“What do you know about the evolution of games?”
On a damp morning in Corning, game designer Dan Hundycz offered an abbreviated history of board games. First generation games are the Monopoly and Chutes and Ladders of our collective memory. They largely depended on the fall of the dice or the draw of a card to determine action. Second generation games had a little less luck and a little more strategy. Think Clue.
Then came the video game era. Lots of strategy and luck involved, but very little or no interaction with other people. Games could be played in solitude.
What Dan, through his corporate brand, DPH Games, brings to the gamer is a different experience, a marriage of the strategic and the communal. The games he builds are meant to be played at a table, surrounded by other participants. They are very cerebral in their approach and deal with subjects not usually associated with laughing with friends on a Friday night. For instance, Psychological Warfare is exactly what it sounds like—how to get into someone’s head to achieve your goals.
In Pandemic players assume the role of the Centers for Disease Control with the endgame of stopping an infectious outbreak. Dan has one in the works centered on the Salem witch trials, a venture that turned him into a quasi-expert on the subject. (How many witches were burned at the stake? Answer: Zero.)
Dan was inventing games when he was in elementary school, a passion that grew throughout his life. “I wrote games about outer space and baseball. I went through the usual Dungeons and Dragons phase in college. I wrote some crime-scene stuff.” All during his career as a school counselor, board games were a part of his life. In recent years, the popularity of tabletop games “exploded,” as Dan puts it, partly in response to the video game craze. “People miss that interaction, that sense of being together.”
The first game he invented for retail sale stemmed from a friend needing a game for a geocaching-themed birthday party. Geocaching is an activity game that gets players outside to seek out hidden items through the use of a GPS. Dan built the first version of Cache Me If You Can himself at his kitchen table, then assembled the 999 that followed.
“I learned as I went,” he said. That included things like how to get into the game conventions where reviewers and buyers test-drive the new stuff coming out. As an example, the New York Game Fair attracts 22,000 gaming insiders. “Then there is financing, production, storage, distribution, shipping, and such,” Dan said.
In the first days of this second career, Dan would store games in his basement and load up his car when a store agreed to carry them. The approach has gotten a bit more sophisticated for him now, with things like Kickstarter Funding campaigns, a sales rep on the road, and some fifty outlets for his games, plus online sales.
“I don’t require a minimum order for my games, so small shops can order just a few and see how they sell.” Dan said.
Relationships with toy and game stores are important to a designer, but it is the connection directly with the player that is most valuable, and rewarding, for a game maker. Dan will often visit a store, game in hand, to see who wants to play. From a devoted player’s perspective, there’s nothing like interacting with the game designer and giving instant feedback.
Such an event is scheduled for August 5 in Wellsboro. First Friday brings a myriad of happenings to the Borough’s Main Street, and that includes Dan and one of his inventions for an evening around the table at Pop’s Culture Shoppe, at the corner of Main Street and East Avenue. Storeowner Julian Stam calls Dan’s games “clever, clear, and interactive. And his sense of humor always comes through.”
Consider the game Dan is calling CATS. Not to be confused with the smash Broadway musical, the rest of the title is A Sad But Necessary Cycle of Violent Predatory Behavior. Players assume the persona of a feline and spend the game in pursuit of birds. The winged creatures are stalked, caught, and stolen between the cats before meeting the fate that nature usually has in mind.
There is another game brewing for later this year called Legacy At Sea, a theme of historical fiction, as Dan phrases it.
While expansion is usually a good thing for a business, Dan has to be mindful of his own limitations. “Every new game splits my attention,” he says. And those already in production will often need expansion packs to make them playable again for veterans of the board. That’s a lot of nights at the dining room table.
But for now, a one-man band suits DPH Games. There is much strategy at work to ensure a bright future. And, maybe, a lucky roll or two of the dice.