Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Peggy Brown
'In Focus: Women of Board Gaming' is an exclusive series from Punchboard Media that spotlights women in all facets of the board gaming industry. Our guest this week is Peggy Brown, creator of hundreds of mass-produced and marketed products for companies including Hasbro, Mattel, Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, and Barnes & Noble. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Thank you for joining us, Peggy. You've been involved in the board game industry for three decades, which gives you a unique insight into the hobby. But before we get into your career, what kind of games did you grow up playing? Have any of them held up through the years and still see the table?
We didn’t have very many games when I was a kid. Monopoly, Bingo, and Password
(which I was too young to understand, but I did like the red answer revealer sleeve). I
do distinctly remember playing games at the neighbor kids’ houses –- the family two
doors down had Hands Down, the kids across the street had Mystery Date and
Kerplunk, my cousins had Operation. I loved every inch of those games.
How about now? What modern board games have you been playing and enjoying recently?
That’s a funny question to me, because I don’t really get to play games very often. I
want to, but just rarely find time, so when a bubble of time appears simultaneously
with willing participants present, we keep going back to a few faves –- Ticket to Ride,
Splendor, Carcassonne, Patchwork. We still play Trivial Pursuit and Poker after
Over the years, you have worked on many mass market games for publishers like Hasbro and Mattel. Which were the best sellers?
I suppose the longest-lasting game I designed is Pretty Pretty Princess. Princesses
never go out of style. I’m torn as to whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but
nevertheless, princesses persist. I have fingerprints on lots of games over the years –-
Mad Gab, Phase 10, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Outburst. There are hundreds.
Which of those mass market games do you think is the most underrated and deserves a second look?
That’s something I never really think about –- good games can die young, crummy
games can last 75 years, most games land someplace in between for many more reasons than whether they’re good or bad games. The consumer is often way too far down the food chain.
You've also worked on many licensed games, including the Barbie, Sesame Street, McDonald's, Backstreet Boys, and Last Action Hero intellectual properties, among many others. Which has been your favorite licensed game to work on, and why?
Of the licensed games, I don’t really have a favorite, but the one with the best story
is the NSYNC Backstage Pass Game. In order to write the game questions filled with
“juicy tidbits” about the personal lives of the members of the mega-popular boy band, I
made up some questionnaires asking stuff like, What’s your most embarrassing
moment?, and Do you have any secret tattoos? -- stuff like that. It wasn’t going to be
easy to get a bunch of pop stars to fill out these forms, so in a meeting with their agent
on their tour bus in St. Louis, I persuaded the brother of one of the boys, who traveled
with the band, to obtain the answers for me. I seem to remember encouraging his
assistance with about 30 pictures of Benjamin Franklin.
And I wasn’t in the meeting, but I remember hearing how Arnold Schwarzenegger
reviewed our prototype of Mattel’s The Last Action Hero game while wearing mirrored
sunglasses and chomping on a cigar. This was to be a smash game for the next smash
movie in Arnold’s string of action blockbusters… he approved the prototype, the movie
was released, it immediately tanked, and the game went over the cliff with it.
You've also worked with smaller game publishers, such as Peaceable Kingdom and Calliope Games. What are the differences in working with mass market companies from smaller niche publishers?
Smaller niche publishers are lean and nimble enough to turn on a dime, but even so,
they often take a really long time to make decisions. Bigger publishers have all the
resources to turn on a dime, but even so, they can take a really long time to make
decisions. Ummm -– in a nutshell the differences are few because as with anything, it’s
the people you work with that make up your experience, and good people work in all-
sizes of publishing companies. Both small and big publishers harbor a few ratfinks too.
Speaking of Calliope, you are designing a game as part of their Titan Series, a series where the world's greatest game designers are each tasked with designing a gateway game for Calliope's line. What can you tell us about your title in the series?
I can tell you it’s gonna be a great game!
What advice would you give to people looking to get into the board game industry?
Keep your day job. Not kidding –- most inventors are twenty-year- overnight
successes. It seems like it should be easier than it really is, and it’s a numbers game.
The more games you create, the better your chances of success. Also, get comfy with
rejection. I’m actually a very thin person, I just have a very thick skin.
How do you think the board game industry has evolved since you've been involved with it? Do you think the market for board games is oversaturated at this point, or do you still see potential room for growth?
I think the industry has come full circle since I started as a staff designer at Western
Publishing. That was right in the middle of the Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary boom –
games were selling by the millions and soaring in popularity. In following years, game
companies started buying each other up and consolidating, the economy slowed so
companies quit taking risks and focused on core brands, then new companies sprung
up out of the boring landscape, and when Kickstarter came around, it all exploded. Now
games are used as a vehicle to foster communication and get people engaged with
each other instead of their electronic devices. Every time there’s a credible threat to
board games, they outlast it. It’s fascinating.
Over your career, you've worked as an inventor, a designer, a writer, a creative director, a consultant, and an executive. Which is your favorite role, and why?
I much prefer the creative roles. I’m happiest making actual stuff, not plans or
decisions. I’ve heard it said that a true creative, when handed a bundle of money with a
rubber band around it, will be equally interested in what can be done with the rubber
band as can be done with the money. I am one of those true creatives. (But don’t tell
that to my customers.)