Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Carla Kopp
'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 Carla Kopp, the lead designer, developer, and webmaster at Weird Giraffe Games, and the co-founder of Galactic Raptor Games. Carla is also this series' first repeat guest, and her initial interview can be found here. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Hi Carla! It's been over a year since we last chatted, and so much has happened in that time. For starters, you signed three games from other designers -- Tony Miller and John Prather's Fire in the Library, Philip Falcon Perry's Dreams of Tomorrow, and Josh Mills’ Big Easy Busking -- and published them under the Weird Giraffe brand. In general, what made you decide to branch out and publish other designer's games?
What gave me the initial idea to sign other people's games is that I really wanted Fire in the Library to be made. I had played it a few times with Tony Miller over the years, enjoyed it, and I wanted to own it and if the way for that to happen was for me to publish it, then so be it! I had heard Tony talk about meeting with several publishers about the game, where the general feedback was that they liked the game, but they already had a press your luck game in their lines. I didn't have a press your luck game yet, so it seemed like a natural fit! I also thought that working with Tony would be really fun.
I kept signing games based on that first experience with Tony, where it seemed like I had a real knack for taking someone else's design and developing it into something that would be a good fit for my company, but in a really short time compared to my previous design process.
Tell us a bit about each of these games and what drew you to them.
Fire in the Library is a press your luck game for 1-6 players that plays in about 30 minutes about saving books from a burning library. I really liked the theme of the game and the fact that you saved books by drawing them out of a bag. It was that, combined with the fact that I was friends with Tony and that when I played at GenCon in 2016, I had a really good idea on how I wanted to develop the game.
Dreams of Tomorrow is a set collection shifting rondel game about building dreams for 1-6 players that plays in 45 minutes. In the game, you're a Dream Engineer trying to construct a dream sequence so powerful, you can send it into the past to change the future.
For Dreams of Tomorrow, I didn't actually sign it as Dreams of Tomorrow; it was signed as Totemic Rites. The game was about building totem poles. I liked the theme of the game and I liked that the game 'board' was a set of cards that could be moved around using abilities. Again, I was friends with the designer and I knew exactly what I would do if I was developing the game; I really wanted to see how it would play if the board manipulation abilities were really pumped up and made an integral part of the game.
Big Easy Busking is an area control game where you're trying to be the best street musician in all of New Orleans. This game was a bit different, as I knew the designer in passing, but I wasn't really good friends with them. What really drove me to Big Easy Busking was that it was not only really thematic, but it also had a sort of social aspect to the game. On your turn, the first thing you do is to finish playing the song you started on your last turn. Because of this, you get to see where everyone else is playing their songs, but you don't know how much energy they're going to leave on each crowd. This makes every game super different based on the people you're playing with and I'm always surprised by what other players do, which makes it really enjoyable and replayable.
How different has it been developing and publishing games you did not design, as opposed to publishing your own designs?
The development process is a lot faster than the design process. When I start developing a game, it's already a good game. I also already have an idea of what I want to do with it and where I want to take it, otherwise I wouldn't have signed the game. At this point, I've worked on developing seven different games and I have a really good idea on what a Weird Giraffe Game is and what it feels like. This means that I can take a game and start steering it in the right direction and it gets closer to what I want it to be with every playtest.
This isn't all that much different than designing my own games, other than the fact that they need a lot more time and playtesting to get really great.
I still do design on games I've signed, as well, as I always make the solo version of the game. This process is the same for a game I'm developing and a game I've designed.
Both Fire in the Library and Dreams of Tomorrow were published using Kickstarter. How are you finding the Kickstarter market these days? Easier because your brand has a following? Harder because of increased competition?
I would say that Kickstarter is always a learning experience. I'm more confident in my abilities now and more used to the things that could happen, so I'm able to roll with the punches a bit. It's a little bit easier than it was with my first game, as I'm pretty sure the game would not fund now with the amount of preparation that I had in 2016. I've learned from each of my campaigns, shown that I can fulfill a campaign and deliver a great game, and met a lot of people that have helped out.
However, it's gotten increasingly hard as time goes on and I have to step up my marketing with every new Kickstarter campaign, even though my following has continued to grow. There's so many great looking games out there that standing out, even with experience, is hard. It's definitely kept me on my toes and makes it so there's no guarantee that any campaign will do well, regardless of preparation, gameplay, artwork, or any other factor.
You are currently working on publishing Big Easy Busking. How is that going?
It's going really well! The game will be back on Kickstarter by the time this interview is published and I'm so excited to see it relaunch. I've had a really great time working with Josh to make the game even better. For the development, I've added a series of abilities to the game, so each game needs a slightly different strategy based on what ability is in that game. The art has also gone really well; it's bright, colorful, and very reminiscent of New Orleans (I've even heard this from a New Orleans native, so I feel like I can trust it!).
You also announced the founding of Galactic Raptor Games, a separate publishing company, with Dan Letzring of Letiman Games. What made you and Dan want to create this, instead of just signing more games under your existing respective brands? In the future, how will you decide which games belong where?
Both Dan and I still have our separate companies, but we wanted to branch out a bit and also work on projects with other people. I had learned how great it was working with other designers and I've known Dan online for awhile, so when we met up for the first time at Protospiel Atlanta, it just seemed to be the right thing to do.
All three companies have some things in common, so it's not always clear where a game will end up. For instance, Big Easy Busking might have been a Galactic Raptor Game, but Animal Kingdoms and Big Easy Busking are both area control and we wanted a variety of mechanisms for Galactic Raptor Games, so I decided to publish it under Weird Giraffe Games. In general, Galactic Raptor Games is going to publish games that are larger than the ones Weird Giraffe Games is going to publish. I'm moving WGG more towards games that are in the 30-45 minute range with a small footprint, as those are games I not only love working on, but they're a lot easier to make without extra help.
The first game that Galactic Raptor Games signed is the Carboard Edison Award-winning Animal Kingdoms, designed by Steven Aramini. Tell us a bit about this game and how it plays. When will it be available?
Animal Kingdoms is an area control game for 1-5 players that plays in about 45 minutes. In Animal Kingdoms, each player takes on the role of a house leader, battling to gain control of the five kingdoms. Cards in your hand represent noble beasts that have pledged their allegiance to you. Over the course of three ages, you must deploy your beasts to the various territories – making sure that you adhere to each kingdom’s decree – to try and improve your influential position in the kingdoms.
What I really love about this game is that at it's core, it's really simple; just cards with colors and numbers. I've taught this game to kids and they can pick it up really well. However, there's the decrees for each kingdom that make each game really different and strategic.
We're aiming to have the game ship to backers either this summer or fall! You can pre-order the game now here.
What's next for Galactic Raptor?
We have a number of projects coming up! Our next game is actually going to be a dexterity game called Foliage by Catherine Stippell, designer of Nyctophobia. We're also looking into going digital, which I think is really exciting! Finally, there's the sequel to Animal Kingdoms; should we go into the aquatic route or a mythical one? Only time will tell which idea ends up having more merit. Regardless, I'm really excited about the possibilities.
In our previous interview, you talked about a Stellar Leap expansion called Expanded Frontiers!, and other designs you were working on called Drapple and Observance. Where are you with these projects?
The Stellar Leap expansion ended up being called simply Stellar Leap: Frontiers and that was published along side Stellar Leap. You can currently buy it on Amazon! I was really happy about how well it complimented the base Stellar Leap game and I've heard a lot of good things from backers about it.
Drapple is currently partially shelved for now... I actually took it out for a few playtests a month or so ago and I made a few changes, but I have other games I want to focus on. I actually want to try to find a publisher for the game, as I think it's a really good game that I'm happy with, but it just doesn't fit the Weird Giraffe Games line as well as I'd like. It's an abstract game with a lower player count (1-4) and I like a larger player count range and more thematic games for WGG.
Observance is also shelved for now. It needs some more work and I got distracted by developing other games and working on designing games I was a bit more excited about. I hope to get back to it eventually, but that might not be this year, as I have a few more games I'm working on, including a game that teaches the software concept of Recursion and a pick up and deliver game based in Venice.
It was great catching up with you, Carla! Anything else you'd like to share with us before we wrap up?
Thank you so much for doing this interview! I have a lot planned for the next few months (and years) and one of those things is trying to help promote more minorities in board games; designers, artists, reviewers, etc. I want to try to tell different stories with my games and I can only do that with the help of diverse voices. Feel free to reach out to me with your ideas! I have a lot going on, but I want to help where I can.