If you told teenager Travis that he would eventually make board games for a living, he’d probably have several reactions. First he’d say, “Suuure. There’s no way you could make any money doing that.” Next he’d say, “But hey, sign me up!”
Creating, publishing, and marketing board games is basically my dream job, turns out.
Our company, Facade Games, became a reality in the spring of 2015 when our first game, Salem, was launched. Here’s how it came to be.
My family and I were always playing board games, especially around Christmas time. It was kind of our default state. If we weren’t eating, sleeping, or doing something else, we were playing board games. I didn’t realize until later that one of the reasons why I loved board games was for the escape that they provided. I’d always loved movies and books, and just like a book or a movie can do, a board game can completely transport you to an alternate reality with its own set of rules, challenges, and triumphs. I loved them.
One game in particular was always magical to me: mafia. At every family reunion mafia would be the highlight. It was a game that in my mind could not be beat. Good vs. evil, manipulation and deception, fighting for your “life”, etc.
In the summer of 2010 I lived in Alaska as a technician. There was a small group of friends I’d hang out with, and pretty soon mafia became the game to play at every single get together. Several of us were Harry Potter nuts, and one day we invented a mix of the two. Harry Potter mafia was born. Each player was in a house and held allegiances to good or evil, and also to their house. Did you try to find the mole death eaters in your own house, or go after a different house? The game was full of interesting roles, with people playing as Dumbledore, the Weasley twins, Draco, Trawlayney, and more.
It was the first time I’d tweaked a game to make it, in my opinion, more fun.
During the fall of 2010 I played mafia/werewolves every Sunday night with a big group of friends in Utah, now unafraid to add my own rules, roles, and twists to the game.
In December 2012, with the help of my little brother Preston, Harry Potter mafia became real. A rulebook was printed, cards were created, and all of a sudden I was a published game maker. There was only one copy of course, but it got my brain turning. Could this become something more?
By the following spring I realized that if I did indeed want to make this a reality, I probably didn’t want to step on Warner Brothers’ toes by using Harry Potter characters. I made some gameplay changes, and gave the game a new name and theme. It was called “City” and involved 4 teams: the bad guys, the good guys, the self-interested merchants, and the villagers. I printed several editions of this and tested it out with roommates and friends.
"City" got put on hold when Holly showed up in my life. The rest of 2012 and the first part of 2013 were pretty distracting, to say the least, and Holly and I got married in 2013. But “City” stayed on the back burner, and at some point in time (we’re still not sure how or when) it was given the new theme of the Salem Witch Trials, and given the name of “Salem.” A couple weeks after that we were married, we had most of our friends over to playtest the game. This was a pivotal night. People, including our most cynical and game-hating friends, loved it! We knew we had something to move forward with.
Over the next couple of years we graduated from college and got jobs, but we also kept creating better and better versions of Salem. We printed many different versions, playtested it 100s of times, and Holly went to town on the graphic design. We found an incredible illustrator, Sarah Keele, to bring the characters to life. I reached out to anyone I could to learn about the game making industry and process and was connected with Panda Games who would eventually do the manufacturing for our first game.
One day Holly and I were brainstorming on how to make the box cooler, so we wandered around a craft store for ideas. When we saw a fake book on the shelf, we knew we’d found the answer. I searched Alibaba for a faux book manufacturer in China and eventually lined up a good one. During these two years we made a lot of mistakes, and learned a ton about the entire process.
In spring 2015 we launched Salem on Kickstarter and raised $103,000. Before that point we’d decided that Salem would be a fun personal project that we’d always cherish. We were hoping that we’d maybe hit $6,000 to buy enough for friends and family to have the game. We were blown away.
After making Salem, we worked hard on our next game, Tortuga 1667, and were again blown away by its success on Kickstarter. I began making games full time, and Holly soon left her elementary school teaching job to join the family biz as well.
We now work from home together as a family and do what we love!
And that’s how it all began!