Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Cassie Friedman
'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 Cassie Friedman, the co-founder of The Indie Game Report, localization project manager at Letiman Games, and designer of Wizard Shelf. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Cassie, thanks for talking with me! I know you are a big fan of indie board games, so let me start by asking you what are some of you all-time favorites to play? Have you played any great new-to-you indie games recently?
Ooooh some of my all time favorites. I really like Oaxaca designed by Sarah and Will Reed, Underlings of Underwing designed by Alisha Volkman, and Cauldron Master designed by Caezar Al-Jassar and Kuly Heer.
Speaking of indie games, you are a co-founder and reviewer for The Indie Game Report, or TIGR. What gave you the idea to start that site? How has it evolved since you started it?
I was already creating review videos on my own for a while of indie games, but was beginning to feel the burnout a bit of having to constantly churn out new content. I had recently become acquainted with Mike Wokasch of Fairway 3 Games and Ryan Sanders of The Inquisitive Meeple. Ryan mentioned that Mike was looking for a partner or host of sorts for his written indie game reviews, and at the time I was looking for the same thing for my video content, so we joined forces to make The Indie Game Report, or TIGR as we also go by. Most of our contributors and even Mike pronounce it like “tiger,” but I can’t help but always read it as “Tigger.”
You work with Letiman Games managing localization projects. What exactly is localization?
The easiest way to explain localization for me is to give a fictional anecdote. Say you’ve designed a game that is doing really well in the United States, and you have a lot of contacts here to generate business for yourself. You believe your game could do well in the market of another country, say, Italy. Yet you are not familiar with Italy’s culture, nor do you know Italian. You also don’t have any business connections in Italy to help get your game onto local game store shelves and in local business websites. So instead of working to invest a lot of money in time into creating all these hundreds of relationships, you seek out another game publisher who has already done all this footwork, and you offer them a deal of sorts. Each contract is different, but say in this example you offer to pay this company in Italy a percentage of sales, and all they have to do is get your game into Italy, and spread the word about it using their contacts and relationships.
Our situation is similar, except instead of us having a game which we thought would do well in another country, we found a game from another country which we thought would do well here in the United States.
You are currently working on localizing Matryoshka. Since you've also reviewed Matryoshka for TIGR, can you tell me a bit about how it plays and why you like it?
Of course! The game is a 3-5 player, set collecting and trade/bidding game about collecting matryoshka dolls. Players are trying to both collect all the sizes of the same doll, and collect all the dolls of the same size. Each way dolls are collected offers points. Players take turns offering doll cards from their hand for trade with their opponents, and opponents must offer a trade in return.
One of the things I like about this game in addition to the phenomenal artwork is the hidden collecting aspect, as well as the ability to change your collecting strategy mid-game. In Matryoshka, you have a tableau of cards which is your collection that will ultimately be your points upon game end, but you don’t reveal all the cards in your collection, as the cards in your hand count as well. At the end of each round, your tableau grows, but you get to gather up your entire tableau and combine it with your hand first, so your tableau may have completely different cards throughout the course of the game as you trade cards off and re-display your collection.
It’s also a great portable sized game and only plays in a max of half an hour!
Any international games you aren't already working on that you would love to see brought to the U.S. market?
I’d love to work with a South Korean company, an Israeli company, a Mexican company... Mostly because the main languages spoken in these countries are the foreign languages I am currently learning right now!
You designed Wizard Shelf, which is coming to Kickstarter later this year. How long did that take from concept to where it is now? How does the game play? Who do you see enjoying it?
I always had an idea of making a wizardly themed game, something that makes you feel like you are performing magic, somehow. When I heard of the Gencan’t contest hosted by Button Shy Games, I decided to apply this theme to the constraints of the contest and roll with it, see what I could make.
I’ve always been a fan of Steven Aramini and love Circle the Wagons. After the success of Sprawlopolis, I decided to see if I could use a similar card component: a four-quadrant card with different icons of different colors, and back with a scoring mechanic of some sort.
This turned into Wizard Shelf, a game about collecting shelves of magical items. It is made up of 18 cards and plays 2 players in about 10-20 minutes. You are trying to collect cards and stack them in such a way that you have the same item types orthogonally adjacent to each other, while also avoiding the same colored items being adjacent to each other. If you don’t want to take a card as a shelf of items, you can take it for the opposite side of the card, which is a spell for bonus points, and a one-time special ability.
When the last card from the deck is taken, the game ends, and players count up their points!
How did you get Wizard Shelf signed by Concrete Canoe Games?
Daniel Grek of CCG has been publishing games of which my game fits the line. It’s called the FLOAT series and is made up of four waves, each wave is a Kickstarter campaign containing three 18-card games. I shared pictures and video of my game during and after the Gencan’t contest, and it caught his attention. I sent him a print-and-play PDF, and he liked it enough to sign it for the third Kickstarter wave!
You're co-designing a game with Daniel Zayas called Arborists of Specterghast, as well as another design with another co-designer, and, on top of all that, you are working on a dexterity roll-and-write game. What can you tell us about these designs?
Right now not much as not much about the mechanics are set in stone, but I can say that Arborists of Specterghast will be a heavier game, more for players who have played modern games before, with a bit of a spooky theme.
The other co-design right now is something spider web themed, but that’s pretty much all I can say about it.
The dexterity roll-and-write is another thing I’ve wanted to do for a while. I wanted to make a game that felt like casting spells, and sometimes rolling dice can feel that way. So I am trying to combine rolling dice and attempting to roll dice in a certain way so that you cast a “spell” of sorts!
Do you think you prefer designing alone or with co-designers?
I like both for different reasons but I definitely prefer co-designing. I find that a lot of people I plan to co-design with have played games which I have not, and it works really well because we have completely different themes and mechanics and ideas which we can bring to the table.
You just started a new LLC called Making Magic Games. Tell us a bit about your plans for that.
I am hoping to use MMG for my self-publishing projects. If my co-designs don’t get signed by a publisher or even my roll-and-write, I’ll still want to create it. So I figured having an LLC is good way to go. I am also using this business however to manage my video tutorial business and the finances for it.
You're also doing some work for The Game Crafter. What does that entail?
Right now I am creating short walkthrough videos of games which are available for purchase through TGC. There are so many great games out there that are designed and published by people who either don’t have the skills or are uncomfortable creating quality videos for their own games. I feel rather comfortable and confident in my videos, and I love sharing the hidden gems of our industry, so this was a great match!
I am also, separate from those videos, judging a game design contest that is being hosted by TGC. I love holiday themed games but I find that designers don’t like to invest time in creating holiday games, mostly because they are difficult sells and hard to successfully pitch to publishers. But a contest is a great way to encourage that creative energy, I think, so I reached out to TGC about judging a contest, and they said let’s do it!
Wow, you sure keep busy. Is there anything else you would like to share with us before we finish up? Any other passions, interests or hobbies?
Sure! I am a huge Harry Potter fan as well as Star Trek fan (the ones from the 1990’s are my favorites), but I also love to do artsy stuff like scrapbooking and journaling. I have two cats who are my only children, I love running although I haven’t ran in a while, and I have also recently gotten into horror films, but mostly the ridiculously goofy ones from the 1980’s.
Thank you so much Eric! That was a lot of fun to share about myself and Matryoshka!