Designing Women: Catherine Stippell

Players sit around a table, a board game between them, trying to emerge victorious. The scenario is the same in board game cafes and conventions around the globe, but in this case there’s one major difference – in Nyctophobia, the players are blindfolded and have to play entirely via touch and verbal communication.

Designed for her blind uncle, Catherine Stippell used a game mechanic to teach players about accessibility as well as create something that could be enjoyed by anyone regardless of their visual acuity.

How did you get pulled into the hobby?

I got into board gaming because an actress that I liked was on Geek & Sundry’s Tabletop. I had been looking into what else she was in and found her episode. I didn’t care much for the game they played, but I watched through the season and discovered Pandemic. I’m not that great at being competitive so I fell in love with this strange idea of cooperative games. And it snowballed from there!

What prompted you to start designing games?

In terms of design, I sort of just fell into it. I saw the challenges my uncle had with these great games and I wanted to make something for him. Also I really loved writing when I was younger. I wanted to construct these big worlds with their own rules but I never could get myself to write a story in the world. But game design means I can build these worlds and the players are the ones who are writing the story.

What inspired the design of Nyctophobia?

Nyctophobia came about because I have a blind uncle. After getting into the hobby, I’d bring games when we would hang out with family. In order for him to play, the game had to be modified in some way. So I decided to make a game he could play straight out of the box. Nyctophobia was born. Through wearing black-out glasses, sighted people had to adapt to the game rather than my uncle.

How do you feel about the design and playtesting process?

I really love the design process. I’m currently in school for Biomedical Engineering and the iterative design and collection of data from playtesting just tickles my science brain. Playtesting has really been great, especially because of Unpub. I’ve been going to Unpub for three years now. I am definitely on the introverted, shy side and Unpub has allowed for a great place to get a lot of playtesting done that I couldn’t do otherwise.

Have you found the community supportive?

The community has been really supportive. My local game stores closed a bit ago, both the one near my home and my college, so the only time I’m really interacting with the community is at Unpub and the rare occasion that I’ll pop up on twitter. I’ve made some good friends through Unpub who’ve been really excited about Nyctophobia.

Any challenges?

My dad has been very supportive of my game designing, and so all the conventions I’ve been to, the Unpubs and Gen Con, he’s been with me. He’s not really a gamer, just a proud dad. I am rather young, and a female. So I’ve had some conversations directed toward him sometimes and a few times Nyctophobia was referred to along the lines of “the game by the young girl and her father.” This Unpub I had gotten to bring along my friend Kristine so my table was female run and my dad disappeared to try some games so there weren’t any confusion or assumptions this year.

Whats up next for you?
Foliage is my newest game that I’m working on. It’s a small card game where each player controls a caterpillar on a leaf. The way it works is each card represents a leaf and you are trying to navigate the leaves to your caterpillar so they can be scored for points. To do so, you’ll rotate the leaves around different points on the cards. And there’s a dexterity bit where you can throw leaves out into the play area.

Keep up with Catherine on Facebook and Twitter.