The theme?

Yes, we designed the game together. Josh actually designed the bones of the game many years ago; it was an abstract game at the time. We loved to play it with our friends and we loved to play it with one another even more. I begged him for years to do something with it. He wouldn't budge on it. He just didn't want to send an abstract game to a publisher. I suggested to him that he think of a theme that would work with the game. When I suggested a food fight it seemed to have the right vibe. From there, the game changed immensely. Although Josh designed the bones of the game, from then on it really became our game. It turned out that we loved playing the game even more with the theme. Our kids loved playing it too! We knew it was perfect when they began to ask to play it over and over.

What kind of game is Foodfighters? The artwork makes it look like a kids game, but I know your motto at Kids Table is “games for adults, that kids can play too!”  

Foodfighters and Problem Picnic, along with all of the games we are going to make, try to level the playing field between adults and kids, so that each can be engaged in game play at their own level. For example, you don't really need to play strategically when you play Foodfighters, but while you play, you realized the strategy involved in playing well. Essentially, the strategy emerges as the game progresses. We try to keep our artwork fun and approachable by all audiences.

Also, I know you are a math teacher, so I have to ask -- this isn’t one of those awful “edutainment” games that kids and adults both hate playing, right?

Since my first year of teaching, 15 short years ago, I have never ever picked up a truly "educational" game. They stink! They do what they set out to do, but students never EVER pick them up again after the first play. I tend to look at games from the opposite side. I find games that I love, then I find out how it uses mathematics. Then I teach the game and the math to my students. That way, there is so much more engagement and replayability. Foodfighters has a great deal of overt probability. I would definitely use Foodfighters to teach dice probability.

Why did you decide to start Kids Table Board Gaming? How did that come about?

Way back in the day, when my oldest child was very young, we had several mainstream games lying around our house. He liked to play them over and over and over. There came a certain point where I questioned if anyone ever thought of the adults that had to spend hours with their children playing games that were completely disengaging. I began to modify certain aspects of games to "house rules" so that the games became more engaging for myself and my husband, and so that there would be less of a "luck" element for my son. It hit me one day that there were no game companies out there that catered to the adults in the family (strictly speaking about kids games). So, Kids Table was born.

Did you pitch Foodfighters to other publishers before deciding to publish it under your Kids Table Board Gaming company?

Nope. It was the right time and right place for me to start my company. I could think of no better way of starting a small company than with our own design. I feel really good about the decision.

I see Foodfighters is getting an expansion with two new factions, can you tell about the base game, and what this expansion adds to the game?

Each of the Foodfighters factions have their own personality. They each have their own powers that change the way the game is played. What I particularly like about the Factions is that you can play as a proper faction or your can draft fighters as well as powers before you play. The Factions aren't necessarily expansions per-se. We love the Factions we've come up with so far. And we are so lucky that our fans are as interested in them as we are.

You also published Problem Picnic, which was designed by Scott Almes. Did you do a lot of development work before publishing, or was it a finished product when it was brought to you?  What were the biggest differences in publishing someone else’s game as opposed to your own?

We just recently completed fulfillment of our Kickstarter campaign for Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants. It was incredibly successful from beginning to end. We are very proud of this accomplishment. The way the game came about: Josh and Scott have worked together on several projects (Josh being the artist, Scott being the designer). I love Scott's work on all of his games. So, I took a chance and emailed him telling him what I was looking for. Scott being very diligent, emailed me back right away to tell me that he had a great game for me. We played it once, and I knew the rest would be history. At that point the game was called Castle Toss. It was a castle building game. All of the mechanisms remained the same, but the theme was completely changed.

With successful Kickstarters for Foodfighters and Problem Picnic under your belt, I’d like to know more about your publishing and marketing process.  What are the benefits and challenges to using Kickstarter? Any advice to others considering running a Kickstarter?

Since we also design most of our games, of course we start with the idea for the game. Sometimes it is mechanisms first, but most of the time it is theme. I like this process because as I am designing, I've also got all of the info that I'll need for manufacturing, marketing, Kickstarter, etc. in the back of my mind. In a way, it helps me focus my design that much more. But is also sometimes a detriment to the creative process.

Once we've locked down a game, I begin thinking about what I want it to look like, what feelings I want it to create for people, and who the game is targeted toward. From there, it's all about spreading the word as much as possible. It's so important to have people who follow you. They are the ones who truly get the word out there. It's all social media. We have Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. However, I have been finding that the typical post doesn't get much daylight these days. At this point most of my traction comes from the Facebook group I started, as well as our Newsletters that are sent out once in a while. The message here is that you MUST start with an audience. If you start with no one, it doesn't matter how amazing you think your game is, no one knows it exists.

Kickstarter is a beast. You have to learn how to navigate it. For example, it's important to know when the best start and end dates for campaigns are, or which months of the year get the most traction for board games. I suggest beginning your research with Jamey Stegmaier and James Mathe's blogs as a first step. They will help you learn everything you need to know about running a campaign. They have a lot of good insights that I would never have come up with before I started my journey down this road.

What are you working on going forward? Any more designs from you and Josh? Any more games coming from other designers?

Right now we're getting the art together for our next co-design called Haunt the House. It will be headed to Kickstarter in October -- just in time for Halloween! We're really excited about it. We've got another few games coming down the pipes as well over the next year and a half. We're also excited to be starting a second brand called Burnt Island Games, focused on the gamers game, rather than family games. The brand promises to bring aesthetic and play together for an excellent gaming experience.

Are you taking submissions from other designers? If so, what are you looking for in a game to be part of the Kids Table line?

We're always looking for great games. The games we are looking for have to be approachable by kids AND enjoyed by adults. Essentially we are looking for games where kids and adults can be successful playing the game at the same time. People can contact me through kidstablebg@gmail.com, or on Twitter or Instagram using @kidstablebg.

Before we wrap this up, what else should people know about you? Any other hobbies or passions you have?

Essentially, this gig is my hobby. I have no time for anything else in my life. I am a mother of two really amazing kids and a full-time teacher (Math, Science, and Design and Technology). I am fully engaged in who I am and what I do every waking moment. I love my life.

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