Behind The Board Games: Liberty Kifer, Award-Winning Designer of Crystallo

May 16, 2019 by cassn

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Liberty Kifer has become a whirlwind success in gaming. After deciding to enter a game design competition last year, Liberty found her life turned around when Crystallo - her solo-play tactical puzzler - won numerous awards.

In Crystallo, players must unlock gems to free mythical creatures and battle the Black Dragon to save their magical world. The game funded in under a day and has been a massive success; not least in part to Kifer's savvy Kickstarting skills. This week, Cass sits down with the first-time designer to talk about talent, new-found fame, and the magic of marketing!

Cass: You are a relatively new designer on the gaming scene - in fact, Crystallo is your first game! When did you know you wanted to go into game design?

Liberty: Believe it or not, the thought never really crossed my mind until about a year ago, when I started working on a different game with my family. My kids inspired the first idea, and we worked together on that one for a few months. SO fun.

Along the way, I learned a lot about mechanics, prototyping and playtesting from the design forums, and seeing the passion other designers had for making games... I just fell in love with the whole thing. The process, the challenge, the art side of it, the community aspect... all of it! So I started to pour a lot of time into developing my ideas. I’ve tried to be a sponge and soak up as much as possible from folks more knowledgeable than myself.

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C: What other games are you currently playing?

L: This question comes up a lot, and I’m sad to say currently I’m not playing much; it’s been way too busy getting the Crystallo campaign ready and keeping up with it now that it’s live. But I can say I’ve got a wishlist a mile long; spending so much time on social media and studying other games and Kickstarter projects has been a great inspiration and it’s also made me very eager to do some shopping when I get the time!

C: Crystallo is a solo-play format - a subgenre which is often less popular among designers and gamers. What drove you towards designing a solo-play game?

L: Honestly, it was 100% the Solo Print and Play Contest. Up to that point, it hadn’t even occurred to me that anyone played solo tabletop games, much less that there was a real desire for more of them. When I saw the contest, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it and asking myself what kind of solo game *I* would play... and that’s how Crystallo came about. I’ve since discovered that there is a huge and passionate solo gaming community, and it’s been amazing to get to be a part of that. I’d love to design more solo games!

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C: Like many new designers, you've established your own publishing company and are bringing Crystallo to the gaming world via Kickstarter. Why did you choose this path over the traditional publication route?

L: So many reasons! First, I felt a very strong sense of ownership and responsibility to the game. I wanted to be the one to personally share it with the world. Second, Kickstarter offers an unparalleled platform to spread the word and get new eyes on a game, and as a first-time designer, it’s hard to beat that kind of exposure!

Last but not least, the enthusiastic community is a huge part of the appeal for me. I feel a personal connection to the people backing my game, and I get to include them in the process, which is something you just don’t get with traditional publishing. I guess I could sum all that up by saying, I wanted to be hands-on, all the way!

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C: Not only are you the designer and publisher of Crystallo, but you're also the artist! What has been the biggest challenge you've faced so far in bringing Crystallo through Kickstarter and to the gaming community? 

L: Biggest challenge.... hmmm. I’d have to say just the mountain of preparation required to do a campaign properly. Months of research, quotes from manufacturers, logistics, it all takes a lot of time and patience. Building the campaign page itself is a huge task, making infographics and gifs, taking and editing photos, the list goes on. Annnnd the anxiety. That was definitely a challenge. Running a Kickstarter is a high-stress thing, especially that first day. I was kind of a mess the first 72 hours after launch and didn’t get nearly enough sleep! But it’s been a thrill and so worth it.

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C: Crystallo may be your first game, but it's arrived in huge applause, winning in multiple categories across the board in the 2018 BGG Solitare Print and Play Contest, including best overall game! Was there a specific moment between concept and present where you realised that Crystallo was going to be big?

L: Winning the contest was a big one. And winning so many awards in so many categories. I remember being really shocked but also kind of feeling validated, like...wow, they really like it! Maybe I can do this! Then just getting so many great reviews from so many smart people - all of those were little signs that told me maybe it’d be a bigger success than I’d hoped. The response has been crazy, though. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it!

C: What has been your favourite moment working in the industry so far?

L: This is going to sound so conceited, but I’d have to say doing interviews has been one of the high points! I did a couple of podcast interviews and really enjoyed it. I’m a talker so that’s probably why I had so much fun.

In a sense, I think those experiences really made me feel like I was actually working in the industry, and not just some crazy lady making card games in the middle of nowhere, haha... I mean, that’s still true but now I feel like I’m really a part of it all, if that makes sense. I’m really looking forward to doing some conventions in the future and meeting a lot more people!

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C: What would be your advice for other designers hoping to break into the industry?  

L: Be yourself. I think people in general just respond better to authenticity, so when you’re just starting out, it’s okay to be vulnerable and admit that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing. You’ll get way more valuable help and advice that way than if you act like you already know it all. And later, when you’re feeling confident about something you’ve made and you’re excited about it, it’s okay to show that too!

Just enjoy and share your love and excitement for what you’re doing, others will see that and want to join in. And this is a big one— take the time to help others where you can, even if it’s just proofreading or playtesting for another designer. You’ll build such valuable relationships that way!

C: Can we expect any more games releases from Lightheart Games in 2019?

L: I’m not sure which game will be the next one or exactly when, but there will definitely be another and hopefully many more! I’m working on a new little prototype now that I’m excited about, and a few others in various stages. So we’ll see what comes from those! I’m definitely in this for the long haul, so hopefully, Crystallo is just the first of many.

Crystallo is currently live on Kickstarter now! Check it out here.

"T"he response has been crazy. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it!""

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