Growing Up with Board Games: The Power of Nostalgia

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Hey there, everyone! My name is Maria. I feel like the Goldilocks of boardgames. I don’t want to play a game that is too intense (no offense, Dominion), I don’t want a game that is too easy (I’ll only play Go Fish with my 3-year-old niece). Instead, I find myself somewhere in the middle when it comes time to picking out a game. Part of this is because of my early years growing up with board games.

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Brandon asked me to write a few guest posts for you all to give the perspective on games from someone who plays, but isn’t what most would consider a “hobby board gamer.” He says that’s because the board game market is a lot bigger than people think.

In this post, I’m going to share a little bit about me and the games I grew up on. I’ll also be writing future posts like: 

  • My Top 5 Games
  • My “I’d rather clean the bathrooms” Games 
  • Board Games for Dating
  • Marrying a Game Developer 

Growing Up with Board Games

I was born in the late 80s to parents who love games, specifically card games. Being the fourth member of the family, my parents saw an opportunity in our little quad of a family to play games regardless of our age. Some of my early memories of aluminum foil (don’t you think about your early memories of kitchen accessories?), was sticking my Uno cards in the box because there was no way I could hold all the cards at once.

By the time I was 6, I could tell you what Knobs meant, the importance of an Ace of Spades, and why you should never agree to “playing blood”. I much preferred a rousing game of Rummikub over Sorry! but, desperately clutched at Snakes and Ladders over trying to learn Backgammon yet again. 

My childhood is full of fond memories, many of which involve some form of game. I also recognize, however, that my childhood was not a normal one. When I was almost 4 years old, my family moved from the US to Saudi Arabia; I mention this, because travel board games were my mom’s go-to in keeping me quiet during the 24-26 hours of travel.

In addition to my own backpack of stuffed animals, Mom would always pack the giant purple “Game Bag” that held all kinds of amazing activities and SNACKS. Airplane food was definitely lacking, and our layovers were often at times where airport restaurants weren’t open, so this bag was the saving grace.

It had name brand crackers (Ritz), trail mix (M&Ms with obstacles), fruit roll-ups (pretty sure these were considered in case of emergency), and the aforementioned travel games. My favorite game was Guess Who because I liked looking at all the little pictures of people and imagined what they would talk about when we put the game in the box. My brother’s favorite was Battleship, and despite always having to play him so I could have someone on my end of the guessing game, I’m still terrible.

Board Games Were a Huge Part of My Childhood in Saudi Arabia

Since I grew up in Saudi, where there were no malls or movie theatres, and we didn’t get British TV until after a few years of living there, games were a stable in my childhood. Another aspect of living overseas meant that all the expats were their own little community.

Kids called adults by their first names. Adults expected kids to join in on the day’s activities. It seemed only natural that if my parents wanted to play a rousing game of Spades, then they had to teach me and my brother in order to complete the table. To their credit, we did play a lot of Uno too.

I could talk about dozens of games, but I’m going to focus on five. I’ll include a longer list of games at the bottom of this post if you fancy a trip down memory lane. 

  1. Monopoly
  2. Clue
  3. Mastermind and Mastermind Jungle
  4. The Game of Life
  5. Titanic

Growing Up with Monopoly

Let’s go ahead and talk about Monopoly to get it out of the way. I hate Monopoly. I used to love it when I was a kid because I thought the little pieces were so cute. The little Scottie was always my piece. It helped that Mom would let me pick whatever trades I wanted if I couldn’t fork over the money.

But Dad? Yeah, Dad was the real hardass in the game. If you landed on his hotel then you had better pay up, mortgage your properties, or walk out. Once I got a little older and my cute “but daaaaaad” didn’t work, we stopped playing the game. The below meme (courtesy of Facebook) is painfully true for my family.  

Growing Up with Clue

Clue. LOVED that game. I loved any kind of mystery, and this game let me play a sassy character: Scarlett. Looking back on it now, I can see how the game would get old after a while, but I do still enjoy games that target the same audience (I’m looking at you 221B Baker Street). I realize that I could just try and solve the crime without moving the puzzle piece around, but there is something so satisfying about hearing the dice roll and getting to click-clack your piece around the board. Almost like getting to play with a paper dollhouse…but a dollhouse with a murderous past. 

Growing Up with Mastermind

I actually forgot about this game until I sat down to write this post. Have you ever heard of it?

I remember when my brother and I found the game in the basement that had no directions and we tried figuring it out (apparently we found the 1972 original version).

Definitely getting those 1972 vibes.

Essentially, it is a 20 questions game that can be played without speaking and rather than answering “Who Am I?” you are trying to figure out the hidden 4-sequence pegs. This probably led to my lifelong interest in mysteries and heists.

While the first edition we played was certainly not physically accessible, we ultimately got a “jungle edition” that had the different colored pegs also be differently shaped animals. The hippos were purple, so it was pretty easy to guess my sequences.

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Growing Up with the Game of Life

So inaccurate, and yet accurate, all at the same time. It would explain a lot if 2020 were being caused by the spinner in Life flying off its inset.

I loved this game because it was always the game that we would play at my grandma’s house when we were visiting. Looking back now, I don’t know why my parents never bought us a copy of our own. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made the game feel so special.

We would play that game over and over again. In the early wee hours of the morning before anyone woke up, in the evening while grandma was cooking dinner, or during a lazy afternoon sprawled out on the floor.

That’s the other thing about that game, I rarely remember ever playing it on a table. We always played it on the floor either in the middle of the living room or between the living room and dining room. Pink and blue pegs everywhere, the raattttattatatattatatatat of the spinner always clicking away, and me continuing to ask the question “but why is the teacher salary so much less???”

Ah, to be so naive!

Don’t they look so happy?

Growing Up with Titanic

I’ve saved this game for last, because it is my absolute favorite. Perhaps it is one of my favorites because I am as stubborn as I am Italian (…I’m really Italian in case the implication wasn’t clear). My parents STILL groan if I ever mention the game. Even my husband refuses to play the game with me!

I don’t recall who gave us the game, but I was obsessed with it. First off, the board for the game folded outwards horizontally, not into a big square like every other game I was familiar with at the time. Then, it was split up into 3 different sections where you could not advance to the next section until having met certain objectives for your current section. That was mind boggling to me and a completely new concept.

And then, best of all, there was a PURPLE Lady in an AMAZING HAT as a character. I was sold. If I were to look at the game now, as an objective 30-year-old without a lifelong adoration of the game, I would possibly admit that it isn’t very complex and is really just a game of chance. Even Monopoly has more strategy than Titanic.

But goodness I was in love.

The art on the board was also so intricate for a game at the time. You had to pick up cute little passports that had fun details on them. You had to move around the board that was based on a real-life boat, and the cards referenced such swanky parties on the upper decks.

To a little girl who hadn’t even hit the double-digits club, this game had it all (except, of course, strategy). Even though the only person who will ever play this game with me is my cousin, it will always remain as a personal favorite and is why I dragged it out of the Goodwill box and have it safely tucked under my desk to this day. 

*Bonus Game: Rummikub*

I couldn’t stop at just 5 games. Rummikub is a game I have been playing since I was…5? 6? The only thing about this game that is a lie is the “Fast Moving” part of the catch phrase. That, and the happy smiling faced on the box.

We play by “Aunt Sue Rules” which is apparently different from the rulebook rules. I don’t care what you say, but if you’re going to replace a wild card, you must play it with 2 from your own hand. And don’t even think about moving the played wild card when switching tiles around; that’ll get a flipped table for sure.

When the pegs fell out of the stand and all your tiles fell….ah memories.

The Common Thread

Looking back on all the games that I played growing up, I see now why so many made such an impact on my game preferences now. They pretty much all incorporate the below factors: 

  • Great art or colors
  • Included a clicking noise, but wasn’t the entire game (I HATED Yahtzee because it hurt my ears) 
  • Tactile, but not needlessly fidgety 
  • Dynamic character roles

Even now when I pick out a game, if it has great art or just enough physical pieces, then I’ll give it a go at least once. I’ll talk more about what draws me to a board game in my next post, “My Top 5 Games” but the factors are not going to be too far from the above. Looking at my list of games to discuss in the next post (My Top 5 Games), I can definitely see that the common thread goes far beyond my childhood years.

That’s All, Folks!

I hope you have enjoyed my trip down memory lane as I shared with you the games that made my childhood. This is really nostalgic for me, even having left a bunch of games out.

I’ll leave you with this. All the games below are ones I played in the first ten years of my life. Let me know if any are nostalgic for you too!

  • Monopoly (Washington DC version)
  • Clue (Original, and Simpson’s)
  • Mastermind (Original and Jungle)
  • The Game of Life
  • Titanic
  • Rummikub (Aunt Sue rules)
  • Cribbage (don’t ever play blood)
  • Spades (girls against guys, duh)
  • Uno (did you know that you aren’t supposed to keep drawing until you get the right colored card???)
  • Battleship
  • Guess Who
  • Candyland & Snakes/Ladders
  • Gin (I literally always thought this was based on the alcohol)
  • Jenga (Only play on carpet)
  • Twister (Fun factoid, our game was in Arabic)
  • Sorry!
  • Connect 4 (play Gomoku if you were a fan of C4 as a kid!)
  • Mancala (Wasn’t huge on this game, but I liked the beads)
  • Chinese Checkers (Same as Mancala)
  • Trouble

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Board Games, Seen By a Non-Gamer is written by Maria Polcari, Brandon’s wife. The series is meant to both make you think about games in a different way, and to give Brandon a much needed break!

This is the first in a five-part series (maybe more)!

Board games, seen by a non-gamer: an upcoming short series

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The long, strange summer of 2020 brought me a lot more work than expected. I’m currently working on handling an unusually high volume of client work for the Pangea Marketing Agency. I won’t deny for a second that it’s a problem of privilege, especially in this grueling and unfair economy. Nevertheless, responsibilities are accumulating, and I must attend to them.

Yet I still want to keep posts going on this blog. That’s why over the next few weeks, my wife, Maria, will be writing a handful of posts. The theme of this short series will be “board games, seen by a non-gamer.”

Despite playing Twilight Struggle and Terraforming Mars with me, Maria doesn’t exactly see herself as a board gamer. At least not in the “always watching Kickstarter, painting minis, and 500 games on the shelf” sense. Instead, she’s somewhere in the middle ground between the diehard board gamers I just described and the “I used to love Monopoly as a kid” crowd.

Board games have been growing for the last decade, and I feel like, at least based on what I’ve seen, they’ve become a mainstream part of Millennial / Generation Z life. My friends would play Codenames in college around 2015. Even after my graduation, I didn’t have to go to the game shop to find people to play Pandemic before the pandemic.

For this reason, I think Maria’s point of view will echo the feelings of many people who are quiet fans of board games. Remember: board gaming is big, but hobby board gaming is relatively small. Taking a moment to consider other perspectives may help you to build a business in the long run.

So readers, stay tuned for what will prove to an enlightening short series of articles. And Maria – thank you for giving me a chance to catch my breath!

How to Master Time (So You Can Make Games)

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Game development is a marathon. It’s a long, difficult endeavor that eliminates the unprepared by sapping their endurance a quarter-mile at a time. It takes at least a year, at the bare minimum, to take a board game idea and turn into a ready-to-sell product. Anything less than that is next to impossible, and 18-24 months is a lot more realistic.

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Staying organized and managing your time well are critical to self-publishing a game. There are a lot of things to do, a lot of things to track, and a lot of time that needs to be spent. You need to keep your digital and physical files organized, you need to keep a to-do list, you need to keep a project timeline, and you need to make and stick to a calendar. If you do not stay organized, you’ll be pulled in too many different directions and you won’t get hardly anything done.

Let’s start from the top down. I’ll talk about big time-frames and how you can organize your time and your efforts in the long-term and we’ll slowly work our way down to from years to minutes.

Wall Clock

Years

Accept that it takes at least a year to make a game, and often 18-24 months. It almost always takes more than one game to make a good amount of money. By self-publishing, you’re starting a business and that most businesses need 3-5 years to make a decent amount of money.

Years are too big of a time frame to meaningfully organize your activities around, but it’s important to accept the long arc of what you’re getting into. Lots of people make games. Most people quit. You don’t have to be one of them. I feel like the main differences between the quitters and the winners are expectations, passion, and willingness to improve.

Months

Game development as a process falls into several stages, most of which take months. They include…

Early Production

Game design and development. This is the process by which game ideas are crafted into working products. This usually takes at least 6 months. Making the game work isn’t necessarily the hard part. The hard parts are play testing it, getting artwork, and getting the whole product ready for the market.

Artwork. You get someone to do the art for your game. Unless you’re really talented, you shouldn’t do art for your own game. The amount of time this takes is dependent upon your artist’s schedule and the complexity of your game, but even a simple board game could take around 4 months.

Production. You’ll need to print some sample copies of your game to make sure all your ideas translate well to a physical product. This could take a month or more. It could take much, much longer if you wind up having to make changes.

Rubik's Cube Taken Apart
It takes a long time for games to come together. Photo taken by Hangsna and posted to Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 (Source).

Reviews. Before you can launch a Kickstarter, you’ll need reviews for people to take you seriously. Reviewers tend to drag their feet, so you should account for two months between sending them a copy and them writing a review. You also need to account for the time it takes to produce sample copies. Budget 3 months for this.

Kickstarter. While most Kickstarters are around a month in length, the preparation before and the clean-up afterward take another month together. You should plan to spend about 2 months on Kickstarter. This is assuming, of course, that you succeed. About half of Kickstarters in the board game market don’t. If you fail, you’ll need to relaunch and that involves more time. Also, if you want to succeed in the first place, you’ll need to have a community built up from several months prior as well.

Late Production

Manufacturing. It takes about a month to print board games. Then it takes about three months to ship them by sea. Yes, you read that right. You can air ship them, but it’s really expensive and I can’t recommend that you do that in good faith. Plan for 4 months to manufacture assuming everything goes well. Manufacturing delays in addition to that 4 month time frame are very common.

Fulfillment. Whether you ship your games yourself or with the help of third parties, it’s going to take a bare minimum of two weeks to get everything in the mail. Plus you’ll be intermittently solving problems related to fulfillment in the months to come.

Sales. This can go on for as long as your game has a community! Here is the thing, though: this never really ends.

Marketing. Even if you had a game perfectly ready to go, you’d still need to build a community through wise marketing and promotion practices for at least six months, but realistically closer to a year to make even a modest amount of money on Kickstarter.

How do you keep track of all of this? One such way is to create a Gantt chart, shown below. Each different stage can be imagined as a row. The columns represent time. This helps you get a feel for how your game’s creation process will work. If you get ahead or fall behind, you can tweak the bars to be shorter or longer and move everything else that comes along with it. I made this chart in Excel, but there are better programs for it.

Weeks

Every week, it’s a good idea to set goals. Sure, you can have broader goals of “be a good game dev” and “make this game a real thing.” In fact, those are really important to have! But with weekly goals, your focus should be making them specific and achievable. Line up your weekly goals with your broader goals.

I like keeping my weekly goals in Evernote. I set weekly goals every Saturday and I track certain metrics like web traffic, followers, newsletter subscribers, and sales that I think line up with my bigger goals. Here’s what my weekly goals look like right now.

Days

On a day-to-day basis, you want to make sure you have time to actually achieve what’s on your weekly goals. After all, it’s the weekly goals that link up to the monthly stages of board game development and the multi-year epic journey that is getting published. I suggest using Google Calendar to track your time in 30 minute blocks. You can move these blocks around as you like, but the idea is to actually set aside time every day to work on your goals.

Google Calendar

Hours

When it comes to setting up time for making a game, it’s not just about putting in long hours. Sure, you might have to put in long hours, but the reality is that you don’t have to put that much time in everyday to make it. You just have to put a good amount of time in most days for a few years.

Make your time count. Only spend time on what’s worthwhile. Try to schedule tasks when your mind and body are capable of doing them well. Always look for ways to improve your processes. If you can outsource work, do it. If you can automate work, do it. Work smart so that when you work hard, it’s worth the extra oomph!

Minutes

Focus is critical. Find out what distracts you. Is it social media? The constant buzzing of text messages? Are your kids interrupting you? Is it noisy neighbors? Figure out what triggers distraction in you. Seek to eliminate or reduce distraction wherever you can so you don’t get your precious little minutes stolen.

Mindful use of your time is key to success in game development and self-publishing. Set realistic expectations. Have an understanding of what it takes to get from point A to point B. Set clear goals. Keep a schedule. Block off time. Reduce distractions. Improve processes.

You do this and you’re one step away from Start and one more step toward Finish.

Time is Only Half of the Problem, Energy is the Other Half

I originally wrote this blog post in early 2017. The tips I’ve talked about here have helped me to survive a failed Kickstarter campaign, launch a successful one, and start a marketing agency.

I used this advice every day while I took care of an injured family member and even as the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the world. To this day, I still use Google Calendar, although I’ve given up Evernote for a more visual Trello board.

I want it to be crystal clear that I practice what I preach, because I need you to understand that time management is half the battle. Energy management is the other half. I talk about that at length in this post. To save you a click, though, here are the basic principles:

  • Figure out when you’re most likely to be in a creative, analytical, and social mood.
  • Plan your day around when you typically experience these moods.
  • Always leave some flexibility in your workload so you can switch tasks if you get stuck.

If you can combine these energy management tips with time management skills, I earnestly believe that it will help you to achieve your goals.