About 5 years ago, I took a job at a tiny little company here in Logan, a simple part-time job that barely paid the bills. It was meant to be temporary, and probably would have been, if not for the fact that I met someone that would change the course of my life in a very real way.
Normally, you might be expecting someone to go on about how they met the love of their life, and how long they’ve been happily married. In this case, nothing quite so fairy-tale oriented. No, actually I met a young man who would become one of my best friends as years went by. We started as simple co-workers in the same dead-end job, while he worked his way up to a Master’s Degree in programming. But we had one very important thing in common: Our love of board games.
Gaming is in my blood. I was raised to be a gamer by my dad who was a gamer his entire life, everything from simple Monopoly and Stratego, up to Dungeons & Dragons, Axis & Allies, and many others. I learned to read from a “Player’s Handbook” and I learned to count from a D20. Eventually, I learned to do math from sets of 4D6, and I learned both technical writing from various game manuals, as well as fantasy fiction writing from endless D&D books. I will raise my children to be gamers, as I believe that something as simple and fun as gaming can teach very important life skills and ways of thinking. But that’s another story.
My friend, David, had an almost opposite story growing up. Despite a veritable horde of siblings, he never had anyone in his life who shared a love of gaming, but he was too intrigued and enchanted by games not to buy and play them anyway, even if he had to invent other players and play every role in the game. Eventually this would change in high school, but he was about as self-taught in games as you could be. And it changed him for the better.
In today’s age, where children aren’t even being taught cursive in the classroom anymore, we are seeing an emphasis on computers, tablets, and smartphones taking the place of pens and paper, books, and yes, even my beloved board games. Or are they?
There is just something to opening a book, feeling the pages under your fingers, smelling that “book” smell, and hearing the crisp sound of turning pages. Apart from actually eating the book, you really can stimulate almost all of your senses with one, and it does more than this, in stimulating our imaginations. For me, a board game is absolutely the same experience.
You have the same feedback in almost every aspect (you can’t tell me that new board games don’t have a distinct “smell” out of the box), and you interact with a board game on a much more dynamic level than you ever could with a book. Paper money, plastic tokens, full-color rulebooks, bi- and quad-folding boards… all of these things are interacted with and provide their own (usually positive) stimuli almost immediately, right when you begin that amazing feeling of punching the cardboard tokens out of their sheets.
Personally, I think there is a certain legacy to boardgames. I think that my great-grandchildren will probably play Stratego, people will still be passing on their heirloom Chess boards, and Monopoly will still be America’s first boardgame sweetheart. Beyond that, especially with the advent of Kickstarter, I think that there will be many more games that we pass down the generations to our children’s children, who will fall so in love with those games that they remake them for their 20th, and even 70th anniversaries.
Dave has always been an optimist at worst, and a dreamer at best. For me, I’ve always been a cynic at worst, and a realist at best. Remember that awful job that he and I shared? At the time, I thought it was one of the worst decisions I could’ve made in life. This job was so tedious and boring, that Dave and I passed the time by talking about board games. We would discuss different game rules, game genres, and game mechanics. On our breaks and lunches we would play card games and board games… and then eventually (out of nothing more than sheer boredom of course, for me) we began to write and develop games.
We would put those imagined mechanics to the test, we would convince other bored co-workers to draw us crappy pictures as artwork for “our games” that we were inventing. We, sitting next to each other, going through the absolutely mindless repetitions of our jobs, would play-test these games for hours a day, refining and tweaking. We would write rulebooks and FAQs for them, we would scribble and cut out Index Cards, we would bring graph paper and design boards and player mats. It was basically our think-tank, since our minimum wage job didn’t require “thinking” of any kind after having done it for a couple of years.
We got more serious about it, and began playtesting outside of work regularly, setting up a Thursday “test night” that we would put these games through, and revise, revise, revise. For me it was just harmless fun, something to do because I loved games, and I loved entertaining the thought of making my own games to fill a niche on my game shelves. If there was something I wanted and didn’t have, I could just invent it and play it with my friends who were all too willing to “help playtest.”
I thought that it would never go anywhere, and after a few years, Dave and I left that job. I got a much better job with a well-paying telecommunications company, and he graduated and got a great job designing software. For about 2 years, our ideas sat on the shelves gathering dust, and I never gave them another thought. That chapter of my life had closed. At least, until two things happened.
Thing one: After having heard many cool things about kickstarter, and having been shown (by Dave, of course) one of the most phenomenal kickstarters ever to have happened, I decided to back it. It was still in the early days since launch, so I got in on one of the lower levels (which, for this kickstarter was a pretty penny). Then as the launch got close to ending, Dave decided to go in on it with me, and we doubled our pledge to get a few of the expansions that were being advertised. As a side note: after a couple of months, I ended up buying out his share, and upping my pledge all the way to the highest level. Sandy and his company were all too happy to oblige, and allow me to give them more money.
Thing two: Another co-worker of mine at my new job was already an entrepreneur of sorts. He had his own business here in Cache Valley, and had been running it successfully for over 5 years. With degrees in Physics and Accounting, I thought he was a smart kid, and after going over the numbers for his business (which he cheerfully discussed) I knew that he was.
In a surprising turn of events, someone offered to buy out his business for an extremely healthy chunk of change. Now, for most people this would be a great opportunity to pay off their house, their car, or buy a brand new computer (or 10 of them). However, for my friend here, he already owned his car, was already half way paid off on his house, and had developed one of the most extensive networks of cutting-edge computers I’ve never had the pleasure of even laying a finger on. He wanted to take his newly acquired money and do the smart thing: reinvest.
For the first time in over 2 years, I thought back to the old prototype that Dave and I had come up with, and the gears in my head started turning. I had never thought that my old game could ever be something, or go somewhere. I never thought that it could be published, or that anyone would find an interest in it. But I just went for it.
“Hey Ryan, you’re into board games, right?”
“Love them. Why?”
“My friend and I fully developed and tested a really great game about 2 years ago. We never did anything with it because we never had start-up capital. You said you wanted a crazy investment, and I have a crazy idea. What if we kickstart this game?”
“Sure. I’ll be over Friday and we can play. If I like it, we’ll talk.”
He was over Friday. I had to re-learn some of the old rules, and at the time our rulebook was in excess of 30 pages (brevity was never our strongsuit), but I managed to get off a fairly decent demo of the game for him. After a lot of good laughs and some great historical discussion about Ancient Rome (the setting for the game) he said the greatest two words to me I’ve ever heard. “I’m in.”
And just like that, we had funding. We formed our own company, and suddenly we had deadlines, projects, revisions, art design, manufacturers, etc. Almost overnight this game went from being an idea that I thought would never go anywhere to becoming a very real part of my life, and soon, the lives of hundreds, hopefully even thousands of people.
I’ve learned a lot over these past 5 years, but one of the things that, as a cynic, has been the most valuable lesson is to never give up on something that you love. I love playing, designing, and creating games. I will hopefully always love it. And I did myself the disservice of giving up way too soon on a project that had way too much heart to ignore. I should’ve taken a page out of Dave’s book long, long ago, and kept trying.
And, here we are, with one project in the process of getting finished up and ready to push out the door via kickstarter, and several others in the wings ready to follow those same footsteps. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and it’s only just begun. I’ll be documenting my progress here as I go along, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.