Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Sophia Wagner
'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 Sophia Wagner, the designer of Noria and winner of the Spiel des Jahres fellowship in 2015. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Sophia, thanks for taking the time to talk with us! Before we get into your game designs, what games did you enjoy playing when you were younger? What are some of your current favorites?
Hi Eric! When I was younger I played games like Labyrinth or Scotland Yard, also some card games and Chess. At the moment, I really like Roll for the Galaxy, Meeple War, Neuroshima Hex, and Codenames.
When did you transition from playing games to designing them?
I played games a lot when I was a kid. Looking back, you could say, I started inventing games as a kid, by drawing a scene in which my friends could walk with little figures, following some rules. But somehow games became less important for me when I grew up. It was not until my master studies of geosciences that I met new people that liked to play games. I was fascinated about how many great games are out there and immediately started developing games. The more time I spent playing, the more ideas came flowing into my mind.
Tell us about winning the Spiel des Jahres fellowship in 2015. What exactly is that and how did it come about?
It is a prize for new game designers, that haven’t yet published a game. The winner wins short internships at different places in the gaming scene. For example, I visited the publisher Ravensburger and also spent a week with experienced game designer Jens-Peter Schliemann. You have to send in two games, a jury tests them and chooses a winner. For me, it was a great experience.
How did you get Noria published? Did you pitch it to many publishers before Edition Spielwiese signed it?
No, it was a bit different with Noria. Michael Schmitt intended to establish a publishing company with the help of Uwe Rosenberg. Uwe and Michael knew some of my prototypes and really liked them. So they asked me to design a game for the new publisher, the Edition Spielwiese. Two years later, Noria was released.
I understand you worked with artists Michael Menzel and Klemens Franz to develop the steampunk world of Noria. Tell us more about it. Did you have the idea for the theme before you had designed the mechanisms of the game?
First I had the idea for the mechanic. In other prototypes, like Apokalypse Daemonicus, I already used rings nested into each other as a core mechanic. But for the Edition Spielwiese we wanted a more euro-style game. So I was thinking about a cool way of using those rings as an action selection mechanic. First, Noria had an other theme, but the feeling of the rotating rings and the wheel-building reminded me of an ancient machine that keeps on moving and needs quite a bit of work to improve and to deal with. So I thought, steampunk fits perfectly! It was amazing to see, how Michael Menzel brought this world to live with his beautiful artwork! And Klemens Franz did a great job in making easy to understand iconography.
Tell us more about how this innovative new mechanism called "wheel-building" works in Noria.
The wheel consists of 3 rings. Inside the big ring is a mid-size ring and inside that a small ring. There are spots for action tokens in each ring. 6 in the outer ring, 4 in the middle, 2 in the inner ring. One half of the wheel is the active half. You can chose actions out of it, 1 action token from each ring. So you can chose between 3 action tokens in the outer ring and 2 in the middle ring. The action of the inner ring is set. After your turn, each ring gets rotated 1 spot. That means, the constellation of action tokens will change. An action token, that enters the active half of the wheel in the outer ring is available for 3 turns, but then gone for 3 turns whereas an action token in the smallest ring is available every second round. You can see which actions will enter and leave the wheel, you can manipulate the rotation of the wheel and you can upgrade action tokens. Of course, you can get more and better action tokens to improve your wheel during the game, that’s why I called it wheel-building!
What kind of board gamers do you think will most enjoy Noria?
More experienced gamers and expert gamers. You can play Noria differently. It offers the possibility to plan your turns quite in advance, because you see what action tokens will enter the active half of the wheel and a lot of other things, like politics that changes the goal of the game. It can become quite challenging. On the other hand, Noria is not very hard to learn. The actions are easy to understand. So, not only expert gamers can learn it. It is also fun to see what actions your wheel offers and chose the best combination out of it, without planning everything in advance. Of course you won’t win against a player who plans a lot, but that way Noria is fun in different gaming groups.
Noria is your first published game. But you have also worked on a few other game ideas, such as Apocalypse Daemonicus and Goblin Gold Rush. Are you still developing those?
Yes, I am working on other games. Especially Apocalypse Daemonicus. It is a very important game for me, but I am still developing it. I am sure when it is ready to be published, it will be something quite big! Goblin Gold Rush is quite ready and lots of players really like it, but it is hard to find a publisher. The playing time is about 100 min but there’s luck involved and take that elements. Especially for many German publishers that´s problematic. We will see...
Are you working on any other designs right now? Anything you can share with us about them?
Yes, I am working on new designs. Expert games as well as party games and everything in between.
In addition to being a game designer, you have a Master's degree in geosciences. What drew you to that field?
I love to travel and being out in the nature. Also, I had the idea to work in a field where I can do something "good", like for the environment and the people. That's why I wanted to study geosciences. I am still interested in geosciences, but working as a scientist, I missed creativity in my job. As a game designer, all kinds of talents are useful, also a lot of those things I learnt when studying geosciences. I finished my master in geosciences, but at the moment, I am a full time game designer.