Interview with Game Designer Gwen Ruelle

For Women’s History Month, we are highlighting the absolutely wonderful designer Gwen Ruelle and her great games.

Gwen Ruelle is half of the two-person board game company, Runaway Parade Games, with her partner Samuel Bryant. They have designed the games Fire Tower and Desert Pack (Button Shy Games), and it looks like they have two new games almost ready for release: Smug Owls and Punch Bowl.

It says on the Runaway Parade site that you met your partner at Sarah Lawrence, did you do much gaming in college?

Definitely not enough! There wasn’t any gaming scene that I knew of, but I did play a ton of classic cards games, like Casino and Cribbage, with my roommates, and I was a huge fan of Carcassonne. I was in college from 2006-10, which was around when hobby boardgaming was starting to gain popularity, but I didn’t know about the huge world of gaming that I was missing, and neither did Sam!

How did creating Runaway Parade the game company come about? Did you start to develop Fire Tower first and then start the company from there? Or did you decide to create board games and Fire Tower followed from there? 

Runaway Parade actually started as an online literary and arts magazine! Sam and I published bi-monthly issues and people would submit short stories, artwork, and multi-media based on each month’s theme. It was a lot of fun and we published over 70 issues, but after a few years we decided to stop. We loved working on projects together and we wanted to continue collaborating. We decided to instead collaborate on a board game. Both of us had been playing and making up games since we were kids, and we had a blast inventing Fire Tower. 

Do you and your partner always develop games in the same way? Who takes on more of which tasks? 

We both come up with game ideas all the time, and we have this huge ongoing list of games we’d like to work on. We do a lot of long drives together to go to conventions and visit family, and we design games the whole way. The next step is prototyping, which is more my realm. I do all of the company’s graphic design since I was a graphic designer for years, so I sometimes get really into making a prototype. Then, often, we play the game once and say, “Nope. That idea is no good.” We do all the design and development together, but Sam excels at playing a game over and over and searching for new ideas and new ways to fix issues that come up. He is much more patient than I am!

What is the hardest part of developing and/or publishing a game?

Marketing! I have never been a saleswoman, and I tend to shy away from showing my work, and especially bragging about it. Reaching an audience and showing them why they should buy your game instead of 1000 others is really tough.  

How do you playtest your game and your rulebook? 

We bring our games to conventions and game nights and have people try them out. We learn a lot just by watching people play, hearing their questions or where they get confused. We also blind playtest the rulebook to make sure others can play the game without us teaching them. We love to hear everyone’s feedback, and it drives our designs as well as our energy to keep pushing forward. 

What are some mechanics in games that you are really excited about? 

I am a fan of real-time games, but I think it is a really difficult mechanic to do well, so I am always on the hunt for an amazing real-time mechanic. Current winner is still Galaxy Trucker. 

What do you use as a support system? Are there other board game creators you regularly meet up with? 

Yes! The board game community is full of great designers, publishers, and others who constantly offer advice, share horror stories, playtest games, and so much more. I don’t think we would still be in the gaming industry if we didn’t have the support of all the industry friends we’ve made along the way.  

Art for Punch Bowl by Kevin Ruelle

This being a Women’s History Month post, I have to ask: 
Do you think other gamers treat you differently because you’re female? 

I think they often do, yes. There are very few female game designers and board games are a male-dominated industry. People often don’t trust that I actually designed the games we made, they assume that my male partner did all the work. It can be frustrating how much I have to assert myself to be respected as a designer and co-owner of the company. 

Has the ratio of women in board game spaces changed? 

There are definitely more women in the board game world than there used to be! As more women enter the industry, we are seeing more games that are geared toward a diverse range of gamers, as well as more games that are aimed at bringing new people into the hobby. I have joined up with other women and nonbinary designers and publishers to try and make boardgaming and design more accessible and inclusive. We have a long way to go, but there have definitely been moves in the right direction.

I am so excited about your game Punch Bowl which looks like it is ready to get started on Kickstarter.  I see that you also have something up on the website about Smug Owls. Do you want to tell us a little bit about these two games? 

Yes please! 

Punch Bowl is a competitive punch-making game set in a land of giant fruits. You and your faction of revelers are making massive bowls of punch, competing with the other factions to add the most desired ingredients to the punch. The game has a unique deck-thinning mechanic, where each turn you have to choose one card to play and another to discard for the remainder of the game, meaning that your pool of actions decreases as the game goes on and you have to plan ahead to secure the win. One of my favorite parts of the game is the watercolor artwork and acrylic fruit gems and ice cubes that you win and add to your punch cup to count your score. 

Smug Owls is our first published game designed by someone other than Sam and myself. Grace Kendall and Mike Belsole did a brilliant job with this riddle game. Each round, you flip three cards to create a riddle, and then everyone simultaneously comes up with an answer. Once all but one person has an answer, the last person left becomes the Smug Owl (who thinks they know best, obviously). They get to award the cards to their favorite answers before moving on to the next round. What is amazing about this game is that the deck of cards works like magic to form the riddle, and the approximately 200 cards can form over 130,000 riddles. The game can be hilarious or surprisingly profound, and it truly is for any age group. 

Thank you Gwen for an awesome interview!

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