Designing Women: Khiara Foss

There aren’t many people that can make five postcards into an afternoon’s entertainment, but Khiara Foss and The Enigma Emporium have cracked the code for devious diversions and practically perfect puzzles.

What got you started playing board games? 

I grew up in a very game oriented family! I remember numerous games from my childhood, standout titles include both ‘Kill Doctor Lucky’ and ‘Save Doctor Lucky’ by Cheapass Games. I also have a strong fondness for many other games, among them are Risk, Catan, and Munchkin. More recently I’ve leapt in whole hog to the games community, and have been playing Too Many Bones, Draftosaurus, Chrononauts and several others.

What inspired Wish you Were Here?

Wish You Were Here was inspired by a series of conversations had between Logan Giannini and myself over the course of many months. Those talks mostly centered around what we really enjoyed about various take home puzzle and escape room style experiences, and what we felt could be done differently and would enjoy for ourselves. Those conversations quickly progressed to discussions about whether or not we’d be able to try and produce something that fit all those desires and ideas that we had come to. Postcards seemed a natural medium to try and do so, seeing as they’re compact, easy to produce, and highly visual. Logan handled the bulk of the design work for the postcard games, passing them along for me to playtest once he felt they were at a good point. We’ve both appreciated being able to have the other person perform the initial playtest on new product, it provides a fresh set of eyes from someone who’s familiar with the project from the get go. 

Are there any games that you’ve played that make you think about design in a different way?

As far as puzzle games go, there are a few that have definitively influenced my take on the medium. First and foremost is a book called ‘The Eleventh Hour‘ written by an individual called Graeme Base. It is a beautifully illustrated children’s book, telling a story about an elephant and his birthday party. Woven throughout the imagery and narrative is a larger mystery, told in assorted puzzles and clues, to be solved by the reader as they move through the story. 

Other standout creations include ‘Journal 29‘ and it’s sequel ‘Journal 29 – Revelations’ both of which are puzzle books (with a loose narrative) that cover an impressively vast array of different sorts of ciphers, codes, and clever curiosities. I’m also deeply fond of the ‘Unlock’ escape room in a box games, and have enjoyed several from ‘Exit’ as well. As far as more traditional games go, I’ve drawn from a number of different sources. Puzzle games are a somewhat strange animal to try and tackle, but the biggest thing we consistently try to bring in is a variety of different knowledge, specifically to try and encourage team play. At SHUX this year I attended a panel on cooperative gaming, which was exceedingly interesting. They touched lightly on the fact that most cooperative games are asking players to solve a puzzle of some sort, but in our instance, the puzzles are the game!

What do you like most about the design process?

I actually quite enjoy numerous different parts of the process. My favorite is probably the conceptualization stage, where I’m coming up with all the ideas and figuring out how they interplay, and how one puzzle will flow into the next. Past that, my favorite portion is progression design, specifically what the solutions/plaintext from each puzzle offer, and how that fits into the overall structure. It’s really difficult (but exceedingly satisfying) to try and tell an intricate story through disparate tidbits of information. Determining just how much information you HAVE to give for the story to progress can be somewhat of a struggle, but the end result has consistently been concise narratives, told through inference and intuition.

It’s fun to try and balance the difficulty against players perseverance, and to design in a way that is at once intuitive without being obvious. Separately, I also really enjoy working on our weekly content, where I can play with ideas that may be too difficult or insufficiently intuitive for use in our other work, but quite suitable for free puzzles. 

Whats been your biggest challenge to date?

Offhand, I would say our biggest difficulty to date has been the fact that there are only two of us. Myself and Logan started this company together, and have thus far outsourced bits and pieces of the needed tasks, but have handled the bulk of it ourselves. Our first Kickstarter campaign was entirely handled by the two of us, from design to playtesting, to product packaging and fulfilment. At this point we’re utilising a pledge manager, as well as fulfilment partners, and hiring folks to pack product for us, but all the puzzle and product design continues to fall to the two of us. Particularly as we’ve made more of an impression on the community and had folks coming to us for consultation and commission work, we’ve had quite a bit on our plates. 

Are you finding the community supportive? 

Absolutely! We’ve had numerous conversations with folks in the boardgame community who are exceedingly excited about the work that we’re doing. Puzzles are somewhat niche, but also very accessible. Human beings are innately curious, and puzzle games tap in to that instinctual desire to solve and interpret when presented with a mystery. Even folks who are not as personally inclined towards the depth of the games we’ve developed have still been very clear on the fact that they think we’re doing valuable work and adding something new to the available array of games. We’ve also received so much fantastic support from fans of our work, we regularly have people reach out and thank us for offering something that is immersive, unique, and enjoyable!

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What’s Next?

Parabola (the final installment of our Wish You Were Here series) is now available on our webstore! Our order for Carte Rouge has been put in with the manufacturer, so we’re excited to be receiving that soon! As soon as those cards are on their way we’ll wrap up late pledges and close the pledge manager, so I’d recommend taking a look at that sooner rather than later if you’re interested in acquiring a copy! Aside from that, we have a lot of really exciting things that we’re working on right now, but aren’t quite ready to bring to light, so stay tuned and feel free to follow our socials for further updates as things proceed.

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