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Patrick Rauland: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Indie Board Game Designers podcast, where 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've learned along the way. My name is Patrick Rauland, and today I'll be talking to Liberty Kifer, who designed Crystallo, which is a Solitaire puzzle game. Now we're going to talk about that game Crystallo, and how much money it raised and how well it's done on Kickstarter, then we're also going to talk about what happens after you have an initial success on Kickstarter or with your game, so stick around for that because I'm really excited to chat about a different topic after that. Liberty, welcome to the show.
Liberty Kifer: Hi. Nice to talk to you, Patrick.
Patrick: I'd like to start with a lightning round game to introduce you to the audience. Cool?
Liberty: Yeah, totally cool.
Patrick: All right. What is your favorite mythical creature?
Liberty: I was obsessed with dragons growing up, so that would have to be– Am I supposed to be fast?
Patrick: No, not that fast.
Liberty: OK yeah, dragons. But I also really loved the jackalope. I'm from Montana, so got to love the jackalope.
Patrick: You got to love those made-up animals, yeah. Now I got to ask you an important question about dragons. Do dragons have four arms and two wings, or do they have two legs and then two arm wings?
Liberty: I'm going to have to go with four legs and two wings because I find the other ones creepy.
Patrick: Yes, great. I feel like the other dragons are somehow inferior. So, great. I'm glad you like the cool type of dragon.
Patrick: So in lots of games– Your game, Crystallo, has lots of gems and we're going to be talking about those. In lots of games, gems have magical properties, so what is a magical property you would want from a gem?
Liberty: I guess this is weird, but I would want one that you could plant it and then it would make a tree that would grow more gems.
Liberty: [First thing I'd want].
Patrick: Like a money tree gem, I like it.
Patrick: Very cool. Then what is a game you would play with someone every single time at a convention?
Liberty: I will always play Texas Hold 'em if it's available. That's the one game I'm truly competitive about, so I would probably always go for that. But I hope that I'll get to play a bunch of games that I haven't played.
How Did You Get Into Board Games and Board Game Design?
Patrick: Great. Yeah, that makes sense. I have played Texas Hold 'em I think one time, and I was easily the first person out. I did very badly. So, I don't know what skills you have, but they're not the skills that I have. All right. So first real question is, how did you get into board games and board game design?
Liberty: I had never really thought about it, and then my kids and I made up a car game. I'm saying, “Car game,” not “Card game.” But when we got home from this trip, we were talking about how fun that was, and we decided we wanted to try to make a card game out of it so that we could play it with other people. So we started working on that, and I still have that game pretty much complete, but it's been on the back burner since I ended up working on Crystallo and that took me in a different direction. But yeah, my kids are the reason I got into it, for sure.
Patrick: That's very cool. I think you are the first person to have that reason on the show, to where your kids got you into it, and it wasn't something you did on your own.
Liberty: Really? That's cool.
Tell Me About Crystallo
Patrick: Yeah, it's very cool. OK, so tell me about Crystallo. Just give us the 2-3 sentence description of the game, and then where did it–? Tell us where did it come from, where did the idea come from?
Liberty: OK. Crystallo is a Solitaire puzzle-y card game. It's played with a little 54 card deck and some pretty gems. It uses site collection and pattern building. You're matching up these crystals in certain ways to build out patterns in order to free these mythical creatures that have been trapped by a wicked black dragon, and then if you free all the creatures, you get to go ahead and try to trap the black dragon in his lair. So, that's Crystallo.
Liberty: As far as how it came about, I was spending time on BoardGameGeek working on this other game I was telling you about, I was working on with my kids, and I saw the contests. The solo Print & Play contests and I was immediately really fascinated by that because I didn't know that there was such a thing as solo board games. That was totally new to me, and I really couldn't imagine what game I would play by myself, so I just wanted to get involved on the level of understanding what the contests are like and getting to know more people. But I kept thinking about it and kept thinking about it, and finally one day I just got a deck of cards out and started fiddling with an idea. Crystallo happened pretty quickly after I started playing around with it.
Patrick: OK, so you have– So you're randomly on BoardGameGeek, and you randomly see a design contest challenge thing about a Solitaire game, you go “That's cool. I didn't even know you can make one of those.” Presumably, you've never played one with the exception of maybe Solitaire itself.
Liberty: I played a lot of puzzle-y apps online, like Solo, but I had never played one physically, I guess except for Solitaire.
What Inspired You?
Patrick: Interesting. I don't play many puzzle games on my phone, was that an inspiration for you? The puzzle-y game on your phone that helped you make a good–?
Patrick: Very cool.
Liberty: Definitely. I feel like that was probably– That and I had just played SET for the first time, which I fell in love with immediately. The spatial aspect puzzle part of it was just really, and I don't know, the pattern stuff just really caught my attention and my imagination. So that was a big inspiration for how the mechanics worked, but as far as the feel of playing it I wanted it to have that yummy, sparkly app feel to it. I think I was a big inspiration for the look in the gems.
Patrick: Yeah. It is very sparkly.
Liberty: Definitely. It's very girly. I didn't realize that people were going to– That so many people would go for it. I was making something that I would like and thought my girls would like.
Patrick: So I normally do– I have a couple of follow up questions on Crystallo, but I want to take a little detour here. Were you surprised–? When you say it was “Girly,” did you think that guys would never buy it? Or did you think– Is that right?
Liberty: Honestly, I when I was first designing it I wasn't even thinking beyond just putting something in the contest. I just designed it basically– Like, my kids love the fantasy creatures, and they helped me pick out what was going to be in it. I was doing the drawings for something that they would enjoy, and then because I was thinking about them while I was doing it I thought that there would be a lot of these male game designers in the contest who would look at that and think “That's for kids,” or “That's too girly,” or I don't know. I was just really surprised that people responded to it the way they did.
Patrick: Very cool. It's nice to have your expectations exceeded.
Liberty: For sure, yeah. It was a great surprise.
What Design Challenges Did You Run Into?
Patrick: Did you have any design challenges with the game? Was there something that took you a while to figure out?
Liberty: I can say that the first iteration of the game that I put together, it was all played in the hand. It was a fairly different game at that point, but I ran it by my oldest daughter who is 12, and she said “It feels boring and predictable.” So yeah, I had to go back to the drawing board a little bit and see where it was wrong. I ended up going on BoardGameGeek and asking, and I think the one player guild “What are you looking for when you when you play a solo game?” Because I didn't know, I didn't know what people expected from them. I had never played a solo board game, so then I was able to take that feedback and rework it pretty quickly into basically what it ended up being.
Patrick: One of things I think we were talking about ahead of time is basically the core of the game was developed in two days. Is that right?
Liberty: Yeah, as far as having a playable prototype that worked like Crystallo works. Yeah, I had like a throwaway theme, but the game was built basically in two days.
Patrick: That's pretty amazing. I think we were talking and chatting about this just a little bit right before the show, but it seems like maybe, I don't know, 20-30% of my guests have a game that works in a couple of days or a week, or the first playtester or something like that. Then maybe 60% of people don't. It's a struggle, but they work on their game design for a year or two. So it's pretty cool that you're in that 20-30% that finds something super interesting right off the hook.
Liberty: Yeah. I'm still definitely feeling fortunate that it came together that quickly, and although I think it does– We'll talk about it more on this podcast, but it does give me that little bit of doubt, like “What if lightning only strikes once?”
How Did You Create the Artwork?
Patrick: Yes, we are going to get there in just a minute. The other thing I want to point out about Crystallo. You made the art, and not only did you make the art, I believe you also learned Illustrator to make the art. Why would you do such a crazy thing? I say that in a good way. What is the word I'm looking for? “Crazy” is the wrong word. Why would you do such an audacious thing? That's a lot of work. I think it's remarkable, in a good way.
Liberty: I had been playing with Illustrator on a casual basis up until that point, and then I had used it a little bit on this other game I was working on, but in a really simple way. The artwork for that was a lot simpler, so I had to teach myself a lot during the process of making the art for Crystallo and, I don't know. I guess I like that challenge. I am stubborn, a lot of people would go online and find tutorials, and they would learn how to do things from watching other people who know how to do them. I'm just not that way. I have to get in there and start pushing buttons. I don't know why that is. It's a little masochistic.
Patrick: Did that also only take you two days, or are–? Do you–?
Liberty: No, but I did bust the artwork out fast because I didn't have my idea for the solo game until we were just a couple of weeks out from the deadline. I think I entered two days before the contest deadline, but I had spent about two weeks on the artwork before that.
Patrick: You learned Illustrator and made all the illustrations in two weeks?
Liberty: Like I said, I had some background with Illustrator, but it was– I had to learn a lot, for sure.
Patrick: That is super impressive. That is very impressive. I give you kudos..
Liberty: Thank you.
What Happened After Your Success on Kickstarter?
Patrick: OK, so the thing I am actually– The reason I reached out to you is you had this post on a Facebook group. By the way listeners, I will share a screenshot of the post in the show notes, so if you want to see the whole post, it's in the show notes.
Patrick: But you basically said, “I'm [inaudible]. I had a great time at the designing game-winning contest, running a successful Kickstarter campaign.” Which by the way, we haven't mentioned yet. I think you raised $40,000 dollars for your game, which is very impressive and lucky. Then you talk about how you're working on the next game, and you feel all this doubt, you feel a bit anxious. I think the thing that people usually call that is imposter syndrome, and I'd like to know, could you talk about–? Maybe talk about what exactly you were feeling and what happened when you posted this and that whole story.
Liberty: Yeah. I'd had this building feeling of, I don't know, I was avoiding working on the new project, and I was feeling stressed out. I was trying to figure out why, because I was excited about this new game I was working on, and then I just stopped, and I couldn't get myself going again.
Liberty: I'm just one of those types that it's all or nothing. I can't do a little bit. I have to– When I start working, I'll work for five days straight and then take a break, which is OK. I'm learning how to deal with that, but it had been a long time that I hadn't wanted to work on it and I realized that I was having a lot of self-doubt and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself because I had this successful– Way beyond my expectations successful game my first time, and all of a sudden I had people asking me advice, and I got invited to speak on a couple of panels at the convention that I'm doing in October, and it's all really exciting, and I was thrilled. But at the same time, it was like, “I don't know if anyone should be asking me advice. I don't know that I know anything.” I started feeling this pressure of, “What if this next game I'm working on ends up being garbage and what if nobody likes it, and that's the end?” So that's where I was at, and when I feel that way I have to get it off my chest so I can move on.
Patrick: There's 127 comments at the time of this recording, but what was the response there?
Liberty: It was way beyond what I expected. I thought that I'd get a couple of half-hearted “We all go through it, don't worry about it” kind of thing. But there was so many people pouring their hearts out, saying “I've been through this, I know what it's like, I'm so sorry that you're dealing with it, but it's such a normal part of the process. We believe in you, and you're going to do great.” It was touching, and it made me realize what a common experience it is for people in this industry and probably in every creative industry.
Advice for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Patrick: For someone who may be going through this, just some self-doubt, they don't think they can do it. Maybe they want to think, or maybe they didn't, but what would you recommend to someone who's going through that?
Liberty: The best thing that I can recommend is talking to people about it because that was the thing that has taken a weight off of me a little bit. I still have those feelings, but now it's not this secret feeling that I'm carrying around of “I'm not good enough. I don't belong,” or “I don't deserve this.” When you're carrying that around by yourself it magnifies, and it becomes this big real thing that you're hiding, and then you wonder if other people can tell, and that's the imposter syndrome thing. But if you talk about it, and you're like, “I just feel like I don't know what I'm doing.” Then you feel like you can look at that and laugh at it and be like, “OK. This is just a part of life.”
Patrick: Listeners, if you think I know what I'm doing with the podcast, I don't.
Liberty: See, don't you feel better?
Patrick: I feel better. I think it's really good advice, and I think sometimes maybe there's a bunch of contests that I like to participate in. I did good in one of them recently, and I got second place in one contest. In a different contest, I didn't even make the first cut, I was probably the bottom half, and now I'm like, “God. Did I have one good game?”
Patrick: I don't know what the real answer is. I do think talking about it is step one, but I wish there was more steps. I wish there was other than “Just keep going,” and I don't mean in a bad way, but it's like you keep creating and eventually you'll make something else that's worthwhile. That's not a great word, but something like that.
Liberty: Yeah. I think something like the contest thing is also sometimes you're going to have something that resonates with the people who are running in the contest, and sometimes you're not. Maybe you're just a little bit earlier in the process, and you could still have a killer game, you need to spend more time. So I definitely get that with the contests. I've actually, I started entering something in the solo Print & Play contests for this year. That's the game that I want to get back to working on, but yeah I think that definitely added to my own internalized pressure too. Like, “I won it last year. If I don't do OK this year, I'm going to feel terrible.”
Patrick: Yeah. Do worry about being–? What's the term in music? A “One hit wonder.” Do you worry about being one?
Liberty: Yes, absolutely. And that's so silly because when I entered the contest with Crystallo I had no expectations at all. I thought I had put a lot of time into the artwork, so I thought maybe I would take one of the little artwork awards. I did not expect remotely to place for the whole thing, much less win it. So that was a wonderful experience because it was like “No pressure. Just having fun,” and then I realized that it's really hard to go into it that way again after something like that. I don't know what the secret is to finding that.
Patrick: I think we have the first step, and the first step is to chat about it, and then we can figure out the next step after that. But at least the very first step is to be all open and honest about it, so I think it's helpful to hear that. Thank you for sharing.
What Is Your White Whale of Game Design?
Patrick: So, I'm changing gears a little bit. Do you have–? What are other mechanisms you're looking into? What's a white whale, or what's something you've tried to get into a game that you just haven't been able to figure out yet?
Liberty: Yeah, I have– This is a broad thing, I don't know of that is OK.
Patrick: It's fine.
Liberty: But I've had this idea in my head for a long time of a game that rewards creativity and novel thinking, so that's something that is my white whale. I would love to find a way to do that. I always think of that scene in Apollo 13, the one that had all those problems. Anyway, there's a scene in that movie where the people at ground control have to figure out how to make something out of the pieces that are up on the space station. So they are on the shuttle thing, and they have to figure out how to make these two pieces of the ship fit together using what they've got on board, and that's the thinking and the kind of puzzle that I find exciting. If I could find a way to do a cooperative, creative, come up with a solution together in a short timeframe, that kind of a game. If I could figure that out, that would be my white whale.
Patrick: Very cool. Then just randomly, have you seen the movie The Martian?
Liberty: I have, yes.
Patrick: I imagine it ‘s– I don't remember Apollo 13, apparently I watched it too long ago, but is it like that? Where they're like, “OK. He has the rover, so we can take the rover, and we can cut a hole in it. We can do this.” Something like that?
Liberty: Yes. Yeah, exactly. That kind of thinking where it would be different every time, and it would be– Yeah, cooperative. Putting your heads together and brainstorming, it's probably my favorite. It's like the time when I feel most alive is when I'm brainstorming for something, so if I can capture that in a game that would be a big deal.
What Is Holding You Back?
Patrick: For lack of a better word, what's holding you back? That's what I think I want to ask you, are you just waiting for the right design contest? Are you going to wait for this design contest to be done, just so you can focus on that and submit something, then work on something new? Or, what's preventing you from working on it?
Liberty: No, I think with that it's more just one of those ideas that is percolating. I feel like as far as what that looks like mechanically, I'm so far from having an idea that it's just an “In the distance” thing.
Liberty: But it's something that I feel like once I have more experience, and I have more– Or maybe it will just happen that I'll be in the shower one day and I'll have this idea, and this is how we're going to do it. So I'm patient with it, but that's definitely in the back of my mind.
Does Game Design Energize or Exhaust You?
Patrick: Awesome. Then I'm happy we– Listeners, in case you don't know I always chat with my guests about the questions that they want to chat about on the show. One of the ones that you wanted to talk about was, “Does game design energize or exhaust you?”
Liberty: Yeah, I thought that was a really interesting question because I feel like it's both. The way I was explaining that earlier, the way my mind works is that when I'm engaged in something some people call it hyper-focus. I only want to do that thing for days. So when I was working on the artwork for Castello, it was 12 or 14 hour days, and I don't even feel that. It doesn't bother me, I'm barely hungry, and I'm just focused.
Liberty: Then I have to take a week off, like completely off and do nothing because that's just the way I operate. So it makes it hard sometimes because it does energize me at the time, and then it exhausts me after. So it's both, and I have to learn to work with that because if I can't, that's also part of my problem. Though I've had so much going on this summer, it's just little personal stuff. We're renovating, and we've got neighborhood kids here all the time, and it's just been busy. So if I know that I can't devote several days in a row to something, it's hard for me to even want to put any time in on it because I know that's what's going to happen. I know I'm going to dive in.
Patrick: So it's almost like it's energizing, however, you need to have certain requirements to get started.
Liberty: Yeah, I have to be able to know that I can set that time aside and that I'm not going to be constantly interrupted, and I need to be able to work because I get cranky.
What's a Resource You'd Recommend?
Patrick: Very cool. OK, so I like to ask people these similar three questions. One of which is, what is a resource you'd recommend to another indie game designer? Usually something free, usually something free like a book or something cheap like a book, an audio book, blog post, a podcast other than this one, stuff like that.
Liberty: I think BoardGameGeek, the design forums are underrated. I feel bad because I have spent so little time there recently because I've been– I've gotten in all these Facebook groups now which are very convenient. But I think that I would not have been able to be where I am right now if I hadn't started on BoardGameGeek and just spent time on the forums reading questions and answering questions when I could. Reading other people's rulebooks, there's so much going on there all the time, as far as problems that people are working on. It's a really helpful community, the website is terrible, but I hear they're working on it.
Patrick: Is there a specific forum? Because– I have a web design background, so every time I look at it, my eyes bleed.
Liberty: Yes, I understand.
Patrick: So is there a specific forum that you can point me to so I don't have to browse for it? Like, is there a specific game design forum? Or is it–?
Liberty: Yeah, there's a game design section. There's a few forums within that, there's board game design, and then there's art, I know there was– And then there's the contest threads and the work in progress. The work in progress thing is super useful.
Liberty: Yeah. You make a work in progress thread on there, and I've had to do it for contests, so that's why I know about it, but if you make a work in progress thread, you can catalog your process of making the game and people will help you with that. I got an incredible amount of help and feedback from people there. I had a girl put my Print & Play together for me.
Liberty: She's good with– She's a professional Print & Play maker. She does amazing work. But I had no idea what format to put that in, so if you ask for help people are so willing to help, which is amazing.
What's the Best Money You've Spent?
Patrick: Very cool. I've considered a work in progress thread for a while, and I just have never pulled the trigger, but I might have to do that after your advice. So, thank you. Then I'm a frugal person, and I try not to spend money when I don't have to. What is something that you spent money on for game design that was worth every single cent?
Liberty: Definitely, prototypes. I think getting a nice prototype to play with was worth it. I can't recommend DriveThruCards enough.
Liberty: I have not used a bunch of services, but I like them, and their customer service is amazing. But also, spending money on getting a lot of prototypes to send out to reviewers. The nice thing about Crystallo is that it's not very expensive and it's not expensive to ship because it's so small. But yeah, I sent out 20 copies prior to my Kickstarter, and that was definitely the best money I spent because I didn't spend anything on advertising and I still had my game popping up everywhere because I had sent out a bunch of copies. So, I definitely think that was my best investment.
What Does Success Look Like?
Patrick: Awesome. Very good to hear that. Then I think my favorite wrap up question is, what does success in the board game world look like to you?
Liberty: Gosh, that's a good one. I think what I would like to see is I'd like to look back and see a catalog of games that has a common thread that people would recognize, where they're like, “That's a Liberty Kifer game.” Where like, if they knew one of my games they would know what my other games are because there's something– Because that would make me feel like there was something that I brought to the table that was unique to me, and I don't know, maybe that's egotistical. But you want to feel like you're contributing something that only you could have, that's unique.
Patrick: Very cool. I love that. I'm trying to think– I'm so sorry. I was off in daydream land. I was like, “Would I want to be recognized for artwork, or would I want to be recognized for mechanisms or packaging? I don't know.” Which one would you like? Would you want to be recognized for maybe your illustration style, or mechanics, or the size of the game, or Solitaire games? Or what?
Liberty: The artwork is a big part of it for me, obviously. If people– I actually would love at some point to do artwork for other people's games too. Just throwing that out there. But yeah, I think also just the feel of it, like “How does it make you feel when you play it?” I think if I could create something that is consistent like that, like some of these other game designers that you hear about where it's one of their games. You know because it feels like one of their games. That's very amorphous, and I don't know how I'll know if I've achieved that.
Patrick: No, that's great, and you can figure out the details later. That sounds awesome.
Overrated / Underrated
Patrick: So the actual ending, sorry listeners if it's your first time. The real ending is this silly little game called Overrated/Underrated. Have you heard about it?
Liberty: I don't know.
Patrick: Excellent. You kind of already played it in this episode where you said the BGG forms are underrated, so I'm going to give you a word or phrase, and you have to tell me if you think it is over or underrated. Make sense?
Liberty: Should I give a reason?
Patrick: Yes, a one or two-sentence reason why. So if I said “Peanut butter and jelly,” you're going to say “Underrated because they're delicious,” something like that.
Patrick: So I'm going to go with the original Solitaire card game that you can play with a regular deck of cards, overrated or underrated?
Liberty: I'm already going to break the game. I'm going to say it's appropriately rated. I feel like it's as popular as it should be, which is to say it's OK.
Patrick: What I find great about this is a lot of guests go, “Can I say appropriately rated?” And then I say, “No.” Then you just did it. That is great, and I love it. We're going to stick with it. I'm going to go with the archetypical Philosopher's Stone, overrated or underrated? Just for listeners who don't know, that's a thing that can turn metal into gold.
Liberty: I'm going to say overrated.
Patrick: You think turning random metal into gold is overrated?
Liberty: You know what? I feel like when you said it the second time it sunk in. I'm going to say underrated. Because gold prices are good right now.
Patrick: OK, cool. I have an opinion, but it's not necessarily– It doesn't have to line up. We can have disagreeing opinions.
Liberty: I was looking at it from a spiritual angle. I'm like, “Wealth. I could use it.”
Patrick: Interesting? Let's go with the third one here, how about just all BGG contests in general? Are they overrated or underrated?
Liberty: Way, underrated. Great experience.
Patrick: The last one, just because I thought of the Philosopher's Stone. How about Harry Potter? Overrated or underrated?
Liberty: I'm going to lose friends. Highly overrated.
Patrick: Wow. Not just overrated, but highly overrated?
Liberty: Yeah, I apologize, but I got to be honest.
Patrick: You've got to give me at least one sentence why.
Liberty: I don't know. I think they're good, I don't think– I think there's series of books, and there's a lot of better stuff out there. That's all, I think.
Patrick: OK. Very cool. Liberty, thank you so much for being on the show.
Liberty: Thank you for having me, it was a lot of fun.
Patrick: Where can people find you and your games online?
Liberty: Anywhere that ‘s– I'm Light Heart Games everywhere. So you can e-mail me at Liberty@LightHeartGames.com. You can find me on Facebook as Light Heart Games. Twitter, Instagram, everywhere. Light Heart Games, super easy to remember.
Patrick: Very cool. Listeners, if you like this podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you leave a review, Liberty said she would help you find your spirit animal, which sounds fantastic to me. You got to take her up on that. You can visit the site at IndieBoardGameDesigners.com, you can follow me on Twitter, I'm @BFTrick. Until next time everyone, happy designing. Bye-bye.