Tor Kids. For Adults. For Life. This is our company tagline and belief in the personal growth that
Playing board games has been a favorite pastime of adults and children alike for generations with the Game of Life dating back to 1860 (originally called the Checkered Game of Life) and Monopoly being first introduced in 1935. For decades, whether it be board games or video games, kids have dreamed of making their own games for a living when they “grow up”. Yet alas, these dreams are too often replaced by more traditional career pursuits where board games become a recreational pastime collecting dust on a shelf to only be played when we “find time.” However, an every once in a while childhood dream is realized by those bold enough to risk putting their traditional career on the shelf, so they no longer must find time to do what they love.
The story of Chip Theory Games is about realizing that dream through passion, innovation, and an entrepreneurial spirit, centered around two cousins, Josh Carlson and Adam Carlson. Their journey from avid game enthusiasts to successful game developers is a testament to their dedication and creativity. I had the opportunity to sit down with the two co-founders at their headquarters in Plymouth in late 2023 to learn more about the history of their company as they begin their 14th year in business.
Childhood and Early Influences
Josh and Adam grew up with a shared love for both video games and tabletop board games. This shared interest was more than a pastime; it was a bond that connected them deeply. They would spend hours playing, analyzing, and deconstructing games, which laid the groundwork for their future endeavors. This wasn’t just about playing; it was about understanding the mechanics, the strategy, and the design that made these games work.
The Birth of a Vision
The idea for Chip Theory Games began to take shape as they realized their potential to create something unique. They wanted to combine the strategic depth they loved in board games with the tactile feel and aesthetic appeal of poker chips. This led to the creation of Hoplomachus, a game that stood out for its innovative use of poker chips as units, a novel concept that would become a hallmark of their design philosophy.
Kickstarter and Early Success
Understanding the power of crowdfunding, Josh and Adam turned to Kickstarter to bring their vision to life. With Josh’s background in business and graphic design and Adam’s creative insights, they crafted a compelling campaign. They worked tirelessly, sourcing public domain art and perfecting their pitch. Their efforts paid off when they successfully raised over $25,000, a clear sign that their ideas resonated with the gaming community.
Growth and Challenges
The path to success was not smooth. They faced challenges in manufacturing, fulfillment, and navigating the complex world of international distribution. High shipping costs and logistical issues were significant hurdles. However, their commitment to transparency and willingness to engage with their backers helped them overcome these challenges. They learned from each obstacle, adapting and evolving their strategies.
Innovation in Game Design
A distinct aspect of Chip Theory Games was its focus on solo gameplay, a feature inspired by their love for video games. This approach was not common in the board game industry at that time, but it struck a chord with gamers who appreciated the option to play solo. This decision, influenced by the feedback from content creators and the gaming community, proved to be a wise one, further cementing their reputation as innovative game designers.
Marketing Strategies and Community Building
One of their most notable marketing strategies was the introduction of the ‘strategist level’ in their crowdfunding campaigns. This innovative approach not only secured immediate funding but also helped in building a loyal customer base. It was a commitment from the company to its backers, promising a lifetime of gaming experiences. This strategy, coupled with engagement and transparency, helped in forming a strong and dedicated community around their brand.
This commitment was put to the ultimate test on one occasion where a simple staff error of not properly capping the max amount of strategist level memberships for purchase caused a frenzy of die-hard fans to exceed the campaign’s allotted amount by well over one hundred memberships. Josh and Adam were forced to decide whether to refund the overallocated memberships and disappoint their many customers and fans who were ecstatic to have received one (the strategist memberships usually sell out within minutes of their release), or honor the error and provide an extreme value to far more than anticipated. In true Chip Theory fashion, they honored their mistake and found in doing so, not only did they solidify their reputation as a company and brand that puts their customers first, but they also likely benefitted from a short-term financial windfall of unexpected resources to invest into the product’s campaign and service.
The Present and Future
Today, Chip Theory Games has grown beyond the cousin’s wildest expectations. What started in an apartment in Minnesota has become a brand with worldwide recognition in a tabletop gaming industry that is still considered niche by some but is growing in public awareness. This may especially be proven true, as they gear up to launch The Elder Scrolls board game in late 2024 after years of in-house development. Based on the extremely popular massive multiplayer online game (MMO) with 23.3 million total subscribers and 222,000 daily players as of December 2023, the Elder Scrolls tabletop game is likely to attract an audience well beyond the die-hard Chip Theory loyalists.
The Carlsons’ journey from enthusiastic gamers to successful entrepreneurs is a powerful narrative of following one’s dream and the power of community in the world of gaming. As they continue to innovate and expand their product line, the legacy of Chip Theory Games is not just in the games they create but also in the community they have built and the inspiration they provide to aspiring game designers everywhere. Their story is a vivid reminder that with passion, innovation, and resilience, dreams can indeed become reality.
You can learn more about Chip Theory on their website https://chiptheorygames.com/, on Twitter @ChipTheoryGames or by stopping in their headquarters later this year when they begin to open their doors to retail customers. Their office is located near the same strip as Urban Air in Plymouth with an address of 3500 Holly Ln N #65, Plymouth, MN 55447.