Kate Tessier

#33 – Kate Tessier

Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers Podcast, where I sit down with a different independent game designer each week, and we talk about their experience in game design and the lessons they've learned to get to where they are today. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today, I'm going to be talking with Kate Tessier, who is the co-creator for Raven Tales, a board game publisher, and the co-designer for Wardens, which is about to launch on Kickstarter. Kate, welcome to the show.

Kate Tessier: Hi. Thank you.

Patrick Rauland: So, I've recently sort of switched my intro up, and I like to sort of have this very quick … Not a game, but just these sort of three quick questions, just to let the audience get to know you.

Kate Tessier: Cool.


Patrick Rauland: So, first question. If I met you at a board game convention, and we could play any game, what is a game you could not say no to?

Kate Tessier: I could never say no to Cthulhu Wars. Just taking the role of the great old one, and like having this huge war, this fun and quick game, I just cannot say no to it. I just love it.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome. So, your game has a little bit of steampunk in it, so I want to ask you, what is your favorite steampunk gadget, in a comic book, in a movie, in a game, whatever?

Kate Tessier: It's not really a gadget, but I would say if I could go into a steampunk zeppelin one day, I would just be like so happy. Zeppelin are awesome for me, and I wish, like, I saw them everywhere around me, but you know, I don't live in a steampunk world.

Patrick Rauland: Yes, zeppelins and airships would be very, very cool. And what is your just sort of favorite genre? What is your favorite type of game?

Kate Tessier: Well, I love strategy game because I am not lucky, and I love co-op games because I lose all the time, so a co-op strategy game would be my way to go.

Patrick Rauland: Awesome, so I mean something kind of like Pandemic?

Kate Tessier: Sure, yeah. Sure.

Patrick Rauland: Cool.

Kate Tessier: I love, also, T.I.M.E Stories, which is one of my favorite co-op games.

How Did You Get Into Board Games?

Patrick Rauland: Got it. Very cool. I like it. Okay, so first real question is, I always like to ask people how did you get into board games and board game design?

Kate Tessier: Well, I started in my childhood, like pretty much everybody, with my family. We were playing those classic games that the community tend now to hate, but that I still love, like Life, Mille Bornes, Battleship, you know? These are the games that I still actually play with my family, so I really enjoy not especially the games, but I enjoy, you know, these precious moments that you just share with your family, and the game really doesn't matter here, so this is how I started playing games. And I think this is pretty much for every gamer. They just started with Monopoly.

Kate Tessier: And when I got older, and I got my own apartment downtown, I was living right next to a local game store, and this most amazing game store with hundreds of different games on the walls, and I was just so impressed. It was amazing for me to see that, so I was going there every weekend, every Friday. Like, every time I could have a few hours free, I would go there, and to try new games. Like, usually, I would never play the same game. I would like to … Like, I wanted to try, all the time, a new one.

Kate Tessier: And this is actually the place that me and Sam, my partner, when we first met we went there, as first dates, like five years ago. That's actually the way that we started designing games together, and it was totally unexpected. We were just there playing games all the time together, and after a while, we started, you know, like noticing your favorite gameplay, noticing your favorite mechanics, like everybody does.

Kate Tessier: For example, like I said, I am very unlucky, so I tend to appreciate more strategy games, and like every time we played, there was always something we liked more, and something we have changed in the game, and this is how we suddenly built this silly little game of our own, that we called something like, if I translate in English because I'm French it would be … Our own game would be … So this was the title of our kind of game.

Kate Tessier: We would just have a beer there and talk about how we would design the perfect game for us, you know? And the perfect game for us, since everyone has different tastes and preference, so we would have the whole universe in our head, and we knew exactly what kind of gameplay and mechanic we liked the most after playing all of those different games. And this was just a silly game for fun. We didn't even really talk about doing it. Like, we never talked about doing our own game, but we just enjoy having a beer and talking about how it would be, you know?

Kate Tessier: At that time, Sam was a concept artist and an illustrator in a video game company in Quebec, where we are from, and one day, just for fun, he started drawing that universe that we had been talking about for so long during his lunchtime, and he literally created the whole map, and even started drawing sketches of the characters. When he showed them to me, I was blown away, you know? It was just drawing them in his free time at work, and he didn't really talk about it to me. He just showed them to me, and I was like, “Oh my god.” It was just so exciting, seeing everything that we imagined for so long just coming to life here in front of my eyes. And Sam is such an incredible artist. I admire him a lot, so it was very amazing.

Kate Tessier: And you know, now that we had that actual map and those characters in front of us, we had just … We had no other way than to start working on the gameplay. Like, we had no choice but just starting to create the game. But again, we did it just for fun. Like, it was just for us, because we really loved it and we really enjoyed it. So we just started working on the gameplay in our free time, until one day. Sam came home after work, and he just told me that, like literally he had left his old career at the video game company, and he wanted to work on the game full time. He just told me that, and I was like … You can imagine I was obviously very shocked, and I was very surprised, because we've never talked about this. Yeah.

Kate Tessier: But you know, I was very surprised, but I believed in him, and I trusted him without a doubt, and I was just like, “Okay, let's do this,” you know? Like, “Let's go.” This is how we became board game designers.

Patrick Rauland: Wow.

Kate Tessier: Like, this is how it happened.

Patrick Rauland: That is so, I want to use the words hardcore, like, “Hey, I quit my job. We better make the game [crosstalk 00:07:52].” That's really intense. I'm doing mine part time, and I admire that. Also, I'm kind of scared by it, but that's a really interesting story. Okay, so I want to-

Kate Tessier: Thank you. Yeah, it was amazing. It was very unexpected, and … You know sometimes, when you take decisions like that out of passion? This is when something incredible happens.

How Did You Design the Different Play Modes?

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I can see that. So, I want to talk about your game a little bit, because it's cool. There's Cthulhu and steampunk, and it's definitely post-apocalyptic, because if you look at some of the pictures of the game, like the continents are kind of exploded, so it's a very cool universe, but I want to talk about the play modes, because there's a co-op mode. There's a one-versus-all mode. There is a solo mode. And I was just thinking, as I was looking at your game, sort of preparing for this interview, that it seems very trendy for games to have all these different play modes, and I was just like how do you design a game like that? Do you design one of the modes first, and then you design all the other modes later, or did you design them all at the same time?

Kate Tessier: Well, I imagine that for everybody, it's different. Yes, I agree with you that now it's very a thing now to do all of those different modes. For us, at first, we didn't want to have that many modes. At first, Wardens was a one-versus-all game. We really wanted to just push the fact that one player takes the role of Cthulhu, and that he fights against his friends who co-op against him. Like, for us, this was the game, you know?

Kate Tessier: We started with this mode because, like I said, I love playing co-op games, and the reason for that is because, like I said, I lose all the time that I play with Sam. I just lose every game, any game. He just wins all the time. So I said, “Okay, we need to have a co-op here, because this is not happening.” So this is why we made a one-versus-all, but we didn't wanted it to be only a co-op. We really wanted to give the opportunity for the player to play as Cthulhu, because there's not much games that you can play as a Cthulhu. There Cthulhu Wars, that I mentioned earlier, but I don't think that there is much more games that you can play as Cthulhu, so this is why we really wanted to do that. And it was important for us to create this gameplay with this overpowerful Cthulhu, who controls his legion of Starspawn, and he's just overpowerful, so he needs, actually, three players to balance his power.

Kate Tessier: Yeah, and the other modes just came with the community. You know, like about a year ago, we started sharing a little bit about Wardens on the community, and people were just always asking, “What about co-op? What about solo?” It was always coming back, and then, you know, we just had no choice but to consider this option, because we are doing this game firstly for us, because we love doing it, and we love this game, and we love playing games, but if we produce the game, it's not going to be for us, it's going to be for the community, obviously, so this is why it was important to make them happy. So we had to consider this option for all these Lovecraftian board game players out there. So this is why we started working on the solo and co-op modes.

Kate Tessier: Like a few months ago, it's still a work in progress, so this is why the rule book is not available anywhere yet, but we are working hard to make it as good as possible, and we want to have these modes to look, as much as possible, just like the original one-versus-all mode, you know? Like, sometimes you play a game, and the solo game is a totally different game. Like, it's not at all the same gameplay. And here, we wanted to be as close as possible, so we are trying to have the same mechanics, the same gameplay, so that even the solo player can have the same feel of what is really Wardens about.

Did You Get Rule Suggestions From Your Audience?

Patrick Rauland: Got it. No, I like that a lot. I was going to ask, so you started posting pictures to your community, or pictures, and information, and all that stuff. Did they give you rule suggestions, or did they just say, “We want a co-op mode,” or did they say like, “We want a co-op mode, and it'd be really [inaudible 00:12:43] it worked like this”?

Kate Tessier: Yeah, it was mostly like you say, like, “This is what we want, and we want a co-op mode.” We didn't have much suggestions, because the one-versus-all rule book was not available yet, so the community didn't know what was really the gameplay, so you know? They couldn't have gave us ideas about rules for solo, because they didn't know, at that time, what kind of gameplay it was. But even now that we shared the gameplay a little bit, we don't really have much ideas. But, like I said, we tried to have the same mechanics and the same gameplay, so just to keep it as close as it is.

Tell Us About Your Kickstarter Pledge Levels

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. No, I love it. So, something else I noticed on your Kickstarter page is that there's sort of three basic levels. There's the base game. There is the deluxe version, and by the way, I love when games have the deluxe version, with like metal coins and all that stuff. [inaudible 00:13:47] deluxe version. But then there's the third level, which I was really intrigued by, which I think is called Become a Warden level, and basically, it's really … Well, much more expensive than the other two levels, but basically, you will have your 3D sculpture, we'll design a miniature based on the likeness of the person who's backing it, which I think is really interesting, and I haven't seen a lot of publishers do that. I guess why would you … Yeah, I guess why would you create a level like that, and why don't you think other publishers create a level where people can add their likeness to a game?

Kate Tessier: Well, I cannot speak for other publishers, but what happened here is that the thing we wanted to do at first was to design additional characters … Like, we just wanted to add characters to give more options to the players, since there are only three wardens, you know? And since the first warden that we created at the beginning was Morgana, and it was the one, actually, that Sam illustrated while he was still working at the video game company, and to design her, he inspired a little bit by me, to create her style and her face and everything, you know? So this is something I find so precious, and so personal, and because of that, you know, Morgana is and will always be my favorite.

Kate Tessier: And, I wanted to give this opportunity to someone else, you know? To a fan, without whom, by the way, Wardens wouldn't be possible at the first place. Like, the community is making this happen, so we just wanted to give … So this pledge is about creating an additional creator based on someone, inspired by his or her face and style, and let that person decide the name of the character, and the kind of companion pet that he wants, and this is just a way I thought about to give back to the community a little bit.

Kate Tessier: There is one pledge that someone can buy, like you said, and we also are going to do a contest that I'm going to run on web [inaudible 00:15:59] social media [inaudible 00:16:00] to give this opportunity to more people, also, and for someone who, like, doesn't have the money to pledge, for example.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. I think that's really, really cool. I love the idea of … I think for me, like, it's pretty expensive. I want to say it's five, maybe $600, and I think the … And I should say your game has tons of miniatures, so I think the base game is like $80, and the deluxe is like … Sorry, I'm probably getting your prices fairly wrong. But I think, you know, this adding your likeness to it is two to three, probably like two times to three times the cost of the deluxe version, but to have your likeness in a game is something that lasts forever, you know?

Kate Tessier: Exactly.

Patrick Rauland: Like, I think it's … To me, yeah, it's really expensive, and I'm really tempted by it.

Kate Tessier: But like I said, we are going to do the contest, so if there's someone who really wants to have it, and has the money, then go for it. You can have it, but there's going to be a contest for the one who doesn't have this money, so we know that other gamers have so many games to buy and cannot afford everything.

What is it Like to Travel Your With Your Game?

Patrick Rauland: Totally. I love it. All right, so you've been … So one of the things you mentioned is you've been traveling for around a year, including 10 months in Asia, and it seems like you've been doing traveling for personal reasons, but also to show your game to a bunch of people around the world. How is that going, you know, traveling for over a year?

Kate Tessier: Well, it's going harder than I thought, I have to say. You know, like before we started working on Wardens, I was working very hard to leave Quebec and to travel the world, because I already had seen India, and a little bit of Europe, and America before, and I really wanted to see more and to discover the world, you know, like a young 24-year-old is. So I was working very hard for that, and then Wardens came in the story, and then we just said, “So, let's mix both, so let's travel, and discover the world, and meet people, and at the same time, it's going to be amazing, because we are going to be able to show Wardens to many different communities around the world and meet all of these different designers and gamer.”

Kate Tessier: So this was pretty much my last year. We left Quebec. We went first in India, because I had been there before, and I had to go back. India is, for me, a huge love story for me, so we spent a couple months in India. At that time, we were working on the backstory, on the rule book, and everything, so it was mostly like working on the game. And then, when we left India, we went in Malaysia, where there is this amazing, unexpected board game community that you really wouldn't think, but Malaysia, especially in Kuala Lumpur, it's a huge city, and there is tons of board game cafés, and the board game community is amazing, and so we've been to many events there. We've been to convention, and we showed the game, and we met many people. It was just incredible.

Kate Tessier: Then we left Asia, after 10 months, and we went to Greece, in Athens, where I had friends there from the board game community, actually, and then we did other events there and everything, and everything about board games for Wardens, obviously. And now we are in Italy, and we settled here a little bit, because, you know, traveling all the time, always having to move, and to work on, “Okay, like which train am I going to take? Where am I going to sleep?” and everything, this is very exhausting.

Kate Tessier: And just having no home, you know? Just having no place to belong to is very hard, so we needed to settle a little bit, so we found this amazing little apartment in the middle of a field in Italy, so we are very happy here. So, we are just very quiet, and peaceful, and we are getting ready for launch the Kickstarter here, actually.

How Do You Travel and Make Games?

Patrick Rauland: So I was going to ask, I mean, I've lived in my place for over, I think, two to three years, and I was just thinking about how easy it is for me to order like game supplies, and prototypes of my game. When you're traveling around the world, is it hard to order prototypes and stuff like that?

Kate Tessier: Especially in Asia, everything is hard. Like, everything. Like, I think everywhere in Asia, just having internet connection is very difficult, just having electricity. Like, in some places, we barely had a steady electricity, so only this is just like a small idea that you can see that no, it's very not easy, but in Malaysia, in the big city of Kuala Lumpur, it was a little bit easier, and this is where we printed our latest prototype for the convention and the events. And it was great, you know? Like, a very good printer there and everything. We still had to print our miniatures from Shapeways America and have it shipped all the way across the world, but you know, this is just a detail. But yeah, like everything is very difficult when you travel, but it's worth it.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah. No, I bet. Oh, man. I can't even imagine. I'm imagining the cost of miniatures from Shapeways is expensive, and then the cost of shipping those miniatures to you in Kuala Lumpur was also pretty expensive.

Kate Tessier: Oh, god. Making a game is expensive, like incredibly.

Patrick Rauland: Yeah, that's so interesting, because we think it's just cardboard, but yeah, if you're traveling, or if you're doing this, or you just want to order all these new prototypes, it can cost quite a bit.

Kate Tessier: Yeah, exactly.

Does Game Design Energize or Exhaust You?

Patrick Rauland: So let me change gears just a little bit here. You know, when you're … I mean, you've been designing this game for a long time. Does game design energize you, or does it exhaust you? Yeah, how do you balance all of that?

Kate Tessier: Well, first, like at the base, it really does energize me. Every morning for the past couple years, I've been very excited to work on Wardens, and it's been that way since the beginning, really. Whatever the part of the designing process I'm in at that moment, I find it very captivating. Since we are only two people working on Wardens, we do everything ourselves. Sam is the artist. He's the one who did all the artwork, the sculpts, the miniatures. He worked on the video on the promo page.

Kate Tessier: And I'm the one doing everything else, so in the last year, I learned so many things, things that I didn't even think I would be doing, and things I didn't even think existed, but I learned to do it. I imagine the universe and the backstory of the game. I wrote the whole storybook, which was very difficult for me actually, because of the language barrier that comes before me every day. It's very difficult for me. Like, every time I'm doing something, I need to learn a little more in English, and I need to get a little better in English like every day. And I learned, you know, how to create a website, how to do a tabletop platform, like how to print prototype, like you said, how to organize event at a convention, like contacting all these people that you need, like manufacturer, and fulfillment center, and everything.

Kate Tessier: So, like every day is new, and every day is learning something new. When I started designing Wardens, I really had no idea that I would have so many roles. To answer your questions, it is very exhausting. I cannot lie to you, but I'm very happy to do what I do every day, and I believe in my project a lot, and I want to push it and to give everything I have, even when I'm exhausted.

Patrick Rauland: I love all of that, and you know, I was just thinking … I didn't realize this before, but I am so lucky that I speak English, right? So for me, when I contact manufacturers in China, you know, they write to me in English. Not great English, but they write to me in English, versus for you, they write to you in slightly broken English, and then you have to translate that in your mind to French. Like, that's got to be twice as hard.

Kate Tessier: Exactly, and I have to translate words that I don't even know exist, like manufacturer words, and expressions that I don't even know that exist. I need to figure out what it means, so yes, you are lucky.

What Does Success Look Like?

Patrick Rauland: Wow. I give you mad props, because I've gotten some quotes from manufacturers for my game, and there's one manufacturer who I heard is really good, but just the English that came through him like, I don't think we're speaking about the same thing. Yeah, that's really tricky. So, we've got a little bit time left, so I kind of want to ask you, like … I guess I want to ask you about your goals with this Kickstarter. Like, what do you consider success for this Kickstarter? Like, what would you need to have happen for you to go, “Yes, we did an awesome job”?

Kate Tessier: Well, to say that we were successful would be to fund. Like, just to make this project possible, you know? Because we've been working on it for two years, and just to make it possible, and just to receive the actual box, like in my mailbox, you know? Like, just to receive the game and to open it, and that it's my game. Like, this is success for me. It's just to get to play my game, and show it to everyone who wants to see it. So this would be success, just to make it possible. Of course, we have many other ideas for after Wardens, so if we can have the opportunity to keep going and to continue to do other games, this would be very a dream come true.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. I mean, I love when funding the game is success, and of course, you kind of want to do more, but like hey, if you fund, that is success.

Kate Tessier: Exactly.

Overrated Underrated Game

Patrick Rauland: Love it. All right, so I like to end my show with this little game. I call it Overrated Underrated. Have you by any chance heard of it?

Kate Tessier: No.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, great. So, basically I'm going to say a word or a phrase, and I'm going to force you to take a position if you think it is overrated or underrated. So if I said bottled water, you might say it is overrated because it's bad for the environment, or you might say underrated because it lets you carry water with you anywhere. Got it?

Kate Tessier: Fine. Just to make sure that these are expressions that I know in English, but I think it's going to be fine.

Patrick Rauland: Okay, yeah. All right, so the first one, games that only have a solo mode. Are they overrated or underrated?

Kate Tessier: Well, for me it would be overrated, because I like to play with my family and with my friends, so for me, I wouldn't enjoy it, so for me it would be overrated.

Patrick Rauland: Love it.

Kate Tessier: Okay.

Patrick Rauland: Yep, yep. You're doing it right. So, post-apocalyptic games, books, and movies. Are they overrated or underrated?

Kate Tessier: Well, personally it would be underrated, because I love it so much, and there should be more. Like, they should make more games about it. They should make more movies about it. I would be so happy, so yes, underrated.

Patrick Rauland: Love it. And something kind of specific to Kickstarter/board games, how about mailing lists? Are they overrated or underrated?

Kate Tessier: I don't know what you mean here, sorry.

Patrick Rauland: Oh, like an email list. Like, how important is that?

Kate Tessier: Well, I think it's important. Like, as a backer especially, when I'm a fan of a publisher, I want to receive every news and every update, and I will be very happy to receive my email, and I will read it all. So for me, it's very important as a backer.

Patrick Rauland: All right, and since we're recording in fall, pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks, overrated or underrated.

Kate Tessier: Underrated, because I cannot have it right now, and I'm very sad, and I wish I could.

Patrick Rauland: Just stop on by to Denver. I'm sure it's only like a 20-hour flight or something. You can stop by, I'll get you a pumpkin spice latte, and you can fly back.

Kate Tessier: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly what I need to do tomorrow morning, like get a plane flight and just go to Starbucks, and just come back after.

Wrap Up

Patrick Rauland: Love it. Well, thank you for being on the show, Kate.

Kate Tessier: Thanks to you for inviting me. I had a lot of fun. Thank you.

Patrick Rauland: Where can people find you and your game online?

Kate Tessier: Raventales.com is the website, so you can find everything online. We have also Facebook, Raven Tales, so it's not complicated, just Raven Tales, and you are going to find us.

Patrick Rauland: Very cool. By the way, listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to this in your ear holes. If you leave a review, Kate will try to summon Cthulhu in your name, which I think is a very kind offer. You can visit the website at indieboardgamedesigners.com. I will have a transcript or a sort of summary of this podcast there. You can follow me on Twitter. I'm @BFTrick, B as in board games, F as in Fun, and Trick as in trick-taking games, and recently, I put up a page on my site all about my progress on my game, called Fry Thief, so if you want to follow along and learn about my upcoming Kickstarter, then you can sign up on the site. That's all from me. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye bye.

Kate Tessier: Bye bye.

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