Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers. Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before. If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples.
Interviewed on: 8/24/2016
Janice is relatively new to game design, but has some really neat ideas. She's active in several online forums and currently has a game design called Assembly: Spaceship Builders in the Mint Tin Design Contest on BGG, where I also have an entry called CivMint. I look forward to discussing game designs with Janice much more in the future and seeing what other ingenious designs she comes up with. Keep reading to learn more about Janice!
Tell me a bit about yourself.
How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Six months to a year.
Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I’ve always wanted to do something more creative but never felt very good at the things that I did. I’m an appalling artist, too impatient to write stories and at best an ok photographer. I started playing modern board games about 5 years ago and 15 months ago we had our first and long awaited child, Amelie. I had always promised myself that during my maternity leave I’d start a new hobby and that this would be the time to do it. For the first 4 months, time was tight, dealing with a newborn and recovering from an emergency C-section. Then one night, between wakefulness and sleep I had an idea for a board game (I got a fair amount of sleep as my then newborn daughter fortunately also loved her sleep – if only that were still the case!). I wrote it all down on my phone so I wouldn’t forget it then left it for a month or so until I broached the topic with my husband. He suggested I developed the idea which was all the encouragement I needed and thus I started designing tabletop games. A year later I’m still working on my first design (I’m a bit of a perfectionist and it’s also perhaps quite ambitious for a first game) with a second smaller game in the works. My husband helps me develop my ideas, playtesting them, bringing new ideas to the table, pointing out what doesn’t work and things that I’m blind to as it’s my (second) baby. More recently he has brought a few game ideas to the table which I’m helping him to develop in some role reversal. Together we work well as a team and I’m loving being creative. Hopefully I’m not too bad at it either!
What game or games are you currently working on?
We’re currently working on 2 titles. I wanted to design a game that my husband and I would enjoy: namely he prefers highly thematic games and I prefer Euro style games so ‘The Maiden Voyage’ was born. It is a cooperative sci-fi strategy game that has a unique layout in the shape of a clock face. It is our attempt at something to suit both my husband’s and my own gaming tastes: it has resource and hand management but also variable player powers, random events and thematic challenges with flavour text on every card. I’ve taken inspiration from Pandemic, Eldritch/Arkham Horror, Battlestar Galactica and Forbidden Island/Desert to hopefully create something new.
My aspiration for The Maiden Voyage was to design out many of the hurdles I find with the games that we play. Being a parent we don’t get to play games as often as we used to and certainly not the longer ones, although mostly due to us forgetting the rules and having to continuously refer to the rule book which sucks all the fun out of the game for me. My design ambition was for The Maiden Voyage, and any other game we design in the future, to be quick to learn, intuitive to play and have rules that are easy to remember.
The second game we are working on is called ‘Assembly: Spaceship Builders’. It is a quick cooperative puzzle card game for 1-2 players. The aim is to build the required spaceship, getting all the rooms in their correct places with a limited set of commands. Obviously, the requirements keep changing (I work in Engineering so this is commonplace!) so the challenge changes throughout the game unless you lock them into place (i.e. too expensive to change). For this game I’ve taken inspiration from Shadi Torbey whose Oniverse games we love and will be entering it into this year’s BGG Mint Tin contest.
Have you designed any games that have been published?
Not yet. We are currently debating between self-publishing and courting publishers at the moment. If we’ve had no success with publishers by early next year, we’ll self-publish. The aim is to Kickstart Assembly in February. And if that’s successful then The Maiden Voyage sometime in the summer (my background is project management so I like to have a plan but also am very aware that dates can slip and scope can change!!)
What is your day job?
My background is in Physics and I’ve worked in Engineering since I graduated. Having got my PhD, I decided that I preferred the business side of things but with a technical slant so I work as a Product Manager for a small niche engineering company in the UK.
Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.
Where do you prefer to play games?
I mostly play games at home with my husband, daughter (she can roll dice and pets minis!) and a few good friends.
Who do you normally game with?
Husband and close friends.
If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Depends who they are. Most of our close friends are novice/casual gamers. When introducing tabletop games to friends, the first game we normally play is Pandemic or Dixit; great intro games. For those who can only be tempted to play a short game then we go for games such as Skull, Coup, Once Upon a Time, The Resistance, etc. For more experienced gamers: Battlestar Galactica, ElderSign, Wizard's Academy, Roll for the Galaxy, hmm, there's lots. I'm also really looking forward to starting Imperial Assault. Just waiting for my hubby to paint it all!
And what snacks would you eat?
Nuts - my daughter is allergic to milk and soya and I've had to change my diet considerably to suit! Most crisps have milk in them so nuts it is. Or bombay mix! Although we normally have dinner before we start gaming and pudding mid-game which doesn’t leave much room in my belly for snacks.
Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Absolutely. No game night is complete without music. Something not too intrusive. I love M83 and sci-fi movie soundtracks – Bladerunner & Tron are my current favourite soundtracks.
What’s your favorite FLGS?
We don’t have one that stocks the sort of games that we like close to us. I do buy a lot from boardgameextras.co.uk who are based a few miles from where I live though!
What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Pandemic Legacy is my current favourite game. We've just finished Pathfinder which was good to start with but I became a little bored by the end although still found it enjoyable and it felt rewarding when we completely finished it. Mice and Mystics is similar to the latter games of Pathfinder in terms of enjoyment. I don't mind it but it is definitely not a favourite. My worst game? Alien Frontiers (base) - I was really excited to play it but really didn't get on with it. Perhaps not the worst game I’ve played, but it’s certainly one of the most disappointing ones.
What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I love cooperative games - not exactly a mechanic but it is at the top of my list. I generally like Movement/Action or action point allowance type of games with my least favourite being those that involve direct conflict. Dungeon crawlers are another of my least favourite game types. I hate just having to fight monsters over and over with dice.
What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Roll for the Galaxy and Terra Mystica but my hubby won't play them with me. He says I'm too competitive!
What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, Video Games
Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games
OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.
When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
Theme maybe? The Maiden Voyage is a result of me starting with the fact that I wanted to design a sci-fi game. It all then just fell together, with the mechanic and theme developed together. For my more recent ideas about half have been mechanic first the other half theme. But I'm not progressing those yet. One (or two) at a time is enough to keep me busy!
Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Not won any yet but then again I have only just entered my first competition last month so watch this space!!
Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Matt Leacock, Ignacy Trzewiczek, Shadi Torbey and Rob Daviau, if I’m allowed to choose several!
Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I still find I’m most creative when I'm falling asleep! If I can’t sleep I now try and think up a new game design. I find it makes my mind less busy and ultimately helps me get to sleep. Pretty much every idea I have come up with has been in these near-sleep moments. Although sometimes writing them down wakes me up so I often wait until the morning to type them up!
How do you go about playtesting your games?
Mostly solo then I bring it out to friends, then more solo, then friends. Then finally random people I don't know - that's the stage I'm at now! I’ve recently got feedback from several different gaming groups who I’ve never met. The feedback has been really useful and has resulted in an overhaul of parts of the game. I’m hoping to go through this loop again in about a month and fingers crossed all the changes are seen as improvements!
Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
Team. I bounce ideas of my hubby and he helps me refine and develop them into something that actually works. I also have a friend (who is helping with the artwork on our games) who helps me mature my ideas by letting me bounce them off him too. I then go off and make something and test it then the cycle starts again.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Most definitely time... I work full time and have a 15 month old daughter!
If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
I’ve been reading a lot of Lynley Dodd’s children’s books recently (to my 15m old daughter). Our favourite is Slinky Malinki, “a stalking and lurking adventurous cat”. He goes out each night “between midnight and four” stealing random things like “a squishy banana, some glue and a pen, a cushion from Oliver Tulliver’s den”. I’m sure this is the concept for a perfect children’s game that would be really fun to create. [GJJ Games] We love Lynley Dodd’s books, too! We used to read to our boys all about Hairy Maclary and Scarface Claw!
What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Use icons for placeholder art such as those from thenounproject.org You'll be surprised how good it can look with the right graphic design. I’ve had quite a few compliments on the card designs using these icons so I'm actually wondering if it might be good enough as final art…?
What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Have fun whilst you do it. That's the most important thing.
Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Games that I'm playtesting are: The Maiden Voyage which we are debating whether to go to publisher or crowd fund and Assembly: Spaceship Builders
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: ‘Longshore Drift’ (a solo puzzle game about managing a beach, keeping it intact and presentable all-year) and ‘Build a Bot’ (a competitive victory point card game about building robots to varying requirement). My hubby came up with both of these ideas and we’re working together to develop the mechanics.
Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!
Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Trek – I grew up watching the re-runs of the Original Series and it’s still my favourite closely followed by Voyager. I hate both Coke and Pepsi, I weirdly prefer water and I’m a bit too young to care about betamax!
What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
You mean besides playing games, designing games, spending time with my daughter, working, eating and sleeping? Not much although I do love walking, travelling and photography – preferably all 3 together! I think my favourite ever destination was Iceland. We went there for our honeymoon and loved it so much we went back again the following year. I’m already planning our third trip once my daughter is old enough. Unfortunately that won’t be for a few years yet :-(.
What is something you learned in the last week?
We've been teaching our daughter sign language so she can communicate with us while she learns to speak. To do that we need to learn it too, so over the past week we've been learning some of the more obscure animal signs. She's catching on quite quickly and already has a vocabulary of more than 50 signs!
Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Love sci-fi books and films. Music - all sorts :) M83, Fever Ray and Imagine Dragons are current favourites.
What was the last book you read?
Do kids books count? Slinky Malinki is read most days along with about 10 other books!
Do you play any musical instruments?
I played the trombone as a kid but don’t play anything anymore but I wish I did – perhaps a woodwind instrument? We will definitely try to encourage our daughter to play something.
Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I'm a qualified trampoline coach! I've also won a couple of medals for gymnastics. Not done either in a long time though.
Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I learnt to paraglide when I was at University. Not that crazy I guess, but I did wear a bright pink kid’s helmet as it was the only one that fit me!
Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
For my doctorate I accidentally sent the dimensions to a metal cutter an order of magnitude out (smaller). This was possibly the best mistake I ever made. The resulting equipment worked so much better at higher frequencies (the size was frequency dependant). It made my work much easier to do in a smaller space and was more ground-breaking and resulted in 5 patent applications (still ongoing)! But shh – don’t tell anyone!
Who is your idol?
Long answer: I don’t like the idea of having an idol; I want to be myself and do things to my own moral code living up to my own aspirations, not another’s.
Short answer: Don’t have one!
What would you do if you had a time machine?
Go forward in time. I'd like to see how things turn out and I'd love to go to another planet (or even just the Moon!)
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Iron (Wo)Man; he has a cool suit, lots of gadgets, a decent workshop and can fly! What more do you need?
Have any pets?
A cat called Inca. We got him whilst I was pregnant as a rescue cat. He fits in perfectly although sometimes gets jealous that I now split my time between him and my daughter (and hubby and games!)
When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
I love co-op games and I think that it would be a wonderful thing to survive - something which encourages people to work together. I also hope walking for pleasure and enjoying the beauty of nature isn't forgotten in the grind of everyday life.
As to what would be wiped out - perhaps a little controversial but religion. Not because of the content. I think the community aspect and the strength and sense of being it gives people is wonderful. What I hate is people using it as an excuse to do nasty, evil and immoral things. That's the bit I would want wiped out.
If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
Stuart Turner, my hubby, who helps me form my ideas into something more tangible and of course my beautiful daughter Amelie :-). Also our good friend Mike Jessup who's been helping me with all the art in my games.
Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?
Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html
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