Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Alice Davis
'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 Alice Davis, co-designer of Kitten Klash and Build-O-Saurus. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Before we get into your game designs, tell me a bit about the kind of games you like to play. Thematic vs. Euro? Long vs. Short? Dice vs. Cards? What are some of your favorites?
I enjoy all kinds of games. I really enjoy worker placement and deck building mechanics. For a longer game, I really enjoy Twilight Imperium: Third Edition, but after playing Terraforming Mars, I'm not sure if I could pick a fave between these two. For a short casual game I like Oh My Goods!
You live in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Oregon. What is the game designing and playtesting scene like out there?
The scene in the Northwest is amazing! We have a bunch of GREAT game designers and indie publishers based in Seattle, and the scene in Portland is growing! We already have some established designers and a BUNCH of up-and-comers that are doing great things with game design. We have this thing called Playtest Northwest out here. It’s a LARGE group of game designers that pay dues to Playtest Northwest. These dues get the designers into conventions where people can play test their games and win prizes for doing so. Matt and I are members and ALL of our games that have been tested through their system have been signed. Really proud to be part of it. They also have weekly game nights in the Seattle area. People interested in joining the PTNW community should visit playtestnw.com.
Your first published design, Kitten Klash, is a real-time card game that plays in a minute or two. How did the design come about?
Well, it actually came out of a weird form of Solitaire that I had created. My co-designer, Matt Jacobs, saw me playing it and started playing it across from me. At some point, we both became locked. I said, “Too bad I can’t match one of my cards to one of yours.” He said, “Wait… Why can’t we?” Matt turned it into a kind of battle Solitaire. At some point we stripped out the tableau and focused on where the two games came together. It was a real time game because that was how it started… two separate games being played simultaneously.
Matt Jacobs is listed as a co-designer on Kitten Klash, tell us about your co-design process. Is he your design partner on your other upcoming designs as well?
We work on each other’s games all the time. Generally, the person that comes up with the initial idea for a game takes the designer title, while the other ends up being on the development team. In the case of Kitten Klash, I came up with a version of Solitaire. Matt worked it into a two player game. So the game’s existence was equally dependent on both concepts. So we called ourselves co-designers. We jokingly call ourselves Malice Designs.
Kitten Klash was published by Daily Magic Games. You also have an upcoming design that was signed by Daily Magic Games. Tell us a bit about that game, and how you and Daily Magic started working together.
This upcoming game is still in development, so I can’t really say too much about it as theme is still being worked out. Mechanically it’s a market-based, drafting game with hints toward worker placement. As for how we got started working with Daily Magic, we started before Daily Magic existed. Matt and Levi have been friends for a couple of years before Matt and I met. They had a little game dev crew. Matt met David through Levi and we both met Isaias through Levi. We helped play test Valeria: Card Kingdoms a few months before it went on Kickstarter.
I know you were just demoing Kitten Klash and playtesting your upcoming game at Origins. What were some of your highlights from the convention? Anything you wished went differently?
Origins was the official launch of Kitten Klash, so we spent the majority of our time at Origins demoing Kitten Klash at the Daily Magic booth. Mingling is our biggest highlight from Origins. People like yourself, Marguerite Cottrell and Stephanie Straw, Daniel Newman, Aaron Wilson and John Prather are all people that we are internet friends with, but had never met in real life. We really wish we’d been able to spend more time in the Unpub play testing our new projects and our friends’ projects. Matt and I made a great little video about our Origins experience. You can check it out here: #ConLife: Origins Game Fair 2017 - Kitten Klash Launch.
Funny story, we actually submitted Kitten Klash to Dice Hate Me’s dexterity design contest a couple of years ago, but it was rejected because there wasn’t enough of a dex element to the game. Chris Kirkman popped by the Daily Magic booth to pick up a copy and he tweeted that it was his first acquisition of Origins.
Your Twitter account also hints at another upcoming design called Build-O-Saurus. What can you tell us about this game? Where is it in the design process?
Build-O-Saurus is a game that my 7 year-old son and I co-designed. It’s a fun little set collection game with a very minor take that element. Thing 12 games signed it earlier this year after seeing it at ECCC. Sean Epperson is heading up the development team with Matt and I both contributing. I’ve made a small expansion for it with a second expansion in the works with the intention of using them as stretch goals. Thing 12 Games is planning to take it to Kickstarter Winter/Fall of 2018.
All these games seem very different. What was your inspiration for each? Specific audiences? Or do you just like to keep challenging yourself with radically different designs?
Kitten Klash was kind of a happy accident. It just came out of nowhere. Build-O-Saurus came out of an idea that Matt and I were working on in which players were cryptozoologists trying to build weird animals. Dawson heard us hashing out ideas on it and told me that he wanted to make a game in which players were building dinosaurs. As for this new game, I like to prototype. I’ll throw some components together on a whim and see what it does. I wanted to see if a drafting game with a little worker placement feel would work.
Do you like to design multiple games concurrently, or are you finishing one before moving to the next?
I believe in rapid iteration. If I think something might be fun, I’ll throw it together and see. If not, I junk it. If so, I’ll run with it for a bit. I’ve learned that there are several design spaces for every game: Concept/Prototype, Development/Testing, Shopping (looking for a publisher) and Support for Publishing/Published (more dev, demos at cons, press, etc). I like to have at least one design in every space at all times. Although, that last space is becoming far busier than I could have imagined a year ago! LOL!
Sneak peak of a new challenge for myself: Can I make a game that fits in a small Altoids tin? I had to put the cards face down… Sorry.
￼What's next for you? Any other design ideas yo're planning for the future? Any other ambitions in the industry, such as game developing or publishing?
I just submitted a design for the Haba contest that I’m really confident about, Matt and I are working on co-designing another card game and I have another game that is in the early stages. I’m also revisiting an asymmetrical, barista design idea I was working on before con season started, but with two games signed since then, I had to back burner it until things leveled out a bit. Developing is part of designing, in my opinion, so I guess I’m doing that. I’m always throwing ideas around for designer friends, but I don’t consider that dev either. That’s just what friends do. I don’t know anything about publishing other than what I hear from DMG or T12, I’ve only been in the industry about a year, so I’m taking my time to pick up what I can here and there.
What else should we know about you? Any other passions or hobbies outside of board gaming you'd like to tell us about? Best way to connect with you?
I’m a proud mommy of a seven year old son and five year old daughter. Everything I do is for them. I could not be more proud of Dawson and the work he does on Build-O-Saurus! You should see him! We host a little community game night here in Corvallis and he will grab his prototype and run around trying to get people to play it with him! He gave a prototype copy to his teachers at school and was demoing the game at a student led conference earlier this year (picture below). My five year old is still at the stage of preferring to knock over the Jenga tower over actually playing the game. I also really enjoy thrift shopping... I do it so much that Macklemore would be jealous! I love camping and hiking and I LOVE COFFEE! Shouldn't be surprising, I'm a Pacific Northwest girl! As for how to best connect with me, I would say my twitter (@pa8ted) is the best way.