Launch Table Talk with Danielle Reynolds
We spoke with Danielle Reynolds about her approach to game design, hosting a podcast, and how new designers can catch a break in the industry.
Starting a podcast is no mean feat, but starting a podcast about game design in the middle of the pandemic and thriving for nearly 100 episodes? Now that’s impressive!
Danielle Reynolds is the host of Game Design Unboxed and designer of HerStory
Welcome to our first-ever edition of Launch Table Talk!
We feel very lucky to be part of the growing global tabletop games design community, and we want to make sure we shine the light on some of the personalities in our industry that are helping make it such a great place to be. As a company that’s passionately committed to helping game designers of all abilities bring their creations to life, we also wanted to share the stories of people who either are designers in their own right or work with designers regularly. We want to ask them everything, from what they’ve learned about the design process to where they get their inspiration and even what game they might save for a deserted island…!
We hope you find these conversations equal parts informative, inspiring, and entertaining. Thank you for taking the time to join us, and enjoy our first interview below.
Meet Danielle Reynolds, the Project Manager at Wise Wizard Games by day and the driving force behind the Game Design Unboxed podcast at night, a show that tells the stories behind some of the world’s favourite games, from the creators themselves. The tagline, “From Inspiration to Publication”, rings true across every episode you care to listen to, articulating the best and worst parts of the game design journey.
Whether it’s hearing from Wingspan’s Elizabeth Hargrave about the challenges of translating the game into different languages, or listening to Christopher Chung discuss how Lanterns evolved from a simple game jam, there’s immense detail for aspiring designers to dig into how games develop over time.
We spoke to Danielle about not just the podcast, but the strong bonds she sees being built in the global game design community as well as her own experience designing and publishing games. You can find out more information about Danielle's designs, podcast, and more on her website here.
Disclosure: Launch Tabletop has previously sponsored the Game Design Unboxed podcast.
First off, congratulations on the Game Design Unboxed podcast! Let’s go back to when the pod first started: how did it come to be and what were your initial hopes for the pod?
I had always wanted to do a podcast. Originally, I thought about basing it off my former love of DC and Marvel comics, but as I grew into designing more I changed my mind to making a board game design podcast. The initial inspiration came from the Food Network’s Unwrapped show, where they take, say, a candy such as a Jolly Rancher and talk about how it was made. I took the same idea and applied it to board games. I bring on game designers to talk about one specific game, even though they could mention others, interviewing them on where the inspiration came from, how it plays, and how it came into the hands of customers. I’ve always been curious about where ideas come from so it was a fun show to start. It also selfishly helped me grow as a designer by learning from other designers at the time. I still feel like I learn something new in every episode I record. My initial and current hope for the podcast is that game enthusiasts can learn about their favorite games and designers can gain inspiration to help them further their careers. Also, designers can get more of a spotlight since not every game includes the designer’s name on the box or in the rules sadly.
The Game Design Unboxed podcast hosted by Danielle is rapidly approaching 100 episodes
Now you have published more than 70 episodes, do you believe you’ve realized those ambitions?
I think the show is doing exactly what I wanted it to do. I wanted to try and make the show as diverse as I could. While it’s telling the stories of some of our favorite games from the mouths of their creators, some games are well known and some are ones no one has heard of. I’ve also intentionally tried to do a mixture of men and women as well as diverse backgrounds.
You’ve had some amazing people featured on the podcast already, but is there anyone on your wishlist that you’d love to feature someday?
That’s hard. I feel like there are famous designers my audience would enjoy listening to, but I selfishly would probably choose someone like Phil Walker-Harding. I’ve talked to him a few times in passing and I just love how he creates such simplistic games that are super fun. Most people still reference Sushi Go when they think of a pick-and-pass or set-collection mechanic.
Do you have a personal favorite episode? If so, which is it and why?
I don’t have a favorite episode, but I do have favorite moments or stories inside of episodes though. Like in the Cat Lady episode where Josh Wood talks about how signing the inside of his game was how a couple told their family they were expecting their first baby! Or just hearing how talented some designers are, such as how Ryan Laukat illustrates, writes and designs all his games. The episode with him on Sleeping Gods just blew my mind. Or hearing about a lighting-in-a-bottle idea like Century Spice Roads and how Emerson Matsuuchi kept designing sequels that were both standalone and compatible with the earlier games was fascinating. Or learning about another culture with Banana Chan who co-designed Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall. There have been so many amazing episodes where I learned more about games and how people think about design and it’s been amazing! It is way too hard to choose a favorite episode!
How important do you think it is that we, as a tabletop games community, assist and inspire each other with these tips, tricks, and ideas?
The thing I’ve loved about this industry is how inclusive people try to be. We share information by creating podcasts, videos, and blogs dedicated to this amazing hobby. I post about most games I’m working on unless there’s an NDA attached to it. I like being able to show what I’m working on and answer questions if people have any. A lot of times sharing ideas can help inspire new ones. My Instagram story is a great way to follow what I’m working on!
You’re also one of the Directors of Tabletop Gaymers! How did that group come to be and how can people become more involved?
Tabletop Gaymers came originally from a Yahoo Group called “Gaymers” where friends shared stories and information, networked, and planned get-togethers at conventions like Gen Con. In Aug 2011, the first “Queer as a Three-Sided Die” panel occurred at Gen Con. In May 2013, Tabletop Gaymers Inc. was formed as a nonprofit and later recognized as a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit. I joined the team in January 2022 and over the past 2 years, I have traveled to conventions working to collect games for Gaymer nights and community centers, being on panels at conventions, giving out pronoun and gaymer/ally ribbons, sourcing donations for things like the cute animal pins I design and just generally I have tried to make gaming a welcoming place for all. Our mission is to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by championing the visibility and recognition of the LGBTQIA+ community through tabletop gaming. If anyone else is interested in volunteering or becoming an officer please check out our website www.tabletopgaymers.org.
Danielle with just some of the Tabletop Gaymers collective
When you get some downtime, what sorts of games do you like to play and why?
I play all kinds of games. When I’m home I drive to Boston to play heavier games with the Heavy Cardboard crew. But I also only buy accessible, entry-level games since most of my local friends don’t play games that take longer than an hour to play. Since most of the games I design are light-strategy, two-player abstracts, and party games, I tend to mostly just buy and play those as research. But in general, I always want to play new games. The only games I’m less likely to say “yes” to are RPG, miniatures, trading card games, or war games mostly because of time and money commitments.
You’ve designed and published a fair few games in your own right. How did you get into game design? What do you enjoy most about it?
I learned being a game designer was a thing back in 2018 when I met Ryan Costello at the C2E2 ComicCon in Chicago. We quickly became friends and I went to GenCon for the first time that year and walked away immediately inspired. I joined design meetups and taught myself how to design through interacting with different designers, and by playtesting and playing published games. In 2019 I really started to try to design and got my first game signed in November of 2020 thanks to a speed pitching event hosted by UNPUB. I got my first job at a game manufacturing company in January 2021 and have been full-time at various companies ever since designing and developing games in and out of my day job. As the Project Manager for Wise Wizard Games I’m mostly working on developing other designer’s games. What I’ve enjoyed most about designing has been seeing the fun moments they cause; from laughter in one of my party games to the impact HerStory has had thanks to the theme. It’s a great feeling seeing your games form lasting memories in people’s lives.
Danielle with her game "Buy It Now" published by eBay
What game are you most proud of and why?
If I had to choose a game I’ve helped design that is published, HerStory makes me the proudest. Making an entry-level game that even my mom could enjoy and that features 120 historically significant women was a dream. I doubt I will make a game that was that impactful again. At TantrumCon this year a man came up to my table as I was showing off HerStory and he just gushed about how he and his daughters connected over the game. He had no clue I worked on the game and just wanted to share his joy with us. It’s a memory I hold close to my heart.
Danielle presenting her game HerStory at GAMA
What’s the hardest part of the game design process? How have you worked to overcome that?
Honestly, for me, it's math. It’s probably why I design a lot of party games. I’ve always designed with fun first in mind and then I’d work to balance things out. I’ve worked to overcome it by practicing or co-designing with people who cover that weakness.
If you could travel back in time, what game design tips would you give to yourself?
I joke that I’m a Nike commercial, telling people to “just do it”. If you have an idea, prototype and test it quickly. I work on over 20 games at a time and it’s great because I don’t get bored since I bounce around on designs. But my favorite part is when a new idea strikes and I make it, and it works the way I envisioned it. Practice really does make perfect!
Also, networking is really important. Most of my opportunities came from meeting people after the Exhibitor Hall closed and I went to nighttime events. Any missed handshake is a missed opportunity. You never know who you might meet at an event someday!