BROOKINGS – Games, whether board games, card games or dice-based games, are more popular than ever these days, allowing families and friends to huddle together around a table for a respite from the ubiquitous screens of computers and phones.Chris Williams, founder of Alright Games, is working to make his mark in this resurgent pastime with games he’s carefully designed. These games are a bit different from the old standards of Sorry!, Monopoly or The Game of Life.
The 29-year-old runs the business out of his home at the moment. He works as a bank teller at First Bank & Trust, with Alright Games serving as a hobby business he hopes to take further.
Williams will be attending the Brookings Economic Development Corporation’s Pop-Up Market from 9 a.m.-noon Saturday. The event is held to provide local entrepreneurs with a chance to test the market and gain feedback from the public.
Williams currently is working on multiple games, each at various levels of completion. One he’s spent most of his time on is called After the Stars Fell, a resource-gathering and exploration game.
After meteors plummet to earth, “you’re going around and mining meteors from the craters,” Williams said.
With special location cards spread out in a circle, players can move not only their own pieces around the make-shift board, but opponents’ as well. Resources collected at the meteor crater locations can be exchanged for other things in the game.
Another game nearing completion is 1-2 Punch, a card game that pits two players against each other in a boxing match, trying to predict what moves the other player is about to make.
Then there’s Super Hyper Combo.
“It’s heavily inspired by fighting video games like Street Fighter and Mortal Combat. … This is also a two-player fighting game where you have dice to represent what moves you’re doing,” Williams said.
There are others that he’s working on, such as Mocha Meow – he’s still looking for an artist for that project.
In that game, he explained, “You’re playing as cat baristas in a coffee shop. It’s a quick game that only takes five, 10 minutes to play, rolling (dice) to serve coffee to customers.”
Start with theme
When Williams begins designing a game, it’s often with a specific theme in mind, and then it’s a matter of working rules around that theme. Sometimes he reverses that process, starting with a particular game mechanic in mind that’s caught his interest and then finding a suitable theme for that.
He enjoys the details of games’ rules, discovering what works and what can make a game frustrating or tedious. It takes a lot of testing to make sure that the rules keep the game fun and fair.
With an idea of a game in mind and rules sketched out, he, his wife and friends will test it out. At that point, they’re playing with simple proxies – cut up index cards or printed cardstock.
“It’s very ugly at first, just scraps of paper,” he said. Still, it’s enough to see if the concept is worth pursuing further.
“A lot of times, there are things that just completely don’t work at all, so I’ll scrap it then and there. With the ones that are actually fun, I’ll continue going further with it.”
If he does want to take a game further after that testing, then it’s back to tweaking the rules. When that’s complete, he can start looking for artists to provide the art for the game.
“Then it’s just putting it all together and getting the graphic design done for it and getting the rules written out so it’s readable for everyone” with more testing of the game to follow, he said.
His wife, Kalli, sometimes helps out with the graphic design – it is her profession.
It can be a little intimidating to try to write down the rules so that any new player can sit down and play the game without any outside help.
“I’ve played it so many times where I can read through it and it makes total sense, and then you give it to somebody who’s never played it and they might not have any idea what to do,” Williams said.
But it’s really satisfying when he witnesses a player have an aha moment, when they figure out a strategy or notice something no one else did. As nice as it is to have confirmation of a game well-done like that, bad reactions are necessary, too.
“Honestly, the bad reactions are just as helpful if not more helpful. It’s good to see that someone can break your game and be like, here’s a major flaw. I’d much rather have someone find it now than later when I’ve released it, so I am all for criticism,” he said.
And finding those flaws are why so much testing is done throughout the process of bringing a game to market.
Finding an artist whose style matches the one he has in mind for a game can be tough, too, and online freelancers have been helpful there.
No less intimidating is trying to manufacture a final product. One difficult obstacle he came up against was that many places he looked into had a minimum production order. But he found an online option, TheGameCrafter.com, that specifically caters to independent game designers. Through that site, he can order as little as one copy of a game or even sell copies through the site, which he does plan to do.
“If it gets really popular, I’ve thought about doing Kickstarter. I’m also going to try to go to conventions and see if publishers want to pick it up, too,” he said.
In the short term, his goal is to sell enough copies of games to break even and continue to design new games.
“Ideally, if I can get that one game that gives me a little bit of income every once in a while, it can help to more or less pay for the rest of it,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s very little profit in the board game design world, even at the higher levels. But if I can find a publisher to break even, then I’m happy. This is mostly just fun.”
Williams encouraged people to come visit with him Saturday at the pop-up market and give his games a try.
“I’m always looking for artists to work with or people that want to test games,” he said. “If anyone wants to do art for it, I’m looking to hire people for it, and looking for people to play the games to see what they think about them.”
People can visit his website, AlrightGames.com, as well as his Facebook and Twitter pages.
Contact Eric Sandbulte at firstname.lastname@example.org.