This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

Image caption appears here

Add your deal, information or promotional text

Designing Games for Families with Ellie Dix

The interview first appeared in the Birdwood Games newsletter on 2nd April 2021.

Ellie Dix is a game designer, author, and educationalist. She the founder and director of the UK board game publisher, The Dark Imp, who specialise in creating games for families with children aged 8 and up. Ellie’s mission is to help parents reclaim family time by playing board games together. Ellie joined me over Zoom to discuss designing games for families, Kickstarter tips, and how she balances designing and publishing.

Lottie: It’s a real pleasure to be talking to you, Ellie. I love what The Dark Imp does in terms of reaching out to families and attracting younger players.

Ellie: Thank you. The intention is to make games that families want to play together. I have two teenage boys myself and I know that when children become older, they start to push away from you and that’s normal. You hear a lot of the time about parents having strained relationships with their children as it’s quite hard to find common ground. I feel quite strongly that as our children get older, playing games can bind us together. You can talk within the game, you talk about the game.

L: It strikes me that what you’re describing there – the strain – is a very child/parental strain but creating atmosphere where you can play together is almost like becoming playmates and eradicates that parental and child relationship.

E: And I think parents are really good at doing that when their children are younger, as the mechanisms of play are so much more obvious than they are when they’re older. Board games have got this huge potential of bringing people closer together, and they don’t rely on getting outside and being able-bodied to have time with them. You don’t have to prepare anything, you can just shout ‘I’m playing a game, come and join me’, and that’s it.

L: Is it important to you to think about how you can engage players’ imaginations by placing games where they might not expect them? I’m thinking about your coaster and cracker games.

E: It is. With the coaster games, one of the barriers to people picking up games is rulebooks. So, the choice of minimal, accessible design is very deliberate. On the crackers, people want an eco-friendly cracker and they get fed up with twenty seconds of vague excitement and a lot of anti-climax, mess, and plastic. I thought let’s give people something that can be part of their Christmas. 


Coaster Games Gnome Grown Uranus

 L: I love the sound of your current Kickstarter, Uranus!. Congratulations on funding. It must be an incredibly busy time for you. Having just dipped my toe in, and not even getting to Kickstarter yet, being the publisher and designer feels like having a lot of spinning plates at once.

E: There are, and there’s lots to learn. It helps that I’ve run a business before and have a lot of transferrable skills. If you know a bit about marketing, you can use it whatever business you’re doing. I spent quite a lot of time before the first Kickstarter, seeking advice from people who had successful campaigns and finding out what they wished they’d known before they’d done their first. There’s the kind of things you’d expect like shipping problems and fulfilment issues, and there are things that you don’t necessarily think about like make your funding goal as low as possible.

L: The psychology of Kickstarter is really interesting isn’t it? In terms of funding goals, if you’re a first-time creator, the things to consider in terms of trying to make a seamless journey for the backer.

E: It’s very interesting. Obviously, they’re pledging their money and there’s no guarantee that they’ll get anything in return. I did some small print runs of other things before my first Kickstarter, so my reviewers already knew me. And I like to keep in touch with them, I send them cards.

L: I love that personal touch that board game creators can have. Designers are so accessible and generous with the information they give. And I think that’s partly because so much of the retailing happens on Kickstarter, where creators are pouring their soul into a project and asking for trust.

E: Exactly.

L: What tips would you give to debut designers?

E: Get your game out as soon as you can. Playtest in whatever state it is in. And playtest a lot. Playtest with people who know what they’re talking about, but still be true to what you want for your game. When you’re creating a game one of the most important things is what kind of feeling do you want people to have when they’re playing your game? What kind of experience are you trying to create? That’s going to have a steer on your design.

L: And what about tips for new publishers?

E: Publishing is different to designing. It’s a lot about marketing and finding the right audience. You’ve got to place yourself where people are looking. Maintaining relationships with customers, gamers, play testers, reviewers, and suppliers is also really important.

L: There are so many different strands to keep hold of as a publisher, whereas the designer is quite a focused job.

E: It is. I like to keep Fridays clear for design. Sometimes I design on Saturdays as well. Monday to Thursday I am fulltime on the publishing.

L: Yes, the running of the business.

E: The business is 80% of the work, really.

L: Ellie, that was fascinating. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat.

You can keep up to date with Ellie and The Dark Imp on their website, Twitter, and Instagram. Ellie’s book, The Board Game Family: Reclaim your children from the screen is available to buy now.

Search our shop