The Next Great American Game, the new documentary from director Douglas Morse, follows one man’s journey as he attempts to pitch his game to publishers in the modern board game industry.
In protagonist Randall Hoyt‘s board game, players race through traffic to be the first to reach the end of the highway. He takes his design to toy and game conventions where he learns why it’s so hard to get a game published.
At Gen Con Indy 2013, James Mathe, president of Minion Games, tells Hoyt that his game is “old technology.” It might have made it to store shelves in the 1980s, but it’s simply outdated in 2013. Dan Yarrington, president of Game Salute, tells Hoyt that the components would cost too much. Each publisher has it’s own reason for rejecting it. Turnpike is too complicated for Hasbro. It’s not cut-throat enough for Smirk & Dagger, and the theme is too frustrating for Mayfair.
Relentless and quixotic, Hoyt eventually alters his design. At first he takes small suggestions. Later, he changes the theme to include wizards and magic. His game will get published some day, Hoyt says, he just has to make it happen.
In addition to exploring Hoyt’s staunch dedication to his game, we learn about his active battle with mental illness. In the movie’s opening scene, Hoyt wears a black T-Shirt that says “Bipolar.” He later describes past manic episodes and his experience with therapy.
Is The Next Great American Game good?
The Next Great American Game gives viewers a solid story and an interesting character. Board gamers will enjoy it because they’ll recognize some of their favorite brands, locations and personalities. But to call The Next Great American Game a board game documentary sells it short.
At it’s core, it’s a story of a person following their passions in the face of overwhelming opposition. It’s an arc that artists, writers and all creative individuals can identify with.
That’s not to say that the movie is perfect. It feels, at times, like a freshman effort. It suffers from occasional poor lighting, unpolished videography, noisy audio and sluggish editing. These flaws are concentrated toward the beginning of the film.
For anyone who has dabbled in videography, this uneven polish adds an extra level of interest. As you watch Hoyt grow and change, you watch the director grow as well. For anyone else, it creates a barrier to getting into the movie — but viewers who persevere through the segment about Gen Con will be rewarded for doing so.
More Than a Movie
To call The Next Great American Game a movie is to miss an enormous portion of the project. As Director Douglas Morse followed Hoyt across the U.S., he captured additional interviews with dozens of the board game industry’s brightest minds, including Antoine Bauza, Steve Jackson and Alan R. Moon.
When customers buy access to The Next Great American Game, they have their choice of how much to pay. For $15, they can get the movie itself with two additional interviews. For $40, they get the movie plus 15 mini-documentaries.
While $40 is a lot to pay for a movie, dedicated board gamers may find that it’s worth it. The 15 additional mini-documentaries offer unique opportunities to hear from the greatest minds in our hobby.
Overall, The Next Great American Game offers an interesting and unprecedented look into the board games industry — which can be rewarding and disheartening all at once.