Designing Women: Erica Bouyouris

Erica Bouyouris is taking a leaf out of the book of great design – and a branch, and a trunk. With gorgeous Bosk, a game of majestic trees and falling leaves, and Kodoma 3D, in which you’ll build a vertical perch for your spirits, she’s shooting straight up into the canopy.

How did you start playing Board Games?

I grew up playing a lot of board games, and A LOT of card games. My family played some kind of game every time we got together, whether it was 4 of us or 40 of us. We had games that fit all sizes. Reflecting back, we really played a lot of games for stakes of some kind; money, chores, etc. I didn’t realize until I was an adult how many ‘gambling’ games I knew, lol. 

What inspired you to start designing?

I basically said to myself “I want to make a game” and went for it. As I started to get into the newer wave of games that were coming out in the last 5 years (things like Dead of Winter, etc), there was some part of me that was incredibly intrigued to find out what went into making a game. With an increase in games coming out, it also seemed somehow more of an accessible goal, that anyone could make a game, it wasn’t something that was reserved for people who created staple games that came out 30+ years ago. My first designer nights were definitely intimidating. It’s not easy to show up with something you made to have picked apart by strangers. There also weren’t that many other girls in design, but I was lucky that there were a couple. I am really lucky to live in a city that has a strong design community. I am very fortunate to be surrounded with some amazing and talented Canadian designers. 

What are you working on right now? 

This is an exciting year! I have two co-design games releasing this year; Bosk and Kodama 3D, both co-designed with Daryl Andrews. I am currently contracted for 3 IP games (can’t say what they are yet), and a couple of other concepts on the side. One is a solo projects and the other two are co-designed with someone I haven’t worked with before (but is going great!). I have one other game contracted that is going to take me some time, but will also be the first one that I have an app integrated with for some of the story telling (at least that is the current plan). When I am not contracted for something, I make games that inspire me. I regularly have design weekends with my primary co-designer Daryl Andrews. We usually get together every few months with a bunch of different ideas and try to put together a few of them in a weekend so we can start testing them out. In general, I find all things WAY faster with a co-designer because you can talk through something in a few minutes that you might have taken weeks or months to decide on your own. That is, assuming you find people you click with well.

Do you start design with mechanic first or theme?

I am almost always theme first. I think about what I want the game to be about, then I decide how the mechanics can deliver that experience. I find that is the best way for the game play to be intuitive to the theme. Often, I find when something is off for me in a game I am playing, it’s because I am doing something in the game that doesn’t really make sense for the theme. On the rare occasion I go mechanic first, if I thought of something that I really wanted to see in a game, or something that I have never tried myself. In all honesty, you probably will never see the same kind of game from me twice. I really like to challenge myself to always do something new to grow as a designer.  

What do you think about the play testing process?

Playtesting is an absolute necessity. If there was a way to streamline it or speed it up, I wouldn’t complain. But, there is no other way to see how much fun people are having, how they interpret rules and logic, or see where people can break a game because they just don’t think like I do. I wish I could find a way to get more done! Especially for contracted work, those are usually on tight timelines. That is why I think that development time with a publisher is really important, and ideally, someone else does the development for you or with you. It is really hard to separate enough from a game to see it objectively and clearly. Having another designer who can help and ask “why this choice”, “what happens here”, etc is invaluable. 

Are you finding the community supportive? Any challenges?

Overall, there are some amazingly supportive people and community pockets in gaming. It’s unfortunate, but I do think that there are challenges too. Now, these challenges become less as people get to know you, but that would already assume you are willing to put in the time and emotional investment to become “known” to people. As a woman, or any other demographic that is not the majority, there is something intimidating and not as “inviting” when you don’t see yourself reflected by the people in the room/booth/game/box cover. It takes a fair amount of confidence and inner strength to be okay potentially being all by yourself. That is definitely not a comforting thought to most people and could be seen as a fairly larger barrier to entry in this industry and community. I think there is a lot of growth happening right now in the industry, trying to create a more inclusive and accepting space. These efforts will definitely help change an environment that still assumes a woman standing at a gaming booth at a convention either works there or is someone’s girlfriend. 

I love game design. It’s an amazing creative outlet and a great story telling vehicle. I feel incredibly lucky to have found this wonderful hobby and the incredible friends that I got to meet because of it.

Toughest part of design for you?

The Grind Out. That part of designing a game, when you know that the game works and has the right elements, but now you need to go through all of the play testing, iterations, balancing, etc. These are all insanely important to the process but it often the longest and most grueling part of design. I find this part tough because I would rather be working on all the other ideas that are crowding my head, waiting to get out. 

Best experience in the industry/community?

The amazing people I now surround myself with. I have been part of this industry for about 3 years. In that time I have met a ton of new people and some of those have now become very close friends. 

What’s your favorite game that you’ve played recently? Why?

Anytime I really want to play a new game for a second time (there are just so many to experience to just repeat!), I know that there is something in that game that I really enjoy. Recently I would say that is Res Arcana, Sushi Roll, and Chronicles of Crime, each for a different quality I really like in them.

What I really liked about Res Arcana was the very satisfying feeling of chaining card abilities together. The game can lend itself to having a bad hand of cards, and nothing you can really do about it, but this kind of game also means that there are chances for very interesting swings in how the cards play together. I really like this blend of luck and skill together.

Sushi Roll was a recent “Must Buy” for me after playing. I knew right away that my family would love it, and that is often a factor in how I look at or play a game. I really liked that there was very little sense of being “stuck” with anything in that game. There were chances to change the dice, increasing the strategy that regular Sushi Go has. And, I love the little conveyor belt idea.

Chronicles of Crime is just such a unique experience that I had to pick up a copy. It’s a deduction game that has such a wonderful immersive quality to it. And nothing beats a great gimmick that enhances game play! Those little stereoscope glasses that you can attach to you phone to see the crime scene in 3D surround.

All three of these games were the most recent games I played that really engaged me, gave a unique experience and were entertaining! 

What advice would you offer someone starting out in design? 

Just design. Go for it. You design something, you are a designer. I think we all need to tell ourselves that a lot more often. Imposter syndrome is a very real and prevalent thing. Even well established designers still have it. Pick something you would like to make (a mechanic or theme you want to work with) and put a little bit of time into it each day. It’s easy to be inspired at the start and be productive, but start to lose steam as more and more detail work starts to bog you down. Just work away at it a little each day, and you won’t find you kept shelving all the things you start. The minute you think you have something playable, play it! Just get it out there. Put it in front of friends, family, or strangers. This is both to get immediate feedback on where to keep going, but also gets you used to taking feedback and learning how to use it. Most feedback will sound negative, even if people really liked the game, what they liked is often not what they will talk about. That can take some getting used to.  

Anything else you’d like to share?

Anyone interested in game design should check out the show that I co-host weekly with Sen-Fong Lim and Jessey Wright, called the Meeple Syrup Show. It’s a live to Facebook show we do every Wednesday night at 9PM EST. We do interviews with game designers and industry guests, as well as episodes on the art of game design itself as we dissect games/themes/mechanics. Our audience can ask questions and interact with us and our guests live. We also started our own community for game design/game industry called The Meeple Syrup Shop Talk group, also found on Facebook. This group is a rapidly growing place to ask just about any gaming related question and get an amazing variety of thoughts and expertise in response. 

You can keep with Erica on Twitter!