Q&A With Scott Alden
He created the preeminent website for board game enthusiasts. Which, yes, makes him a geek.
Q: In 2005, you quit working on Duke Nukem Forever—an infamous shoot-’em-up video game that at that point had been in development for eight years—to run a website called Board Game Geek. Did anyone think you were certifiable?
A: [laughs] Not quite. There was a lot of turmoil at [Garland-based developer] 3D Realms. I’d spent a year in crunch mode. Six days a week, 10-hour days, with very little to show for it. That really took a toll on me. I was among the first programmers to leave 3D Realms, but about 20 more people quit over the next year as it became clear they’d never finish the game.
Q: What convinced you that reviewing board games could pay the rent?
A: Actually, I never expected boardgamegeek.com to make money. I’d launched it with my business partner, Derk Solko, in 2000. Until then, serious board gamers interacted using mostly private, invite-only mailing lists. They were like the illuminati of gaming. I joined one and said, “Holy crap, here’s about four years of detailed information about these games, and nothing on the Web except where to buy them.”
Q: How long did it take Board Game Geek to become profitable?
A: The site launched in 2000. It was slow at first, but thanks to the magic of Google ads, I started earning enough by 2005 to quit my day job. Since then, it’s continued growing by 30 percent every year. We’re now getting about 1 million unique visitors a month, and even more during the holidays.
Q: Speaking of the holidays, I gather Monopoly wasn’t on your wish list.
A: Oh, no. I think I’d rather slit my wrists. I’m amazed by how long some of those old games have hung around. They’re so boring and tedious.
Q: What’s a game you’d rather see people playing?
A: The Settlers of Catan. It was the first German-style game I’d ever played, and it changed my life. German games tend to emphasize strategy over luck. In Settlers, you build roads, develop cities, trade resources. Every game feels different, and you can play it in under two hours. You could say Settlers of Catan was my gateway game. [laughs]
Q: How many other games are in your collection?
A: I keep about 3,000 stored in an airplane hangar. I buy a lot of them at the Internationale Spieltage, this big exhibition held in Essen, Germany. About 150,000 people attend every year. Last year, I bought about 200 games.
Q: How does the Dallas board gaming scene compare?
A: It’s small, but growing. A good place to go is the Dallas Games Marathon held at Xmax Games downtown. Most months about 40 to 60 gamers get together for a few hours. There’s also BGG Con, a convention for Board Game Geek members held in November. Last year we brought 900 people together for three days at the Westin DFW. I’m already looking at bigger venues.
Q: Quick, best game out there for adults, kids, and parties. Go.
A: Kids will love Sorry! Sliders. Basically, Hasbro put ball bearings on Sorry! paddles. You roll them down a shuffleboard path. Adults should try Dominion, a medieval-themed card game in which you race to acquire cards. For parties, easy: Time’s Up! Deluxe. You provide clues while your teammates guess the celebrity on your card.
Q: And because we have to ask: Do you think we’ll ever see Duke Nukem Forever in stores?
A: No, I don’t think so. 3D Realms just laid everybody off, and now they’re being sued by the publisher. If that game were to come out, they’d be performing magic.