Designer Interview: Katie Khau & Jessica Chu

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Do hobby games always have to be so serious? What does designing a game “holistically” mean? Recently we sat down for a short conversation with Cow & Duck Studio’s Katie Khau and Jess Chu, the game designers of Windup War and Heifer Heist to discuss their ideas to these and other questions.

Bellwether Games (BG): How long have you been designing games together? Separately?

Katie Khau & Jess Chu of Cow & Duck Studios (KK & JC): We’ve been designing games together for three years! We took a game design course in college, and that catapulted our design career. We’ve always designed games together, and we think that the collaboration really helps us a lot. If we designed games separately, we wouldn’t have each other’s opinions and skills to round out the games and make them the experiences that they are.

cow and duck

BG: What are some of your favorite games?

KK & JC: Katie’s favorite game of all time is definitely Concept. She likes trying to convey ideas and the challenge of showing an idea without words.

Jess’s favorite game changes all the time, but in general she likes social, abstract party games. Right now, she’s very into Imagine and A Fake Artist Goes To New York.

BG: Who is your favorite game designer? Game artist?

KK & JC: Katie’s favorite game artist is Kwanchi Moriya. His unique style influences her artistic direction, leaning towards instantly recognizable illustrations.

Jess likes everything!

BG: Why do you design games?

KK & JC: Our favorite part of designing games is watching people play and enjoy the games. It’s incredible to create something from nothing – these games didn’t exist until we made them. Creating experiences that people have fun with is an incredibly fulfilling feeling.

BG: What inspired you to make Windup War?

KK & JC: We entered the DFW Nerd Nighters Game Design Competition, where we were challenged to make a game in 2 weeks with a set amount of components. Thematically, we knew from the start that we wanted to make a game with windup toy soldiers. We design games holistically, so the theme inspired the gameplay and mechanics as well.

tank

BG: Designing holistically is an interesting concept. Could you describe it a little more to our readers? How does this practically take shape when you sit down to design a game?

KK & JC: Our approach is to design games with both theme and mechanics in mind. They should enhance and play off each other from the beginning of development, rather than developing mechanics and then theme, or vice versa. For example, in Windup War, we knew we wanted to make a game about windup toys, so the mechanics of programming actions evolved from “winding up” the actions that the units take. When adding, removing, or changing mechanics or theme, we have to think about how the change will affect the other. We ask ourselves, “Does this change make sense within the context of the game?”

BG: What do you like best about the tabletop industry as a whole?

KK & JC: Everyone’s so friendly and cool! Everyone has been helpful and encouraging of our efforts, and everyone is in the industry because they love games. We all share a common passion that drives us, and that’s not something we could say about all industries.

BG: Earlier you mentioned the idea of “creating experiences”. Is there a particular moment that is a good example of a time when you saw people playing your games and felt really good about the experience players were having? Is there a time this moment happened with Windup War?

gen con image

Creating Great Experiences with Windup War at Gen Con

KK & JC: We didn’t see this one, but we were told about it – we submitted Heifer Heist to IndieCade in 2014, and we received feedback from the anonymous jurors. The most memorable feedback was from one juror who played it with a group in a coffee shop, and they forced the shop to stay open just so they could finish the game. I’m sure the employees were annoyed, but the fact that people we didn’t know took our game and refused to stop playing until they were finished at all costs…that story really just warms our hearts.

This happened with Windup War as well! We brought Windup War to Stonemaier Games’ Design Day, and we saw everyone’s games, and it all seemed so serious, and we thought that our game, with the cute art and the generally lighthearted feeling, would seem weird and out of place. So we pretty much went through the playtests, anxious and anticipating reluctance to play, but we received nothing but good vibes and constructive criticism about the mechanics, and everyone who played had a good time!

BG: Thanks for taking a few moments to answer these questions! I think people will see you have a genuine passion for games, a great “eye” for design, and that you love treating people to really fun and unique gaming experiences!

Katie and Jess’ Windup War is coming to Kickstarter on October 19, 2016. Click here for notification when it launches.

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