Today we are looking at something a bit more uncommon for the world of Tabletop Games; a movie. I’m not even looking at a movie that is the component to a game such as is common with murder mysteries, not a movie based on a game in the manner of the 1985 masterpiece that is clue. Today we are looking at a documentary following a man attempting to sell his first game to a publisher in The Next Great American Game.
I will attempt to avoid too many spoilers but I will warn you that I may give away a few minor details; but due to the movie’s nature I do not think that should be an issue, but as is customary the warning should be issued.
The movie; directed by independent movie maker Doug Morse; follows a man, Randall Hoyt as he attempts to sell his game to various publishers in the industry. As this is a gaming blog I will detail his game slightly before I jump into the story arch that develops then other aspects as well.
Randall’s game is about the road; where players are attempting to get through traffic in the best and most efficient manner by driving like a shark and hindering the other players as they attempt to do the same. Randall’s game uses modular tiles which could provide multiple road designs, many little vehicle pieces, and a few die. Randall, a graphic design professor who designed the game based upon his experience driving to and from visits to his family many hours away.
The movie, however, is not about the game specifically, but rather the story of Randall and his journey from a man who designed a game to becoming a game designer. There are two key phrases you will hear repeated from Randall, “I’m not a game designer, I’m a guy who designed a game.” and “This is the next great American game.” these statements essentially are the foundation the movie is built upon. We meet Randall as he prepares for Gen Con in hopes of finding a company to pick up his game. There we see glimpses of Randall interacting with the folks at Iello, Mayfair, Steve Jackson Games, Game Solute, and a few others. After Gen Con Randall travels to Origins, The Chicago Toy and Game Fair, and other conventions and companies to pitch his game to publishers.
Following this journey leads us to learn more about Randall; including his experiences living with Bipolar Disorder and how that impacts his approach on the game industry as well as life in general. Randall shares the struggles Bipolarism lead to as well as how his life has changed since his diagnosis and treatment. These moments do a great deal to bring out his humanity and develop our interest in him as a person and as a designer.
As Randall travels around conventions he meets designers, players, and other industry professionals; we thus get to sit in on these sessions listening in as they critic his game. I won’t spend too much time on what is discussed in these sessions; you will have to watch the movie to learn them, but these are the points where the movie shines for me. We get to, by proxy, learn what these companies are looking for in a game as well as how they take games from conception, to branding, and finally to the market.
The movie is multifaceted in that we get to see both how Randall grows as a person and designer, as well as how his game grows and changes. This dual dynamic gives the film a draw to both gamers and non-gamers alike. Following Randall’s journey we learn about a second game he designs using custom dice focusing on facilitating conversation; made for a firm to aid in meeting clients for the first time.
As the story developed I found myself cheering for Randall to sign a deal more and more as I came to like him as a person; while still agonizing over his occasional stubbornness refusing to make changes recommended by companies and play testers. As a graphic designer myself I can understand the urge to hold onto choices made for creative reasons even when others urge me to change said choices; thus enabling me to understand his dilemma.
Does he sign the game? Does he ever take the advice from the play testers? Is he working on a new game that will become the next great american game? You will have to watch the movie to find out, but lets now look at the movie as a movie beyond the story.
The movie as a whole was shot and edited quite well; the pacing worked fantastically as we jump between the game’s development to that of Randall as a person. The team behind the cameras did well choosing angles, managing lighting, and setting the course for the movie; it was revealed in one of the extra clips that Doug Morse acted not only as director but as an agent setting up appointments for Randall and his game which did a great deal to develop the story arc.
This will not fit my traditional rubric so rather I shall leave you with this; The Next Great American Game is a movie I would recommend most gamers take a look at, especially if you interested in the design side of the industry or ever plan on designing a game of your own. The movie acts as a great primer on design offering a fantastic peak behind the curtain of the game industry.
I have embedded the trailer below – give the trailer a look and find more info at http://www.tabletopmovie.com/
Tomorrow I will take a look at one of the most popular games in the tabletop game space, The settlers of Catan; until then you can find us on social media!