Designing Women: Fertessa Scott

“I think if we can be considerate of the people we come in contact with, and learn to exercise more patience, it could go a long way toward fostering new gamers and supporting a healthy community.” ~Fertessa Scott

Fertessa Scott leapt into the industry via Board Game Workshop’s design contest last year, combining a renaissance artist’s eye, a love of mechanics, and a pinch of impishness to create fun, accessible games.

What got you started playing board games? 

I have always enjoyed board games since I was young. It was my favorite way to spend time with my family, and as I grew up, my friends and strangers. I was only exposed to the mass market games, and didn’t get a taste of something new until 3 or 4 years ago when I was introduced to Catan, Betrayal on a Hill, and Sushi Go. Even then, I wasn’t really aware of the hobby. I was just pleasantly surprised to find some new amazing games existed. It wasn’t until a year and a half ago, when I started working on my game, that I discovered the hobby, and the hundreds of games I’d been missing out on.

What are you working on right now? 

Currently, I’m working on my first game, Book of Villainy. I’ve been working on it for a year and a half, and I’m finally getting it to the point where I’m ready to put it in front of publishers and try to really get it out there. I am also just starting to prototype a deckbuilder with a friend, where you build your own pop idol group, which I’m excited to work on. I like to give my attention to one thing at a time however, so I’m moving more slowly with that while I put the finishing touches on Book of Villainy.

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

The designing process is really cathartic for me. I’m the type of person who is really motivated by feedback, and while I can express myself creatively in many ways, board game design has by far been the most satisfying. The true feedback someone may hold back can still be seen through body language alone. I can get immediate feedback if I’m just bold enough to ask someone to play. 

It’s difficult for me at times, because I’m an introvert and starting conversations is probably my biggest weakness. I’ve only gotten as far as I have in the hobby because kind extroverts, like David Lupo (designer of Addictive Alchemy), adopt me and do the introductions for me. By far, flagging strangers down to try and get them to playtest my game is perhaps the most awkward bane of my existence. Ironically, perhaps, interacting with people and just witnessing the kindness and selflessness of people in the hobby is my absolute favorite thing. I would be absolutely nowhere without those people. 

What inspired Book of Villainy?

Two things really. My friends always say I look like I’m up to no good. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been targeted in games I’d play because I naturally look mischievous. So I wanted a game where everyone is supposed to be evil, and everyone should look like they’re up to no good, so I can’t be singled out. I also hold a deep love for villain character designs, because villains often looked the coolest to me. So it got me excited to think about what my villains would look like and what ridiculous costumes I would dress them in. I ended up taking the comical rather than cool route, but I’m still excited to see how their final forms turn out.

Theme first or Mechanic when you’re designing? And conversely – which do you look for first when playing? 

Hands down, I’m all about theme. I get inspired by whatever themes I pick, and the theme informs the mechanics I pick and how I choose to use them. I am still relatively new to the hobby, so it wouldn’t even be possible for me to go mechanic first. I’m still learning and playing new mechanics. When I find a mechanic I really enjoy I do think about what kind of game could I make using that mechanic, but once I find a theme, I flesh everything out based on the theme. And during the brainstorm I might find that the mechanic feels forced, so I’ll discard it and just focus on what the theme is trying to do.

When it comes to playing games, I enjoy games with theme, but how I pick games is situational.If I’m at a meetup and people are asking what kind of game I want to play, it’s easier for me to say, a game with worker placement, rather than going box by box to pick a game. If I’m at a con looking for a new game to learn, then I’ll go by theme and hope that I find a gem. So I guess, if the intention is purely to play and socialize, then I’ll go by mechanic. If the intention is to play because I’m interested in buying a new game, I’ll look at theme first.

Whats your favorite game?

This is a tricky question for me. I’m still so new to games that I no longer know what my favorite is. At first, hands down, it was Risk. Then, after I discovered Catan, it was that. Now however, I’m stuck between Valley of the Kings, Raccoon Tycoon, Terraforming Mars (can a game you technically don’t know how to play be your favorite? I’ve played it 6 times, lost every time, and love it, but I don’t own it or know entirely what’s going on. I’m just happy to be there.) All that to say, I think Valley of the Kings is my favorite game for now…this month. Ask me again in the summer.

Are you finding the community supportive? What could be done to improve that?

I have found the board game community to be surprisingly supportive. This community has been more supportive than any other community I have tried to be a part of, which makes it feel almost like a coming of age. It’s the first community to fully accept me, where I don’t feel like an outsider when I attend conventions and meetups. I will say a little bit of elitism is present online, particularly when it comes to showing love for games like Monopoly, but it’s nothing terrible. It’s just a bit of a shock when you first join online conversations and the games you held near and dear to your heart are treated like trash lol. If I could improve anything it would be tolerance of casual games, and appreciation for their purpose to reach people who normally wouldn’t touch a boardgame otherwise, and consequently introduce some people to their future hobby. 

Honestly more tolerance in general would be nice to see both on an offline. Ninety percent of the time, I feel so welcome within this hobby, but there is still the ten percent where I feel a wall, either because experienced players don’t want to deal with a newbie, a group of friends don’t want to play with a stranger, or because I am constantly surrounded by non POC men and their language with or around me is way more comfortable than the situation warrants. It’s a bit isolating, because at times I’m one of the few women present, and usually, the only woman of color. 

So I think it would be great if people waited until they got to know someone before they started telling bawdy jokes at the table. It would be great if people thought about how it felt to be the newbie before they make up flimsy excuses as to why they can’t play with someone just because they don’t have the patience to teach. I think if we can be considerate of the people we come in contact with, and learn to exercise more patience, it could go a long way toward fostering new gamers and supporting a healthy community.

What prompted you to enter the BG Workshop design contest?

A month before I found out about the BG Workshop Design Contest, I had found out about a search AEG was doing for female designers. I had no thoughts about entering a contest, but when I saw that, I thought to myself, why not? Maybe a week or two after entering that ‘why not’ mentality, I came across a post on Twitter advertising the BG Workshop contest. I only had 3 days before the deadline, but my brain was still saying ‘ why not’ and I just went with it. I figured I wouldn’t get very far, but at the least, I could get some new feedback for my game, and get some experience submitting to a contest under my belt. I had no idea I would get so far, which was both validating and encouraging. I met some really great people through that contest.

Any challenges as a woman game designer? 

I think I run into more challenges as a female gamer than I do as a designer. I sometimes run into a boys’ club mentality that’s a bit isolating to deal with, but other times I am amazed by how accepting and inclusive other male gamers and game designers are. As a designer, the biggest annoyance I run into is running into a male designer who proposes we play each others’ games, but doesn’t really intend it to be a two-way street. They’ll play my game and give me advice which doesn’t necessarily pertain to my game, and they’ll give me critical feedback for my game, which I’ll write notes down to think over later.  Then I’ll play their game, and at the end of the game when I try to give critical feedback, I’ll get shut down. They won’t take notes, and they have a defense for every piece of feedback I give. It may not be a male vs female issue, but it just doesn’t feel good when it happens. Whether you’re male or female, if you ask for someone to playtest your game, I think you should be prepared to accept anything someone says, regardless of if you agree. Accepting it doesn’t make what they said true, it just acknowledges how that person feels.

What are you hobbies outside of games design? Do you think they contribute to your design?

My hobbies are watching and listening to Korean Pop, digital media manipulation (NOT graphic design which I’m not too good at), and writing creatively. I definitely feel like my hobbies inform my choices of theme, and keep me consistent. Whatever I choose to work on, I’m passionate about, so if I ever lose my way after months of iterations and feedback, that original passion is what guides me back to the core of my game. Also my experience with digital media and writing are what help me iterate quickly so I can test ideas within the same week that I spawn them (if I’m not lazy).

Last Notes?

I would like to thank David Lupo for being the one who brought me under his wing and introduced me to so many gaming events in the Atlanta area, as well as to so many new gamer friends. He’s a designer who’s working on several games, of which, he successfully Kickstarted Addictive Alchemy. Keep an eye out for him if you’re at any Atlanta gaming conventions and try to play Yokai, a beautiful and simple card game he’s been polishing. 

I also want to give a shout out to Tres Swgert, known as @mrcontro on Instagram and Tumblr. He’s an amazing artist with an expressive cartoony style that I love. His art just makes me so happy, and it perfectly captures the theme of my game. Definitely check him out, because his work deserves more love.

Follow Fertessa on Twitter.