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Becoming the ultimate game master

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For many of us who grew up in the age before the digital revolution took over, playing board games was a way to spend time, play and interact with others. Slowly this merged into video games like Nintendo and now to systems like Xbox Series X, however, board games are still very common and becoming a growing
trend. 
For one former Valley resident, it has become a passion that has led to forming a collaborative, dedicated to creating and designing board games. “I was born and raised in Swan River and most of my family is
still there,” said Flatout Games Designer and Member Shawn Stankewich. “I graduated from SVRSS in 2004 and was really involved in the Envirothon, coaching teams until 2014. I attended the University
of Manitoba and got degrees in both Environmental Design and Landscape Architecture, and after working in Manitoba for a few years got a job in Seattle, Wash.. I’m now a licensed landscape architect in the state of Washington and design large public open spaces and plaza areas for facilities like major transit
stations. I’m even working on the new Climate Pledge Arena project that will be the home of the Seattle Kraken.’ It’s a bit of a dream job for a hockey-loving Canadian like myself.
“I’ve always loved games, grew up playing video games as a child, and also loved playing card games like 31 with my family at gatherings. It wasn’t until about 2010 that I started to get into modern  Europeanstyle board games like Catan and Carcassonne. These games opened my eyes to all of the different experiences that board games could provide, beyond the ones that everyone knows like Monopoly, Sorry, or Risk.
“In 2017, I teamed up with my partner, Molly Johnson, and good friend from Winnipeg, Robb Melvin, to start a board game design collaborative,” added Stankewich. “When my partner Molly and I moved to Seattle, we didn’t know anyone here. We just so happened to move into a neighbourhood that had a board game store that held lots of events. Since we already were interested in board games, we decided
to get more involved in that community. “The store was so full of awesome knowledgeable staff and did so much to help people learn about all of the exciting new games that we were hooked. After a couple of years, we started getting more interested in games and even started watching YouTube videos and other forms of content focused on games. We stumbled upon some video series by a local group of people who
were designing games and they made us feel like we should try to make a game. The rest, as they say, is history. 
The three of us were really excited to make games, not only because we had fun playing them, but we were all creative people who loved to do graphic and product design and think about how our creations
would look and feel to play.” 
Flatout Games focuses on creating innovative game experiences that provide players with simple rules, a high desire to replay the game, with some decision- making skills required. Their focus to make the decision the game players have to make is complex, while not having challenging game rules to follow.
“As a group, we have designed nearly 100 games in the past five years or so,” noted Stankewich. “These
games are at various stages of development. Some are prototype ideas that will never be published, but we have had success with a few of our designs. The first game we signed to a publisher was Point Salad.
It’s a very simple card game about collecting cards to make a salad worth the most number of points. It is compact, inexpensive, can be taught in just a few minutes, and can be played by just about anyone
from age four to an adult.
“It was released in 2019 at Gen Con, one of the world’s largest board game conventions, and has sold over 100,000 copies and is printed in almost every language and sold in almost every country in the world. 
This year, it received a recommendation from the German board game awards, Spiele des Jahres, the most prestigious awards for board games in the world. We have since released two other small card games with the same publisher (AEG), Truffle Shuffle in 2020 and TEN in 2021.” 
For Flatout Games, the passion grew beyond just designing their own games, but to help other game enthusiasts create their own board game and have it come to fruition. The group also felt strongly about retaining the rights of the games they created, rather than just having them published. 
“In addition to designing games, in 2019, we decided that we were interested in helping to publish our friend Kevin’s game and set out to run a crowdfunding campaign to launch our publishing company and
release the game Calico,” noted Stankewich. “Rather than just designing the game and signing the rights over to a publisher, we wanted to be in control of the entire process from design and development all the way through to art directing and product development, and finally manufacturing and shipping the game to people all over the world. “We wanted to do this in a collaborative way and set up a worker coop model for profit sharing with all of the people who worked on the game.
“We ran our first campaign in 2019 and raised over $200,000 to bring Calico to life and it became one of the most popular games when it was released last year,” he continued. “It even won the American Tabletop Award for Best Strategy Game of the year. We’re just in the process of delivering our second published game, Cascadia, which is about the habitats and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, to the backers who supported us on Kickstarter.”
Planning and designing come naturally for Stankewich and one can see that through the line of work he does in developing and creating landscaping projects. Those same skills have transferred over into the gaming world and have been instrumental in the creative process. 
“Designing games has a lot of parallels with other forms of design,” explained Stankewich. “I think that’s why my codesigners and I have had success with it because we were all designers of some sort before we got into games. Design is a messy, iterative process that rarely goes in a straight line. When designing
games, the best thing you can do is get your ideas out as quickly as you can, so that you try them out and see where the flaws are.
“You need to be able to put your ideas into action and take playtester feedback without being too sensitive about your work. If you have an idea for a game, I strongly urge people to rapidly prototype it, even if it’s just scribbled on scraps of paper. When you play it with people, you’re trying to find the moments where the fun and excitement happens, and then try to work towards accentuating that. The rest is just streamlining and taking away anything that isn’t necessary. New designers often try to solve design problems by adding rules. The best games are games with the fewest rules. In Point Salad, you basically just take one or two cards on your turn, and that’s it. “Creating board games is a whole new world that we’ve discovered in the last few years,” added Stankewich. “It’s really exciting to think about a
concept and then work with a team of people to bring it to life. I work on large-scale urban design projects as my day job and those can take decades to develop and implement. With board games, I can prototype an idea and immediately get it to the table and interact with other people. I like the immediate impact and gratification that comes from designing games. I also love publishing games, because so much goes into the artwork, design, and marketing of the product. This is a really fun experience because you get to build a shared vision with your team and then see it through. The best part is when you see
strangers playing and loving something that was just an idea in your head.
“I think the largest challenge in creating a board game is streamlining and cutting things down. Lots of times you have ambitious ideas and want to incorporate a lot of things into your game. 
Usually, you’ll end up needing to cut things to make all of your rules and systems work together. Sometimes you will design a game that works perfectly fine, but  it just doesn’t have any
magic that would entice players to want to engage in it. There’s an art to making games. You can be super-competent sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to make a great game - part of that is just trying to design a lot of games to hone your craft and give yourself more chances to stumble upon
that great idea. 
Stankewich is still very much a board game enthusiast and has many  games he still enjoys playing in his downtime. 
Playing games is still a great way for him to socialize with friends and family. “Right now, my favourite games are ones with very simple rules that anyone can learn and get into easily,” noted Stankewich. “Some board games are long and complex, but I prefer shorter, more streamlined games. I also really
like trying to solve puzzles, so games that allow me to think about how to optimize certain elements are my favourite.
Some of the more popular games that I like a lot are 7 Wonders, Azul, and Patchwork. “The thing I like most about board games is that they are an opportunity for friends and families to disconnect from digital
devices and spend quality time together around the table. Whether games are competitive, or  cooperative, they provide a unique social experience.” Game masters and enthusiasts can purchase
board games that Stankewich has helped design by ordering them online. 
Flatout Games also has a newsletter that they publish frequently to keep game enthusiasts informed about upcoming games or projects they are working on.
“You can check out all of the games we have designed and published at www.flatout.games,” said 
Stankewich. “Most of our games are available at board game shops, or online at places like
401games.ca and boardgamebliss.com. We also have an upcoming crowdfunding campaign for our next
game Verdant. It’s about houseplants and features over 50 beautiful illustrations of houseplants. 
If you are interested in following our journey and helping support us by purchasing our games, you can also sign up for our newsletter at www.verdantgame.com. We are also active on Facebook and Twitter, so we’d love to chat with people on social media and you can find us @flatoutgames.” Through the creation
of Flatout Games, Stankewich hopes to help and encourage others to look at creating their own games and bringing them to life.
“Now that we have started a publishing company, we definitely have a lot of people reaching out to us with their game ideas,” concluded Stankewich. “We have mostly published games by people we know
within the board game industry, but we always love chatting with people on social media and helping
other folks make their game ideas a reality.”