The Next Great American Game is a new documentary film released last month by Douglas Morse (previously interviewed on this blog.) The film tells the tale of Randall Hoyt, an aspiring game designer who has hit the game convention circuit with the dream of getting his game published.
The game, Turnpike, is a beautifully produced (Hoyt is a graphic designer by trade) effort that looks like a finished product, not a rough prototype. But the mechanism is too random for gamer geeks and the theme is troublesome for some of the publishers he meets. We all spend too much of our time in traffic already, they say - why would we want to spend our free time simulating that situation?
The film documents Hoyt's trial by fire as he plunges in without preparation - if he'd read the books about game design, he'd know it's a cardinal sin to present your game as the "Next" anything, or to say your friends and family all love it, etc. These statements simply mark you as a newbie. Yet Hoyt refers to his game as "The Next Great American Game" repeatedly, almost like a mantra. Well-meaning - and sometimes blunt - game industry folks quickly set him straight.
The middle act of the film shows Hoyt first resisting, then taking some of the advice he's received. He reveals his re-themed version of the game to Frank DiLorenzo, president of R&R games - the new version has a fantasy theme, where drivers are wizards wielding arcane magics to influence the cars on the road. "Is THIS something your company would publish?" he asks. DiLorenzo is understandably noncommittal. "We want to publish it if it's a 'Game You Want to Play'," he says, citing his company's tagline. In other words - the proof is in the playing.
Still, the change seems like one in the right direction, and shows Hoyt is on a development path. Sticking to your original vision is fine, but as another industry expert Mike Gray notes, could mean you end up with a basement full of unsold games.
As one who's followed the industry for some time, and has worked on games as a hobby, I was fascinated by The Next Great American Game. I found it to be more tightly plotted than Going Cardboard, the other documentary about the board game industry that came out a couple of years ago - here, the industry is more of a setting than a subject, and the film is tightly edited to focus on the one character.
I invite anyone who's interested in the process of designing and licensing board games to give this film a viewing. It's the next great American boardgame documentary. Learn more at www.tabletopmovie.com.
The intense Mr. Hoyt and his creation