Designer Interview: Sarah Kennington

I had the privilege of speaking with independent game designer Sarah Kennington over the weekend. She is in the thick of her first Kickstarter campaign for her game Ore-some. This fast paced wild west mining game is filled with beautiful art by Justin Wyatt and clever mechanics. Sarah has spent over two years getting the game just right for Kickstarter, and the hard work is paying off. Just over a week into the campaign they have already reached 67% of their campaign goal. Check out our interview below to find out how she did it. 

Let’s talk about the beginning of your publishing company, One Free Elephant and how it led to Ore-some. Where does the story begin.

Sarah: All of this started just a couple of years ago. We were in the car driving down to England and wondering, if you are going to design a board game what would your board game be. [Ore-some] is just one of the ideas that I came up with. I liked the idea of it being a train game, that people chased each other around. And then it just sort of developed form there. 

According to Kickstarter's notes this is the first game you've done.

Sarah: Yeah yeah. First game I've ever done. It's made quite an interesting journey.

Can you talk to me a little bit about what that process has been like going from that original idea in the car to having a finished prototype ready for Kickstarter? 

Sarah: I'd been thinking about [Ore-some] for a week or two after having had that car journey conversation. I got a book and I started writing ideas down. What I thought would work, what wouldn't work, what sort of components were needed for the game, or mechanics that worked for the game that I would like to have. I eventually wrote the first set of rules. Through play tests with myself, family, and testing in a couple of play testing groups that I go to, the games went through 40 or 50 odd iterations of rules.

What were some of them biggest changes from the original idea of the game to what we see on Kickstarter now?

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Sarah: A lot of core components have stayed, but things like item cards or special abilities per character are gone. Those sort of things have been taken away. Generally because they slowed the game down or people forgot to use them. 

Why get rid of special abilities?

Sarah: Well, the special abilities, people just didn't use them. We had one person that would play in the game, they'd play their ability all the time and nobody else would. So they would always win. 

Once I had the core rules down the game was quite long, it took a couple hours. I had to keep the core of the game, and the enjoyment of playing the game and the dexterity elements and change the rules subtly to bring the time down to under an hour. Because for a family game it can't be more than an hour to play. 

What challenges did you face in getting the time down?

Sarah: I think one of the biggest challenges was the turn. So originally, when it was your turn, you rolled the dice, moved your cart, played your cards, and then moved to the next person. So, one person would take five or so minutes depending on how long it took them to decide which cards to play before it would move to the next person's turn. 

I felt that that was too long. We split the game into a Move phase and a Dig phase so that everybody rolls together. Then people move and people take their turn and play whichever cards they want to play and dig for ore. This all means that as a player you are maybe taking less than a minute for your particular session of what you want to do.

As a game for children, you can't expect the child, or even most adults, to sit and wait 15 minutes. So that's the biggest change that we made. We kept all the components we just rearranged how the game plays.

That's a great change. Any game where you can get everyone participating all the time is going to have a better chance at being enjoyable. So why did you guys choose going the Kickstarter route as opposed to maybe approaching other companies in the board game industry?

Sarah: So in the UK There's a big convention called the UK Games Expo. It's quite large, last year, well large for us, last year there was 25,000 people attended that convention. And I was there, they had a sort of Dragons Den style thing for designers to promote their games to publishers. We were able to demonstrate our game and take on questions from the likes of Duncan Molloy from Osprey Games. I had the opportunity of pitching to these people and getting a chance to speak to them afterwards as to what the process would be. 

One of the publishers was quite interested in taking the game forward. I felt that it would maybe take too long to deliver it. I thought there were two options. I could either stick with the publisher and have no control over the delivery, or how it's presented or marketed etc. Or, I could just try and do a Kickstarter. I thought "yeah I'm going to have a go at this, see what it's like." The worst thing that can happen is it doesn't get funded.

One of the things I've talked about with other people I've interviewed is how helpful people in the board game industry are. Did you have a similar experience?

Sarah: I got some really good advice from the publishers as well. Doing things like targeted play testing to make sure that people understand what it is that they get and that you understand your audience as well. So in that respect it was really good fun actually. It was a really good experience and I'm going back to the UK Games Expo this year, but as a publisher. So I'll be going back and demonstrating Ore-some for people to pre-order it after the Kickstarter. Should be fun.

What advice would you give for other designers that are kind of trying to do the same thing that you're doing as far you know designing a game and getting it ready for Kickstarter? 

Sarah: Join a design club. I go to two design groups. One is called the Glasgow Games lab which is in Glasgow and one is the Edinburgh play test group. At both of those groups it's just other designers and we all meet up. People bring a game and you won't get your game played every time. It's usually every second or third time. People will play test your game and it lets you focus on areas that you want play tested as well. 

Sarah was adamant on the importance of constant play testing. It’s easy for any designer to get lost in the “what ifs” of design, but play testing will clear out the bad ideas every time. We will have more designers to come as part of our interview series. Don't forget to check out Ore-some on Kickstarter. If you have a designer you would like us to interview, just let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or write in the comments.