What do you do in the industry?
I design board games.
What is your claim to fame in the industry?
My first game, Wingspan, made quite a splash upon its release, including a feature article in the New York Times. Its official retail release was in March 2019, but it sold out immediately. Several more print runs are on the way.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I had been playing hobby board games for years but was dissatisfied with how so many of the most popular games stick in just a few lanes for their themes: fantasy, science fiction, trains, historical trading routes in the Mediterranean. I decided to make a game about something I’m actually interested in.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just about wrapped up the first expansion for Wingspan, and I have a couple more games that are signed with publishers. Tussie-Mussie is an 18-card game that will be on Kickstarter with Button Shy Games in May or June. Mariposas is a game about monarch butterfly migration that I just signed with AEG, and we’ll do some more development on that this year.
Much earlier in development, I have a dice placement game about breeding foxes, based on a Russian genetics experiment that was looking at how dogs were domesticated. And I’m working on a game about stunt people that involves flicking meeples off buildings and through hoops.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
I’m excited to see the pool of board game designers gradually getting more diverse. I think there were more women and people of color at Unpub this year than I’ve seen before…though it’s still well below anything I’ve experienced in any other work environment. The industry will only get better as we get ideas from a broader range of people.
I think we’re also seeing a real revolution in how people think about theme in board games. I’m so excited by games like Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr that really push the boundaries of what’s possible. I’d like to think Wingspan will play a role in pushing those boundaries as well. When I was designing it I had people tell me I’d never get it picked up by a publisher with a bird theme. I’m very curious what will happen as designers no longer believe that they need to be limited to certain themes, or maybe even feel pressure to come up with themes that haven’t been done before.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I have a small office in my house, but I don’t always use it. In the winter I spend a lot of my time working in my living room right next to our woodburning stove. In the spring I’ll often shift to my porch when the weather is good.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I like to get outdoors. A lot of my work gets done on the computer, and I sometimes have to remind myself how important it is to unplug periodically. I do this on a small scale all the time, going birding and hiking near home. But my spouse and I have started also taking long vacations every January and really unplugging. This year the first week of our vacation was on an island with no internet. It was liberating.
What was your life like growing up?
When I was in 7th grade I moved from the middle of nowhere in Southern Illinois to Gainesville, Florida. My world just blossomed – suddenly instead of soybean fields and strip mines I was surrounded by music and art and big ideas. Plus the natural beauty of North Florida, which has live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and swamps full of alligators and beautiful, crystal-clear natural springs. Being a professor’s kid was a pretty comfortable life. My friends and I worked really hard in school and played really hard on weekends.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Oh it doesn’t take much to get me to laugh out loud. But lately one thing I’ve been getting a kick out of the Strange Planet comics that Nathan Pyle is putting out. He so perfectly skewers all these everyday things we do, through the lens of what we would look like to aliens.
What’s your favorite cereal?
In case anyone needed more confirmation that I’m a big hippy chick: I make my own granola.
I’m lucky that….
There are so many things on this journey that I am grateful for. It’s hard to break in and get a publishing contract in as a new designer, and I feel very lucky that Stonemaier took a chance on me. In this industry where thousands of board games come out every year, I feel lucky that mine seems to have broken through all the noise and really struck a chord with people. And I feel lucky for the very supportive community of designers in the Washington DC – Baltimore area who get together to playtest each other’s games. I wouldn’t have made it to this point without them.