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Helaina Cappel on designing Games and Empowering Kids

What do you do in the industry?

I am a game designer and publisher with KTBG and Burnt Island Games.

What is your claim to fame in the industry?

I have designed two games called Foodfighters and Haunt the House. My company has published these games, as well as Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants, Wreck Raiders, and Endeavor: Age of Sail, and the upcoming Bugs on Rugs and In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?

Way back in the day, when my oldest child was very young, we had several mainstream games lying around our house. He liked to play them over and over and over. There came a certain point where I questioned if anyone ever thought of the adults that were spending hours with their children playing these games. I began to modify certain aspects of games to "house rules" so that they became more fun for myself and my husband, and so that there would be less of a "luck" element for my son. It hit me one day that there were no game companies out there that catered to the adults in the family (strictly speaking about kids games). So, KTBG was born.

What are you working on now?

We are working on a card game that is called Bugs on Rugs. In this game you collect sets of bugs, and rugs! The point of the game is to collect the highest number of points with the best sets of bugs. The game is for kids 5+ and takes about 20 minutes to play.

We've heard a lot about your after school program. Can you tell us about it?

We love empowering kids to do things that most people don’t expect they can do. Our after school program is 10 weeks. Throughout the whole journey kids play games that focus on strategy. We critique each game for the fun factor and the strategies that work to help the player to become successful. On the 5th week we introduce the part of the program where kids design their own games. The outcomes are always amazing! The KTBG after school program is fun and rewarding, and has kids coming back session after session.

What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?

My goal for creating games is so that kids will have to think. It is important to me that they learn that strategies work to help you win the game. I like to see that there are some game companies that are beginning to realize this as well.

What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?

It is always best to do some research about the kind of games we publish. We aren’t just any game company and most games won’t fit in our line because they don’t hit that sweet spot of engaging kids AND adults.

What does your typical day look like?​

I just took a hiatus from teaching - school is about to begin again without me. I’m not sure what my day is going to look like. But I’m excited to find out!!

What’s your workspace setup like?

Because I am really just leaving my full time job to pursue this publishing thing, my workspace is just being set up. Right now I am sitting on my couch working on this interview. Hopefully I’ll have a space soon that is more workspace-like.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Hearing kids say that their favourite game is one of ours, and hearing their adults say the same.

What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

My favourite game as a child was I.Q. 2000. It was less about the actual game itself and more about the size and theme. The game was a wonder to me. I loved to play it any chance I got. Hmmmm… I wonder where that game went to?

Where were you born?

I was born in Toronto, Canada

What was your life like growing up?

Divorced parents meant that I played games twice as often! Both of my parents loved games, and they both loved that special time with me. I have very fond memories of playing Monopoly with my mom for hours, and beating my dad at Pick-up sticks.

Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?

I grew up in Toronto. It is a city that celebrates multiculturalism and diversity. Celebrating diversity is one thing that has been ingrained in me since I was a child. Our games reflect this. I want to reach as many people with our games as I possibly can. So when we create characters for our games (that aren’t food or insects), we make sure that we have as much of a diverse cast as we can.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

I make mistakes every day. If I don’t reflect on them, they continue to be mistakes. At the end of the day I work out what I could have done differently to prevent it from happening again and move forward that way. It makes us all better people when we can realize how important learning from our mistakes is.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

I could not live without my laptop.

How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?

I play games; lots of games. This really gets me going on innovating old ideas or coming up with new ones.

Do you have any kiddos?

Two boys, 9 and 6.

Do you have any pets?

A Japanese Fighting Fish named Jorgigi. Our youngest named him after himself.

What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?

I am very good at knowing who a person is almost right after meeting them. I can tell if they are going to be the kind of person I want to have in my life. I’m not sure how I know this, but I am usually pretty spot on with this sense I have.

What is your eye color?


Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?


Summer of Winter?

Summer hands down! Canoe trips and running outside is what I live for.

Hugs or Kisses?

Hugs from my friends, kisses from my loved ones.

What’s your favorite TV show?

Master Chef.

What is your favorite night out?

I haven’t gone to a movie in a long time. Having kids makes it almost impossible. I’d like to go to a movie again one day.

What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?

Japan. I love to travel.

What are your hobbies?

I made my hobby my full time job! I love designing games and then publishing them.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I am still trying to figure that out. But I am closer than I have ever been.

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