• Ari Esqueda

Our Origin Story

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

"It's not right," I say perhaps a little too bluntly.

Nate looks at me with frustration and resignation. Usually, a very put-together person, today his hair sticks up and out at odd angles, there are dark circles underneath his eyes, and when he gestures with his hands, I see the black Sharpie staining his skin. Josiah argues his point with his natural verve and vigor, and Isaiah sits stone-faced and quiet, an oddity as the man usually has boundless energy, most certainly stemming from his debilitating coffee dependency.

We all look a bit grave and grim, as we should. This decision will impact the entire world. Well, not "the" world, not earth, but "a" world, our board game's world: Omnus.

This conversation is the culmination of weeks of consideration and, in particular multiple debates about a specific character's ability. Past versions of the ability were too powerful, nearly taking down a capstone boss single-handed. The current suggestion on the table is far more reasonable concerning power but a little underwhelming when it comes to individuality, well that's my argument anyway. Another round of disputes and deliberations and we reach a solution, which, spoilers, we'll probably change again.

I have a folder full of multicolored notes, two journals, and twenty-some-odd documents on my computer open at all times. I've read articles, combed hundreds of examples, and now know, approximately, how many words can fit on a standard 2.45 X 3.5-inch playing card depending on font size and style. And I'm not the only one. Within four months, each of us has accumulated an impressive jumble of board game design knowledge. Isaiah did a deep dive into the procedures and protocols of manufacturing companies, along with writing up all the business agreements and obtaining our official license as an LLC. Josiah now has a bizarre aptitude when it comes to Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, and PhotoShop. Nate is the resident mad scientist seeing card combos in his sleep and writing Python code to calculate probabilities. Last year we were mathematicians, teachers, and friends. We're still all those things, but now we're also business partners and department heads.

If I take a step back and try to figure out just how we got here, I guess the question could be answered by saying it all started:

On January 12th, 2020, Nate, Isaiah, and I drove down to Indianapolis to go to IKEA, Josiah was at the Ohio ComicCon and was due back that evening. As far as a midwest winter day was concerned, it was, actually, pretty nice, still freezing down to our bones, but at least the sun was out. Isaiah and I were whiling away the time by discussing our dream jobs, and Nate listened to the conversation while playing a card game on his phone. I talked about how I would love to write. Isaiah expressed a burning desire to go into Ancient Cultures and Religious Studies, having a proclivity for complicated pantheons. I glanced in the rearview mirror and asked Nate, "What about you?"

He shrugged, "I really like board games."

"What kind of game would you want to make?" Isaiah prompted.

He shrugged again, "A deck-builder would be fun." For the remainder of the drive, we compiled a list of our favorite things about board games and tried to mash-up all those ideas into a single entity.

We survived IKEA, with only mild social-emotional trauma, and once home Nate gleefully laid out all the puzzle pieces of what would soon be a pantry. Isaiah slapped down a large sketch pad he uses for our Dungeons and Dragon maps, "Let's do this," he said with the same determined glint in his eyes he gets before a particularly dangerous campaign.

By the time Josiah got home from the Con, we had six unique races and classes, a general sense of play style, a handful of enemies, and a rough overarching story. The three of us gathered around him, jabbing at the paper and incoherently talking about bird-people with a penchant for blood and xenophobic aquatic potion masters.

Josiah gaped at us, an amused grin playing on his lips, "Okay," he said with his characteristic deep chuckle, "Okay."

Before we went to bed that night, Nate ordered 180 blank playing cards.

I can hear the chorus of arguments bubbling up now. So let's try again. Maybe it started:

On January 1st, 2020, we rang in the New Year on an "L" station platform, huddled in a mass against the cold. The biting Chicago wind needled its way through our coats and gloves with deft precision as we counted down from ten, blew on our noisemakers, and prayed for the train to arrive soon. Despite standard social practices on such an evening, we had forgone the ritual of seeking shelter at a crowded bar or party. Instead, we were eagerly winding our way through the dimly lit streets of Lincoln Park, trying to get back to our Airbnb to play a board game.

At the time, our board game obsession was Time Stories, a game we are all equally terrible at and continually lost, and yet we have bought every single expansion and are looking forward to the next release due sometime this summer. Our run-through on a previous evening had been no more successful than any before it, we got attacked by pirates, ran out of time, and got thoroughly chastised by Bob.

We passed the time by brainstorming a few strategies for tonight's ass-kicking as if any amount of strategizing could improve our woeful Time Stories abilities. The train finally arrived, and we clambered aboard, the blessed heat thawing our icy veins and sending pinpricks across our bodies. Josiah flopped down onto a seat and sighed, "We should make a board game." We laughed, of course, only recognizing it as one of those late-night whims, quickly said and commonly forgotten by the morning.

Probably that's not right either.

Maybe this all started that day Nate and Isaiah took a chance and swiped right on each other, had an enchanting first date and have been inseparable ever since.

I suppose it also could have been the day that I offered Josiah a ride home from school, and we subsequently discovered how well our passions and interests harmonized together.

Perhaps it all started at the Math Department board game mixer, where the quiet first-year boy joined in a game with a reclusive second-year girl.

Whatever our origins stories, today, we are a motivated, enthusiastic, and resolute team. Together we beat our heads against various walls, working towards a shared dream. And as of yet, we still have not settled on that character's ability.

Ari Esqueda

Creative Co-Director and Editor