Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Phoebe Wild
'In Focus: Perspectives in Board Gaming' is an exclusive series from Punchboard Media that spotlights diverse perspectives across the board gaming industry. Our guest this week is Phoebe Wild, the Social Media Manager for Bézier Games. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Phoebe, thanks for joining us! What kinds of board games do you like to play? Do you have any favorite board game mechanics? How about favorite designers?
My favourites used to be almost exclusively Euro-style games, and I still love games with a puzzle or challenge to solve, but the games that stand out to me now are ones that combine innovative mechanics with an engaging theme. Theme and story is so important not just for drawing players into the experience of the game, but when done well it also makes the game much more intuitive to learn.
A perfect example of this is Photosynthesis; every rule in that game just makes sense, from how the sun moves around the board to the rules and restrictions for growing your trees, and I’ve found that new players remember the explanation much more easily because of it.
My favourite mechanic is definitely deduction, but I think it’s also one of the hardest to get right. You need that perfect balance between too easy to be interesting and too hard to be accessible (this is the main reason I struggle to find people to play them with me!). Hanabi is one of my all-time favorite games, and I’ve also been enjoying the recent trend of escape room-style games.
You have a board game blog called the Cardboard Vault where you do reviews, interviews, convention highlights, and more. What made you create the site? What's your favorite kind of content to create?
I created Cardboard Vault while I was studying in the U.S. for a year, and had had the opportunity to go to most of the major conventions like Gen Con and Origins. Being able to be more involved in the gaming community, and seeing more of the industry side of board games, really inspired me to start sharing my own opinions and perspectives.
I love interviewing designers about their process to get that fascinating peek behind the scenes, and being able to shine a light on truly unique and innovative games. Just like video games, there are so many smaller indie games pushing the boundaries of what tabletop gaming can be but they often go unnoticed simply because there are so many larger games getting the attention. One that I’m looking forward to covering is 14 Days which was created to build empathy and understanding for people who suffer from invisible chronic illnesses, created by designer Hannah Shaffer who has chronic migraines.
You also work for Bézier Games as their Social Media Manager. Tell us a bit about what it's like working at Bézier and what you do in that role.
Working at Bézier Games has been an incredible opportunity for me. It’s a great place to work because we’re still relatively small and we have a really tight-knit team of people who are passionate about what they do.
My main role is posting regularly on our social media accounts, interacting with fans, answering any questions or concerns, and reaching out to press to spread the word about our games. I’ve also recently started managing our Kickstarter campaigns alongside Ted, and being more involved in our general marketing strategy. (And game development, which I’ll talk about below!)
I started out two years ago just managing our social media posts, and I’m lucky to have had the room to learn and grow while working with them.
Do you see more fan engagement through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or BoardGameGeek? Are the audiences very different?
The audiences are definitely different. I’d say we get the most fan engagement in the BoardGameGeek forums, with players running online games of Ultimate Werewolf, posting fan variants and files, and posting rules questions and clarifications. This is definitely the place for players with the most experience with the game, and you can tell by looking at the complexity of the questions they ask! (I often have to run a ruling past Ted just to be sure…)
We get a lot of more casual engagement on Twitter and Instagram, with people posting photos playing our games. I always try to find and respond to these even if they don’t directly tag us, because I love acknowledging and engaging with our players.
Facebook seems to be the best place for people to discover our games, because of how tagging and sharing lets posts spread throughout friend networks. Especially when we announce a new game, we’ll get lots of comments from people sharing it with their friends and being curious about what else we have to offer.
You were at the Bézier booth for the first PAX Unplugged convention. What did you think of the show from a personal standpoint? Was it a success from Bézier's point-of-view?
I thought it went really well, for me and for Bézier! It was great to see a mix of experienced gamers and newer players, because we got a chance to interact with our fans but also introduce our games to a whole new audience who didn’t know about them before. New York Slice and One Night Ultimate Werewolf were the most popular games at PAX Unplugged last year, and I think that’s because they’re easy to learn but have very social and engaging gameplay. (Also it’s almost impossible to walk past the New York Slice box without wondering what’s inside.)
The freeplay tabletop area was excellent too, with many of the Essen releases available to play, people on hand to teach if you needed, and lots of space to meet up with friends.
You have some experience with Kickstarter, recently wrapping up the Werewords Deluxe campaign. What have you learned from previous campaigns? What advice would you give others looking to Kickstart a game?
One thing we’ve improved upon from previous campaigns is making sure that we’re able to offer region-friendly shipping. This was one of the biggest issues for international backers, because some countries have so many additional fees attached to imported products, and we’re really glad to see that the new solution has made our Kickstarters more affordable for them.
For anyone looking to Kickstart a game, I’d say the most important thing to do is read all the Kickstarter resources you can get your hands on. There are so many games on Kickstarter now that your campaign really has to shine to cut through the noise, especially if you’re a small publisher or Kickstarting your first game. Read Jamey Stegmaier’s book and James Mathe’s blog, listen to the Funding the Dream podcast, pledge to existing Kickstarter’s for $1 and watch what they do well and where they fall down, participate in the community to get feedback, and then re-read everything again. It might sound easy to submit a Kickstarter campaign and make your dream a reality, but an insane amount of preparation goes into a quality Kickstarter and you need to be ready for it.
Bezier recently announced One Week Ultimate Werewolf, which is currently on Kickstarter. What can you tell us about this new addition to the Werewolf series?
One Week Ultimate Werewolf takes the exciting social deduction from the One Night series, and adds an extra layer of strategy with hand management and variable rooms with unique abilities. As in the One Night series, the Villagers are trying to catch a werewolf at the end of the week, the Werewolves are trying to stay hidden, and the Tanner just wants to be caught. During the game, players will move around Ludwig Castle during the day, activating the rooms they enter to try and gain information about the other players. During the night, each player will secretly play a card from their hand to gain information or swap roles. It’s your job to try to figure out who you are, and who you need to vote for at the end of the week, if you want to come out of Ludwig Castle alive!
I hear you are currently co-developing a game with Bezier Games founder Ted Alspach. What has the co-development process been like? Any hints as to what you two are working on?
It’s been incredible to have the chance to work on this with Ted! I can’t say anything about the game yet, but it’s been a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the game development process alongside someone who’s so experienced in it. I’ve also really appreciated that Ted is very responsive to my feedback, and we always discuss our ideas when we’re iterating and making changes. I’ve never felt overruled or dismissed for being less experienced, and that collaboration has definitely helped me level up my development skills.
Also, game development is so much more than just developing the game itself -- my responsibilities have included art direction, theming, coordinating with manufacturers for quotes, and rule book writing, just to name some!
Has this developing gotten you interested in designing your own game? What theme/mechanisms would you want in your own design?
I think anyone who plays games regularly gets a game design idea in their head at some point! The problem with game design is ideas are cheap, but actually implementing those ideas even to a terrible prototype is a surprisingly difficult step. I’ve had lots of half-formed ideas, but none that I’ve managed to get onto paper and start testing.
One of my other passions is fashion history and design, so I’ve been thinking about a game for a while where each player manages their own fashion house and is responsible for drafting the patterns, constructing garments, and of course creating a collection that is innovative and popular with the public. Unlike Rococo, I want it to feel like you’re actually designing and making the garments, not just gathering the resources required for them. My biggest challenge with this design is figuring out how to make it tactile and “crafty” while still using components that would be affordable for game production.
Anything else you'd like to share with us about yourself? Any hobbies, passions, or other interests?
I love fashion design, and sewing my own clothes. I’m actually working on a project at the moment which is going to combine my love of vintage fashion with my love of board games, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to announce more about it soon! If I’ve piqued anyone’s interest, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll keep you updated with a newsletter announcement when I’m ready.
I also love Doctor Who, drinking tea (my British is showing, isn’t it?), and naps.