Designing Women: Adi Slepack and Liz Roche

The scene – a small group of black clad mourners gather to bid farewell to a friend. Muffled sobs fill the room as they reflect on the rich life tapestry of the deceased.

Not really.

In Someone Has Died you’ll play one of the wacky folks coming out of the woodwork to claim a piece of the bits and bobbles left behind. This ridiculous, irreverent, quirky little social game is the brain child of Adi Slepack and Liz Roche.

How did you get started playing board games?

Adi: Honestly, it was probably Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop that got me interested in exploring the world of board games that lies beyond Monopoly and Candyland. That plus going to college and finding people who were actually interested in playing these games with me.

Liz: I always played board games with my friends, but like Adi, I didn’t really branch out beyond the classics until college. That’s when I started exploring lesser known titles and the whole indie tabletop scene.

What are your favorite games?

Adi: I really like Betrayal at the House on the Hill. The replay-ability and narrative environment of that game blows my mind. Some other games I enjoy include Mysterium, Forbidden Island, and Visitor in Blackwood Grove.

Liz: Lately I’ve been playing Coup and Love Letter a ton. I also really love Gloom and Dixit.

What was the catalyst for Someone Has Died?

Adi: In my last semester of college, the film program teamed up with the computer science department and had the university’s first video game courses. Mine focused more on design aesthetics, so we didn’t learn programming and made tabletop games. Someone Has Died was born as an assignment to make a social game. We thought of games like werewolf and mafia, where people die every round and eventually decided to start with the dead person. The narrative of a will arbitration shortly followed.

Liz: I actually started out as a fan of Someone Has Died before I officially joined the team. I got to see Someone Has Died after it was born, but before it became what it is now. So for me, I saw this great, fun thing, and I knew pretty immediately that I wanted in on it.

Thoughts on the design/playtesting process?

Adi: It’s a really rewarding and fascinating process. Like many other artistic mediums, you at some point release your thing into the world and it becomes what the consumer makes of it, like how a reader interprets a book or a moviegoer perceives a film. But with games, there’s an added level of control that has to go into mediating the audience’s reception because it’s interactive. So it becomes really important to design something that reads in a way that encourages the kind of interaction you want. Getting feedback from players and other designers is incredibly helpful and at times eye-opening. After a while, you see your game-baby in a very clear and particular way, so when someone comes in with a new perspective, you think, “oh, duh, why couldn’t I see this before?” It’s also rewarding to get to the point where you get feedback but are able to say, “that’s interesting, but it’s not what I’m trying to do with this particular game.” And that’s a cool feeling because then you know you’ve got a product you’re super confident in.

Liz: My favorite part of playtesting has definitely been seeing how differently people respond to the game. Whenever we made changes or introduced new elements, I always had pre-formed ideas in my head as to how players would respond to them, and there were so many times when people took things in directions that I never could have imagined. It’s somewhat humbling, to realize that the players thought of something that you the developer didn’t, but it’s also so exciting to still be surprised after working on the game for this long.

Are you finding the community supportive?

Adi: Absolutely. The design community has been so warm and helpful towards us. They give us advice before we even know to ask for it– and not in a mansplain-y way. It’s in a “I’ve been where you are and want to make it less confusing for you” kind of way. And it’s lovely.

Liz: The people we’ve met have been so eager to help us, and a lot of them go out of their way to do it. I never expected that when we started this project, but I can honestly say that meeting other indie game designers has been my favorite part of this whole process.

Any challenges as women game designers?

Adi: We’ve been lucky in that a lot of the pressure that comes with being a female game designer has been a result of internal rather than external pressures. The overwhelming majority of the men we’ve met in the community haven’t been condescending or unpleasant towards us. Just the nature of being a minority in the field introduces a slight representational pressure; that we have to be really good at this so that people don’t see us and think, “yeah, that’s why there aren’t women here.” It’s especially disheartening when we hear about things like how people are responding to Anita Sarkeesian being a featured speaker at Gen Con. I feel lucky to have not encountered that kind of close-mindedness. Plus, we’ve also been fortunate to meet a bunch of incredibly talented and kind female game designers who egg us on and keep us inspired.

Liz: We’ve never had any big incidents, just small, frustrating ones, like realizing we’re the only women in the room or having someone constantly speaking over us. There are a lot of casual, misguided comments that on their own might seem like nothing, but when they happen again and again and again, that’s when it becomes a problem. But we look out for each other, and like Adi said, we’ve met so many lovely people who look out for us too​​​​​​​​.

What are you working on right now?

We’ve sold out of our first print run of Someone Has Died! We have ordered a second and are expecting it to arrive in the Spring 🙂 Also,
 we’ve got a new prototype we’ve just started testing out! 

What advice would you give other women designers?

Adi: Please make games and come join us! The space eagerly needs your ideas and perspective!

Liz: I think Adi said it perfectly. Do it! Even if you’re worried there’s no space for you, there is.

Games – hobby or lifestyle?

Adi: Both? Unintentionally, perhaps. But I’m definitely like “the games person” to others now. Even though I’m a lot less well versed than I probably should be. But I love having designer friends and seeing them at conventions. It’s definitely taken over to an extent. I’m fine with it.

Liz: I’d say hobby, though I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how my game life and my non-game life intersect and inform each other. I don’t think I’d be able to approach games and game design the same way if I didn’t have other huge aspects of my life to call on.

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