Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Carla Kopp

Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Carla Kopp

'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 Carla Kopp, the lead designer at Weird Giraffe Games, which created Super Hack Override and the upcoming Stellar Leap. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi. 

Hi Carla, I know you are busy with your Kickstarter campaign, so thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to talk to us. Before we get into your latest game, tell us about your tastes as a board gamer. What are your all time favorite board games? What have you been playing recently? Play anything exciting while at Gen Con 50?

I love a lot of games and when I’m choosing a game to play, I usually go for a game I haven’t played before. I really like learning new games and exploring different themes and mechanisms in games, to see how each designer put together something different.

As for all time favorite games, my most memorable experience was with Pandemic Legacy! I don’t like the base game of Pandemic at all, but adding in the legacy aspects and having each game be different with the story aspects made it great.

Some games I won’t turn down are Mystic Vale, Coldwater Crown, The Great Dinosaur Rush, and Dragoon. I’m really looking forward to learning Dinosaur Island, Near and Far, and Underlings of Underwing.

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Your first published game is Super Hack Override. What was your inspiration for creating it? How long did it take to develop? How does it play? 

Dragon Con definitely inspired Super Hack Override! During the convention, my friends and I would sit in lines for hours and find ways to play games while standing in line. For instance, we would play Love Letter by holding our discarded cards face out so others could see them instead of using a discard pile. During one of the days at the convention, I had some free time between other panels and noticed that there was a panel on how to create your own board game; I decided to go. I learned quite a few things in that panel (prototype as fast as you can, use note cards) and we then had a four-hour drive back home. During those four hours, the four of us brainstormed about a game we could create that was designed to be played while waiting in lines and this was the basis of Super Hack Override!

Dragon Con is the weekend of Labor Day and Super Hack Override was on Kickstarter in September, so it took roughly a year from concept to kickstarting. However, I’d say that we took a three month break between the first concept to actually playtesting.

Super Hack Override is a fast paced card game that plays in about 10-20 minutes for 2-6 players about impressing the Supreme Super Hacker. To do this, each player, or hacker, must either get to a certain amount of hacker cred or eliminate all other hackers to Hacker Jail.  At the start of the game, all the cards, or hacks,  are passed out and players choose one hack to play on their turn. This could be a card in their hand or one that an opponent has played. Playing one of your own cards grants you the powers of that card and more hacker cred, but playing the hacks that an opponent has grants you that power and that card goes back into the hand of the opponent. The cards themselves fall into different groups: government cards that provide a lot of points and risk of going to Hacker Jail, proxy swaps which swap cards between players, shields that offer protection, and instants that change the target of the proxy swaps. Overall, it’s a really quick game that’s incredibly fun to teach, as I get to make all the software jokes and I think the game is really true to the cheesy 90s hacker theme.

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You Kickstarted Super Hack Override through your own company, Weird Giraffe Games. What made you decide to self publish instead of pitching your game to other publishers? More importantly, how did you come up with the name Weird Giraffe Games?

I think the most honest answer would be that I didn’t know how much work publishing would be. I really love learning, so I jumped straight into publishing and I don’t think I ever considered pitching to others. By the time I realized how much work it would be, I’d already done a lot of work and was on the path to publishing. Publishing a small card game is certainly a lot less work than publishing a bigger box game, so at least we started off small and I think that’s what really made it happen; it always seemed really doable.

I’m not the best publisher, but I do enjoy some of the different aspects of publishing and it’s gotten me to be a much more outgoing and people person. I’ve learned a lot and stepped up to the challenges of publishing and I think it’s made me a more well-rounded person, which is one of the reasons I’ve kept going. As for the aspects about it that I enjoy, I love seeing the world of the game come together through the art and directing how that happens. In Super Hack Override, the world was bright and I made sure that even though there were only three characters, two of them were women. I’m going to try to do the same for all my games, to show a world as diverse as the one we live in.

As for the company name, my last name is Kopp. I really enjoy animals and I think one of the most unique ones is the Okapi. It’s a cousin to the giraffe, has zebra stripes, and wasn’t discovered by the western world until 1901! I think that’s fairly crazy, as it’s basically a forest giraffe. Anyway, I thought I’d make a clever play on words by calling my company Okoppi Games. It turns out that most people don’t know that the okapi exists! What I thought was clever, most people just thought was confusing. As I didn’t have any other names, I decided to take the idea of that name and change it to be Weird Giraffe Games; we could keep the same idea, but hopefully be more recognizable as regular words. I also conveniently had a logo already made which worked out well.

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You have a new game you have been working on called Stellar Leap, which is on Kickstarter right now. How did the idea for this game come to life? How does the game play, and what makes it unique?

The idea for Stellar Leap started off really simply; I’d played Valeria Card Kingdoms, Machi Koro, and other dice games and one of the things that I disliked was the lack of ability to deal with how the dice rolled. Sure, you could shoot for the odds, but sometimes people just roll very poorly! I decided to create a game that had dice, but gave the players more choice in the outcome of the dice. Thus, dice abilities were born! Another aspect of these games that I didn’t like was that while everyone gained resources on other players turns, there wasn’t a lot of player interaction. I wanted to create a game that had more interaction than just taking cards that you thought others would want. The third aspect was of player choice; I love in games where the choices I make matter and I try to add that into the games that I design.

On the basis of a dice game with variable dice powers, meaningful player choice, and lots of various player interaction, the space theme seemed to come naturally. I’m a big sci-fi nerd and I do live in Rocket City, so it all seemed to work really well together.

Stellar Leap is a space exploration game with variable player powers, hidden traits, and game-changing events. The game starts off with each player taking control of a certain species with only knowledge of their home planet. From there, the galaxy is completely up to the players! Players choose to do two High Command actions from a possible four and use their three divisions, Labor, Intelligence, and Mining as they wish. The game ends after the players trigger 6 events; these are all based on player actions, such as increasing population, discovering the last planet or asteroid in a solar system, and completing the last in a tier of missions. Events can change how the game works, can be positive or negative, and are typically better for the player who triggered them. As the game doesn’t run for a certain number of rounds, games can run longer or shorted based on what the players wish.  Overall, it’s a lighter 4x space game that plays in about an hour.

Now that you've gone through the process once with Super Hack Override, is there anything you plan to do differently with your upcoming Kickstarter for Stellar Leap? Any good lessons learned that others should know before trying to use Kickstarter?

The plan has basically been 'more'. I know a lot more than I did before, so posted about the Kickstarter in more places, I'll be on several podcasts, and ran a few contests. I had Twitter and Facebook contests about signing up for a mailing list to be notified and a Launch Event where people could win prizes throughout launch day. I've also been to a lot more conventions and met a lot of people along the way. I've had an additional year to work on creating more contacts in the industry and with other people, all the while building up my mailing list, Twitter and Facebook accounts. I've also spent a certain amount of time learning and participating on BGG, as that's a great resource and community of people.

One thing I’d suggest is to also make a lot of time for other people. For instance, I’ve been fairly open about my willingness to proofread others rules and I’ve read through so many in an effort to help out and give back a little. I’ve also started interviewing other designers and publishers, to try to give more visibility into their projects. When you’re thinking about using Kickstarter, you have to know that your project will only happen if a certain number of people help you out and if you’re not willing to give back and help others every so often, it’s a much harder road. It’s also just really nice to be nice to others! You don’t have to help proofread rules, but giving feedback on Kickstarter pages or helping get the word out on another Kickstarter also works. Help in the way that you want and can do best.

I understand you are working on a campaign addition to Stellar Leap. Will this be part of the base Kickstarter, a stretch goal, or a follow up for a later time? Can you tell us anything about how this will work?

It’ll be a follow up later on. The current plan is that it’ll be an expansion of sorts to the base game. You’ll need the base game to play and the Campaign will add a book which will add more story to the game and allow the players to make decisions based on the story. These decisions will cause certain things to happen to change the galaxy in different ways and can affect the players differently based on what they’ve chosen. Much like a legacy game, there will be different components to unlock. It’ll be different than a legacy game in the fact that you can play the different scenarios over again and you won’t have to destroy any cards. You’ll also be able to play the regular game with any changed components as you wish! It’ll be much like an expansion, in that regard.

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What else are you working on currently? Any details you can share about them? And how many designs do you like to work on concurrently in general?

I’m currently working on getting everything balanced with the Stellar Leap expansion, Expanded Frontiers! It’s a sort of micro expansion that adds more planets, asteroids, traits, and new type of card to the game: solar system completion bonuses. It’s coming along rather well and includes a lot of my more off the wall ideas that I didn’t add to the base game.

I’m also working on two other games on and off at the moment; Drapple and Observance. Drapple is a color theory abstract gardening tile game. I’m still working on making the base game work just right, but I have a lot of ideas for variants on the base game to add replayability and to add a more cooperative aspect to the game.

Observance is a game of astronomy and star gazing! You're a junior astronomer and your goal is to observe the stars, identify what they are, and publish your data. The more constellations you identify, the better you get at different aspects of being an astronomer. The night sky is vast, but you'll learn to do your best with the time you have. Observance has set collection, card drafting, and a time track. I’m hoping that I can make this game be highly educational, as it’s based on real stars and constellations.

I’m hoping to get the print and plays available for at least one of these by late November, but we’ll have to see how the Stellar Leap progress goes!

For working on different designs at a time, in the past I’ve only had one design that I focus on. That is how I worked on Super Hack Override and for the most part, Stellar Leap. However, I listen to a variety of podcasts and one of the ideas they talk about is having multiple designs in various stages so that if you get stuck on one design, you can fallback to the other. There’s also other benefits, such as when you playtest, you can playtest all your games, so you can get progress on all of them, if playtesting is hard to set up.

Since hearing that advice, I started working on another design that had been in my ideas folder to try to make a workable prototype. A few weeks ago, I came up with the idea of Drapple and prototyped it the same day and have been iterating since. However, I made a limit, as actively working on too many designs would mean minimal progress on each design. I would say I’m still only actively working on Stellar Leap and it’s expansion now, with Drapple and Observance available if I need them. I suppose my answer is that I like to work on, at max three to four designs with one in the forefront and I don’t allow myself to prototype anything else until I either table a design or finish with it.

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I see you like to use very different mechanisms in each of your designs. Do your designs start with the mechanisms, or do they start with the themes? Do you like to keep switching things up to keep things fresh, or to challenge yourself, or a combination of both?

I seem to get inspired by multiple aspects at once, I’ll get the idea for a mechanic or two and then the theme is usually obvious and inspires another mechanic. So far, the mechanics and theme have been highly tied for all the games I’ve worked on so far, but we’ll see if that keeps happening!

I have a lot of ideas for games and I work on the one that’s most motivating at the time. It’s not a really conscious decision to keep switching things up, I just go where the ideas seem to take me! I have a big folder of ideas and it seems like each takes a different mechanic, but that could just be because I haven’t been doing this for that many years. I imagine I’ll have to double back on different mechanics at some point.

Other than designing and publishing games, is there anything else you'd like everyone to know about you? Any other passions or interests?

I love to travel! I’m really hoping to see another continent sometime in the next year, as I’ve only ever been in North America. I’m also trying to hit all the states in the US, as I’ve only been to 26 of the 50. I’m also rather passionate about going to museums when I am traveling, as there’s so much to learn!

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The Stellar Leap Kickstarter campaign can be found here. A preview of Stellar Leap from What's Eric Playing can be found here.

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