Directed by Charles Mruz.
Featuring Nasha Balagamwala, Elan Lee, Charlie Bink, Bruno Cathala, Reiner Knizia, Kasper Lapp, Matt Leacock, Scott Rogers, Susan McKinley Ross, Jason Serrato, Alex Yeager, and Klaus Teuber
Documentary filmmaker Charles Mruz takes a deep dive into the world of table top gaming and the creators behind some of the most popular games in the marketplace.
It would be so easy for a documentary filmmaker to turn the spotlight towards a subject for reasons of curiosity or mirth. Think of board games and you’ll undoubtedly conjure images of family squabbles over the Monopoly money stash, or The Stranger Things kids playing Dungeons & Dragons in the basement. Charles Mruz is playing a different game with his fascinating debut Gamemaster; something of a multi-sided dice, it examines the highs and lows of this billion dollar industry in a way that makes it feel like The Social Network for board games.
There are more moving pieces in the board game industry than you’d find in the boxes of Space Crusade or Hero Quest combined (a reference for the 90s kids there). Estimated to be worth somewhere in the region of $3 billion, the success stories are few-and-far-between, with Gamemaster focusing on an array of designers at different stages of their careers, each with contrasting reasons for wanting to see their game sat on the shelves alongside Catan or Pandemic.
Highlighting how integral Kickstarter has become for the board game industry, stating that there has never been a better time to get your ideas out there and make a game, the doc unpacks Exploding Kittens. A card based game which became the most backed Kickstarter Project in history, raising $9 million for Elan Lee back in 2015. It’s a success story, for sure, but the intrigue can be found in what this actually meant in terms of producing a product, the division of funds, the simplification of a games rules, and how for every Exploding Kitten, there are hundreds of ideas that remain stuck in development purgatory.
There’s the dynamics of a family run business, with the son wanting to expand the potential of their National Parks board game in the face of opposition from his sell-from-your-garage parents. Then you have the award-winning designer with a fear of death who continues to create games so that he is remembered when he’s gone. And perhaps most interesting of all, the Arranged Marriage board game by Nashra Balagamwala, created to force players to confront the issues of being coerced into an arranged marriage, a move which has ostracised the designer from members of her own family. These games are so intrinsically linked with the ideals and lives of their creators that their individual stories are more interesting than the importance of artwork when competing for shelf space.
On which, Gamemaster treats the manufacture and process of getting a game to the marketplace a little like the way Steven Spielberg revered the newspaper industry in The Post. So we go to Germany to see how a multitude of suppliers are needed to put together one cardboard game box, and we learn how “Flavour, Mechanics, and Data” are the three themes of table top games. It’s an education.
Pieced together in a creative, visually interesting way, Gamemaster lifts the lid and peers into the box of a world that you might not have been all that interested in, but with a charming simplicity, easy to follow rules, and a diverse group of characters, it’s worth giving it a spin.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt