Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Barbara Allen
'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 Barbara Allen, customer relations expert for Fowers Games, co-host of the Players Wanted podcast, and founder of the World of Women Discord channel. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Hello there, Barbara, and thanks for chatting with us! Before we talk about anything else, let's talk games -- What are your all-time favorites? How about any recent surprises? Any favorite designers?
I’m very fortunate to frequently play new game releases so that’s a tough question as my favorite games change often. However, since The Gallerist was released, it’s been my favorite game, followed closely by Fields of Arle, Madeira, Trickerion, Magic Maze, Azul, Dinosaur Island, Charterstone, Sagrada… I could do this forever!
A couple of recent surprises were Dice Forge -- changing those die faces is super fun, and Raiders of the North Sea -- not as mean as I thought. Not to mention that the art for both is fantastic. Can you tell I like worker-placement?
My favorite designers are:
Vital Lacerda - The king of heavy games, need I say more?
Vlaada Chvatil - Because what can’t he do? He’s an incredibly diverse designer and I love the humor in his rulebooks.
Uwe Rosenberg - The authority in farming games and feeding your workers.
You are a co-host of the Players Wanted podcast. How did it get started? What kind of podcast is it?
Players Wanted Podcast began from a love of bringing people into the board gaming hobby and we thought, why not do a podcast to help folks get into the hobby by teaching them board gaming lingo, game mechanics, and talking about different types of games most people tend to enjoy.
You also started a Discord channel called World of Women. Tell us more about it. How long has it been around? Where do you see it going in the future?
I started brainstorming the idea of World of Women with my husband over a year ago after seeing other women’s negative experiences with sexism (not just in the board game hobby) and also having shared similar experiences in my previous employment (where I met and became online pen pals with Ella). I wanted to create a place where women can be the main focus, where we support each other and interact with each other without a fear of bias, sexism, or other negativities that are often seen on the internet. I want to help give women the confidence to know that we can do whatever we set our minds to. It begins simply with being positive and encouraging to each other, following each other’s social media sites, and it will naturally flourish from there.
I shared my thoughts with Ella (a.k.a. Laminating Boardgames) about what I wanted to do, beginning with the Discord channel, and she jumped at the chance the help create such a world. And the rest, as they say, is history. Discord was launched in November of last year and soon after I handed out business card invitations during BGG Con. We then began posting invites around the web in December 2017 - January 2018.
The website is still a work in progress. I envision it will eventually help women be the main focus no matter what they do. Since I’m still working out more specifics, you’ll just have to stay tuned.
I know the World of Women channel is also for talking video games. What kind of video games appeal to you? Which do you prefer to play, video or tabletop games?
Ahhh, the World of Women is a place to talk about anything you want. Not just board games and video games, although gaming is the most talked about subject. We have channels (aka chat rooms) for DnD, Pets, Grievances, Languages, Books, Travel, Movies/TV, and many many more. We even have an “All Potatoes, All The Time” channel, that’s right. Po-ta-toes. They’re the most versatile of all the foods. “Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew…” We all love potatoes, so it clearly needed its own channel.
Video games are definitely an activity everyone does now-a-days. If you play a game on your phone, it’s a video game! Therefore, you’re a gamer! As for console gaming, I really love RPGs. It’s really fun to create and then upgrade your characters. The Fable series is my favorite. Especially when your decisions directly impact gameplay. I wish someone would buy the license and make more of them. I also really love all the Tell Tale Games.
Now, if I had to pick only one; table top games or video games it would be table top games. Hands down. I’m an extrovert. I play board games not just because they’re fun, but because it’s a social activity.
I know you just helped fulfill Hardback as part of your job doing customer relations and support at Fowers Games. What's it like working for a small independent publisher? What does your job normally entail?
I love working for Tim. He was a great friend before, and is an even better boss. He’s not only brilliant but a kind, generous and extremely thoughtful person and so is his wife Nikki. They’re just amazing people and deserve all the success they can get. Working for small companies can be both simple and difficult. Simple, because there are less issues with errors in communication and logistics, yet difficult because when you’re overwhelmed with customer emails, given all the ways people communicate with companies now-a-days, it is extremely difficult to keep up.
Think about it this way, each company now has the normal support inbox and likely each employee has their own personal inbox, the Kickstarter inbox and comments sections which are found separately under each different project and their corresponding updates each have their own comments sections. None of the comments sections can be combined to make life easier. Then of course you have all the different social media accounts where, depending on the company, some will have groups or pages for each game published. Here at Fowers Games we also a have Fowers Games Facebook page, where once again you can send a message or make comments. Tim has Instagram, Twitter and Reddit accounts. It is incredibly time consuming to keep up with all those separate places, and we do our best, but most people don’t realize how hard that is to do, especially in a small company.
Fulfilling a Kickstarter, no matter how large your company, is very time consuming and at times extremely stressful. Between the comments sections and emails, people tend to be very demanding. Balancing what you can do and offer financially in each KS project and what backers want/expect is always challenging. I help handle all the customers in the various accounts, as well manually ship all replacement parts.
What are your favorite Fowers Games?
I’ll list my fave Fowers Games in order of most favorite: Now Boarding, Burgle Bros., Wok Star.
As someone that works there, do you get to playtest his games before they hit the market?
Yes! I get to play test even the VR stuff!
Any insight about what's coming next at Fowers Games?
Well, Tim’s working on another game whose title shares its name with a Beastie Boys song. We’re also putting together a convention for game designers and future game designers that will take place in June of this year called Tabletop Network. So far we have Rob Daviau (Pandemic Legacy), Ryan Laukat (Above and Below), Tom Lehmann (Race for the Galaxy), Geoff Engelstein (Space Cadets), Stone Librande (Diablo 3 and co-designer of Mechs vs. Minions), Kathleen Mercury, Adrienne Ezell, Theo Strempel, and many more as special guest lecturers. Check out Tabletop Network for more info.
You are a volunteer for your local gaming convention, SaltCon, out in Utah. What do you do in your volunteer role? What kind of convention is it? How does it compare to the major conventions?
I’m one of the organizers for our local board gaming convention SaltCON. We just had our 10th anniversary and we sold out on Saturday morning taking our attendance to over 1700 gamers! I handle all media and social media throughout the year and during the con I run the registration area. The best comparison I can make to a more well known convention is that we’re like BGG Con, but smaller, easier to get into and with plenty of restaurants and hotels within walking distance of the convention center. Our focus is playing tabletop games with a small area for exhibitors. We also have several 24 hour gaming areas, where people compete on who stays up the longest and plays the most games during the convention.
Before we finish up, anything else you'd like to share with us about yourself? Any other passions, hobbies, or interests?
I’m a graphic designer that doesn’t get to design much, so I try to keep up with industry standards as much as I can, but I also love cooking, baking, crocheting, painting my nails in board gaming art, geeky crafts. I even make my own soaps, often in the shape of meeples!