In Retrospect… A Creative Mind- Molded -by Jahnie Dez

My homebrew tabletop game of Paper Mario RPG

As a boy I remember living in a 1 story home in the southern part of Houston, TX. It was my parents, my 2 brothers and I in the suburbs situated in what is arguably one of the most dangerous areas in the city. Bearing this in mind, my father was very strict about why, when and how long we could play outside. It made it very difficult for us to elect a sport and practice it since our outdoor life was very limited. We understood that it wasn’t the friendliest of places to live in so we quickly found the best way to entertain ourselves indoors- video games.


Gaming was EVERYTHING to us. We got so much mileage from our SNES it would be a miracle if it still runs now. So many good memories, grand adventures, challenging bosses… epic vine swings, dungeon trampling… you get the idea. Mario and Sonic were THE “dudes” and we wanted nothing more than to come home and be the “dudes” every evening after homework. It required a certain skill to traverse the level and ultimately engage in battle with the final boss- but I often found myself looking deeper into the game and all its shininess. I was interested in the skill it took to design the levels you traverse and the talent needed to create that final boss stage that gets you sweating.  Video games brought out the inventor in me.


A few years later, I was spending a weekend at my mom’s during the summer. I was somewhere between 8-11 years old and going through my own personal visual arts renaissance without a “real” care in the world. During this time, if I recall correctly, we snuck out of the house and walked across the street to a convenience store with one goal in mind: to buy a copy of the Space Jam board game. By now, I had played my fair share of Monopoly and Taboo so I was not entirely new to board gaming. Later on that evening, we unwrapped the box and removed all of the components… I was left speechless. The game, albeit flawed, had the most amazing components I had ever seen! The board popped out and created a three dimensional tableau where you moved your cardboard standee around. Most of the art was straight out of the movie but it was good looking nonetheless.


It was then that I knew I wanted to be a game designer.


Now, fast forward to 2012: my reawakening year. By this time I had created several personal games (mostly fan projects) and had a few ideas written down on paper that hadn’t seen the light of day yet. My priorities had shifted then and I was mainly focused on art/design commissions- mostly freelance stuff- and board gaming had not been on my mind for quite a while. Earlier on in the year, I remember being at my in-laws’ house and my sis-in-law had just purchased a few board games from a garage sale. They were nothing new- just the same old Risk and an old copy of Monopoly. We played Risk for a bit, however I remember getting very confused on the rule book verbiage and scrapping it all together. We then decided to head over to the store and buy a newer game that we could try- maybe even find a game that I was familiar with.


So we took the trip to the store that evening… and that’s when my board game interests took a much needed reboot! We ended up getting a modern version of Monopoly and Cranium as these were the only games I knew how to play right off the bat. As we proceeded to play the newly acquired games I remember feeling a great sense of joy as we moved our pawns around the board; all of us hoping to reach our goal before the others. Intense gaming and laughter filled the room as we continued to pressure each other into making false moves. The game eventually came to an end and we we’re all grinning with excitement. I don’t recall who won that night- but I do remember feeling like we all had achieved a greater victory: togetherness.


The following day, I came across a list on Funagain’s website which featured a peculiar fella by the name of Tom Vasel. He raved on about a game called Jump Gate. As I watched the video I remember feeling overwhelmed by the rules breakdown and the board game lingo. “How strange”, I thought as a looked at the game pieces and the unorthodox rule set. Although I didn’t get it at first, Tom’s excitement was more than enough to keep the fire burning and the game search going.


…and that’s when my search led me to a game called Dice Town. I watched videos, not only from Tom, but from other reviewers and family guys who praised its name. Needless to say I was persuaded to search high and low for this gem. I ultimately found a copy at my local FLGS and gave it a solo test drive to see how it plays. I was not disappointed. I gathered the family around the table and we gave it a go- we were not disappointed! This had to be the best discovery of all time! We were floored by the gameplay and how well it had us interacting with each other. The art work was something out of a comic book- the dice and all the components were top quality. It was the perfect game for us!


I was obsessed.


The next morning, I quickly got on the internet to research for the men responsible for this miracle in a box- to which I soon found the culprits: Ludovic Maublanc and Bruno Cathala. As I dug deeper and deeper I realized that not only were they responsible for Dice Town but they were also credited for other award winning achievements like Cyclades, Mr. Jack, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, and, soon after, Madame Ching. While I began collecting these games I started to feel a change in me- a feeling that was reminiscent to the feeling I had as a 13 year old boy who created board games out of paper and card board. I wanted to design board games again!


As time went on, my enthusiasm in creating my own board games grew- along with my board game collection. Where my small collection of 5 games once stood now tower 4 bookshelves filled with well over 150 board games. Designers like Sebastien Pauchon, Dominique Ehrhard, Reiner Knizia, Uwe Rosenberg, Antoine Bauza, Serge Laget, Vlaada Chvatil… these were the names of all the men responsible for my addiction. Each game I played that had one of these names on the box brought something new to the table that I hadn’t experienced before. Each one had its own flavor- its own appeal. Every time I opened a game box I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. …and I owe it all to Mr. Cathala and Mr. Maublanc.


To conclude this segment, I would like for all of us game designers to reflect on what brought out the designer in us. When was that exact moment? The game that made you feel “it”? Relieve that moment and try to remember what you felt at the time. They say that the bridge from present to future is built by what is learned from the past… Whether your goal is to earn money or simply to create games for all to play, one thing holds true: remember the source of your enthusiasm and learn from it. It’s a worthwhile trip down memory lane!