Designing Women: Sarah Reed

Sarah Reed wears many hats. She’s one half of Resourceful Games. Creator the 10×10 board game challenge. Co-host of the popular Our Turn! Women on Gaming podcast. Award wining Game Designer. And one of the most vocal people in the industry discussing mental health and impostor syndrome.

What got you started playing board games?

In my childhood, my aunt and grandmother always played games with me. As I grew up, I turned to video games as those could be played by myself. In high school, my friends introduced me to Magic The Gathering, Palladium Fantasy RPG and some board games. I thoroughly enjoyed them and continued to play MTG into college, where I also delved into D&D. I was seriously into role-playing games for many years, with only dabbling on board games, like Munchkin. But in 2012, our role-playing group got burned out so we turned fully to board games. The Dominion big box was the first modern board game I bought outside of the RPG-related games. And we fell in love with it! Then we plunged in head first into the deep end!

Whats new on the design front?

I’m very excited to share that we’re working with a publisher on some secret projects. If everything works out, one will come out in 2020 and another in 2021. This has been a very exciting partnership. And I feel honored that they sought us out. We’ve never designed for a publisher’s specifications before. It has presented some challenges and changes, but all good so far! We also continue to develop our own games. We’re increasing our focus on positivity in games, both in theme and mechanisms. Nothing too concrete I can share now, but if anyone wants to keep up with what we’re doing, just follow me on Twitter.

Can you walk us through your design process?

I love the design and playtesting process that my husband and I have. As a team, it allows each of us to focus on our strengths and, thankfully, we balance each other out very well. Will is the idea maker in our team. He creates the seeds of our games and works out a lot of the initial mechanisms, and sometimes the themes. My job is to take the seed and help it to grow and shape it into a playable prototype, which includes rules writing, component creation and minimal graphic & art design. I love taking someone else’s idea and making it better, stronger. Sometimes, I can think of a better theme or way to tweak the theme, or point out where some of the mechanisms aren’t quite the right experience. Will’s quite amazing in how he can play test the concepts in his head, but that’s usually making it work mathematically, which doesn’t always translate into a “fun” experience. So then we work together, me pointing out what doesn’t work and him re-balancing it mathematically in his head, until we both agree on an end result.

Then we take it to our game design group, where I run the play tests and take in feedback. Will’s there to answer mechanics questions, but for the most part, I’m the lead here. I guess I should stop here and point out that Will is legally blind so social situations are often difficult for him simply because he can’t see what someone might be pointing to. Conversely, he can do a lot in his head that I’ve never seen anyone else do. He’s also pretty quick to shift gears and suggest something else to try when something’s not working. I think the only parts I really don’t like would be the graphic design I have to do. Neither of us are artistic, but I’ve managed to teach myself how Photoshop works so I can do minimal design, enough for a basic prototype. Thankfully there are more resources online now than when we first started. Websites like Game-Icons.net, The Noun Project, and others. I also hate writing rules, but it’s a necessary evil. Lol!

Are you finding the community supportive?

Yes, so very supportive!!! I know I’ve been super lucky, as not everyone has received such support. Now, there are some places I avoid, as I’ve seen how others are treated. So being selective about where I post has a lot to do with how welcoming the community has been towards me. Oddly, the few times I haven’t felt supportive are when people are going out of their way to support female designers and dismiss me because I design with my husband. As if I’m not valid as a woman designer because I don’t do it alone and/or I design with a man. It’s an odd mentality I haven’t quite understood, but thankfully it’s only happened a few times. And I am so not going to argue with someone else’s initiative. If they want to focus on solo female designers, I am all for that. There are lots of amazing women who definitely need to be highlighted! I just can’t wait for the day when who you are doesn’t matter and the norm is to support and celebrate awesome people doing awesome things!

Any challenges?

I have felt a few times that my opinions on game design have been dismissed, but thankfully not by anyone I care about. For example, I run a local game design group and we often get new designers that come for one meeting and never come back. Usually, and I hate to say this, they are terrible designers anyway, so being dismissed by them doesn’t bother me because, well, they’re usually dismissing everyone’s opinion. My design group is really solid and tries to help everyone who comes in the door. Just some are not quite ready to be helped.

Whats your favorite game from this past year?

Quacks of Quedlinburg is my favorite new game of 2019! I really enjoy the bag building and risk management that the game presents. In other push-your-luck games, you don’t always have very good information about how risky your choice actually is. But in Quacks, you can see how many white pieces you’ve pulled out and you can feel how many total pieces are still in your bag and make a determination of how risky it is to pull another piece. And the punishment if you bust is not as severe. You still get something. I love the game so much that we bought the upgrade bits from BGG. I’m also so excited for the expansion that I already bought the upgraded bit for it, but have not been able to secure a copy of the expansion yet. As soon as I do, though, it’s game time!


Where would you like to see the industry and community in five years?

We’ve made some great strides on diversity and accessibility and I’d love to see that continue to improve. Again, I want to see so much more positivity, of people caring and being empathic towards each other. I think games have the potential to help people change by exploring perspectives and situations that they’ve never experienced before. So I’d love to see more experiential games like Fog of Love and Bipolar Explorer. I’m also hoping to design one or two like this too. For accessibility, I’m hoping more designers and publishers will become aware of various challenges people face when playing board games and do what they can to make games for the widest audiences possible.

What do you think are the benefits of gaming?

I think gaming brings people together. Our society is so digitized and our culture focuses on going it alone. But gaming shows how important it is to feed our human need for connection with other people. Don’t get me wrong, I love being online and getting to know new people. I love the people I’ve met on Twitter, FaceBook and Board Game Geek. But there’s nothing quite like sitting around a table and enjoying a shared experience. It really brings people together. I know Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop is credited with bringing a lot of families and people together, but I’ve also had a hand in that in a small way. I created the Play 10 Board Games 10 Times Challenge, otherwise known as the 10×10 Challenge. I started it as a way to combat the cult of the new and really dig into the meat and strategy of a few games. Over the years, I have heard so many stories of how the challenge brought people together with a common goal. Parents have their kids pick games to go on the list and then they play them together. I just think there’s so many rewarding facets to board games not only socially, but emotionally and mentally. I know there have been studies that board games can help prevent all sorts of memory loss issues that comes with age. Play is not something just for kids to develop. It’s for people of all ages to continue developing themselves. Growing, thriving.

What’s the latest in your life?

I’m very excited and thrilled to share that Oaxaca won a few awards! The Indie Board Game Awards had three categories and we came in third for cover art, but won first place for best rulebook and best indie game!

Otherwise, my husband Will has put one of his LEGO models up on the LEGO Ideas website. He created Ahoy’s Seafood Restaurant. It has lots of wonderful details! If he can get 10,000 votes in the time frame, LEGO will consider making it into a set. Which would be so very cool!

You’ve mentioned Impostor Syndrome on social media – how does that affect the community?

I know a lot of designers and people in the board game industry suffer from Impostor Syndrome. I do too. I feel like I’m faking it and people will soon find out what a fake I am. I’m not really a designer because I just help my husband with his ideas. My successes are just luck and I don’t really have any skills. I’m not productive enough because I didn’t finish my entire to-do list today. I’m just a loser and no one should like me. If any of that sounds like what goes through your mind, I just want to reassure you that what you are feeling is real and you are not alone. Game design is such a creative endeavor. Everyone striving for a high ideal and it’s easy to get discouraged when you see others achieving more, or you’re unable to break through a block. But we all have this passion for games, so don’t give up or let go of that passion. Sometimes, you just need a break, and self-care is so important. Finding a life balance is difficult, most days I can’t achieve it. I want to do so much, get so much done, and be productive. But some days, being successful is getting out of bed and surviving. So be gentle with yourself. Don’t compare yourself to people because you know all the struggles you’ve gone through, but you don’t know what they’ve gone through to get to their success. Everyone is at a different point in their journey, and their journey is not yours. Like board games, winning in life is often the focus, but the journey is what will stick with you for years to come. I’m learning how to do all this too. If you ever need to talk or need some encouragement, please reach out to me on Twitter. I’m here for you.