Episode 345 – Game Design with Emma Larkins
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What We’ve Been Playing
SNAP Review – Math Rush
Can speed arithmetic be fun? It can when you’re cooperating to complete a larger goal! That’s the idea in Math Rush. We review Volume 1: Addition and Subtraction.
Interview with Emma Larkins
We first became aware of Emma after playing Abandon All Artichokes. This is the easiest deck-building game to explain to a new player.
Abandon All Artichokes was “name-first design”. Emma was trying to do more game design around 2016 and came up with a list of alliterative names. “I would buy that game!” Seemed obvious that it needed to involve the trashing part of deck-building.
In Starry Night Sky, players “discover” new constellations as they move across the board. It reminds us a bit of Ticket to Ride, but no one “owns” anything on the board. Instead, you’re rewarded for making specific discoveries, but everything you add to the board helps the other players.
Not many competitive games reward cooperation – we like to see it!
Some people will try to go off on their own, and in this game, that will not be as successful as players who stay near each other. It also makes us think of Deep Sea Adventure in that way.
Emma’s philosophy of game design is to keep trying new things rather than stay in one niche. She looks for “feelings of delight” and “aha moments”. But accessibility and approachability are important – anyone should be able to learn and play.
Where did your desire to design board games come from?
When she started dating her boyfriend (now husband), he was desigining a board game, and introduced her to local meetups and resources.
In 2015, she designed Heartcatchers as a Valentine’s Day present for him. “It was literally construction-paper-cutout hearts, and the cards were construction paper…” and it was fun, and good! (It has recently been re-vamped and re-released as Squabblin Goblins.)
Emma had played video games for years and a had an education in product design. After some refining & testing, a publisher who happened to be in the playtesting groups approached Emma because they were looking for a small-box game.
The Kickstarter was successful. “I’m a game designer now!” But it was harder to come up with another design. Her second game was a storytelling game that was not as successful. After having bounced around to different career options, she decided that board games were going to be her thing, and she would work at it.
What advice do you have for an aspiring board game designer?
In the past, Emma would have suggested finding a design/playtest community. While it’s good to learn from other people, it can be limiting. People who have a lot of experience in this field can try to force others into their perspective.
Instead, play with people who like playing games and want to have fun! (Friends, family, etc.)
It’s okay to make a game that’s really just for your friend group.
“Make the game, and play the game with people.”
Games are mostly about making rules for people to follow.
Shout out to Jenn Sandercock, a game developer who made a whole cookbook full of food-based games.
Tell us about some fun facts about yourself.
Emma loves blacksmithing! First tried in high school and recently discovered classes for adults in Seattle.
Plants! Now that she has a house with a yard, there are decorative plants, garden plants, a raised bed, etc. “I can get obsessive and kind of research-based on all these things…”
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