Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Nicole Kline
'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 Nicole Kline, designer of RESISTOR_, Lazer Ryderz, and Atari: Centipede. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Hello and thanks for joining us, Nicole. Before we dig into your designs, let's talk about what kind of games you like to play. What got you into the hobby? What "hot" new games have you been playing recently?
I started playing board games and role playing games -- as well as video games! -- when I was very young. My family had game night (which mostly included torturous rounds of Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit) and my friend's family played a lot of games (my favorite of which was definitely Balderdash). We got into D&D young, also. But my real love for a long time -- and I'd say probably still my real romance -- is video games. I love playing games alone, and that can be tough with board games -- or at least, it used to be! So I was really into video games. But to stay on target -- my recent favorite board games are Burgle Bros, Safranito, and Happy Salmon. The hottest new board games I've been playing recently are Codenames Duet (I can't get over how clever it is!), Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Card Game, and the adorable Go Nuts for Donuts.
I loved video games so much for so long, and 8 or 9 years ago, I started writing reviews of video games, which opened up all kinds of doors for me -- I had just started going to PAX, and was able to go to E3, and it was like all my childhood dreams coming true. I got really involved in the local game developer scene in Philadelphia, and they had weekly game jams. My husband and I really wanted to make a game, but we didn't know how to make video games, so we decided to go for it and make a board game!
Your first published design is RESISTOR_, which was published in 2015. How long did you work on that before it was signed? How did it get picked up? I see you put the Unpub logo on the box, how do you feel the Unpub network helped to make the game a reality?
So, we made RESISTOR_ at a game jam at Philly Dev Night, which is now called Philly Game Mechanics. The jam was in August of 2013. The theme was "pick an Oasis song title and make a game out of it." We chose the song "Roll It Over" and made the game, and ended up winning the jam! The game didn't change a whole lot - we added in the Resistors themselves and gave it a theme, but other than that, it was very close to the game it was in the jam. Anthony did the art, and we submitted it to a lot of events and networked a ton to get advice on how to Kickstart it. We were both working full time and I was going to grad school part time, so we didn't end up Kickstarting it until February of 2015. Level 99 approached us while we were on Kickstarter, and we signed with them and they fulfilled the Kickstarter for us, which was amazing.
As for Unpub, we love the resources available to us through the Unpub network -- the Unpub minis have been especially helpful to us where we live, and we do love going to the main event down in Baltimore. The feedback we have gotten from players on all of our games has been very valuable! We met a lot of people through Unpub, and that aspect of game design is also very valuable. Everyone here is super helpful and open and friendly, and I've been unendingly grateful for that.
You and Anthony Amato are listed as co-designers for both RESISTOR_ and Lazer Ryderz. What is your co-design process like?
Anthony and I are partners, both personally and professionally (we got married earlier this year!). The co-design process is really different every time. With RESISTOR_, we came up with the mechanics together, and I put together the rulebook, while Anthony did all of the art. He's the artist and I'm the writer. With Lazer Ryderz, Anthony had a lot of great ideas he wanted to put together for that, and it worked out amazing, I helped him with the character ideas, powers, and all of the playtesting, as well as working with our publisher. I guess you could say it's a lot of give and take - one of us comes up with an idea, and the two of us work together to make it come to life!
Tell us how the idea for Lazer Ryders came about. Had you recently watched Tron when you decided to create it?
Anthony is really into war games, like Warhammer Fantasy and Battlefleet Gothic, and he wanted something like that but with less of a barrier to entry and way more accessibility. Those games are expensive and, if you don't have a local group, nearly impossible to play. With Lazer Ryderz, the goal was for players to have the same feel of a war game but for it to be fun and light and fast.
As for Tron, it's funny you mention that - this game is very inspired by Tron, much like RESISTOR_'s theme is inspired by the old 80s movie War Games. We also did one of the Button Shy Board Game of the Month Club postcard games baesd on that 80s song, Spin Me Right Round. And our latest game is Centipede, which is obviously from the 80s. I guess we're getting typecast!
Tell us more about how it plays and who you see as the ideal audience. Do you think it plays better with two or at the max player count of four?
Lazer Ryderz is a racing game where the table is your board. You each have pieces that connect together to form a line -- some are straight and others are curved. You race the other players by placing a piece of the gear you're in on your line and try to get that line to go through Prizms that are scattered across the board. When other players score, you can also steal their Prizms as well. There's some strategy to it -- if you touch another player's line, you crash, but you score first, so you might want to score a Prizm even if it means you're crashing out. Or you might be on a collision course but might try to stay in the game as long as possible in the hopes that the person blocking you crashes. I personally love playing it with four players, but we tested it a lot at two and three and those are fun, too -- just not as chaotic!
Lazer Ryders just had its Kickstarter fulfilled through Greater than Games. I was very impressed with the attention to detail as far as integrating theme went, especially with the box design resembling a VHS box set. Did you have any input on this aspect of the game's creation?
Greater Than Games was amazing to work with. They gave us much more creative input than I ever could have dreamed. Anthony mentioned wanting the box to look like a VHS box set, and Jennifer Closson made it come to life! She did an amazing job, and the inserts the factory was able to make are incredible. Greater Than Games also shared the character art with us (done by Blood+Chrome) and Anthony went back and forth with them on that as well, and it was really fun for me to watch all of that coming to life.
You are listed as a co-designer on three ATARI games coming out through IDW -- Centipede, Asteroids, and Missile Command -- along with Anthony Amato and Jonathan Gilmour. How has adding Jon Gilmour as a co-designer changed your process?
We are actually only making one of those three -- Centipede! Working with Jonathan Gilmour has been great. He's a really canny game developer and also just a fantastic person, so working with him has been a really great experience. It was new for us, but I think it was just what we needed - we have both been wanting to work with other people, and this was a great opportunity.
Can you tell us a bit about how Centipede plays? Does ATARI have any say in the design or approval of the games?
Centipede can be played either two player or four player -- two player is Gnome vs. Centipede, and four player is a team of a Gnome and a Centipede vs. a team of a Gnome and a Centipede. The Gnome has a dice pool he can choose from, as well as cards on the table that can be used once and then refreshed. The Centipede player has a deck of cards he draws from, which includes the ability to manipulate mushrooms, add creatures (like more Centipedes, Spiders, and Fleas) to the board, and speed up all of his creatures. The Centipede plays a card and then moves all his creatures, and the smaller his Centipedes are, the faster they go. They game plays best at four players, but two player can be a fun challenge as well!
I'm not sure about Atari's role as far as the approval goes. We worked with Jon and IDW, but I'm not certain about Atari!
If you could pick any intellectual property to adapt into a board game, without worrying about licensing or copyrights, what would you pick?
Dune, without a doubt. It's my favorite book of all time, and it's full of all kinds of different ideas for board games. I would love to make a game about the Bene Geserit, or Fremen movement across the planet. The possibilities are vast!
So far your designs have all had a very 1980s aesthetic. Do you feel most comfortable in that aesthetic, or do you think you might branch out in the future?
I definitely think we've been typecast! Anthony and I were kids in the 80s, so we have a lot of fond memories of those movies, cartoons, and video games. We are working on a lot of other games right now, many of which don't fall into that aesthetic, but I absolutely think that we are comfortable in it. Making games is hard, but it's also a really joyful endeavor, and I think revisiting that nostalgia is a perfect way to have fun.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. Before we wrap up, is there anything you want to tell people about yourself? Any other passions or interests?
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity! I really appreciate it. I definitely want to say to readers: if you want to make a game, please, please, just do it. We made our early prototypes on index cards and did our printing at a local copy shop, and just went to events and weren't afraid to ask people questions. Don't ever be afraid to ask for help or advice: everyone here was once in your shoes! So if you've always wanted to make a game, do it.
As for me -- I'm a huge video game player and an avid reader. Since I finished grad school earlier this year, I've had a lot more time for both, and it's been delightful! I just got the Boss Fight Books, and I'm working my way through those games and books, as well as trying to dig into a huge backlog. And, of course, I love playing board games! I have too many loved games to mention, but I will say that Oink Games really knocks it out of the park with some of their little gems.