How Sarah Reed Makes Games

Tell us about yourself - Who are you? What do you do?

I’m Sarah Reed. I’m an enthusiastic player of games as I enjoy board games, role-playing games and video games. I’m married to a wonderful and smart man named Will. We have a lot of shared interests like games, but also LEGO. Work is what pays for the hobbies we’re into, as both games and LEGO are expensive! In a nutshell, I do data processing and analytic work for the state of California.

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If I’ve never played your games before, what’s the first one I should try?

Will and I only have one game out, which is available on The Game Crafter and it’s called Triple Threat, a set of three 2-player micro games. However, we’re putting our next game, Project Dreamscape, up on Kickstarter and I highly recommend that one. The PnP files are available on boardgamegeek.

One fact that we probably don’t know about you:

I have a degree in Theatre and was really into the technical side with stage management and lighting design, but I realized a little too late that it was a career I couldn’t do due to my health issues. The late nights were killer.

What tabletop games (including digital board/card games) are you playing most right now?

Sentinels of the Multiverse, Yardmaster Express, Dominion, Last Will and Star Wars Imperial Assault are the hitting the table the most. For my new iPad mini, I’ve been playing a lot of Suburbia and Ascension, but once I buy Sentinels of the Multiverse, I’ll be playing that the most.

What are your all-time favorite tabletop games?

Sentinels of the Multiverse, Dominion, Suburbia, Seasons and Villagers & Villains. But this list changes constantly as my gaming preferences evolve.

What are you naturally good at that helps you in your work?

Organization and focus. I love to organize things and this comes out in all things that I do. I also get really focused on the tasks at hand, though sometimes to my detriment as I forget to take breaks to eat and such.

What are you not naturally good at, that you’ve learned to do well anyway?

I’m not great at it, but due to getting into game design, I’ve learned how to do rudimentary graphic design. It’s serviceable for prototypes, but nothing I’d ever go to print with.

Describe your process (or lack thereof) when making games. How do you reach your final product?

My process and my husband’s process are pretty similar. We both think about our idea for a while, talking to each other about it a bit, but once we feel pretty good about what’s in our heads, we write it down. Then revise, revise, revise. Talk to each other, bounce ideas off each other, and then eventually share the document with the other. More collaboration happens, with the other writing notes and questions on the document, which the other takes and fleshes out.

Then, when things seem final enough, I take the draft document and starts formatting it into rules and creating a prototype. Once the first prototype is made with rough rules, we play-test it together. We’ll play-test together for quite some time, revising as needed, before we take it to our play-testing group, where we get a lot more help and revise accordingly.

Since we only have one final product so far, I can’t say much more as it just took working on the graphics quite a lot until we felt okay with what we had, but we knew it wasn’t great without hiring a professional. Project Dreamscape will be a lot better as we’re working with Ben Haskett who is producing it, running the Kickstarter campaign and redid all the graphic design of the cards and rules.

What design-related media do you consume on a regular basis?

I read various articles as they’re posted to Twitter and Facebook. I also listen to a few podcasts. However, I don’t follow a specific site for design.

What are some tool/programs/supplies that you wouldn’t work without?

Word and Photoshop are my tools.

What’s your playtesting philosophy? How often/early do you playtest?

Will and I will play-test it ourselves as soon as we can and we work it through as many iterations as needed before putting it in front of others. And then we play-test it as much as were can with a variety of people. I wouldn’t say we play-test every day when we have a new game we’re working on, but at least a couple of times in a week. Then our design group meets monthly and that’s where we get the most feedback. We have scheduled other times for people to come over to our place to play-test when we felt motivated enough to do so.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work, and how have you overcome them?

Our biggest obstacles are the art and graphic design, which is why we haven’t released more of our games. We have several games that are finished or near finished, but because we don’t have the skills to do it ourselves nor the money to pay someone, the prototypes sit on our shelves.

How do you handle life/family/work balance?

Not very well! Honestly, I have not figured out the balance yet. All I do know is that I need to have our hobbies to balance out the stress that is work. Family’s not too hard because it’s just me and Will, but we have a lot of varied interests so there’s still a lot of juggling between our hobbies.

Do you have a second job? If so, what do you do? If not, when/how did you quit your day job?

Nope, no second job. Working full time for the state is enough as it is. And it’s why we’ve never attempted to run a Kickstarter on our own - we’d never be able to handle the extra work.

How many hours/week do you generally devote to game design? How many to other business-related activities?

It’s never an even amount as it depends on whether we are actively working on a game. Those weeks, we put in time every night to play-test and then I make changes during my breaks at work. Then when it gets to a point where we’re done play-testing and it’s just getting it in front of others, those weeks we may not do any work on a game.

What one piece of advice would you give aspiring game designers?

Play a lot of games and read the rulebooks. You’ll learn a lot from what others have already done, and you’ll learn about what kinds of games you like to play. I highly recommend knowing yourself as a gamer so you’ll design a game you like to play. Which is important when you have to play-test a lot!

What’s the best advice about life that you’ve ever received?

Things only have the power that you give them.

Who would you like to see answer these questions?

Jamey Stegmaier as it’s always fascinating to hear more about how he does things.

(Read Jamey's interview here!)