We are proud to introduce Top Shelf Influencers! This will be an ongoing, monthly interview segment that sheds light on a Board Game Industry leaders and contributors that are taking strides to move the industry forward and are a positive influence on gamers, game makers, and the industry as a whole.
How did you get introduced to board gaming?
I suppose that I started playing board games the way that most people do. I played ordinary games with family and friends when I was young. Trouble, Sorry, Payday were childhood favorites. Dungeons and Dragons drew me in as a teenager. It wasn’t until I married Roger that I truly entered the hobby. My husband opened my eyes to how expansive the hobby was.
How often do you get to play and who do you game with normally?
Because I’m married to a gamer, I get to play as often as I want. I normally game with a few close friends around the kitchen table.
Top 3 favorite games, and why?
Just three? Not fair! My favorites change with my moods. In no special order: Splendor, On the Underground, and Istanbul. Because of learning disabilities, I like games that have easy to follow rules and linear progression.
What is your favorite game mechanism?
I don’t have a favorite game mechanism. I’m really all about the people around the table. I do favor goods delivery and route building, but I’m just as happy to be deck building as long as I’m with a good group.
Do you have a favorite board game theme you prefer to play?
No favorite theme. I like to change things up and have never been one to stick to the same type of game all the time. My collection is full of diversity, from 35-year-old versions of Diplomacy and Yahtzee, to Century Spice Road, and First Martians.
What do you feel is the most underrated game?
I think Ingenious is often underrated. It is a fantastic gateway game, filler game, and teaching game. It is always my number one recommendation for families looking to get their kids into board games.
It is easy for Grandma and Grandpa to understand when you want to play a game during the holidays with its similarity to Dominoes. It can be played by children who are learning to count, with a little assistance counting scores. While playing they learn pattern matching, colors, critical thinking, planning, resource conservation, patience, strategy, and counting skills.
Ingenious is simple enough for children to enjoy and learn, but complex enough for adults to play frequently. I think everyone should have a copy for those times when they want to bring together gamers and non-gamers, or they just want a quick 15-minute game.
Do you customize your games and which ones have you customized?
I customize my games to improve functionality, organization, accessibility, and reduce flying cubes and discs, (a table bump of a player mat). Other than upgraded currency, such as specialty poker chips and the Stonemaier Treasure boxes, most of my upgrades have been overlays that my husband or myself have designed and made.
Roger and I have upgraded many of our personal games. We’ve made tokens for a whole slew of 18XX games plus a dividend tracker, overlays for Terraforming Mars, Terra Mystica, Through the Ages, Ingenious, Great Western Trail, Robinson Crusoe, Century Spice Road, Eclipse, Merchants and Marauders, Merchants of Venus, Planetarium, and Istanbul. We also made the Cinque Terre Truck Bed Upgrade Kits to keep the produce on the trucks.
What's your favorite game upgrade?
If I had to pick a favorite, I’d say it’s a tie between the Truck Bed Upgrade kit for Cinque Terre, and the Stonemaier Treasure Chests.
How big is your game collection?
I’m pretty sure I have lost count, and forgotten to include games but my total according to boardgamegeek.com is 311 games. I would guess I am probably around 350 games and expansions.
One of the most controversial questions: Sleeves or no sleeves?
In games, such as Thunderstone, where there are expansion decks I typically sleeve. This keeps a uniform look and feel on all cards, base games, and later expansions.
In games that have are low cost point, and have no expansions, such as Splendor, I don’t sleeve. This is a game where I’ve put some wear on the cards, and that’s ok. If the cardstock and coating are good, information is public, then I feel it is ok for a game to show it’s loved. *Splendor now has an expansion, guess we’ll be getting sleeves.
How did you get into making board game upgrades and overlays?
A family friend asked us to help with an accessory for his personal copy Robinson Crusoe. My husband designed and laser cut the accessory at a local makerspace. Although it was just done as a favor to a friend, the pictures he posted of them on Board Game Geek created a firestorm of activity and requests for us to make them available for purchase. I was selling them faster than I could make them leading to the formation of Board Game Innovation in 2013. At that time BGI had just one laser and a handful products.
How do you choose which game upgrades to make?
When BGI began, we focused on games that our gaming group was playing that we recognized needed some form of cube control. Though we have expanded to games recommended to us by our customers and sometimes the publishers/designers themselves, most often, we still design for games we play.
What games do you think benefit most from adding an overlay?
Games that most benefit from overlays require physical movement of small pieces on a personal player mat. Especially if those cubes or discs are moved onto, off of, or around the player mat frequently whose position can not be easily determined.
How do you design your overlays?
First and foremost I have to have a copy of the game. Once I have the game, I play it to be sure I understand the mechanics, correctly identify the issue(s) I feel need improvement, and then envision a workable solution. From there, a lot of measuring, designing, prototyping, playtesting, remeasuring etc., it tends to be an iterative process.
What differentiates you from other overlay makers?
Board Game Innovation was the first company dedicated exclusively to overlays. We use top quality acrylic and have complete control over our manufacturing process which is done in house. We’ve been learning about our products, industry, and raw materials since before we went into business.
We have access to over 30 years of product design experience. In addition, Board Game Innovation is a female owned and operated company. We are proud to be counted among the #womeningaming.
Would you ever consider doing a Kickstarter?
I’ve thought about it, but in the end, I’ve always decided to fund my own projects. While that means BGI grows at a slower pace, it also means that I have control over every aspect of the business. While I haven’t ruled out using Kickstarter, it would have to be the right product, at the right time, and I’d have to be able to execute the Kickstarter with the same standards that I have set for all of our products.
We love your overlays - and we think others should too! For those that haven't tried your products: Why should you get an overlay for a game?
There are many reasons to get an overlay for a game.
The most basic reason to get an overlay is that you like your playing area organized, and you want them to stay that way. However, there are many more reasons to use an overlay that people do not think about. Overlays are about more than organization. They are also about inclusion.
● Trackers and overlays can be used to assist people with tremors, arthritis, or other issues with fine motor coordination in picking and placing the cubes, discs and other shapes. They can help people with cognitive issues by maintaining the structure and format of the player tableau and reinforcing it with cutouts as a physical reminder.
● By creating this 3d environment on the player mat it can also assist players with visual deficits. Players can feel the cube locations by running their fingers along the edges of the cutouts.
● Finally, when playing with children, it can help them understand the flow of the game, and placement of the pieces. It can also assist with memory and counting, allowing children to play games that might be more slightly more advanced than their current developmental age. Additionally, due to shorter arms and sitting lower in relation to the playing surface, overlays help to maintain the player board area when they attempt to reach the main board and hit it with their arm or clothing.
What's your biggest challenge of being a board gamer?
The biggest challenge for me as a player is struggling to learn new games that are impacted by my learning disabilities. I have dyslexia and a spatial reasoning deficit. While I have learned coping mechanisms, board games that are fast paced, have complex pathways, or multidirectional movements can be difficult. I have problems with games that require a large amount of pattern recognition, quick reading, or math. I’m lucky to have a group of gamers that understand and adjust their game play to include me. Robo Rally is right out. LOL
What's your biggest challenge of being a business owner?
The biggest challenge as a business owner is being a woman in manufacturing. There are subtle prejudices against women in the purchasing and technical support of industrial machinery and consumables. It has been a large learning curve, but I’ve come a long way in 4 years.
What gives you the most pleasure out of being a business owner in the board game and tabletop industry?
The people are amazing. In the years I have been in business I’ve met a lot of great people from all over the world. Although I mentioned the subtle prejudices against women, I’ve seen the Board Game Industry work very hard to confront the issue head on. Manufacturers, designers, and publishers are asking the tough questions about how they can attract more women to gaming and support those of us who are already here playing. I have customers who proudly tell me how happy they are to support our company because we are #womeningaming. This is just one area where Board Gamers take an issue that the rest of the world seems to be struggling with, address it, talk about it, and resolve to make it better.
Which city do you live in?
I live in Spring Hope, North Carolina right between Raleigh and Rocky Mount.
Do you attend any regular board game conventions?
I do get to attend a few local conventions in the Raleigh North Carolina area.
Which board game conventions are your favorite?
I would have to say That Board Game Thing is my favorite. It’s small, local and all about board games and family.
If you would have one board game related wish, what would it be?
More closet space, perhaps with an automated carousel, or dumbwaiter from the basement?
Besides yourself, name your 3 top board game content producers (can be a podcast, youtube, blogger):
Stonemaier Games, Portal Games, and Our Turn Podcast. All three have impressed me with their commitment to quality, and community.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d just like to say how happy BGI is to be associated with Top Shelf Gamer. You are an amazing example of quality and customer service. Thank you for allowing me the be a part of the Top Shelf Influencer segment. I look forward to many years of continuing to play games and serve our community together.