Victory Points: Getting to Know Flatout Games | Casual Game Revolution

Victory Points: Getting to Know Flatout Games

Flatout Games

"I joke a lot about peaking too early"

One of the most buzzed about titles coming out of Gen Con 2019 is Point Salad. The clever card drafting game pits players against in each other in the pursuit of collecting different vegetables to score the most points. Each player can set their own scoring conditions and change them based on the cards in play. The game sold out quickly upon its initial Gen Con release.

Games as cute but surprisingly complex as Point Salad are not far off from tending to one’s own garden. There’s care in tilling the soil, planting the seeds, watering the sprouts, and hoping nature allows it grow and blossom with the fruits of hard labor and good timing.

Which is to say the success of Point Salad was not an overnight sensation but the product of hard work and careful planning of designers Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, and Shawn Stankewich. The trio behind Point Salad is also the driving engine behind Flatout Games, an up-and-coming publisher and designing house that took their first steps into the board gaming industry the same way as most do, by playing games.

"The hardest part is we want to do 100 things at once"

"I think for me there was a moment where I felt like I was spending a lot of time on this hobby, but wasn't contributing anything meaningful to it," begins Shawn. “Molly and I started 2 of Hearts Games a few years ago….and around that time I got inspired by some content [by 1000XP] about board game design.”

This interest spun into Shawn’s first design, Dollars to Donuts, which in turn brought Robert into the fold. “Shawn brought us together to try out [Dollars to Donuts] and we haven't really looked back. I personally have always questioned the design of board games I had played, wondering why something was a certain way, and if I would design it differently. This was a great opportunity to continue to ask those types of questions and take it a step farther than I ever could without creating our own games."

The excitement Molly, Robert, and Shawn were generating within their group led to the formation of Flatout Games and a trip to Gen Con in 2017. Though Flatout’s first two offerings, Dollars to Donuts and Abstract Academy, initially went unsigned during that convention, the trio’s passion for what they were entering only expanded. "We launched a podcast, started a Twitter account, and tried to dive deep into the community. We learned so much and met so many people in those early days!" Shawn explains. Molly sums up the feeling: "Once you dive into an industry that is about a thing you really like, I think it just gets exponentially more exciting."

Point Salad
Point Salad sold out quickly upon its release at Gen Con 2019 (photo by Flatout Games).

"I think we have created a really awesome team"

Since then, Flatout has not only launched Point Salad in conjunction with Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG), but has landed agreements with other publishers for games the trio has designed (including those early Gen Con pitches). Flatout has also begun to support the works of other designers looking for their own inroads into the growing hobby. Flatout’s first game to market will be Calico, designed by Kevin Russ, which will seek funding via Kickstarter. Shawn describes the moment he and the team knew Calico was a game design they wanted to pursue: "[Kevin] was up in Seattle and came to our design meetup. He had just designed this game (then known as Quixotic Quilts). Because of the puzzle tile-laying nature I was intrigued, but it took me all of three turns to realize this was something special."

Rob follows up, "I only had to play Calico once to see what Shawn and Molly had seen in the potential of the game. We could tell the game had both mechanics and theme going for it. The more we talked to Kevin about it, and tried little changes to the design, it was awesome how it came together." The work on Calico led Flatout to bring in David Iezzi for development help, Dylan Mangini to aid with graphic design, and Beth Sobel as an artist for the game.

"We like to build teams to bring games to life"

These partnerships have manifested themselves in another project that Flatout calls CoLab, which is where Calico was first discovered. Other games and partnerships have taken shape as CoLab has become an integral part of Flatout’s strategy. Of course, CoLab comes with its own set of obstacles.

"With being over 1500 miles from the other members of Flatout, as well as most of our CoLab," begins Robb, "it can definitely be difficult. It just is not nearly as simple to run with ideas, and move things forward, as it would be with a closer proximity."

But it’s CoLab’s unique set-up that also poses concerns. Shawn describes how CoLab operates: "We want our groups to be as democratic as possible and we wholeheartedly believe that when people are all treated with respect and given a share of the equity, they will be really motivated to make things happen. Trying to approach this from a collaborative and cooperative perspective is one of the more difficult things because it is less common than traditional design or publishing."

Between managing their own designs, launching Calico to Kickstarter in the Fall, and guiding CoLab, life for the principles of Flatout is full of its own pitfalls. "It's a little hectic, that's for sure. We put in a lot of time coordinating all of it to try not to drop the ball on any aspect. It's been a challenge," explains Shawn.

Molly also notes that this is all compounded by one other feature of Flatout’s crew: their actual work. "We also all really like our day jobs — so there is a lot going on. We have made time in fits and spurts to do the life outside stuff." Of course, those outside moments also find their way back to Flatout’s new work in publishing. "Shawn and I were on a cycling trip in the Willamette Valley when we reviewed the contract for Point Salad. That Oregon trip also allowed us a nice visit and playtesting with Tony Miller (the Bearded Rogue), which was really great."

Life isn’t about to let up for Flatout anytime soon. The design trio are about to have new games come to market from other publishers, including those initial Gen Con pitches. Not only is the launch of the Calico Kickstarter on the immediate horizon, but Flatout just announced their second title, Randy Flynn’s Lands and Creatures. And Molly notes "[T]here are dozens of Flatout designs in the works," due to the success of CoLab.

Robb sums up Flatout’s schedule: "I find it hard to believe that we won't have a number of irons in the fire for the foreseeable future."