How we brought an eighties boardgame into the 21st century

OUR STORY

OUR STORY

It all started in 1982.

Steve Atkinson is the CEO and founder of Digital Future Games. A veteran of the traditional gaming industry, he took the bold step of developing, publishing, and marketing his own board game back in the eighties – a game that is still remembered and celebrated today. A game, in fact, that has a new lease of life in digital form. Like any story worth the telling, the journey has its ups and downs – and who better to tell it than the man himself?

Take it away, Steve…

I had a couple of friends, with whom I would meet up once a week to drink tea and play board games. One game we bought was called Kensington – you may remember it. It certainly caused a bit of a splash back in the day. It was invented in 1979 by Brian Taylor and Peter Forbes, who chose to self-publish it, rather than sell the rights to a game company. Their efforts garnered a lot of press attention, earning them a UK Game of the Year award and the sale of several thousand units in the early-eighties.

This was the game my friends and I would play on the night it all changed. It was an abstract game and it was… well… okay, I guess. It certainly wasn’t anything outstanding, which is what led us to believe that we could produce something better.

Board of the rings

We liked the abstract nature of Kensington, but felt that there was more that could be done with it. After all, if you’re not following a linear narrative in the game, why limit yourself to the traditional dimensions of a static, four-side board? We knew we would have to use dice and pieces, and have some method of moving those pieces around the board. We hit on the idea of the board moving at the same time as the players’ pieces, and that’s where things fell into place.

The board was designed to resemble a mandala – a tool used in spiritual ceremonies across the Far East. It was the traditional square board, but it contained 10 concentric rings arranging around a centre circle. The ten rings were split into five pairs of matching colours and we created specially numbered coloured dice to match.

We talk more about the game itself on the dedicated Mandala page. It’s enough to say that the combination of a moving board and moving pieces gave the game a unique playing mechanism. It added a random factor to the strategy elements whilst simultaneously giving a sense of structure to the abstract.

It was good – we knew it was good. The question was, did anybody else think so?

Shopping our wares

Once we had a playable version of our game, we tried selling it to one of the big board game companies at the time: Waddington’s, Gibson’s, Hasbro, and the like. We manufactured a more professional looking prototype, jumped in my old Volvo Estate, and took to the road.

Our reception with every game company was overwhelmingly positive. They liked the game, loved its esoteric nature, and applauded the cleverness of its mechanics. However, every game company also agreed that it was far too expensive a game to produce in mass numbers.

Do it yourself

There is always a way to succeed, if you’re prepared to look for it. I spoke to a solicitor friend who, in turn, spoke to a friend of his who was a businessman. The three of met to discuss the Mandala game and ended up setting up our own company – Future Games Ltd – to produce and sell the game.

Spreading the word

We had a large PR schedule planned for the game’s release, involving interviews in the printed press, local radio stations, and on television. It seemed to have worked, as Mandala not only achieved the Design Centre London Award, it also earned distribution deals in all the major UK stores. We attended toy and game trade fairs, striking deals with game companies around the world and selling over 115,000 units.

Mandala Board Game

The wilderness years

Future Games Ltd went into liquidation in the summer of 1985, following various shenanigans with our fellow directors. Life moved on and my wife and I set up a new company – Lightwave Ltd.

 

That company started off selling 500 joysticks from our house, and ended up trading successfully for another 22 years.

What goes around comes around

It’s amazing what a chance conversation can lead to. For a while now I had toyed with the idea of developing Mandala for the digital generation and having it released as an app.

I mentioned this to a member of my staff and she happened to know a guy from South Africa who an app developer living nearby. This was Rudolph, the man behind this exciting new iteration of the game. We met up the following week. I brought a copy of the game, which we played together and he said he’d never played anything like it. A week later, after some serious research, Rudolph came back to me and said he couldn’t find anything like Mandala anywhere online.

He was excited to transform this unique proposition into a stunning mobile game for iOS and Android platforms. I was excited to see the game that had so defined my early career see a new lease of life.

And so Digital Future Games was born, with Mandala as our first official release.

WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND