In our third installment in our Women In Board Games series, David Lowry interviews Amanda Milne of SchilMil Games. Amanda is a five time board game publisher out of New Zealand with great insight into the board game industry. Join us for Amanda’s intriguing answers to our questions.

 

DL – What has been the biggest change in board gaming that you have seen since you starting gaming?

 

AM – The sheer variety and quantity of games coming to market!  There is so much choice, which is great as a gamer, but makes it very hard to stand out in the crowd as a publisher.

I’m also much more aware of the volume of gaming groups, gamer meet-ups and games cafes around. Did they exist before, or am I only newly aware of them? I’m not sure.

 

DL – Why do you think there are so few female game designers out there?

 

AM – Firstly, I think women may be inherently less inclined to be risk takers than men. It could also be related to the disproportionate ratio of male game players.  Also, there are many more creative outlets available to women, which are much easier to access, and acceptably normal!  And with it being so competitive and hard to be taken seriously, I can understand why women are reluctant to get involved.

 

DL – What has been the hardest part of the industry for you?

 

AM – Learning what needs to be done, and how to do it! Multi-disciplines are involved: graphic design, photography, pre-press production and printing to start with, rapidly followed by logistics, marketing, sales and distribution.  Acting as designer, publisher and distributor has been a big learning curve.

I’m lucky that my partner has a background in print publishing and he’s helped with design, photography, video and manufacturing specifications, but a lot of the other areas have been tough. Getting established games distributors to look at games or even answer emails is a herculean task for a small publisher like us in New Zealand.

 

DL – Do you see any real issues as to why there seem to be so few women developing board games today?

 

AM – I think there are more active women than you can see at first glance. How many women are there as co-designers or who are closely involved without having their name on the front of the box?  I suspect it is more than we know about, and will grow as geek culture becomes more mainstream.

 

DL – What has been your greatest achievement so far in this industry to you?

 

AM – Getting Manifest published! Manifest is my most ambitious game and we funded it on Kickstarter.  It was touch and go! My business partner at that time started to get uncomfortable with the risk and we had a number of disagreements before and during the campaign.  I purchased her shares in order to continue and worked sixteen-hour days for a couple of months to keep the project on-track.  Our Kickstarter backers were absolutely fantastic and their support kept me going. I’m proud of what I achieved. The finished product looks great and we’ve had excellent feedback.  Despite all the drama, Manifest was delivered on time, to budget, and I am absolutely thrilled with the positive comments.

 

DL – How many rejections have you had to go through in your board game career?

 

AM – That’s hard to quantify.  Rejection comes in different shapes and sizes! We publish ourselves, so I have not suffered multiple rounds of rejection from major publishers. I have had some pain from play-testers who rubbished early prototypes. We’ve tentatively sent our titles to a couple of the big publishers and heard nothing back.  You need a thick skin and to really believe in what you are doing. Retailers are a tough bunch too but that’s understandable in today’s retail climate.  We’ve now got good retail coverage in New Zealand and we are making progress in Australia the US and UK. Perseverance pays!

 

DL – What got you into playing and designing board games?

 

AM – I’ve always played games as far back as I can remember. As children we had Monopoly, Cluedo and a card game called ‘Happy Families’; at University I started the Backgammon society at my college; I played a lot of Mah Jong and Trivial Pursuit when I lived in London in the 80’s, and also designed a couple of basic drinking/party games at that time.  When my business partner and I started designing Euro games in 2011 it seemed a natural progression.

 

DL – What games have you been a part of?

 

AM – My company SchilMil Games has now published five: Komodo and Manifest are the two board games. The three card games are Raid the Pantry, Kenakalan:  Monkey Mischief, and Granny Wars: A Game of Tit for Tat.

 

DL – What do you think makes a great game?

 

AM – Accessibility,  fun and depth.  Firstly it needs to be picked up and played fairly easily – or taught by an experienced player with a quick explanation so that most of the learning happens once you are playing. It has to have the fun factor too, which for me means little AP, quick turns, a good amount of player interaction, and lastly a strong real world theme that players can engage with. Lastly, there needs to be depth – subtleties and nuances in the game that keep players engrossed.

 

DL – How many games do you currently own?

 

AM – I own about sixty big box games, and another thirty or so small/card games. My collection fills most of a walk in wardrobe that is attached to my home office.

 

DL – Where can people find out more about you?

 

AM – There is a potted bio at my company website www.schilmilgames.com or by following the SchilMil Games Facebook page.
I also have a personal blog but it has been a bit neglected recently. It is http://www.mandy-spot.blogspot.co.nz/
The name “10,000 Whisperin’ and Nobody Listenin” is stolen from Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rains A Gonna Fall. (I am a big Dylan fan)

 

DL – What are some of the things you try to keep in mind when designing games? Does gender matter in the design process?

 

AM –

  • Fun. Fun! If it ain’t fun it ain’t worth bothering with.
  • Simplify the design when they get over-complicated and start to interfere with the Fun!
  • Components – I may make beautiful prototypes, but can they be manufactured?
  • I don’t want people to feel overwhelmed at the start because I know for myself that’s when I give up and look for something else to play

 

I’m not sure if gender matters. Maybe there’s a very subtle difference. Maybe women designers are more likely to consider how the subtle things will be received/tolerated? Maybe women listen to criticisms and are able to discuss potential changes without it damaging their egos? Then again I know some women who don’t handle that very well either!

 

 

DL – I know the topic of sexism is out there. Do you think there is sexism in the industry? If so, how do we combat it?

 

AM – Yes there is. I have sometimes felt that I am regarded as a second rate designer before people have even bothered to assess my games, although this may also be mixed up with a kind of inverted snobbery where some people in this country are of the view if it is designed in New Zealand it mustn’t be any good.  I hope my activities are starting to break these views down, both for sexism and countryism!

 

DL – What board game do you wish you had designed?

 

AM – That’s a hard one, there are so many. I would have to choose ‘Survive. Escape from Atlantis’. I only discovered this thirty- year old game a few months ago. It has something for everyone: tile laying, dice rolling, memory skill as well as elements of cooperation (you can hop on an opponent’s boat for a ride to safety) plus plenty of ‘take that’, and a limited play time (when the volcano tile is revealed, the remaining island explodes and the game ends). The recently reissued version has lovely components and is great fun.

 

DL – What types of board games do you tend to gravitate to when you purchase them?

 

AM – Games that look aesthetically appealing and don’t involve zombies, cthulhu or warfare. They will play in around an hour or less, are not too abstract and that I think I’ll have a good chance of persuading my family and friends to play with me. The fun factor is very important in my circle. Sometimes I’ve fallen in love with a game by playing it online and ended up buying the physical copy – Tokaido was one of those.

 

DL – Where do you see the future of board game publication going? Will the Kickstarter craze be able to sustain itself and will the demand be there for so many new games coming out so often?

 

AM – With so many games of varying worth, I think people may start to become disillusioned with what they see on Kickstarter. Unless there is a major increase in awareness about modern board games I don’t think the industry can support more and more small publishers. Having said that, I do believe there is a resurgence happening, amongst parents desperate to get their kids away from the Playstation and more generally, peoples’ desire to have some genuine face-to-face social interaction. The Internet can be a lonely place!

 

DL – What tips do you have for a beginning board game designer?

 

AM –

  • Make a prototype and start testing it. Once family and friends are having fun, extend tests to friends of friends, then people who don’t know you at all. Once they are having fun you’ll know if it’s a goer.
  • Read about the industry and how it ticks. I started with Brian Tinsman’s “Game Inventor’s Guidebook” – it is a really helpful starting point.
  • Read blogs and Facebook groups. I especially recommend Jamey Stegmeier’s blog and James Mathe’s one.
  • Play lots of games so you know what is out there already

 

DL – What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten about this industry?

 

AM – That self publishing is a long hard road to take, but the only way to have a game turn out the way you want, and to be sure of its publication.

 

DL – Do you work with other designers? What are pros and cons of doing so?

 

AM – Yes, I have always worked with another designer on each game. It is mostly all positive: it is invaluable having a second party to bounce and grow ideas with, and to share the hard labour. The only downside is when you reach an impasse and neither party will give in.  I am pretty easy going and a flexible negotiator but unfortunately these qualities are not universal, so it still can end in tears!
Now that I am running the business solo, I have to make the effort to engage with play-testers at an earlier stage than when it was a partnership. The next game will most likely be my first officially solo design; in reality Manifest was 90% my work despite the dual design credits on the box.

 

DL – How many games have you designed and scrapped because they didn’t meet your standards?

 

AM – All five of my published games (except one of the card games) have left behind them iterations that are nothing like the final published game. In the case of Manifest, there are three well-tested prototypes that are all quite different in terms of the core game mechanics. The mechanics were tested and scrapped and re- developed over a two-year period while the theme and goal of the game was constant.

Apart from those there are three rough prototypes that have not (yet) made it to the final stage, but give them time….

 

I want to thank Amanda Milne of SchilMil Games for taking the time to interview with. It was most certainly our honor and pleasure to interview her.

 

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