When I was a little kid, for recreation, I would take out my parent’s Monopoly game and organize it. I loved sorting the properties in order of the spaces on the board, getting all the houses in their own little group, and making sure the money was all facing the same way. I wouldn’t even play—my friends were sick of playing over and over again—but just touching the pieces and seeing the wonderfully logical and color-coded board made me happy. Monopoly turned into Stratego. I consider the day I became “an adult” the day my miner defused a bomb to capture the enemy flag of my uncle, who said the only person who could beat him was General Colin Powell. Stratego turned into trading card games, which turned into Talisman, Descent, Imperial Assault, Mage Wars, and whatever games I could get my hands on. Game design fascinates me. I’ve read Magic the Gathering lead designer Mark Rosewater’s “Making Magic” every Monday for a decade, I pour through GeekLists, I follow the brilliant dungeon-masters of DnD Beyond. I love how board games tell stories in elegant way, transporting you into a new world through its art and mechanics.
I played around with making my own games, and have closets overstuffed with folders and boxes riddled with dice, index cards and unfinished products. I could just never drive a project to completion, but now, I want to rewrite that story. A few years ago, I attended the concert of one of my best friends, Mark, a guitarist, singer and songwriter. I told him he needed more original merch, something indie and weird to give him more street cred. I said I would make the “Mark Gilday Jr Board Game.” We laughed and called it a night, and over the next few weeks, I began drafting a few ideas.
I’m the furthest thing from a rock star, instead a video production teacher who loves music, its quirky lyrics and quirkier artists singing them. The teaching came in handy. My school, Austin Prep, offers summer sabbatical grants to teachers wishing to pursue their passions and explore ways to bring them into the classroom. I believe game design sits at a wonderful intersection of so many fields—art, storytelling, math, design—and I was fortunate enough to receive one of the grants. I teamed up with our awesome art teacher, Heather Scott, and we dove into online courses on game design and illustration, redesigning the curricula of our courses to feature a game design project. Along the way and supported by the school, we worked on our own game to work out the kinks of design, using The Game Crafter to print prototypes (and eventually the final version). We had multiple drawing sessions with some of Heather’s top art students, commissioning their artwork in the perfect culminating project of her Illustration course.
It had a wonderfully positive impact on our curriculum, too. The students in my middle school Digital Storytelling courses pitched games to students in her high school Graphic Design classes, bringing their own designs to life. That project has now trickled down to our freshman history curriculum, in which all of our freshman students design their own historical-themed games to prove their understanding of the past.
It’s been three years since I pitched the “Mark Gilday Jr” board game to my best friend, and a year and a half since we received that summer sabbatical. It turns out that making a board game is a lot more work than I thought! But I’m so proud of the product, and I have had so much fun working with my friends, colleagues, and students in such a unique way. Heather produced brilliant digital designs, students like Laura and Mackenzie and Arianna and Bridget (and many others!) astounded me with their illustrations of my bizarre characters, and so many friends (and colleagues!) had the patience to sit down with a half-baked game to give me feedback. I hope you have as much fun playing as I did making it.
And may our little game perhaps become a One Hit Wonder!