Bryan with Cutthroat Kingdoms

Introduction by Luke Laurie: I first met Bryan Merlonghi at Protospiel San Jose, held at the Santa Clara Game Kastle, where he was running packed sessions of his game, Cutthroat Kingdoms. At the time, he had a solid game, but was just starting to learn about the industry and was unsure about what steps to take next. In just a couple of months and a little help from the League of Gamemakers, Bryan was soon stepping into the big leagues at Gen Con, side by side with the pros.

Bryan is a writer, teacher, and artist, but above all else, a humanist. Based in Santa Cruz, California, he uses writing, art, and game design to explore the essence of what makes people so darn intriguing. He brings the wonder of being a child into the lives of anyone and everyone. He believes that if we are not playing and creating, we are not truly living.


The ground rushes by beneath me..

…beneath the plane. As I’m smashed into my seat, the plane takes flight, and with it my hopes, dreams, and an incredible amount of uncertainty. In two days I will be in Indianapolis, to pitch my game to over thirty publishers at Gen Con. How I got here, now, is really quite a story.

It’s not until we hit thirty-thousand feet that my uncertainty kicks into overdrive. Looking out of the window reveals just how small I am. And that, of course, doesn’t help my overwhelming sense of dread that I am: not good enough, don’t have a product ready for market, didn’t do my homework, too terribly anonymous. And that’s all probably true. But give Truth the backseat when making any serious decision in life. Trust me.


Just three months ago I didn’t know a single person in the boardgaming industry.

A year before that, I had just started to build my first boardgame, ever. I had cobbled together whoever I could find to play-test the hell out of the game. Free pizza, a glass of wine here or there, and sometimes a place to stay for the night, to anybody who would just play the game for five minutes. Development team? I didn’t even know what that was. Over 200 playtests will boggle your brain, I promise you that, but I never stopped my endless quest for play-testers, wherever I could find them.
Cutthroat at Gencon


Fast forward…

Hundreds of hours of hard work, passion, and sheer determination lead me to go public with the first working prototype at UnPub-Protospiel, San Jose. I didn’t know what to expect. What do you expect when you know absolutely nobody in the boardgaming world? Luckily I had, by this time, met Brandon Raasch, creator of Dubious Alliance. With infinite wisdom, and an eye for networking, he suggested I take the game for its first real test-drive out on the track in San Jose.

So I gave the proverbial hotrod for a spin.


And we rocked the house, hard. Because of my background in art, I had created full art for my prototype, props, a beautiful velvet tablecloth and a killer sign. Our table never had an empty seat, and my small team of 3 people, including myself, relentlessly demoed the game for twelve hours at a time. If we had downtime, we would have taken lunch. We never had downtime. That floored me.

UnPub landed me my first meeting with Luke Laurie. He saw the signals, and took me under his wing, suggesting the League of Gamemakers website, where I read, like a voracious animal, every post regarding my new found journey into the land of design. And I messaged him about a dozen times, with about a million different questions, like:

“Hey, Luke, I don’t mean to bother you, but should I try to get my game published, or run a Kickstarter?”

I think I was hung up on that question for at least a few months. And I fired off about a dozen more questions to him, about anything and everything. Even in between.

Ultimately, I made the decision to pitch my game to publishers at Gen Con. …And now I’m landing in Indianapolis, where I’m going to be pitching my game to over thirty publishers. I’m asking myself as I leave the plane:

“How the hell did I get here?”

My sell sheet, which I learned how to create from the League website, got me selected to participate in the Designer-Publisher Speed-Dating event at Gen Con. If you asked me what a sell sheet was three months ago, I’d have looked at you funny. Sell what? You need a sheet for that?


I had a list, going into the event, of green, orange and red publishers. Do your homework on what each publisher wants, their mission statement, and their market. It matters. On my green list were some of the biggest publishers in the world. I mean we’re talking the biggest, in the world. Why wouldn’t you include them on your list? But more importantly, to give myself some perspective, I looked to the orange publishers because that was my road to glory, in my head, at least.


What happened at Gen Con?

Every publisher on my green list not only liked the pitch, but wanted to meet me in person after the event! And further than that, they wanted to be sent a copy of the game for a full review. The last day, scattered and frantic to get to my plane, I met with six different publishers, running with my backpack and pitch material to every booth, getting lost many times along the way. When I got back on the plane, I had the most electric feeling across the back of my hands, at the back of my eyes, even in the back of my brain.

I had done it!

When the dust had finally settled, the game had been asked for a full review by five different publishers, most of which are top tier. I had been asked to meet in private with the founders of most of the companies, and their project leads. Intimidating as they were, I pretended the owners were people, and that seemed to work wonders on my courage.

In just a few days time, I will finalize my rulebooklet, and prototype, making sure it is as perfect as possible, and submit it, one at a time, to each of the five. To go from absolutely nothing, literally on my last dollar, having spent everything I had on the art, the props, all of it, to the top, sending games to five of my dream companies, in less than 6 months? Righteous.

You might ask how I did it. And I’ll tell you: I reached out.

The journey would never have been possible without new friends, a development consultant I had met at Kublacon, resources like the League of Gamemakers blog, and a hungry all-or-nothing attitude. You can only go so far by yourself, but you can go so much further with a gnawing gut, unlimited passion and friends. Reaching out, connecting to real people, it made the difference for me.

Who knows what’s to come, but I know one thing is certain: it feels good to be a gangster.

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  1. Patrick Stephens on August 10, 2015

    What an awesome story this is. His most important takeaway is that he reached out to people int eh industry even if he was scared or unsure of himself. It’s something that anyone who creates needs to do at some point or another. Otherwise you’ll never know.

  2. Norv Brooks on August 10, 2015

    Even in the worst case scenario that none of the publishers take on your game you’re already a winner. Great article!

  3. Bryan Merlonghi on August 10, 2015

    Thank you all! I’m so honored by your comments. I’m so glad to share my story with you! I truly hope it inspires others. Anything can be achieved by reaching out!

  4. Dane Trimble on August 10, 2015

    This is a wonderful story. I agree Patrick that networking is a very important key to most businesses, especially this one. My other take away from this and other stories like it – get out of your own way. Often times we keep ourselves from being successful. Bryan said it a couple times “who am I to do this”, “am I good enough”, etc… Most often we need to just step to the side and let ourselves go by. Thanks for the inspiration Bryan!

  5. Eric Wakeman on August 11, 2015

    As a want to be game designer, I am just at the beginning of my journey and it is great to hear success stories like this – shows what can happen if you are passionate and put yourself out there beyond your comfort zone, thanks 🙂

    • Patrick Stephens on August 13, 2015

      Absolutely correct! Good luck, Eric! There are a lot of great places to help new designers out all over the place.

  6. Scott Rogers on March 9, 2016

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have met Bryan at ProtoSpiel and was drawn to his professionalism and positive energy.

    His story is a great lesson for us all: believe in yourself, be prepared to take advantage of situations, don’t be afraid even when you are and shoot to the best.

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