I watched the movie “The Next Great American Game” recently; after seeing a few comments on Facebook and other social media outlets I was curious to say the least. For those of you not familiar with the film, the director, Douglas Morse, follows Randall Hoyt, an aspiring board game designer, to some of the biggest board game conventions in the United States. The documentary shows a very accurate account of what it is like to pitch a board game to publishers.
Randall travels to Gen Con, Origins, and the Chicago and New York Toy Fairs. While at these conventions, Randall pitches his game to any publisher in sight. We get to see Randall talk to James Mathe of Minion Games, Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games, Dan Yarrington of Game Salute, and many others. Almost all of the publishers tell Randall the same thing: we aren’t interested in your game. But this doesn’t deter Randall from believing that Turnpike is the next hit game. We also get to see Randall play his game with Mike Gray, who has a long tenure with Hasbro. Mike gives some of the best advice a board game designer can get: Listen.
While this film is certainly about the trails of getting a game published, it is also largely about one man’s journey through life. The drama comes from the fact that Randall is bipolar and doesn’t hide it. Because of this, the film is also largely about one man’s struggle with a mental disorder. Some of the shots and scenes only seem to accent this personal struggle, which creates a kind of “Lifetime” vibe in certain parts of the movie.
Striking out with publisher after publisher, and often hearing some harsh criticism, we do get to see one area of the board game design process where Randall Hoyt shines. Randall makes fantastic looking prototypes. They are very well made and detailed; he really puts a lot of time and effort into his handmade demo copies. Almost everything else Randall does can be made into a list of what not to do when trying to get one of your games signed.
If you are a board game designer or an aspiring one, “The Next Great American Game” is worth watching if for no other reason than to see the pitfalls that you can avoid. As mentioned above, the movie also touches on serious topic of mental illness and it has enough non-board game related scenes to hold non-gamer’s attention as well.
Watching “The Next Great American Game” was certainly worthwhile and enjoyable. However, for some, perhaps those a bit more into the board game hobby, the extras will be equally or even more interesting than the actual film. For starters, there are a lot of extras. I didn’t clock it, but it seemed like there was more extra footage than actual main film footage (edit: there are over 3 hours of extras!). And while this isn’t super uncommon, I wasn’t expecting it. The extras showcase extended one on one interviews with some respected and legendary names in the board gaming world, such as: Steve Jackson, Antoine Bauza, Klaus Teuber, Reiner Knizia, Alan Moon, Eric Lang, Richard Garfield, Dr. Mary Flanagan, Matt Leacock, Bruno Faidutti, and Michel Stackpole. There are publisher round table segments as well, where the filmmaker talks to a handful of publishers at once. For those that geek out over the above names, these extras are really cool. And even if you don’t know who some of those individuals are, hearing their tale and listening to their insider perspective is really neat.
Overall, it is worth watching, and the producers of the movie allow different buying options. For example, you can purchase just the extras. This is over three hours of interviews with notable publishers and board game designers. Awesome content. Then there’s the base movie, with limited extras, for those that just want to watch the documentary. And of course, there’s a deluxe package which contains everything. Visit the film website: www.tabletopmovie.com for more information.