5 Questions for Game Designer Ellie Dix

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And we’re excited to welcome Ellie Dix as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

I first encountered Ellie Dix after stumbling upon the Kickstarter campaign for The Imp Box, a family-friendly game collection designed to look like a Christmas cracker. (Naturally, it immediately made the list of games to include in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide.)

I soon discovered that she, much like this intriguing game set, was far more than meets the eye. Ellie Dix is not only the designer of every game under the Dark Imp umbrella, but she’s also the owner of the company. A puzzle designer, game designer, author, and more, Ellie Dix is a self-made dynamo, representing the entrepreneurial spirit that has grown to define the industry during the modern board game renaissance.

With The Imp Box now available for sale worldwide and a new Kickstarter campaign on the horizon, I have no doubt that Ellie Dix is a name we’ll be hearing about for many years to come.

Ellie was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Ellie Dix

1. How did you get started in the games industry?

I’ve been designing games as a hobby for some time, but when I sold my Education company I decided to focus full time on game design and publishing. Before that I’d used games in teaching and training. I’ve also been a hobby board gamer myself for a long time (and my parents before me). So when I finally made the switch, I just jumped in with both feet. I wrote a book called The Board Game Family: Reclaim your Children from the Screen, which came out in July 2019. My first games were published in November 2019. Since then it’s been a full on schedule of design, development and publication.

How has your experience been as a woman designing games and running a board game company, either in terms of challenges or general insight from your perspective?

Honestly, I expect the challenges have been very similar to those that a person of any other gender would experience. The board gaming community is so inclusive that my own gender seems completely irrelevant. I do, however, realise that I’m in the minority in this industry. I suppose the only thing of note is that I’ve been approached several times by other cis-females who’ve commented that they’re pleased to see the success of another woman in the industry. So clearly it can be helpful to others to see a woman doing what I’m doing.

2. What’s the key to a great family-friendly game?

Getting something that the kids and the adults will all want to play. Family games aren’t children’s games. Family games have to hook in and hold the interest of everyone. For me – complexity isn’t always an issue. Kids can cope with all sorts of levels of complexity. But making sure the game is fairly fast-paced is important. I don’t mean short, necessarily, but minimising downtime is crucial. Games with simultaneous play, actions for passive players or very quick turns work well. The theme has to hook the family in too!

3. We’re currently in the midst of a board game renaissance, with greater exposure than ever for all sorts of games and play styles. What’s one trend in the industry you’d like to see more of and what’s one trend you’d like to see less of?

I love asymmetric games and I’d love to see more of them. Games with varying player powers or factions. This increases replayability. I’ve recently created an asymmetric family game – Uranus! – which is currently in the final of the Board Game Workshop’s annual design contest.

For me, I struggle to get into the big campaign games (Pandemic Legacy, The King’s Dilemma, Gloomhaven). I suspect there are too many on the market for the people who are playing them to actually play. They’re often too much work for regular gamers and families to get into.

4. What’s next for Ellie Dix?

I’m developing a range of roll & write PnP games for any number of players. These are all games that can be played by zoom. I’ve got several out already and they’ve been going great guns during the lockdowns. More are coming out before Christmas. Uranus! will be coming to Kickstarter in early March 2021. I’m also working on some exciting school projects next year! It’s going to be another busy year.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

It’s easy to get paralysed by perfectionism. Very few great games started out as a great games. Be brave and just put your game out there, as early as you can, with any sort of back-of-the-cereal packet prototype you can. Find a great playtesting group full of other designers (not friends and family) or create one yourself.

The playtesting process is so vital to development. It’s a waste of time to make sure all the cards are perfectly balanced before you get it in front of people. You could spend weeks on a game that ultimately nobody wants to play. A playtesting group will help you to find the fun and ultimately make a better game.

A huge thank you to Ellie for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for updates on all things Dark Imp, and be sure to check out her puzzles and games through Instagram, YouTube, her game blog, and of course, the Dark Imp website. Whatever she cooks up next, you know it’s going to be great.

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