Game designer Kate Hunt on how Ultimate Treehouse found a home at Fat Brain Toys

Kate Hunt, Fat Brain Toys

Kate, it’s great to connect. How did you find your way into game design?
It snuck up on me! I went to school for Chemistry and then Analytical Chemistry. I worked as a chemist for quite a while and then found myself in education. I do like that and I still work at a school, but we’re a family that plays a lot of games and that’s how I got into it.

Fat Brain Toys is launching your Ultimate Treehouse game at Gen Con this year. It’s your first game, so how did it come about?
Well, living right outside Chicago, we’re apartment dwellers. There’s a lot of advantages to apartment living but my boys really wanted a treehouse. They wanted a place of their own, right? My younger one would say: “Why can’t we build one in that tree?” I’d have to say: “Well, that doesn’t belong to us!” So Ultimate Treehouse came from them wanting that experience. It was a way for kids to scratch that itch of having a magical treehouse of their own – but in a practical way where you can create one in 30 minutes!

For anyone yet to have a go at the game, how does it play?
Everyone starts with their own tree, so everyone has their own mat. It’s a resource game, so you’re getting lumber and rope to build things. So you’ll need metal if you want to build something like a slide. Each build fits on the mat, so your treehouse transforms from a blank template to a very lively place. And each element has an animal – there’s a turtle going down a slide, a bunny napping in the hammock… It’s a very warm, fuzzy, characterful place.

Kate Hunt, Fat Brain Toys

Amazing. And at what point did this morph from something fun to play with family, to a commercial endeavour?
We played it a lot on our own and then we started sending it to friends. That was our playtesting process. The first version was one I made from blank Pokémon mats and a sharpie. That’s the one we circulated with friends, and they really liked it. Then I hired an artist, self-published the game. So much of the fun of Ultimate Treehouse is in the engaging artwork and the way the cards fit into the mat like a puzzle. Once I saw it with official artwork, that’s when I knew we had something. I then took it to ASTRA and that’s where I met Adam Hocherman from Fat Brain Toys.

Did you go to ASTRA with an eye on licensing it to a company like Fat Brain?
A little bit. I had a game and I went to ASTRA to sell that first print run. I also knew that sales and marketing was not my forte. ASTRA has a lot of educational session and I went into a panel session for game designers. Azhelle Wade was on the panel – she does the Toy Creators Academy and I picked her brain on some things. She explained that I probably wanted my game to be licensed and when I met Adam later on, I knew it was a direction I’d like to go in.

What has Adam and Fat Brain Toys been like to work with?
Really great. Adam took the game in, played it with his family and then reached back out, explaining what the process would be like. He kept me updated throughout the process and I just got the finished game. He’s been really helpful; Fat Brain did a really great job.

The game officially launches this week at Gen Con. Will you be there?
Yes! It’ll be my first Gen Con. I’ll be at the Fat Brain booth and also at the First Exposure playtest hall where I’ll be playtesting a bunch of concepts.

On that, what sorts of games do you find yourself drawn to creating?
It’s a real mixed bag. I have new one that’s aimed at adults – it’s the first time I’ve done that as I usually create kids’ stuff.

Before we wrap up, what helps you have ideas?
Spending time with kids at school helps – and I also try to start with a game mechanic in mind. I didn’t do that with Ultimate Treehouse, but I have another game idea that came from picking a mechanic and asking: ‘What’s the most interesting thing we could do with that?’

I imagine that’s a good launchpad for ideas! Now, for any companies reading that want to connect, where’s best to reach you?
I’m always up for meeting companies! I met some at the Mojo Pitch last month and I’ll be doing People of Play later this year because it’s very close to me!

Great stuff. Thanks Kate – and good luck with the launch of the game at Gen Con!

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