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Laid-off Las Vegas bartender forges new career in board games

Updated February 19, 2021 - 5:35 pm

Like many people across the Las Vegas Valley, Matthew Williams was hit hard by the pandemic, finding himself sidelined from both of his jobs.

But the pandemic and ensuing loss of work set the Las Vegas resident on a new path and a new career.

“I was laid off from both of my bartending gigs in March,” said Williams, a bartender for over a decade at some of the Strip’s top nightclubs. Without work, Williams said he decided to leave the nightlife gigs behind in favor of fusing his passion for board games into a successful career.

“I’m a big nerd at heart so I really enjoy any type of gaming, board games or video games, so for me it’s like my hobby-turned-career,” said the 33-year-old. “I’m really winning all over the place with that.”

After the March setback, Williams took on the role as CEO of Las Vegas-based TGG-Games, a publishing firm formed under sister company The Gaming Goat, to build out its pipeline of games. The Gaming Goat, a retail gaming chain that specializes in board games, has two stores in the Las Vegas Valley with other retail locations across the U.S.

Williams’ foray into board game publishing came after previous a success, designing and publishing “Don’t Get Drunk,” a popular party game in 2018. “I was a bartender and I liked the game so I just kind of meshed the two together,” he told the Review-Journal earlier this week.

Building on his previous success, Williams is coming out with a new game, “MOB: Big Apple,” on Kickstarter. So far, the game has already surpassed $26,000 with more than 800 fans who backed the project.

Prohibition-era board game

Williams’ new game, “MOB: Big Apple,” is based in New York City during the 1920s in the midst of Prohibition as two crime families battle for territory.

The two-player game can be played in under an hour with the objective to collect the most contraband crates, which during the era, were moonshine. Williams said the game was pitched to him by the designer Steve Finn back at the start of the pandemic as a “Godfather/Mafia-style board game.”

“We really liked that theme,” he said. “It’s not really represented that much in the board game industry and it’d be a good thing for us to touch on the 1920s, which is like a pretty fascinating time.”

Williams said the game is one in a three-part series, with the second game based in Chicago and the third game, “MOB: Sin City,” in Las Vegas. Williams notes that the Las Vegas game will take about another two to three years before it comes out. “We’re happy and excited for that one because obviously we’re local to Las Vegas, so it will be really cool when we do it because we’re gonna put all of our love into that one.”

The game took about nine months to complete. Since the project was funded within 11 hours after its launch on Kickstarter, Williams said it has set a “stretch goal,” which allows them to add new extras for backers to the game while raising new money.

The success of “MOB: Big Apple” is attracting interest from beyond America. Williams said he’s already signed with fulfillment partners to deliver the game to the large portion of international backers.

TGG-Games is also developing international publishing relationships, Williams said, telling the Review-Journal that the company recently signed with a firm in Spain to create a Spanish translation of the game. Williams said it’s also translating the game’s manual in Spanish, French, German and Portuguese.

Pandemic turns the tables on social activities

For many Americans who suddenly found themselves quarantined under lockdown, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred newfound interest in tabletop games that can be played with family members.

Home-bound consumers snapped up all types of games, beyond stalwarts such as Monopoly and Scrabble to strategic games like Risk and Catan.

Hasbro, the maker of Monopoly, generated $1.8 billion in gaming revenue last year, an increase of 15 percent. CEO Brian Goldner told investors in an earnings call this month that its games such as Monopoly “had their best year ever” and other classic games including Jenga, Operation and Connect 4 “had stellar years.”

Game creators like Williams, who have launched offerings on Kickstarter, have seen demand soar over the past few years. Fans pledged more than $219 million in Kickstarter’s Games category in 2019, up 9 percent from the previous year, according to the crowdfunding company.

And it appears the positive trend for tabletop games will continue.

In a December 2020 analysis by Reportlinker.com, the global board games market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13 percent between 2021 to 2026.

Part of the reason why board games have risen in popularity over the past few years includes “the emergence of board game conventions, gaming cafes, and nerd culture,” according to a summary of the report.

Williams said Las Vegas has a vibrant board game community, and he is working with local valley designers and artists on publishing future games. He said “MOB: Big Apple” will be a hit for everybody.

“Being a two-player game, if you are home with your significant other, it’s a great game that you can play together safely inside your house,” Williams said.

Contact Jonathan Ng at jng@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ByJonathanNg on Twitter.

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