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Gamemaster Introduces the World to the People Who Make Their Board Games

This week we are reviewing Gamemaster, a feature-length documentary that dives into the stories behind some of the most successful and influential game developers in the board game industry. Gamemaster pulls back the curtain on the mysterious process of creating and distributing board games by highlighting several games and their creators. The documentary does a fantastic job showcasing these people while also giving context to the struggles they’ve gone through to create their work and break into the industry.

If you have ever wondered if you could make your own board game, there’s a lot of great information in Gamemaster. Several game developers give excellent examples of how they started out with just a deck of playing cards written on in marker and prototype game boxes made out of packing cardboard with hand-drawn art. The documentary includes interviews with people on the publishing side of the industry who give a lot of solid advice that could be useful and encouraging to people interested in taking their board game to the next level. Additionally, the interviews with the designers themselves offer a colossal amount of insight by sharing their personal stories.

Gamemaster primarily follows five game designers: Charlie Bink, Elan Lee, Scott Rogers, Nashra Balagamwala, and Jason Serrato. Each of these creators dealt with different challenges while making their game a reality. Some are spurred on by their success while others encounter road blocks due to assumptions they had about the underlying ideas, and some find mixed levels of success due to the circumstances under which they pursued their visions.

Charlie Bink gives a candid look at how he created Trekking the National Parks, a process that created an entire family business and drastically affected his life in the process. Elan Lee discusses how the overwhelming success of Exploding Kittens on Kickstarter gave him a valuable opportunity that came with struggles all its own. The segment on Scott Rogers shows his struggles with developing Rayguns and Rocketships while also battling cancer. Nashra Balagamwala relates how she turned to game design as a way to push back on harmful social practices, eventually creating Arranged! a game about avoiding an arranged marriage. The filmmakers circle back around to the difficulties Jason Serrato faced while trying to make Thug Life, a game about surviving in struggling urban communities.

Growing up, I never knew how board games were made. I know it would have been eye-opening to see people making games with nothing more than markers and notecards. I can imagine a creative kid somewhere watching Gamemaster and starting to try designing their own board game. I have older friends now who have always wanted to get into tabletop game development but been discouraged by the idea of presenting their ideas to publishers. Gamemaster has advice and insight for them, too.

Even if you aren’t interested in making games of your own, Gamemaster allows you a glimpse of a world that has, up until recently, been incredibly insular. The industry hasn’t received as much attention as video games or even other games played at the table like Dungeons & Dragons, but that means there are struggles many people aren’t aware of and haven’t been deeply explored. One of the prime examples from the film is that, up until recently, most board games were designed by white men – a trend that has been very slowly changing as more people gain the tools and connections necessary to bring their own experiences to life.

One of the main messages of the film is that board games are becoming a space where anyone can make it regardless of their background. All it takes is finding an idea that speaks to you – and then sticking with and refining that idea until it shines. You can create a game about hiking the national parks of the United States or something silly like kittens that explode. All that matters is your ability to design with whatever you have around you and a willingness to improve.

Gamemaster is available to view now via digital video-on-demand services:

Don’t forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!