Helana Hope & Jessey Wright

#69 – Helana Hope & Jessey Wright

Patrick Rauland: Hello everybody, welcome to the Indy Board Game Designer. I sit down with a different independent game designer every single week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking with Helana Hope and Jessey Wright about their game Kingdom Rush: Rift of Time. I should also mention Sen-Foong Lim is also a designer for the game, but it was a bit tricky to get three guests on the call so I will have to have Sen on the show for a future episode. But for right now, Jessey Wright and Helana, welcome to the show.

Jessey Wright: Thank you.

Helana Hope: Thank you so much.

Kingdom Rush Kickstarter Video


Patrick: I forgot one thing. You guys also run– Sorry, Jessey and Sen run Meeple Syrup. You guys– You three people do a lot of things.

Jessey: We try to. For listeners out there who are interested, Meeple Syrup is a weekly web show. We currently go live on Wednesday nights, you can find us on Facebook. We interview game designers and industry folk, and we have a strong focus on creating content that will help new designers level up their game design.

Patrick: Fantastic. I've done a little bit of research on YouTube, but the audience hasn't, so I  to start with a simple quick lightning round. Does that work for you?

Helana: Absolutely.

Patrick: All right. What is a game you'd play with someone every single time at a Con?

Helana: I've only ever been to one Con before, and the game I played– We were, Jessey and Sen were pitching– Not pitching, you guys were working on Korra, Avatar: Legend of Korra. I was a stand-in playtester for them, and that's my only ever experience.

Jessey: The one game I would never turn down at a convention are the kinds of games that are easiest to play at conventions. Like a large number of players, with a game like Werewolf or Blood On The Clocktower, short one-shot LARPs. Anything that's Con-unique. If it just requires us to put four people around the table, I can pass, I got publishers to meet. But if it's super difficult to get it together outside of a convention space, you can guarantee I'm in for that unique experience.

Patrick: That is awesome. I've heard good things about Blood on the Clocktower. How do you like that?

Jessey: I, unfortunately, didn't get a chance to play it. I instead got to jealously watch, as there was no space for me to join into games at PAX East a couple of weeks ago.

Patrick: Bummer. OK, cool. I'll have to try it myself. What is your favorite mobile game, excluding tower defense games?

Helana: I'm a total nerd, and I only play Kingdom Rush on my mobile.

Jessey: That's fantastic.

Helana: Legit. I have played all of them, all four versions, multiple times. I am totally addicted, and I don't have time to play other games.

Patrick: That is awesome.

Jessey: I do play a bunch of mobile games, but the one that I've been most recently playing is I picked up Chrono Trigger on the iPad. It's been fun to play through that again, and it does a pretty good job in the mobile space.

Patrick: I haven't played that, so I'll have to take a look into it.

Jessey: It's a classic.

Patrick: Awesome. Android or iPhone?

Helana: Oh my God, I am in love. I just got a new Google Pixel 3, and I am in love with it. I am recommending it to all my friends. It's my favorite.

Jessey: I'm a budget phone buyer, so I have a crappy Android.

How Did You Get Into Board Games & Board Game Design?

Patrick: Awesome. OK, great. First real question. How did you get into board games and board game design?

Helana: We started playing board games, I want to say, about ten years ago.

Jessey: About ten years now.

Helana: Yeah. Jessey and I had moved in together, and we had a group of friends, and one of them love playing board games. He brought a couple over, like more–

Jessey: Dominion might have been the first one he brought.

Helana: Yeah, and we just from there we were like, “Oh my God this is awesome.” We found our local game store, and it turned into a weekly, every Friday night was beer, pizza, and board games.

Jessey: We went from zero games on our shelf to over 60 in less than four months.

Patrick: Oh boy. That's a big expense.

Helana: It was insane.

Patrick: That's very cool. That's great. What got you into design? I hear how you got into playing them.

Helana: I'll let Jessey take this for a little bit of a run.

Jessey: I got into design shortly after I got into board games. We were playing games and we– Oddly enough it started with of all things, Brawl, which was this little game. It was put out by Cheap Ass Games ages ago as a real-time card game. Everybody has a deck of cards, and we were having fun with it, but we couldn't find any actual decks for the game because it was out of print and we found them in a dusty been in the back corner of a game store in Toronto. We sat down, and we're like, “These cards don't– The game isn't too complicated. We can make up some characters.” So we started making up character decks for Brawl and then playing games between classes and university, and this bit me with the design bug. Then the next thing you know I had bought BattleCON, another head to head fighting game.

Helana: Before that, we– No, for our wedding. Jessey– At that point, it was, what? We were three years into playing board games pretty regularly, and everything and Jessey was fiddling around with designing and that. We're like, “Oh my God. As our wedding favor let's make a board game.”

Jessey: That's right. I forgot about that. We made a board game as our wedding favor. It was called Super Chibi Wedding Defenders. It's on BGG, and you can download it as a print and play.

Helana: It's ridiculous.

Jessey: I hired the artists from the battle– Who did the chibis for battle con to do chibi versions of us and our best man and the bridesmaids, and those are the characters you play. The whole thing, it's a co-op game where you have to defend the wedding cake from getting eaten by the in-laws, by children, and by goats.

Helana: It's ridiculous.

Jessey: It's ridiculous. Anyway, we designed this game. We tested it. It's fun to play once, and I won't say it's amazing.

Helana: It's not good.

Jessey: It's not great, but it is fun. Then we ordered parts through print and play productions, and then I spent two to three days assembling 30 to 40 copies of this that we could give one to everybody that came to the reception. So, that was one of our first. That was our first completed design project together. 

Helana: Yeah.

Patrick: I'm looking at BGG, and I am most definitely adding this to the show notes. This is fantastic.

Jessey: Thanks for reminding me, I forgot. 

Helana: I just remembered now, like “We have done something else together.”

Jessey: That was that was the first moment. Then there was a lot of tinkering of fan expansions and stuff for battle con, and blah-blah-blah. But Chibi Wedding Defenders is definitely the spark.

Helana: Then we, what happened was we ended up moving. Jessey finished his degree, one of his degrees, and we moved so he could start his PhD. The state we moved to, that's where we met Sen, and Sen had been at this point in game design for a little while.

Jessey: A little while. In fact, at the time before we met Sen, Belfort was your favorite game that we own.

Helana: Oh my God, yeah.

Jessey: Then we met this guy who made it. Sen opened my mind to the possibility that you can design games and get them published. They don't just have to be hobby projects or art projects, and you can actually design games and get some recognition and get them out there.

Helana: Yeah. He's been– Sen's been a very big catalyst for, well, you in particular.

Jessey: Taking design seriously.

Helana: Yeah.

Jessey: After meeting Sen and joining his playtest group, he's been my game design mentor for four or five years.

Helana: It's been longer than that.

Jessey: Probably longer. But, yeah. Those were my humble beginnings.

Helana: Yeah. I've just been on this journey like I would go to all the game nights and I would go, and I'd get roped into playtesting. Then they're  like, “What's your feedback Helana?” And I would give them unfiltered sometimes awesome sometimes bad–

Jessey: There's no such thing as bad feedback. There's mean feedback, but there isn't bad feedback.

Helana: It's the later in the evening it gets, the meaner my feedback is.

Patrick: I can see that. I always– I get hangry, so if you're going to– If it's five o'clock or six o'clock and I missed lunch or something, you're going to get pretty harsh feedback.

Helana: Yeah, pretty much. I haven't been in game design very long myself like  Kingdom Rush is the first project I've had a big hand in designing. But I've been in the background, and if Sen and Jessey have a game together or Sen has a game out within the last six years, I've played it. I've tested it, and I've given feedback. It's just part of our world now.

Jessey: Yeah.

How Do You Make a Tower Defense Game?

Patrick: That's cool. I want to talk about your game Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time. I've personally tried to make tower defense games, and I have not been able to figure out how to do it. I'm like, “Maybe we'll use a dice, and that'll represent the hit points of the monsters.” But then I want to have some Area of Effect spells going on, and there's just too many boring details to keep track of. As I was looking at the page on Kickstarter, I'm like, “You came up with a good way of making that information load not overwhelming.” So, what is the secret to making a tower defense game?

Jessey: Jetpack Joyride. Sen's not here, but that was his idea. He'd send me a message sometime January of last year, and was like, “We need to use Tetris pieces.” And I was like, “Why do we need to use Tetris pieces?” He was like, “I don't know. I played Jetpack Joyride, and it was really fun. We should use Tetris pieces in Kingdom Rush.” And that was it.

Patrick: Is that a mobile game?

Jessey: It is, but it's also a game that Lucky Duck published last year. They kickstarted it last year, and it uses– It uses Tetris pieces to make Jetpack Joyride, which is a solo mobile game, into a competitive head to head real-time puzzle. Sen, he just saw the Tetris pieces and demanded that we include them in the game somehow. It turned out that was the weird design constraint that led us to solve all of the problems that you're describing, which add to that point, were exactly the same problems we were struggling with.

Gameplay from Kingdom Rush: Rift in Time

Helana: Because the thing is when you're taking a game that's an app or even a video game, and you're trying to translate it to the board, especially as a fan, you have all these things you want to include. All these little bits and moving parts and everything, but it's a point where you can't because you don't have that system in the back auto-doing it for you. So it's a matter of taking, “OK what are one or two key aspects of the game that make it that awesome tower defense game?” Or whatever game we're working on designing, and “How do we translate that and then just let everything else flow in and change and figure out the details as you go along?” That's really what we've done with Kingdom Rush. We worked on, and we were like “OK. How do we– How do you do enemy tiles?” Because that's the thing, you have so many hordes but there's so many bis, and then all this. It's just going to get messy. So it's like, “OK. Let's make them in groups and let's start with groups.” It's like, “OK. Then how are we going to cover up the tiles? How are we going to defeat them?” “We'll have towers.” But they can't just be one shot, because once again that's small, that's fiddly. That's just annoying.

Jessey: Helana makes a good point, too. When you're trying to translate a video game or any intellectual property into a board game, you have to be able to draw the line at what is worth translating and what giving up will allow you to create a better game experience. A good example of that with Rift In Time is most people would think a staple of tower defense is towers being placed and staying there, and firing on autopilot. That was never part of our design of Kingdom Rush. Not even from the beginning. One of the first mechanics we'd started working with was the idea that towers are in some sense cards that come back to your hand, and that you pass to your partners to upgrade. Because we wanted to emphasize cooperative aspects and take advantage of the physicality of a board game. What's cool is it turns out that's not a core of the experience that tower defense games create, the core is defending against the overwhelming horde. The fact that our towers move around even though visually you might think “That doesn't look like a tower defense game. It's missing that really important tick box.” When you sit down and play it, you're like “No, that felt like a tower defense game. We were defending ourselves with towers.” Right? 

Patrick: Sure.

Helana: This is the thing with the intellectual property, because Jessey and Sen, they have a couple of games that are coming out that have more IPs behind them. When I'm sitting down and play testing with them, and we're talking about it as a group, or whatever. I'm thinking, my first question is “What's going to want me to play the board game versus just going to the app?” If it's going to be fiddly and annoying and whatever, I don't want to play the board game. I'll go to the app. So, in the board game, you're looking for that social interaction, you're looking for that friend to have that conversation over the table with your friends, and for it to be different. As much as we have tried to honor the spirit of Kingdom Rush, we have taken Rift In Time and made it our own and made it so that it is cooperative and that you're getting that player interaction, and feeling– Having the feeling of “Yes, this is a good board game. This is not just another game that's gone from an app to a board, and it's the same thing.” We didn't want to do that at all.

Patrick: I have to say, it looks very cooperative. I can totally– First of all, I like that there's heroes, and I've only played one or two of the Kingdom Rushes, and just a little bit. But I love that you can pick the hero, so that's who you are and in the game. You get to have these power cards, you can place them, or you can pass them to your opponent at the end of the round. There's a lot of cool stuff, and I have to say that the main reason I'd want to play this with other people or the main reason I want to play this, is to play with other people. That's something that the– I don't even think you can do that in any of the mobile games, can you?

Helana: No, the mobile games are. It's a one on one thing. It's you versus the AI.

Patrick: That's a huge selling point for me. If I love Kingdom Rush, then I want to get this so whenever my friends come over we can all play Kingdom Rush together.

Helana: Absolutely.

How Do You Work with Another Companies Intellectual Property?

Patrick: Cool. I do want to ask you about, and you talked a little bit about the IP. But what is it like to work with the IP? Let me start with, did you start as a generic tower defense game? Or did you go, “We want this to be Kingdom Rush?”

Jessey: Yes. That one's interesting, a little bit of an interesting backstory there. The original tower defense design that Sen and I had started working on had to have been two and a half or three years ago. It was originally being made for a different intellectual property, and the problem was every time we were running into a design challenge we were like “How do we want this to work? How do we want this to look?” We hadn't played the tower defense game that it was based on. We were both Kingdom Rush fans, and so we kept– We just kept saying “What's Kingdom Rush like? Let's take inspiration from Kingdom Rush.” Eventually, we sent an email to Lucky Duck who we were already working with on Mutants, and we knew they could do video game IPs, and we were like “Hey, Vince. We keep accidentally designing a Kingdom Rush game, and we know that you like to port video games to board games. Can you maybe  reach out to Ironhide and see if something can happen?” He did, and eventually, Lucky Duck put out a call for submissions for designs, and Sen and I had already been cooking a Kingdom Rush tower defense game for now, at that point, a year and a half. Helana had gotten involved giving us ideas and things, and so that eventually evolved into what it wanted to be the entire time. Which was Kingdom Rush.

Patrick: It's pretty cool that you started with a different IP in mind, and then you realized “We should just make– Since we keep taking inspiration from Kingdom Rush, we should just make their game.”

Jessey: It was pretty funny, and we honestly we thought it was a pretty long shot. We reached out to Vince, and we were thinking, we were chatting with each other, and it was like “It's Kingdom Rush, man. That's huge. It's like the most famous tower defense game ever. There's no way that Vince is going to get it, and even if he does, so many other designers are going to want to get this game. The competition will be fierce. This is such a crazy longshot.” And here we are today.

What Feedback Did You Get From Ironhide?

Patrick: That's fantastic. I do want to ask, the people behind Kingdom Rush, was that Ironhide? Did they have any feedback? Did they say, “We like this but please change these things,” or was there any back and forth with the people who hold the IP?

Helana: There has been. There has been. More than we thought, and we don't want to say too much because there's some surprises coming, which is exciting. In the game, in the Kickstarter. But they've been really good to work with. They've been so accommodating, and they've played the game a couple times, and they've given us feedback, and we've taken the feedback to heart and changed what we feel needed to change. Or upgraded some things, or whatever.

Jessey: One of the cool things I can direct to, they've been one of the most awesome IP holders that I've had the chance to work with so far. In part, because they've been very flexible with negotiating with us on story and narrative. As Helana said earlier, we set out to try and make a game that was unique but still Kingdom Rush. It gives you a unique Kingdom Rush-like experience in a tabletop environment. You notice it's subtitled “Rift In Time,” it's not Kingdom Rush. It's not Kingdom Rush: Origins or Frontiers, it's not a direct port of any of the games. It takes pieces from all of them as it needs to, but Ironhide worked with us to create it as a standalone entity. So, it's Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time, not Kingdom Rush: The App On Your Board, On Your Table. That's been amazing.

Helana: It's been a dream come true. As I said, Kingdom Rush is my favorite, and when Jess and Sen were like, “Yeah. This is a thing.” I was like, “OK. I have to jump on board because you guys cannot screw this up. Legit. You guys know this stuff, but you don't half as much as I do, and if you're going to do this, I'm going to be involved. I'm going to put my best foot forward, and I'm going to make sure that we do, as a group, the best we can with this game.”

How Do You Work With Two Other Designers?

Patrick: That is amazing. I love that you inserted yourself. That's fantastic. That directs me– That makes me want to change gears a little bit. What is it like working–? Because I've had, I've had multiple groups of people designing games in pairs, but I don't think I've had three people on the show yet. Or, three designers who all worked on the same game. What is that like to work with two other designers?

Helana: It's cool. It's great because there's so many, there's three sets of eyes on the project. It's nice, and we can catch each other before we go to– Say we're working on something and we're starting to move forward with it and the design and everything, but then one of us will be like  “No, this is going to cause this problem.” Or, “Going and pivoting this way we're going to have a better direction,” and moving with that. Sen and Jessey, working with them, they're so knowledgeable about game design. Both of them have played so many games, and it's been great because I know for me as a novice designer I've– I don't know a lot, as much as they do. I've played a lot of games, but I haven't played as many games as Jessey and Sen. They have this ability to say, “This mechanic is going to work. Let's go with that.” Or, “This ruleset isn't great. Go with that.” The other thing too is that each of us, all three of us, we have something that we're good at doing that maybe the others don't. Like, I hate rule writing. I love having rules, and Jessey and Sen will attest to this. If a game– If a prototype is coming to the table and there is not some set of rules, rather it's a reference card or something, I hate playing it because I know they're going to change the rules halfway through the game and it's going to drive me nuts. But Sen is great at the rule-writing and editing those, which is great. Jessey is great at putting the bits and making everything, putting it together. I think I've done a good job, and I've done a lot of the map creation and a lot of the content ideas. Just being able to work and give each other the things that we're not good at.

Jessey: There's also challenges too, it's three different sets of artistic opinions, which can sometimes be a challenge to coordinate. The biggest thing that's important to do when you're working with a larger team is to have patience for each other, and–

Helana: Communication.

Jessey: To communicate. We try to have regular meetings or regular calls. We try to make sure major decisions go through everybody, even if it's just to get a thumbs up so that nobody feels left out. Because the three of us Have a nicely dovetailed skill set, but also two people together in a room can get far with the design.

Helana: Yes. 

Jessey: So when I'm visiting Sen in London or Helana is chatting with me over dinner because we live together, a lot can happen in this short time span. It's really important that the third person gets looped in before any decision is made.

Helana: It has not been smooth sailing. Jess and I, we work well together, but when we don't work well together, we don't work well together. It's been working on this where Jessey's coming out this expertise, and I'm coming in as this more newer novice designer, and there have been many fights that have broken out. Where it's like, “I need to go on a walk. I need to cool off and chill out, and we need to come and talk about this better.” It's been an exercise in learning very good communication skills and patience.

Patrick: That's sounds– Oh, boy. I struggled a little bit working with other people. I think you do need very different roles, or at least that's the way I need to work with someone else. Because if they say “I want the game to work this way,” and I say “I want the game to work this other way,” I don't know how to resolve that other than “Let's make two different prototypes, test both of them and then pick a winner.” That's the only– I have a hard time talking, if we're both experts in the same area, figuring out which way to go.

Jessey: That is how Sen and I's design debates get resolved. When it's the two of us fighting about something, we can both be a little stubborn, and we settle it trial by fire. We build two prototypes, one with one mechanic and one with the other, and then we try them both and the playtest experience we find never lies. Usually what turns out to be the case is that both of us were dumb, and the best solution was some hybrid of the things that we were determined was the absolute right way to do it.

Patrick: Interesting. OK. So, selfishly, let me ask you a different question. I worked with someone who basically has less time than I did, so I could create my prototype, but I don't want to create the prototype for his version of the game. Then it was like, “Cool. I tested mine, and this thing seems to work.” But then I was in this limbo where ideally we would test both of them, but I was able to create mine and test it, and it seems to work, but I still don't have his data. What would you do in that case? Or do you and Sen work fast and keep each other at the same pace?

Helana: It's funny that you say that. All three of us live very busy crazy lives, and there are times where we don't all keep up at the same pace, and sometimes there's things that it's like “OK, fine. You have your prototype together, fine. It plays well, then fine. We'll go with that one. But I'll make sure you have my opinions about it.” We always go on with a good heart, because we know everyone has great ideas. Everyone's going to bring something to the table, and if we're working together as that team, we're going to be able make and create the best product, the best experience, the best gameplay we can. It's just a matter of getting something to the table and play through it, and start working on it together.

Jessey: If you're physically separated from your co-designer, the most important thing is that you're both playing the game. 

Helana: With the same set of rules.

Jessey: With the same set of rules. Even though our ideal is trial by fire, the way that it ends up working in practice is that I'm faster at building prototypes than Sen. So, we try my version, but we both play it is the critical thing. I'll send him the prototype files, and he doesn't have time to build out his idea. He'll still print mine and run it at his next playtest and then we can continue the conversation from the same set of data points. Because one of the things that's just true about game design is if you're not– If you haven't playtested the most recent version, your perspective and feedback is worth significantly less than if you have. In that situation I would say have a conversation with your design partner, appreciate that each other has time limitations, and negotiate a middle space. Because often Sen can get his key insight that he had that was driving his dogmatically insisted “This is the right way to do it,” can still end up making its way into the game. But it will just come in the form of feedback on my version.

Helana: A part of it too, if you're working with a designer, it's the point where it's like “OK. We all think we have brilliant, great, amazing ideas.” But at the end of the day, you got to check your ego and say “OK. What do you have? What do I have? What can we do to make this the best experience possible?” And less about, “That's my idea.” Because at this point we can the three of us, we could say “Jessey worked on that, Sen worked on that, Helana worked on that.” But at this point, we have all put so much effort into it that it is a hybrid, and it's unfair to say who's done what in particular. Because at this point we all have a voice in it.

What Resource Would You Recommend To an Aspiring Designer?

Patrick: Cool. This has been insightful, and also you gave me some good ideas to co-design in the future. So, thank you for that. I do want to get toward some of the ending questions. I would love to know– There's so many books out there, podcasts, awesome shows like Meeple Syrup out there. Besides your show and besides my show, what one resource would you recommend to an aspiring game designer?

Jessey: One resource?

Patrick: Sure. How about one each?

Helana: A big one and this has come up in Kickstarter, the Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time Kickstarter chat with a couple of people have asked   “I'm a novice designer, I can't get my friends to play my game, what do I do?” Going to Meetup.com or Facebook and searching for game design groups that are local to you, because what we have learned is that they are all over the place. We're Canadian, and there's game design groups all over Canada. We're currently living in the United States, we're in California, and there's– They're everywhere. Jessey was at a work conference two weeks ago and–

Jessey: I ended up meeting some game designers and playtesting games for a day in Boston. Finding those playtest groups is critical, and instead of looking to your friends, look for other game designers. You'll eventually need to playtest with regular people, but it'll be much easier to get your game lift off started if you've got that local design group that you can count on and go to and trade play tests with. From me, I'll give an academic shout out. More designers should pay attention to user experience design because it is a much more holistic way to approach thinking about board games instead of coming at it from a statistics/mathematics balance perspective or a theme perspective, or whatever. The Design of Everyday Things is a really good book for putting your head in a different space and thinking about board games holistically. Not just as rules that engage people together over some pieces, but also, “How do players interact with those pieces? What kinds of affordances do your pieces have? What about cognitive affordances? How does the way your game is laid out, does that encourage people to think in different ways?” I think that Design of Everyday Things is a fantastic book to get your feet wet in that space.

What's The Best Money You've Spent?

Patrick: Yes. I cannot recommend that book enough. For people who are on the fence on reading that book, read it just until you know what Norman doors are. When you know what a Norman door is you're like “Why did they design doors this way?” Worth knowing. That's awesome. Cool, so what's the best money that you've spent as a game designer?

Helana: I haven't spent any money, because as I said the game design thing has been in the last six months? Not even.

Jessey: That you've gotten in deep in it.

Helana: I started, I got my toes wet in October of 2018, which is last year. 

Jessey: Yeah.

Helana: Jessey is good at spending money.

Jessey: I'm good at spending money. The absolute best money spent was a paper cutter because that thing cost me $18 bucks and I've been using it for like–

Helana: Two years?

Jessey: Two years. It's the second one, and I bought another one when we came to California. So, $40 bucks and eight years’ worth of value. I saw an industrial paper cutter the other day. Totally buying one of those the next place I go. It's like $200 dollars, but it cuts 17 slices of paper like it's a hot knife through butter. But another good thing though, a  very recent expense that was made as a team was a subscription to Lucidchart which is a piece of software that does flowcharting in the cloud. It also turns out it's really– The tools are really useful for quickly throwing together some cards or game pieces and then printing them. So, Sen and I have found Lucidchart super valuable both for collaborating, because we can both access the image and graphics files through it because it's in the cloud, but also for rapid prototyping. So instead of fiddling about with pencil and paper or fighting with Photoshop or Gimp, we can use these flowchart tools to quickly throw together a card and duplicate it six times, print it out, find out the design is broken and rapidly iterate.

Patrick: That is awesome. I know Lucidchart for my day job, so it's cool to hear it being used in the board game world.

Helana: Pretty much all of Kingdom Rush: Rift In Time has been through Lucidchart.

What Does Success Look Like to You?

Patrick: That's awesome. OK, so last real question here. What does success in the board game world look like to you?

Helana: I don't even know. I wasn't even expecting– I was never– Sen and Jessey have been talking about “Helana, you need to design games.” I'm like, “No that takes so much mental energy. I'm not– No, no.” Then as I said they got this project, and I was like “I must do.” So I've only seen a couple of kick starters in the last couple of years. I was like, “Oh my God. I have no idea how well this is going to do,” and that. But Kingdom Rush right now has blown me away. I can't believe the amount of support that has been behind the game. The amazing commentary, we have people who are posting the Kickstarter. As far as I'm concerned, I'm successful. I can retire.

Jessey: [Inaudible] Kingdom Rush.

Helana: Of course. But after Kingdom Rush, I'm like, “I've had success. I was there.”

Jessey: For me, the success is in bringing joy to people's lives through the games. The first moment where I experience and realized what success to me meant was when we made Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena, and it got delivered to backers, and we started getting reviews from regular people and not paid reviewers or official reviews. Just regular game players who'd played this game who are also fans of Korra, and knew what Pro-Bending was without having it explained to them. We started seeing comments pop up on Reddit and BGG and in different places on the internet, that was fans of the show saying, “Man that was so fun. It felt like Pro-Bending. This is pro-bending on my kitchen table.” That was the moment, and I was like “That is, that's it. That's success to me.” When we take an idea, and we turn it into an experience that's unique and fun and memorable, and when it's based on an IP also resonates with the IP  so deeply you couldn't imagine it being something else. It's not a success to me until the fans play experience confirms that we achieved that goal.

Overrated Underrated Game

Patrick: Love both of those answers. That is fantastic. I like to end the show with a silly game called Overrated/Underrated. Have you heard about it?

Jessey: No.

Patrick: Great. I'm going to give you a word or phrase, and you're going to tell me if you think it is overrated or underrated. If I said “Running,” you would say “Overrated, because it sucks,” obviously. Something like that.

Helana: Obviously.

Patrick: I do like running, but the regular average board gamer maybe not.

Jessey: No judgment, but running sucks.

Patrick: OK. So, Tetris. Overrated/Underrated? I'm going to go with you first, Jessey.

Jessey: Tetris is underrated.

Patrick: OK. And you?

Helana: I'm going to say it's underrated as well.

Patrick: OK. Any reason?

Helana: There's a lot more there than people realize.

Jessey: Maybe I– Actually, I haven't played Tetris 99. Maybe it's not as underrated as it used to be, but I think there's a lot more to it. You can learn a lot from classics like Tetris and Jenga. 

Patrick: Totally. I have to say, and I like the music in Tetris. I was hoping you guys would bring that up. I love that it has that Russian feel, and there's very few games that have that Russian-style music.

Jessey: It also never gets out of your head. You said, “Music. Tetris.” And now I'm hearing it.

Malik Hammerfury

Patrick: Yes. I don't think I can be sued for humming it, but I'll stop that anyway. So, oversized weapons. If you guys have been to gaming conventions, especially with the people who would have– What's the word I'm looking for? Like, Cosplay as an anime character and they have a sword as giant as their body. Is that Overrated/Underrated? Sorry, let me add context before you answer. The reason I'm asking is because some of the minis in the game that you guys have, there's a guy who has a hammer that's as big as his body.

Helana: Malik.

Patrick: There we go. So, oversized weapons. Overrated/Underrated?

Helana: Underrated 100%. If I'm not playing Kingdom Rush, I'm playing monster hunter, and Monster Hunter World the videogame. Big weapons all the time.

Patrick: And you, Jessey?

Jessey: Likewise. I think they're massively underrated. There's just nothing more epic than a sword bigger than is humanly possible.

Patrick: Awesome. I also like that you used “Massively underrated.” Legacy Games, Overrated/Underrated?

Helana: This is a hard one.

Jessey: Mixed?

Helana: Mixed feelings. I'm going to go with– I'm going to go with overrated.

Patrick: OK. Why is that?

Jessey: I'm with you. I think they're overrated, too. In part because I think that doing them well is way harder than some designers and some publishers realize.

Helana: Yes.

Jessey: As a result, even though we don't have a flood of Legacy Games, there's a lot of them out there, and only a few of them are worth your time.

Helana: We've played multiple Legacy Games.

Jessey: Market research. I have to.

Helana: Yeah, we have. There's been a couple that we have hours and hours and hours into and that we enjoyed, but I do think that it's a little overrated.

Jessey: Also additionally because legacy games exist now, if you say that you're going to put stickers in your game even if they have no legacy content to them whatsoever, they're just a fun thing for people to use to track their progress, then all of the sudden backers think that you've made a legacy game and they start giving you flak for that. I might think they're overrated for very particular current reasons.

Patrick: I don't know if you two know this, so you know the SCA? The Society for Creative Anachronism?

Jessey: No.

Helana: No.

Patrick: I brought this up because your game has a medieval theme. I had an SCA chapter on campus, but it's hard for me to say, to have you guys give me Overrated/Underrated. Let me change this to, and I'm going to change this to LARPing. Overrated/Underrated?

Helana: Underrated. I have never LARPed, but the idea, it's like “Oh my god that's so dorky. Could I ever?” And I'm like, “Helana. Let's be honest. You are so dorky if you had the chance you totally would.” And I probably would. I'd be an assassin, or I'd be an archer, and I would cause bloody murder, and it would be great.

Patrick: Awesome. Jessey?

Jessey: I'll say underrated as well, because I want to but haven't yet. It's clearly not popular enough if I haven't been flooded with opportunities to participate in one-off LARPs.

Helana: It's true.

Wrap Up

Patrick: Awesome. I like having two nerds on my show. I dig it. So, thank you both for being on the show. Where can people find you online?

Helana: I have a full-time business, so I'm online with all that. You can find me on Facebook, Helana Hope, and I'm super easy to find. I will be on Instagram in the near future.

Jessey: The absolute best way to find me is through the Meeple Syrup page, the Facebook page. That's the best way to access me. I technically have a Twitter @TTVoid, and it exists so that other people can tag me though. I don't often check it. So, Facebook and Meeple Syrup.

Patrick: Very cool. Thank you both for being on the show.

Jessey: Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Helana: Thank you so much for having us. It was such a pleasure.

Patrick: You're welcome. Listeners, if you liked this podcast, please leave us your review on iTunes or wherever you listen to this in your ear holes. If you leave a review, Jessey and Helana will build a tower outside of your home to protect you from goblins. So, that's a pretty sweet reason to leave a review. Can you guys guarantee no goblin attacks if you guys do this?

Jessey: Absolutely not, but it's a fun idea anyway.

Patrick: OK. Darn it. I thought you could guarantee no goblin attacks since they don't exist.

Helana: I'm going through the logistics.

Patrick: OK.

Helana: I don't think you've met our dog. Our dog is very goblin-like.

Patrick: Fair enough. Listeners, thank you again so much. You can find the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com. You can follow me on Twitter, and I'm @BFTrick. That is all I got. Until the next time everyone, happy designing. 

Jessey: Bye.

Helana: See ya.

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