Elizabeth Hargrave’s games are known for breaking the thematic mold. In her first game, Wingspan, you play as bird enthusiasts out to discover and attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves. The game is wildly popular and won the 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres. In this episode, we discuss designing, playtesting, and pitching these groundbreaking games.

“It was a process of always moving forward because I was starting from absolute zero.”

We begin by talking about how Elizabeth landed on the idea for a game like Wingspan, which is a game entirely about birds. It’s a theme that stands out from the common fantasy and sci-fi themes that dominate the gaming world. In this first segment, we discuss the research, development, and pitch process involved in creating this game.

This game had a particular impact on me because it showed me that with passion and by following the principles of effective game design, you can create a product with just about any theme and people will love it.

“What does a good game feel like? This isn’t there yet, but it seems to be getting better and so that feedback loop of playtest and iterate … at some point it wasn’t moving forward and people seemed to like it, and offered to buy it from me when I playtest—it seems like it’s time to pitch.”

We continue our discussion about the development of Wingspan by diving into the iteration process, which means playtesting, taking notes, collecting player feedback, and making changes to the game. She discusses her first Gen-Con and the process of getting ready for her pitch meetings. We talk about rehearsing your pitch, making videos, planning out a playthrough, and deciding what details to focus on.

“You have to push yourself through a certain number of contacts to get to yeses.”

As we continue talking about pitching games, Elizabeth tells us about the mentality she took into her first meetings, which was all about getting comfortable with being turned down but doing your best in each meeting. The idea is to give yourself a goal post for the number of pitches rather than worrying about getting the first pitch-perfect.

“If you go to an event and you are the only person there like you at that event, you’re just not gonna go back. So, part of it for me is and then I’ll be the person there that when the next person comes they’re not the only one.”

Elizabeth talks about her experience as a woman in game design, which leads us into a discussion about the new types of themes, mechanics, and audiences that are emerging as the board game community becomes more inclusive and designers become more diverse.