So a month or so ago I got a letter in the mail from a magazine called Fast Company. It said that I was going to be on their list of most innovative companies for 2018. I had never heard of them before, though, and letter seemed mostly geared toward getting me to purchase the rights to use their logo on promotional material and whatnot. The thing seemed kind of like a scam at first glance, if I’m being honest, but then my wife saw it, and she got very excited.
Apparently this was actually a big deal. The list has since been announced, and I am indeed named one of the 10 most innovative companies in the gaming sector, which also includes the likes of Nintendo. Blizzard, and Twitch. I mean, I’m at the bottom of the list, but, as far as I can tell, Cephalofair Games is the first board game company to ever make the list, so, well, I’m still very proud.
But then it got me thinking, am I really the most innovative board game company in the world? It doesn’t quite sound right. I mean, I think Gloomhaven is a pretty innovative game, but does that mean my company is innovative for making it?
It’s kind of funny because Gloomhaven was also nominated for a Golden Geek in the innovative category earlier this week. Well, it was nominated for quite a few Golden Geeks, but there among the nominations was the word innovative again.
So let’s talk about that, because, like I said, I do think Gloomhaven is innovative. At least in the sense that it does a lot of things that haven’t been done before. Or, I don’t know, is that even true? I guess it takes a lot of concepts and mashes them all together in a new and miraculously coherent way. You’ve got the structure of a long-form campaign game, but with a massive branching story tree that adds in legacy elements to add more weight to the decisions of the campaign, blocking off branches of the story, and opening up new paths. It takes the event deck pioneered by Robinson Crusoe and spreads it out over the entire campaign, which makes your choices having lasting effects on the world you inhabit. It takes thematic tactical combat and provides you with meaningful decisions through multi-use cards and a hand-management mechanic.
And when you bundle it all up with the leveling system and retiring and unlocking new characters, you get a system that is constantly providing you with positive feedback, encouraging you to play just one more scenario to see what happens next. Kind of like video games, which are a huge influence on the game as well. Basically, I tried to build a video game RPG out of board game parts and somehow succeeded, even though the box did end up being way bigger than what anyone would call reasonable (which, really, in itself, was also a bit of an innovation).
So, yeah, I guess when looked at as a whole, Gloomhaven is an innovation. Maybe not judged by its individual parts, but everything together does bridge the gap between a video game sense of progression and a board game experience. And if I look at that description on the Fast Company list, that is pretty much what it says. So that’s cool.
I’m just not sure that makes the company innovative. I mean, I don’t run the company in an innovative way. I just sit in my house, make board games, and then sell them on Kickstarter. It’s not exactly a revolutionary business model. Many, many companies are doing the same thing, and I was just lucky enough to hit on a great concept for a game, have enough financial freedom to execute it properly, and then turn that initial cult hit into a lasting success. Most of what I know about running a Kickstarter I learned from Stonemaier Games, which is definitely a true innovator in the field. And I’m certainly not the first to go back to Kickstarter for a massive second printing success. Kingdom Death: Monster already demonstrated exactly how well that could be done.
And I don’t exactly have an innovative business structure. It’s just me! I do have a part-time custom service manager, but I didn’t even hire him until I was drowning in customer service requests.
So what about this thing is innovative? Is it innovative just in the simple fact that it is working, and working rather well, thanks solely to the success of a single innovative game? Is Cephalofair Games just defined by Gloomhaven, or is it more than that?
I don’t know, I am probably being too hard on myself. If I can just publish innovative games in a standard, uninnovative manner, I am totally cool with that. I have never claimed to be a great business person, so if I can just do what needs to be done to get by and get me on to designing my next game, then that works for me.
I do think I write a pretty great newsletter, though, so I’ve got that going for me as well at least.