1. Tell our readers who you are.
Hi Everyone! I’m Victoria Caña, a producer for Wizards of the Coast by day, and an award-winning indie game designer by night. Before I got into the games industry, I did work in a bunch of different fields: management consulting, marketing, ad tech, consumer insights, fashion PR, creative writing. Over time, my dreams changed, but I’m thankful I went on this exploratory journey to find my true passion: making awesome games that empower marginalized creators and players.
2. What was the first board game you remember playing?
It was Slamwich, an educational dexterity game about making sandwiches (essentially Slapjack for kids). Another early board game I played was Diploma Dogs, which the box describes as “The game that makes learning fun!”. I think it achieved that goal for sure. You play as one of six tiny stuffed dogs with backpacks (Geography Dog, History Dog, Math Dog, Language Dog, Health Dog, or Science Dog). And, get this: when you answer trivia questions correctly you get to fill your dog’s backpack with bones and biscuits. How adorable! I loved playing Diploma Dogs with my sister growing up and I highly recommend it for families with young children.
3. What are your favorite board games right now and why?
My current favorite games are Kolejka (a game about fighting to get the items on your shopping list in Communist Poland), Rising Sun (an an area control strategy game set in feudal Japan), Rococo (a euro game where you play a dressmaker running a ball), Yokohama (a game about building a successful business in Meiji period Japan), and Just One (the fun-for-all Spiel de Jahres-winning party game). I enjoy many types of games and am generally down to play anything, but games with good reviews and interesting themes appeal to me the most.
4. Tell us about Gladius.
Gladius is an award-winning board game of spectacle and sabotage for 2-5 players. You play as cunning Roman spectators trying to make the most money by betting on and rigging the gladiatorial games. Each round, players secretly place bets on competing gladiator teams. Through the skillful use of underhanded tactics, players can help and hinder teams to alter the outcome of each battle. The player with the most money at the end of three rounds wins! We’ve demoed Gladius hundreds of times at gaming conventions over the past few years, and I’ve noticed that people who like card games, video games, bluffing, and Rome have a very high likelihood of enjoying Gladius. We also attract a lot of people who like our game’s fun, lighthearted art style.
5. What was your inspiration to create the game?
A lot of different factors came together that led to the creation of Gladius. First, my co-designer Alex and I met veteran game designer Stone Librande at the Tribeca Games Festival. He told us that if we want to be game designers, we should try to make a game out of cards. While thinking about what we should make a game about, we found inspiration from two different games. First, Domina, a video game where you run a school of gladiators. Second, Council of Verona, a betting and bluffing game themed around Romeo and Juliet. We love Roman History and liked the idea of spectating the gladiatorial games as opposed to being a gladiator. We also really enjoyed Council of Verona but wanted something a bit heavier. These different forces led to the creation of what we now know as Gladius! We’ve been working on the game for the past three years now and are excited for it to launch on Kickstarter on February 18.
6. What are the most challenging issues that you’ve come across in designing a board game?
The most challenging issue when designing a game is picking a direction to push the game in. When we start with a design it can go a million different places depending on so many different factors: what you as the designer want, what newer players want, what seasoned board gamers want, what publishers want, what playtesters want. All these different opinions are in constant conflict with each other and choosing which direction to choose can be daunting.
7. What aspects of board game designing do you enjoy the most?
I love the blue sky phase when there are no limits and you think of crazy ideas and get excited about how awesome they could be! I also enjoy the playtesting phase because seeing your game in the hands of players helps you learn about how to improve it. Through playtesting, you get to observe what parts of a game are working and which ones are not. On top of that, you get to connect with people face-to-face and meet new friends and fans.
8. What were some hurdles you’ve overcome, as a woman, to get to where you are in the industry?
The tabletop industry has come a long way, but it is still so hard to be a woman designer let alone a player. People still give me weird, skeptical looks like I’m in the wrong place when I go to game stores, events, and conventions. Sometimes people think I’m an “assistant” and only acknowledge my co-creator, who is a man, as a designer when we’re both demoing the game. And worst of all, I’ve had to overcome bullying. My sister and I were bullied by a high-profile game designer who was judging a game design contest we were in a few years ago. He made fun of us and our game in front of a live audience, and he didn’t do that to any of the game designers who were men. To top it all off, right after the judging panel ended, half of the audience came up to us one by one to apologize for the judge’s behavior. That’s how we knew it was really bad – it was so bad that complete strangers in the audience felt compelled to apologize to us for bad behavior they witnessed.
9. What has been the proudest moment of your career?
In addition to making a great game, one of the goals for Gladius was to help my co-creator Alex get into the games industry. In a surprise turn of events, Gladius ended up helping me get a job in the games industry. I was a management consultant at Deloitte before I became a producer at Wizards of the Coast, and honestly, it was a great transition because I spent all my free time designing and playing games anyway. I had just never thought that I could be in the industry because of the imposter syndrome I feel as a woman of color. I’m so proud and happy to be here because now I can show other women of color that they can make games too!
10. Do you have any other board games in development or currently available that you would like to share with our readers?
My co-designer Alex and I have a few other prototypes that we put on hold to work on Gladius: Red Cliffs (a wallet game where you play a strategist during the pivotal battle of China’s Warring States Period), Hot Takes (a party game/liar’s dice hybrid about dishing out hot takes and guessing your friends’ stances on them), and Dim Sum Rush (a game about eating the tastiest and cutest dim sum).