Designing Women: Shivani Sharma

Dogs and Games seems like a combination made in heaven. Shavani Sharma’s first game, What the Woof?1, was inspired by a walk with her pupper.

What got you started playing board games? 

I was always a casual gamer, ever since I was a kid. But I had a hard time getting people to play with me often, so my collection wasn’t huge. But my high school friends always bonded with me over fun party games like Apples to Apples, Taboo, Game of Things etc. Then when I met my husband, we started playing more games. Its now one of my favourite things we do together.  

How were you inspired to jump into game design?

I love animal genre games like Exploding Kitten, Bears vs Babies and Unstable Unicorns. I always wondered whether I could do a game like that. Then one day my dog Chico and I were out for a walk and he was peeing on every pole and garbage can in sight. That triggered the concept of the game.  

What’s your favorite part of the design process?

  The initial conception was super fun, and choosing the game mechanics. Then I really started enjoying the problem solving elements of play testing. Its amazing to see how changing one little thing can change the whole game. I feel like creating games is as much about behavioral science and economics as it is about creativity. I never appreciated that about games until I started working on mine. 

Sounds like the theme came first, then the mechanic. Did that help when choose a mechanic?

It helped in figuring out the main objective, which had to be amassing territory. And because I figured out what the focal point had to be, it did help in coming up with the mechanics to some extent. But at some point the mechanics start coming first, and then you name things according to the theme. So it wasn’t always one or the other.  

Are you finding the community supportive? 

I got a lot of great feedback from veteran board gamers and it really helped improve the game. That being said there is a bit of a snobby attitude in the community towards casual games. Which sucks because I feel like casual games are meant to be inclusive and bring people from all types of backgrounds together, not just hard-core gamers. It would be nice to see a little more respect in the community for this genre.  

Any challenges as a first time designer? 

Lots. As a first time designer and publisher, I had to learn everything from scratch. Everything from game mechanics, balancing, testing, manufacturing, everything was new to me. But it’s been a year and now I feel very comfortable with where I am. Thankfully I had some skill with marketing, design, concept development and project management. That’s been very helpful.   

What do you hope players get out of your game?

I want people to have fun playing. I want there to be lots of smack talk. Lots of emotional roller coasters. I’d like people to be able to put in some strategy to win, but also lean into the silly parts of the game. I want there to be suspense throughout the game because no one knows who’s going to win. I hope people like the cute dog illustrations and that they remember that like dogs, we don’t need a lot to be happy. Some cards, some friends and some laughter is all it takes. I hope my game does all of that.  

Are you working on something new yet?

No, I want to focus on What the Woof?! until its complete. This is me testing the waters of board game design work.  

What advice would you give brand new designers?

Create for yourself first. But also know which market your type of game will work best for. And create your game in a way that will appeal to you and other people like you. Don’t try to fit into any trope that the board game industry says you should. Your goal should be to see that people feel about the game what you wanted them to feel. If they do, you win. 

You can support What the Woof?! on Kickstarter.