Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Five or So Questions on BFF!

Hi all, today I have an interview with Terri Cohlene and her son, Ross Cowman, designers of BFF! BFF! is currently on Kickstarter and is a game about girlhood, friendship, and adventure - it looks like such a fantastic time, and I hope you love hearing what Terri and Ross have to say about it! 

FYI: This game is nearing the end of its Kickstarter and could super use some support - please share and consider backing an interesting new project that has a diverse cast of characters to play!


The Kickstarter video is so good! So much happy!

Tell me a little about BFF. What excites you about it?

Terri: Finally! After all this time, it's getting out into the world! BFF! is a role playing game about friendship, girlhood, and adventure. Originally I wanted to create a game about friendship that girls would love. Turns out, lots of people (young, old and of different genders) are having fun getting into that mindset.

The art is fantastic and provides a backdrop for all kinds of great adventures, from school to sleepovers to summer camp to road trips to just hanging out at the mall.

Ross: Yes, all of those things. And it is really cool to be be working with my Mom, and all of the other folks on the team. BFF has so many people's wonderful ideas in it!

As a design nerd: I'm excited to be using boardgame techniques to make a role playing game. I think this design space has a ton of potential to bring story gaming to a new audience that maybe didn't feel like they had access before.

A board game box and board, along with stand up character tokens, "charm" tokens, some cards, and character cards.
BFF! really does look like a combination of a board game and a roleplaying game, and I think that's awesome!
BFF! seems to be almost a board game + story game hybrid. How did this design come about?

T: Maybe that happened because I didn't know what I was doing. I started the ball rolling and, because my expertise is "story," that's where I began. I was thinking about what was important to 'tween girls, and, Bingo! Friendship, of course. Then I shared my idea with Ross and he fine-tuned the game design, plus we brainstormed A LOT to get the results we have now. The landscapes were kind of obvious, except the fabulous details we ended up with were totally inspired by the artists and everyone else on the team.

R: When my mom brought me her idea my first thought was to hack Fall of Magic somehow to make this work. We eventually added some unique mechanics like charm bracelets and friendship cards to specifically support the friendship theme.

A series of character tokens representing girls of all backgrounds and types, including disabled characters, girls of color, athletes, musicians, and more! Very colorful!
Speaking of friends, look at all these awesome friends!
Where are the character concepts and fictional structure being drawn from? Have have you come up with mechanics that connect those characters? 

T: The brains of Cowman/Cohlene! Then we added the creativity of the rest of Team Deernicorn. Welcome to our world!!

R: Terri and I came up with initial ideas, then bounced them off everyone else in the team who added their own stuff to the mix. We wanted to have a balance of urban and rural, of indoor and outdoor, of crowded and spacious...

The characters are connected explicitly at the start of the game through the charm mechanics. Everyone trades charms which represent things our characters like about eachother.

A person with dark hair bent over paintng.
The art for BFF! is really adorable, done by artist Veta Bahktina.

The charms sound so cool! What is their function mechanically, and what makes them important narratively?

T: The charms sound cool because they are cool! I initially had the idea of actual charm bracelets that best friend players could even wear between play sessions. While a nifty idea, it wasn't practical. At all. (Ross wisely pointed this out!) Then we briefly considered having charm necklaces that the friend tokens could wear. Again, not practical. So we ended up with bracelet templates and custom charms brilliantly designed by Taylor Dow. They represent traits or memories that the friends like about themselves or each other. Throughout the game, there are opportunities to add charms, gift them or get rid of them, each time explaining why you are taking this action. They add to the depth of understanding, growth, and bonding (& fun!) that happens during play.

R: The charms are the biggest mechanical deviation from Fall of Magic and really crucial to getting players into the friendship mentality at the start of the game. At the start of the game we each take turns selecting a charm for ourselves and talking about how that charm represents something we like about our character. Then we go around a second time and each give a charm to another character and say something we like about them. Between each hangout each do another charm scene which functions as a kind of mini-debrief in the middle of the game.
The box for BFF! and the heart of the deernicorn logo. The box is colored orange, green, yellow, and blue and has a cast of diverse characters on the cover.
The BFF! box art is so pretty and colorful. I love seeing all of the characters on the cover!
You've had some awesome sounding playtests. Were there any unique challenges in playtest with the broad age demographics or with keeping tone? What was some of your favorite feedback?

T: Not really. It's been pretty easy to get into the middle grade mindset, whether that means imagining an older or younger (or same age) alternate self. Once that's set, the playing field seems to be pretty equal. Favorite feedback? "I love it! It's my new favorite game!" Or maybe, "You want to be an eggplant? Be an eggplant!"

R: We've had consistently awesome playtests, people grinning, laughing, and just having a really fun relaxing time roleplaying these friendships together. Some of the kids from the YWCA playtest group told us after they were really inspired to make their own characters and hangouts for the game. For me, inspiring some of these young women and gender-queer youth to become future game designers, is the best possible feedback I could ask for.

A visual map of a town, including a local mountain, various buildings, a river, a seaside, and a lighthouse.
The gorgeous map/game board in BFF! is colorful and compelling!

Wow! Thank you so much to Terri and Ross for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading and that you'll skip on over to the BFF! Kickstarter page to check it out, and share this article with your friends! There's a few days left to make BFF a reality, and I think it's totally worth it.

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