Designing Women: Kika MacFarlane

“Reach out to everyone. I mean everyone… People are so welcoming and kind, and in my experience, always happy to share advice.”

Currently an undergraduate student in British Columbia, designer Kika MacFarlane is balancing studies with game design. The avid skier, hiker, and dog lover answers our questions about recently successful Hoot, party games, and product design.

What got you started playing board games?

I am still relatively new to the board game world, but I’ve always been passionate about word games and party games. As a kid, I grew up obsessively playing games with my little brother. We would play whatever we could find on our shelves, anything from Scrabble to Sorry, Life, Blokus, and Cranium. As I got older, this transformed into a passion for Bananagrams, and a love of games like Cards Against Humanity. There is nothing I love more than getting a good group of friends together and laughing about a game!

What got me into game design is a bit different. I am an undergraduate student studying product design, graphic design, and social psychology. During a product design class, I was given the task of creating a board game. I quickly realized that both creativity and psychology are involved in game design, and I fell in love!

What’s your favorite board game?

My favorite board game of all time is Scrabble – as someone who’s obsessed with word play, the classic scrabble never gets old. I am very competitive about it.

Tell us about Hoot.

Hoot is a party game that brings out your witty side. The rules are simple and straightforward: players create acronyms using random strings of letters, to best fit a category. For example, if the letters were GIRLS and the category was New weird board game, you could write “Godzilla Initiation: Realistic LARP sessions!” or “Going Inside Rapunzel’s Lair… Snap!”. Each round one player is the judge, and they decide which acronym is best for the round. 

I’m passionate about it because it produces the same easy to learn and raunchy humor as Cards Against Humanity, but it requires creativity and produces a game that is different each time you play. It started out as a road trip game I played in the car- every time I saw a license plate, I would turn the letters into a phrase in the same way. When I realized what a fun party game it would make, I started working on it, and quickly became obsessed with it. So here we are a year later, and it’s been successful on Kickstarter and soon to be in the hands of people who will hopefully think it’s a Hoot, like I do! I couldn’t be more excited to share it.

What inspired you to develop Hoot into a board game?

I’ve never played a game like Hoot before I created it – it truly makes me belly laugh and always surprises me with what people write down. I continued developing it into a board game at first because I wanted to keep playing with as many people as possible. Then, I realized that I wanted everyone to be able to laugh this hard! I have always been a supporter of the game community on Kickstarter, and so from watching how other games did it and grew in the community, I felt inspired to follow in their footsteps.

What do you think about the design/playtesting process? What do you like?

I came to the world of board game design with a strong design background, so that part of the process came pretty easy to me! I pride myself in making good designs, and with Hoot, I wanted to put the time and effort in to create something quality that I would be proud of. I put a lot of thought into the colors, fonts, and marketing materials used, in addition to the design of the game itself! When it came to designing the actual gameplay, that was much more challenging. It seemed at times like there was infinite possibilities of directions I could take, and an endless stream of suggestions and criticisms from different people. What ended up helping me a lot was setting a broader goal: I knew I wanted to keep Hoot as simple as possible, and make it a game that would be easy for people outside of the board game community to connect with and love, too. Once I knew what my goal was, creating rules and pieces was much easier because I had the guiding light of keeping it simple.

What was also lucky was that I loved Hoot- so when it came to play testing, I couldn’t hide my enthusiasm and was easily able to coerce friends into playing it with me! I found it challenging at first to find groups of people outside of my coerced friends to play test it- but once I started reaching out to people, I found people to be very kind and receptive!

Whats your favorite game/type of game?

My favorite games are still the party games that bring people together and make everyone laugh. My current obsession is Monikers- it’s such an awesome game that never fails to have everyone rolling on the floor in laughter at the end!

Do you think party games fill a particular niche in the community?

Absolutely! Party games are super interesting because they don’t fit in with most of the popular games in the board gaming world, but are nice gateway games to get people who don’t play a lot of table top games more interested. I find party games to be the perfect way to cross the threshold between hard core table top gamers and people outside of that world, because their something everyone can play that doesn’t have a steep learning curve, and is light hearted and fun.

Any challenges as a woman game designer?

I have definitely faced some challenges, both as a female game designer, and as someone who is young and new to the industry! I’ve found myself in a weird position where my game is a light-hearted party game, that doesn’t connect as easily to the community of passionate table top gamers. It’s hard to be taken seriously as female designer, and I think the fact that my game is so different from most on the market makes that a little more challenging too! I was definitely intimidated by the game community at first, because it was so male dominated. For the most part, I’ve found it to be very welcoming and kind, and I’ve found amazing women to connect with through the industry as well!

Are you finding the community supportive? 

Absolutely! Starting as an outsider, I didn’t really know where to find the community at first. But once I started reaching out to board game cafe’s in my area, poking around on the internet, and finding facebook groups to join, I realized there’s an incredible community of people who love playing and designing games! Everyone I’ve talked to has been so supportive and helpful, and I’ve loved learning from other people and other projects.

What advice would you give new designers?

Reach out to everyone. I mean everyone. Networking, before you start to do it, can be the most intimidating thing. But the best advice I received well before launching Hoot was to reach out to everyone, no matter how small the connection, and ask advice or start a conversation. People are so welcoming and kind, and in my experience, always happy to share advice.

You can follow Kika on Twitter and Facebook!