We recently got a chance to interview the diverse, creative powerhouse behind the new boardgame: Dogs BOND. Alex, Sarah & Kiki are all new to the process of publishing a game, and they were kind enough to share their experiences with us. Dogs BOND is a game about finding your perfect canine match and eventually adopting the pup to their forever home. It’s a game on a mission to not only promote an adorably enjoyable gaming experience for all ages, but also to promote positive conversation about rescue and adoption, becoming advocates and raising funds for rescue organizations of all shapes and sizes. Regardless of your gaming experience level, you are going to want to check this game out. But first, let’s hear from the creative team!

Introduce yourselves and tell me a little about how you all came to work together.

Sarah: I’m Sarah Mills, a freelance digital painter from North Carolina!

I found Alex’s open call for an artist on a Discord server for sharing art gig listings, and when I heard the pitch (and watched the video!) I had to apply. I’m the world’s biggest dog person so the idea of a dog focused, family-friendly casual game with a focus on RESCUE dogs sounded like a dream!

Kiki: I’m Kiki (Kiera Purrazzella)! I’m a graphic designer and illustrator based in North Carolina.

Me and Sarah are long-time friends, and I knew that she was working on this project for a while. One day, she called me to get advice about graphic design/graphic designers for the board game. After hearing more about the project and offering more help, I really fell in love with the idea of the game, and decided to ask if I could be signed on as the official graphic designer for Dogs BOND. It’s been great so far, and I’ve loved working with these two!

Alex: I’m Alex Lu and I’m the game designer of Dogs BOND. 

After 2 years of game development, it was time to take the search for an art team serious. I found myself giving the same explanation of the project to different artists but it was hard to get key concepts in front of professionals when I was networking at conventions. I decided to make a video in which I really asked the wild internet to help me find an artist! Over 50 artists applied from around the world, and I was lucky enough to Sarah decided to answer the call! When I found out how much of a dog person she is, it was a really easy conversation. 

As if that were not amazing enough, Sarah’s best friend is Kiki – who is an exceptionally talented graphic designer. I basically applied to be the 3rd player to their dynamic duo and we all got to work! 

What inspired you to create DogsBOND?

Alex: I wanted to contribute something to foster a “pawsitive” change in the conversation about rescue and adoption. When I volunteer at adoption events, potential adopters will often talk about an idyllic dog; which always turns to surprise when I ask what they would change to accommodate a dog. 

As a strong supporter of animal rescue, I thought about the efforts that a dog will go through to find the right human. Finding forever homes for dogs in a board game was a really great way to introduce the rescue conversation with play, whimsy, and hope.

Could you tell us a little about the creative process behind bringing a boardgame to life?

Sarah: From the art perspective, I draw a lot from my lifetime of living with and raising dogs. My goal for every story moment is for other dog owners to go “oh, I know THAT look.” or “My dog does that all the time!” 

I try to keep the player’s experience in mind every time I sit down to draw. Each composition has to flow with the gameplay – for example, cards that call for a lot of player movement or energy (passing cards across the table, drawing or playing a lot of cards, etc) tend to have more colorful, energetic compositions. Comparatively, cards that stop the energy on the table (“explosion” cards, or cards that force losses) tend to have more static shapes and color palettes.

Kiki: For the graphic design for this board game, I always started by asking “what do we want this to represent,” or “how does this affect the user’s experience?” I always tried to find the best way to visually lead the player through our game so they could fully enjoy the wonderful art of all our dogs and their antics!

For instance, when creating the look of the cards, Sarah and Alex mentioned they wanted the art to capture a specific moment in time, and from a dog’s perspective, nothing is going to look perfect and clean cut. So by making the frame of the cards literally rough around the edges, it leaned in to not just the painted style of the art, but the whimsical imperfections of what dogs do every day. 

ALEX: I really focused on the story aspects first; which might be an unpopular thing to do in game design. But I really wanted to be able to tell a story with each event card, or player interaction. From there, it was really a matter of finding different game mechanics that would work well with the intended audience of both kids and adults. 

What are some of your favorite parts about your experience thus far?

Sarah: Play testing is definitely a fun and unusual experience for me. I think a lot about how people interact with my work, but ordinarily the piece has to stand on its own – but in the game, people get to respond to the work in the context of the gameplay and the design. It’s been supremely enlightening to see if people react to my work the way I intended, or if they surprise me!

Kiki: I think the most enjoyable part for me was seeing this product that our small team has created has finally become something real that people get to experience and love. Even doing virtual playtesting, the reactions of players that really enjoyed the game make me super happy, and I hope people continue to love the work we’ve done for a long time!

Alex: Easily my favorite part has been working with Sarah and Kiki. These two professionals helped me grow in a direction that had really become stagnant for me in a design and creativity space. Their constant level of high quality and deep understanding of their craft made it really easy to emerge with a game that achieves a great deal for a small box! 

Have you faced any obstacles in the gaming industry due to gender/ethnicity?

Sarah: Unfortunately, yes. When teaching the game as a woman, even though it’s a really easy, casual game, I still get “mansplainers” trying to argue with me about the rules- or even explain the mechanics of the game TO ME, before he’s even finished his first game! 

There’s also men who leverage their “industry status” for overfamiliarity, like using their association with a platform to invite themselves into my DMs with an “invitation for interview!”, then proceed to ask extremely personal questions, offer super personal information about themselves, just generally cozy up in a way that’s anything but professional. It makes me think twice about any offer – for a contract, an interview, whatever – from any man without someone to vouch for him as non-exploitative.

Kiki: I would say so. Even in my brief involvement, I’ve seen a few disturbing patterns. It seems there’s always been lingering and deep-seated sexism/racism in the gaming industry and community, and I feel the ways it’s being combatted can sometimes be watered down half measures. I feel like people are putting a woman or a non-white person in a game simply because they think “that’s what we want,” instead of actually addressing what women and minorities actually want out of representation. 

Even in the light of the game we made, most people received our efforts of representation very well, whereas a few (white, male) people told me that we essentially “tried too hard to include too many kinds of people.” That should never be something that people say, that there’s “too many kinds of people,” so I fear that we still have much work to do with gaming and its patrons…

Alex: Something that has always been challenging for me from the Asian American community is getting a groundswell of support beyond lip service. I joined dozens of Asian American communities and Facebook groups; groups that have over 100K followers worldwide; but what I found there was very transactional. A like for like on Instagram or Twitter. I think what’s most challenging about bringing a project like this to that demographic is that many of those entrepreneurs don’t deal in games, or those who do game are taking up most of their time and attention to the mainstream titles. 

But hopefully, by entering into the game design arena, we can lift up those voices and be representative in a very niche industry. I’ve done some collaborations with other Asian American designers and that is starting to move in a positive direction! 

Working with groups like SHE, but also putting ourselves out there as much as we can. We were featured at KawaiiKon, Game Developers of Color Expo, and AfroComicCon all this year. Our team is small and mighty and we’re doing everything we can to participate in the space where we can! 

What’s the next big project you’re daydreaming about?

Sarah: Myself, I’m looking forward to Dogs BOND expansions – just give me all the dogs to paint!

Kiki: I’m currently looking forward to more Dogs BOND design – and maybe some other BOND related things that maybe haven’t come to light yet!

Alex: Definitely eager to do some Dogs BOND expansions! There are several new events, special abilities, and Adopters that we have to input. What folks are most excited about would probably be my idea around breed groups. 

Pitbulls, Dobermans, American Bulldogs, Staffordshire are a few that would be in what I call the Bully Breed expansion. My hope is to develop this expansion, sell it, and donate all the proceeds to legal funds that are combatting breed specific legislation everywhere. 

Corgis, pugs, chihuahuas are some that would be in the small but mighty pack, and huskies, akitas, and others are also in preliminary design phases. 

While it’s still fresh, I would like to spend some time designing a game which deals with the US election. There’s a lot of interest in this area and I think there are some pretty neat worker placement and resource management game mechanics that come into focus with this kind of theme. 

What would your advice be to first time game designers out there?

Sarah: For first time board game illustrators, my advice is to get the closest you can to the player’s experience, as early as possible. The player’s experience will inform every decision about your paintings, so being able to put yourself in their shoes is absolutely critical.

Kiki: Treat game graphic design largely the same as you would with any other graphic design – Always have a reason for every design decision you make, and think past surface level. Always keep the players experience and target audience in mind! Just because something looks “cool” doesn’t mean it will provide the best experience for the player.

Alex: Fail faster. Honestly you learn nothing from plotting and scheming and planning in the corner – you’ve got to put yourself and your idea out on the line. When you’ve got the feedback from the world coming to you, there’s nothing finer. It might seem like hater-ade or people being critical but often times that gives you clear insight into what your game or concept needs. 

No matter where I went when pitching Dogs BOND, there was always someone in the audience who would ask me “why isn’t this game about cats?” So maybe that’s what we should start thinking about next! 

We are all super excited about this game and can’t wait to get a copy! Find more info at www.dogsbondgame.com and join the pack!